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#699 – Dick Bernard: Listening to the Governor of Minnesota

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Yesterday noon we, along with several hundred others, braved Twin Cities roads to gather at a lunch at McNamara Alumni Center at the University of Minnesota.

The speaker was Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton.

(click on photos to enlarge)

Gov. Mark Dayton, March 5, 2013, University of Minnesota First Tuesday.

Gov. Mark Dayton, March 5, 2013, University of Minnesota First Tuesday.

The event was the Carlson School of Management’s “First Tuesday” and the large audience seemed mostly to be Twin Cities business representatives. University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler was one of the dignitaries in the audience.

A portion of the audience at First Tuesday March 5

A portion of the audience at First Tuesday March 5

It was a most interesting hour. Gov. Dayton spoke, referring a number of times to this handout which we all received: Guv Hndout Mar 5 2013002. At the end, he answered questions and listened to advice from the floor, presented at random through several portable microphones. He was with us for over an hour; then departed to talk with another group somewhere else.

The tension of driving to the event after 8″ of snow, was worth it.

Governor Dayton knew his audience, and he politely but certainly took the offensive.

Judging from the tens of thousands of communications I see, from left and right, and politically disinterested, we are a society that takes non-negotiable positions, basing our judgements on our understanding of our one or two most important issues.

Contemporary society is complex, so we citizens mostly revert to simplicity. We don’t want information unless it supports our position.

It is a dangerous attitude, shared by far too many.

Gov. Dayton, as we Minnesotans know, comes from a very prominent Minnesota business family; spent part of his early career as a school teacher in inner city New York; and has spent most of his adult career in public service in the state of Minnesota.

He has an impressive portfolio. Still I sometimes hear him ridiculed for various unfair reasons.

But he knows bottom lines and good public policy.

The Governor was in a serious mode, yesterday.

His anchor story was of meeting with a dozen or so of Minnesota’s most prominent big business leaders not long ago. It was one of those fancy, private dinner meetings somewhere.

He marveled, he said, at how these very sophisticated captains of Minnesota business and industry seemed not to budge from their respective certainties, even when confronted with pesky facts that didn’t support their positions. (Think assorted mantras: “business is being forced to leave our state due to high taxes” and the like.) Belief seemed to trump reason.

They were stuck (as we all can be) in their belief about reality.

Sitting there, I could better understand people at my level being mired in our own unrealities, than these anonymous Big Shots who privately had the Governors ear for an extended period of time.

We ordinary people have to struggle to get to “facts”; these Captains of Minnesota Business have boatloads of employees in their corporations who, if they were hired for and allowed such, could be truth tellers.

But hearing the truth is inconvenient, and even these business leaders apparently wouldn’t publicly budge, even in the face of contrary evidence from the Governor of their state.

Gov. Dayton spoke as a confident leader, in command of his narrative, unquestionably competent including addressing questions from the floor.

The Governor commented about Minnesota’s flagship University of Minnesota, and said he had gathered data which demonstrated that the UofM did as well or better in its accomplishments than the sum of the eight major universities in Boston – little places like Harvard, MIT and the like. His very prominent businessman Dad once told he and his siblings: “if you put all your eggs in one basket, you better take mighty good care of that basket.” But, he said the UofM, and public institutions in this state, have suffered from policies of austerity; and the state suffers as a consequence.

His Tax proposals are intended as informed thoughts and invitation to debate on alternatives to the pesky realities of our state, where for too many years we have relied on shell games, like shifts, to pretend we are doing well financially, supposedly “balancing our books”, when in reality we were digging ourselves a deep hole from which we now have to fashion a way out.

At the beginning, the Governor was greeted with polite applause.

At the end, there was a standing and sustained applause, joined by most in the audience, applause which did not seem forced.

It was a good day.

March 5, 2013, McNamara Alumni Center at University of Minnesota.  Audience listening to Governor Dayton.

March 5, 2013, McNamara Alumni Center at University of Minnesota. Audience listening to Governor Dayton.

#403 – Dick Bernard: Day 15 of the Minnesota Shutdown; 20 days before Default Day in Washington. A Tentative Agreement

Friday, July 15th, 2011

A few hours ago Minnesota’s Governor Mark Dayton, and the leaders of the Republican House and Senate reached a tentative agreement on bringing Minnesota back from Shutdown. Predictably, as is always true in these situations, there is a great plenty of glumness, and anger. Here’s how it was described in the independent MinnPost on-line newspaper.

Now comes the tension of actually getting a deal done: passed by the House and Senate and signed by the Governor. It ain’t over till its over.

Art IV Sec. 12 of the Minnesota Constitution seems to be the crucial rule now in play: “A special session of the legislature may be called by the governor on extraordinary occasions.” The governor, and only the governor, can call the special session. The Legislature had 120 legislative days (the constitutional maximum) to reach an agreement that would be acceptable to the Governor. They chose unilateralism.

Games can obviously played in a special session, but those who play such games will have hell to pay from the electorate in a years time. The spotlight now shines on every single legislator.

Those of us who have ever been in difficult negotiations – I have – have “been there, done that” with what faced the Governor and House and Senate leaders after 13 days of Minnesota Government Shutdown.

The parties in the room do not have the luxury of second-guessing or arm-chair quarterbacking or winning total victory over the enemy. They are forced to face reality.

There is something of a rule of thumb in such situations: a good settlement is one that nobody likes. So the partisans on both sides are bemoaning this still tentative deal for diverse and opposing reasons.

Personally, I hope the deal gets passed. The longer this crisis goes on, the worse it will get, and the more difficult it will be to settle.

I did not initially support Mark Dayton when he ran for Governor in 2010. I preferred the endorsed candidate of the DFL party. But I will now say with absolutely no equivocation that Governor Dayton is proving himself to be an outstanding Governor.

I am not as impressed with we citizens. “We, the people” freely elected that this mess would happen in the way we voted (or did not vote at all*) in 2010. In effect, we chose this deal we do not like, and likely will not like, by electing who we did. We chose this craziness at both state and national levels. We citizens need to take a very hard look at ourselves, individually and collectively.

The new and often radical Republicans who ran and won in MN in 2010, often by infinitesimal margins, now have established a record in their votes in their first legislative session. (The special session doesn’t count, in my opinion). Now they will need to answer for what they did, not what they promised in campaign ads when running for office.

* – Citizens not voting at all, or voting in ignorance of possible consequences, is the big story of the 2010 elections, in my opinion. We’re paying the price for our collective laziness.

Just for comparison, here’s the vote for MN Governor in 2010, and the vote for President in 2008, both from the MN Secretary of State. They speak for themselves: Governor 2010; President 2008. Estimated total voters in 2008 were 2, 920,214; Registered voters as of May 2, 2011, were 3,099,862.

(Here at Outside the Walls are numerous other posts about the Shutdown, and Default. They begin at June 23 on this site. Behind every high-lited calendar date is a post. Hover your cursor over each date to see the topic of the day. This series will continue till at least August 2.)

#392 – Dick Bernard: Day Two of the Minnesota Government Shutdown

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011

I expect to regularly comment on the Minnesota Shutdown at this space. Check in once in awhile. Related post for June 30 here.

In the evening of Day One of the Shutdown, we took our Grandson Ryan to a Minnesota Twins vs Milwaukee Brewers game at Target Field.

It started very nastily, with a two hour weather delay, and ended well after midnight with a Twins win: 6-2. Very tired, but all good.

The weather (photos below, click to enlarge) give evidence of an opportunity I had for two hours to see lots of Minnesotans in action less than a day after the government shutdown.

Target Field, Minneapolis MN, shortly after 7 p.m. July 1, 2011.

Torrents of rain on Target Field July 1, 2011

After the deluge, and before 'batter up'

Minnesota nice prevailed on the filled concourses during the two hour delay. Beer sales were apparently very brisk, as evidenced by long lines at the men’s restrooms. Even though the storm seemed potentially ominous (it ended relatively benign), there was no sense of panic. The Stadium is very well constructed for this kind of contingency, it appears, and the facility personnel were well prepared. Whatever one might feel about the Stadium itself, it was built in the present with an eye towards future possibilities, including unpleasant ones, like bad storms. That’s what infrastructure is all about.

But you couldn’t tell, Friday night, that Minnesota Government was essentially shut down. That non-response is to be expected. It takes days, weeks, sometimes months to come to grips with a hugely unpleasant reality: when Future becomes Present, and you can only wish you did things different back then in the Past. I thought back to an extremely difficult time in my own life, when burnout caused me to leave a secure job and become unemployed without access to unemployment insurance. It was initially rewarding. I desperately needed the break. But as time went on, and the grim realities of no money and no job set in, there was more a sense of panic. This began about 29 years ago, and it is a time I will never forget. Present indeed becomes Future, and if you don’t look beyond today, you’re living in a fools paradise.

Back home after the game a flooded e-mail box with assorted comments about the shutdown.

One particularly caught my eye. I am close enough to the sources of credible political commentary to on occasion get material like what I saw later in the day here, which is most likely genuine. The Minneapolis Star Tribune editorial this morning seemed to verify the reality of the e-mail.

I have been around collective bargaining of all sorts for many, many years, including death’s door negotiations to avoid strikes.

One of the rules, which does not even have to be written, is that you don’t bring to the table at the end of the process items that you know will not be negotiated by the other, unless that is your intended purpose: to find an excuse to walk out…and then blame the other side for what was, in fact, your own intended purpose.

This apparent proposal is full of these items. Add an apparent refusal to even consider Gov. Dayton’s priority of additional taxes on the very wealthy (at the end, those with over $1,000,000 incomes), and there is no place to bargain. If in fact it is true, which is likely, the Republican negotiators either were hopelessly naive, or, more likely, desired the outcome which was headlined on July 1, as “SHUT DOWN”.

Regrettably, few people really pay attention to politics, except for sniping, negative comments about “them”. And in this polarized political environment, the tendency is to shut out reasonable arguments that don’t represent your “side”. So, at this point, few people are interested in anything past the sound bites they might see on the evening news or in a headline; and too many are caught up in that most shallow mantra: “we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem”.

If this thing doesn’t settle, soon, the body politic will begin to come to grips with a very harsh reality, much as I did 28 years ago. Back then an important (and I believe, still, necessary) decision for my own mental health went awry, later creating serious problems affecting only my tiny (in relative terms) personal universe. We’re now making serious problems for our entire country, for everybody.

There’s a big difference between derailing an entire train, and one person jumping off of it….

ADDITIONAL COMMENT ON DAY THREE: Of course, everything would be immediately solved if one of the negotiating parties dropped their demands and conceded to the other. That has been an obvious potential problem since the day after the election in 2010 more than eight months ago; and it is the ‘sound bite show’ – if only THEY or HE would concede, we could settle this thing in a moment.

I was glad when they went behind closed doors to try to settle things without news release and fanning flames.

It didn’t work. It remains the only potential for success.

Ryan with "t c". He got his hat autographed!