Monday, November 17, 2008

Paulsen should seek Gutknecht’s seat

This is a big week that will decide whether Erik Paulsen (R-MN-03 Elect) has an impact for Minnesota in the 111th Congress. Paulsen will make his first votes on the leadership of his caucus and press his case for which committees he would like to serve.

When Tim Walz (D-MN-01) was faced with the same opportunity, he saw the openings left by Gil Gutknecht and Mark Kennedy who would not be returning to be part of the 110th Congress. Walz hit a home run on committee assignments … taking Gutknecht’s spot on Agriculture and Kennedy’s spot on Transportation … plus Veterans Affairs and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. His resounding re-election proved that the District approved of his work on those committees.

Paulsen has expressed a desire to assume Jim Ramstad’s seat on the Ways and Means Committee. Arguably that is one of the most powerful committees in the House, and as such many other experienced legislators will be vying for that assignment.

Unfortunately, one of Gutknecht’s committees no longer has a Minnesotan assigned. In fact there has been a vacancy that the Republicans did not fill during the 110th session. Interestingly, the ranking Republican, Ralph Hall (TX-04) was elected as a Democrat in 1980 and did not switch parties until 2004.

If Paulsen wants to serve Minnesota’s interests, he should aggressively seek an assignment to the Committee on Science and Technology.
By now the chants of “Drill, Baby Drill” have died down, but the energy crisis has not … even as the credit crisis has expanded.
The Science and Technology committee can have a major impact on America’s future … and Minnesota needs to part of it. The future of energy may be created by the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, or ARPA-E. Much like the Defense Department’s DARPA program which developed the Internet as well as GPS, ARPA-E may be the answer to our energy needs.
DOE and private-sector research can easily produce long lists of energy technology projects, but what Congress needs to do is to separate the “wheat from the chaff”. With programs like Automotive and Manufacturing Engineering and Technology (AMET) at Minnesota State University- Mankato, the University of Minnesota’s Department of Forestry’s woody biomass project, or the use of biomass gasifier at the University of Minnesota-Morris, Minnesota has plenty of “ideas” that just need a “champion”.

The Bush Administration requested no funds for ARPA-E in FY2009 while candidate Obama proposed $150 billion in spending on advanced energy technologies. This will be an important assignment that Paulsen should seek out.

While some may say that the private sector should pay for their own research, that “Pollyanna” idea will be seriously challenged as businesses go through their own evaluation of their financial outlook where too often the first things that are cut is Research and Development funding.
There is no doubt that the national debt should cause some serious funding questions be asked … including Bush’s human missions to Mars and other NASA programs. For that matter, I would hope that Congress takes a good hard look at the Bush’s funding of such programs as $13 million for Iraq Cultural Heritage Project (ICHP) which will train new professionals to preserve Iraq's historic treasures and to protect archaeological sites in Iraq … as well as the $300 million for "information/psychological operations" in Iraq (also known as propaganda) ... and $45 million for polls and focus groups to monitor Iraqi attitudes. The Department of State estimates it will spend $5.6 million on public diplomacy in Iraq in fiscal 2008.
A good chunk of that money should be re-assigned to Science and Technology projects.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Coach Walz Call a Time-out !

Good news, Coach Walz … the Scarlets of Mankato West are returning to the Minnesota State High School League Championship Game. This will be the school’s fourth appearance, and is vying for their third championship, winning Prep Bowl titles in 1999 and 2002.

Obviously, this is a great source of pride for the student-athletes, school officials and the community at large. But everything must be kept in perspective. You’ll recall when you were involved with the team that the key was to keep focused on the job at hand … not dream about the future.

It’s easy to project that high school star going to NCAA Division I-FCS college and to dream of a professional career. But the let’s keep everything in perspective. Does it happen – sure – my high school never lost a football game in four years and every senior was offered a college scholarship … one of my classmates went on to become a QB at Purdue and was drafted by the Colts … but my high school may be the exception (even though there are not many that can claim a Heisman Trophy winner and Super Bowl MVP as their alumni.) But my high school coaches were smart … they recognized that not everybody could get to the highest level so most of the schools were not Big Ten but smaller schools … some declined the opportunity to play football … but they had an offer if they wanted it.
Sometimes it’s just nice to be considered as their talents might lead them to another career … as another kid from my high school went on to serve as a member of Congress and even visited Minnesota as a guest of then-Congressman Tim Penny.
Sometimes a multi-talented individual has a talent but that actually is bested developed and expanded upon, and not switching to other areas.

So Coach, it’s time for Congressman Walz to call a time-out and squelch these stories that he is being urged “to consider running for Governor in 2010.”

Congressman Walz, I voted for you to represent the First District in Congress. That’s the job that needs your full focus … and a job that you are good at. Politics and policy can be at crossroads … they sometimes connect but too often, people like to speculate about “who should run for this job” … and obviously, it’s nice to be recognized … but your talents are needed in Congress.
At the Federal level, Congress can impact our lives significantly --- positively as well as negatively.
At the State level, the impact is small as a balance budget prohibits making major policy changes … hence as Governor Pawlenty’s $86 million "Green Jobs Investment Initiative" may be a “good idea”, it will face the question of balancing “financial resources”. As will his 21st Century Tax Reform Committee … as will his Teacher Quality proposal, or his plan to revamp health care by permitting access to online personal health portfolios.
Sure some aspect of these programs may be implemented, but it’s like playing football at NCAA Division III … the opportunities are limited by the budget. Congress is NCAA Division I-FCS … it’s the game you want to play in.

The players are different … and there are plenty of “candidates” in the state legislature that appear to be willing to step up. Let them play … stay in Washington and provide them the assistance the Federal Government should provide. That’s the best way to serve the people of Minnesota. Please stay focused on the job at hand … let others dream about the future.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Durenberger goes Country First suggesting Walz for Senate

There’s a growth that can be seen in many politicians that is rarely exhibited while in office. When first elected, it seems to be Party First but after they are out of office, or face a defeat, the spirit of compromise and bipartisanship produces a Country First veiwpoint. Nationally, look at John McCain after his 2000 Presidential defeat or Trent Lott after losing his Majority Leader position.

In Minnesota, former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger has been an underappreciated Country First voice of reason. In a 2006 commentary, Durenberger’s efforts on behalf of Minnesota Citizens Forum on Health Care Costs was cited. Durenberger continues to nudge our state’s elected leaders on health care writing recently “Governor Tim Pawlenty, like most Republican legislators, believed the key to improving value was getting working families to "put more financial skin in the game" by making them buy high deductible indemnity insurance outside the employer market. What he has apparently come to understand is that is putting the cart before the horse - making people pay for stuff they don't really understand. That may work in cosmetic surgery, or lasik surgery for your golf game, or to create markets for retail clinics and urgi-centers. It doesn't for the 15% of the chronic or potentially terminally ill cases that currently generate 82% of the healthcare costs in Minnesota.

Durenberger expressed his support of Barack Obama for President and suggested that Coleman is pushing health care reform that we need - and can pass in giving his endorsement in this year’s Senate race.

Today, Amy Klobuchar and Durenberger discussed the 2008 election results and their implications, at an event sponsored by the Minneapolis Club and the Minneapolis Foundation.

Durenberger praised Klobuchar for her first 22 months in office which wasn’t a surprise since he written in his e-newsletter that “she has a record of performance both with Democrats and Republicans which make her a most successful and influential Democrat from Minnesota. He stated that Norm Coleman shared his assessment.

Durenberger was not as kind to candidate Al Franken who he describes as a totally committed liberal Democrat that we don’t know how he would perform in the US Senate. Durenberger went on to state that the DFL had not offered their strongest challenger and suggested First District Congressman Tim Walz.
That’s an assessment that I shared after hearing Walz in a debate and realized that he would be a more effective voice in the Senate than Senator Coleman. For the record, this election was too important for me to “waste my vote” on someone who couldn’t win … so Mr. Franken got my vote, but it was certainly reinforcing to hear that somebody that puts Country First recognizes Congressman Walz’s potential.
After all, with Country First people, we don’t ask about political party.
Minnesota and the country need more people like Dave Durenberger.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bachmann misses Television Appearance

It is common knowledge that Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN:06) has pledged to never to vote for a new tax or tax increase , as well as pledged to not pursue earmarks, and even a pledge against legislation involving climate change, but has she made a pledge not to appear on television ?

Heaven forbid that after appearing 23 times over seven weeks starting in September, I would hate to think that one minor setback on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews would stop her from appearing on the only television worth viewing … CSPAN.

On Wednesday, November 12, Bachmann’s House Committee on Financial Services held a hearing on Mortgage Modifications. Considering that former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan called the current situation “a once-in-a-century credit tsunami” one would have hoped that Congresswoman Bachmann would be there to represent Minnesota.
Sadly, it was broadcast on CSPAN and no Bachmann in attendance.
I hope that the Congresswoman has not gotten camera-shy.

Republicans were well represented by Spencer Bachus (AL-06), Tom Price (GA-06), Randy Neugebauer (TX-19), Judy Biggert (IL-13) and others.
Bachus spoke with concern not only about the foreclosure problems, but also about the automobile industry since he has two plants in his district.
But the best comments came from Steven LaTourette (OH-14) who expressed outrage at the potential tax benefits used by banks to acquire each other. “When you have a handful of people picking winning and losing banks and deciding how to spend hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money, transparency must be required,” LaTourette has stated. Describing the PNC buyout of National City Bank, “This was no ordinary bank acquisition once the government stepped in with billions of dollars. We need to shine a light on this and see if it was on the up and up.”
Further, LaTourette expressed grave concerns with the slowness in $300 billion "Hope for Homeowners" program which is intended to keep homeowners in their homes yet has only received only 42 applications in the first two weeks, a dismal fraction of the 400,000 homeowners it was intended to help. Congressman LaTourette said the current financial situation in the U.S. "is a mess."
Additionally, the New York Times has reported there is a lobbying frenzy by an army of hired guns for banks, savings and loan associations and insurers for access to the Treasury program; making citizens ponder if government is the biggest friend of corruption..

It should be pointed out that Congressman LaTourette, as Congresswoman Bachmann, voted against the bailout bill … yet his concern did not end with his vote.

And if Bachmann thought they she could skip this hearing because she had a “tough election”, that wasn’t any acceptable excuse to Congressman Paul Kanjorski (D-PA-11) who had a come-from-behind re-election victory. Kanjorski expressed Instead of placing blame, we must work together toward a solution.
In fact, there was a great degree of bi-partisan spirit by the members in attendance.

At a news briefing yesterday, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson emphasized that the consumer credit market "has for all practical purposes ground to a halt," which is "raising the cost and reducing the availability of car loans, student loans, and credit cards."

Next week, Congresswoman Bachmann has two more opportunities to participate in hearings Oversight of the bailout and aid for the auto industry . These are critical hearings and Congresswoman Bachmann would be advised to skip her announced “basic educational Israel trip”.

The election is long over but time for attention to her Congressional duties is now. Bachmann is campaigning for a seat on the House Ways and Means Committee … based on her lack of participation in Financial Service hearings (she also missed the October 21st hearing on the shadowy banking practice of credit default swaps), she has not earned it.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Is one Minnesota Congresswoman going too far to say Thank You ?

Following Tim Walz election victory in November, 2006, he launched a “Thank You” tour of cities – large and small -- throughout the First District. The New Ulm Journal wrote : “The common-sense, pragmatic people of southern Minnesota are ones you should look to on what they’re going to do so I’m honored to be your representative there,” Walz told a gathering of about 60 in the Grand Hotel. “We won, and for that I’m incredibly proud. So, it was a great day the other night. Electoral politics still works in America. This is still the best democracy in the world. It doesn’t matter what you were up against. The people here in this country decided they wanted to see a change, and each and every one of you did everything possible to make that change. It wasn’t for yourselves; it was for those future generations.”

That tour wasn’t the last time that voters would see Congressman Walz … sure he was there when there was a natural disaster … but he was also there at Hy-Vee groceries stores throughout the District – talking with citizens regardless if they voted for him. He also held hearings in the District on the Farm Bill, legislation for seniors and legislation for Veterans. That’s why Walz was overwhelmingly re-elected winning every county and taking 678 out of 749 precincts.

There is another member of Congress who is about to go on her own “Thank You” tour.
The Star-Tribune reports : Sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council, the trip will be what a Bachmann staffer referred to as “just your basic educational Israel trip.” The excursion will last for all of next week, but she isn’t expected to meet with any VIPs while there.
So, why is Congresswoman Bachmann taking another trip to Israel ?

Could it be to make a formal “Thank You” to her contributors … which have earned Bachmann a slot in the Top Ten of PAC Contributions in 2008.

Taking junkets to Israel to develop some future business for Minnesota firms is cited by Governor Tim Pawlenty as his reason for taking a Jewish Community Relations Council trip. Considering Israel and America have been active trading partners, it may not be an earth shattering event … as would be a Pawlenty mission to Cuba (which Govenor Ventura did and considering a new Obama Administration, it is more likely to develop new Minnesota businesses opportunties first.)

But Bachmann’s reasoning - “just your basic educational Israel trip” - just doesn’t make sense … . In August of 2007 Bachmann went on a privately funded trip sponsored by the America Israel Education Federation (AIEF) to Israel. On that trip, she met with foreign leaders.
How many trips does the Congresswoman need to take to get “just your basic education”?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that she hopes Congress can return this month to approve spending measures to stimulate the depressed economy. The election campaign may be an excuse for Congresswoman Bachman to miss Congressional hearings regarding the roll of Congress in the failure to regulate credit default swaps. But there is no excuse for not being there after the election. Of course, if Bachmann had attended the hearing, she may have learned that her misguided blaming of Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) as being the driving force for the credit crisis with her allegation that "loans started being made on the basis of race, and often on little else" was refuted. There are three reasons to exonerate the Community Reinvestment Act in the mortgage meltdown:
• The CRA applies to banks. Most subprime mortgages came from lenders that were not banks -- so the CRA did not cover them.
• The nonbank lenders made more reckless lending decisions than banks did.
• Regulations didn't drive the subprime lending boom. The pursuit of profits did.
But then again, we don’t know what “Thank You" tour, Congresswoman Bachmann has for her contributors from the Banking Industries.

When voters went to the polls last week, the message was loud and clear --- we want action … and Bachmann is enjoying junkets.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Will Republican Minnesota Congressman Words Be Heard and Proven Correct ?

"People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote -- a very different thing."

In America, we have a representative democracy whereby voters select representatives to make their decisions. Obviously, it would be impractical otherwise as voters would have to decide via a referendum process all collective actions for the peoples common good.

The quote above is from Walter H. Judd who represented Minnesota’s Fifth District and the real question is who will participate. Potentially, 3,199,307 could participate.

It’s the people that participate that will decide these elections. The Republicans will be motivated especially in the three key Congressional Districts where they have incumbents. The Second ( Kline – Sarvi ), the Third ( Paulsen – Madia ) and the Sixth ( Bachmann – Tinklenberg ) will have strong turnout. Unfortunately, the districts represented by the Democrats will only turnover if there is low voter turnout.

Playing into a low turnout is the Electoral College in which Minnesota is not considered to be competitive.

Voters please don’t be dissuaded from participating in process. Remember that every House seat in the Minnesota Legislature is on the ballot.

Get out, VOTE and BE HEARD !

Sunday, November 02, 2008

In MN, House more important than US Senate vote

Last year when I wrote a Vote 60 commentary, my assessment that Minnesota will not be a factor in the Electoral College this time is proven to be correct.
However, I have come to change what part of this year’s ballot is most important.
It's not the US Senate, but the House.

Although I am still concerned with the rules of the Senate that allow for Holds and Filibusters, I believe the next Senate will be more bi-partisan. The 2008 elections put a number of Senators, like Norm Coleman, in a position of trying to work with the Democrats and the 2010 class looks like the Republicans will be in a similar position. Of the seats up for election, 19 are held by Republicans and 15 by Democrats. Of the Democrat seats, none may be lost while Arizona (McCain), Iowa (Grassley), Kentucky (Bunning), Louisana (Vitter), and Ohio (Voinovich) could have challenges. Of those, McCain, Grassley and Voinovich are most likely to join Maine’s Senators Collins and Snowe on select issues (job creation, climate change, etc.)

No, the most important choice Minnesota voters will make on Tuesday is who will represent you in the House.
The critical issue is the economy and what will government do to improve it?
What tax policy will be put in place?
Will some be asked to pay more or will services be cut?

These are critical questions with unemployment hovering in the 6% range, consumers not spending resulting in lower sales tax revenues, and a housing and stock market collapse. The result is a budget shortfall approaching $2 billion dollars (although some project it could be $4 billion.)

Obviously, I am referring to the Minnesota House.

Who does your next representative want to support ?
Being in southern Minnesota, my focus has been on the 24B (Tony Cornish and John Branstad) although the candidates in the 21B (Paul Torkelson and Bob Skillings) and 24A (Bob Gunther and Dale Hansen) seem to have the same approach to the issue.

Cornish approach is clear.
"What it is, is a problem when - if the state has less money coming in - we have to find some place to cut," Cornish told the Fairmont Sentinel. "Just like the county is going to have less money coming in. They're going to have to disappoint people. In the lack of the state's ability to print money, when we get shorted in our revenue ... what other choice do we have to cut? As far as transportation, we just passed a gas tax. The last thing in the world we're going to look at is more revenue for transportation."

Branstad, agrees that finding a funding solution will be difficult but has a more realistic, long-term view telling the Mankato Free Press Cuts aren’t made without repercussions. It is going to be a very challenging environment. When you have limited pie, any increase or decrease for one piece has an impact on another piece.”

Well said, Mr. Branstad … it’s how the pie will be cut.
And Mr. Cornish, what a cavalier attitude that embraces "going to have to disappoint people" instead of how to serve people.

Governor Pawlenty has tipped his hand as to how he wants the pie cut when he established the 21st Century Tax Reform Commission which is reviewing how to improve Minnesota business competitiveness. Pawlenty has already asked all state agencies to submit budgets cutting expense 5% which equates to $2 billion.
Anyone willing to take the bet that Representatives Cornish, Torkelson and Gunther would follow the party line and give tax cuts for business and cut existing state programs ?
[I wish the slogan “Country First” was more evident in Minnesota where it appears to be “Party First”.]

As Minnesota faces the implications of this financial crisis, the next Congress will be asked to support the states. In fact, even though this is campaign season, the US House of Representatives has held a number of hearings and may bring forward a $100 billion economic stimulus package to the floor during a lame-duck session the week of Nov. 17. Democratic leadership indicate that it might include "federal matching funds for state Medicaid programs, an extension of unemployment benefits, expanded food stamp spending and money for infrastructure projects" in the package.
An October 2008 survey of public transportation agencies by the American Public Transportation Association identified 559 ready-to-go transit projects at a total cost of $8.03 billion meaning construction jobs starting within 90 to 120 days.

That’s the key. The federal government will want the states to participate.
When I heard Congressman Tim Walz on the radio endorsing John Branstad for 24-B, it was evident that Congressman Walz knows the problems facing Minnesotans and wants members in the state legislature that will work with Congress.

A vote for Branstad and Walz is not a vote for party politics, but for progress for Minnesota.

(Note: The next US House of Representatives will have a dominate Democrat slant including the possibility of an increase in Minnesota delegation. Voters in Minnesota’s Second District and Sixth District have a choice of embracing Republicans John Kline and Michele Bachmann who have not supported the earmark process that determine those ready-to-go transit projects or Democrats Steve Sarvi and El Tinklenberg who will address jobs and infrastructure improvents.)