Sunday, March 31, 2013

Minnesota Vikings and Pulltab Revenues Should We be Shocked?

Are we to be shocked and surprised that the estimates for the pulltab revenues for the Vikings
stadium were essentially made up by gambling interests and not verified by the governor and legislature?  Perhaps we should be no more so than was Captain Renault in the movie Casblanca when he declared that: “I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”  The story of the Vikings pulltab debacle unfortunately is a common occurrence, the result of pressure politics, money and politics, and the often lack of capacity or will of public officials to analyze and digest complex information.
            The Vikings deal was the proverbial effort to place lipstick on a pig.  It was a bad deal for Minnesota no matter how you cut it.  As I point out in my recent book American Politics in the Age of Ignorance: Why Lawmakers Choose Belief Over Research, the evidence is practically incontrovertible–public investments and subsidies for professional sports is perhaps the single worst economic development investment that can be made by the government.  Passing aside the arguments about such subsidies being no more than welfare for sports owners or public gifts to a private and heavily profitable private business, study after study demonstrates that no matter how you measure it–number of jobs, cost per job, or overall economic impact–public investments in professional sports is a terrible return on investment.
            So why did Minnesota do it, especially when surveys were clear that the public overwhelming opposed the use of tax dollars for the Vikings (as it did for the Twins just a few years before)?  A cluster of reasons explain it.  First, the Zygi Wilf’s of the world deploy scarcity of teams, the threat of leaving a market, and the emotional tugging of fan loyalty to pressure politicians to support such deals.  That was definitely the case with the Vikings.  It has to explain in part Governor Dayton’s nearly inexplicable choice to make doing the stadium deal a top priority for him.  As a business person he should have known better that this was a bad economic deal for the state but he still pushed hard for it.
            But second, the Vikings stadium deal demonstrates the power of pressure of politics.  Since 2002, the Vikings have directly spent more than $6 million lobbying the state legislature for a new stadium.  Wilf alone since he took over at the owner has spent nearly $4.3 million lobbying.  Add to that political contributions and then money spent by other groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, the hospitality industry, and the buildings and trade unions, totally expenditures to lobby for a new Vikings stadium would easily top the ten million mark in the last decade if not since Wilf took over.
            The legislature, especially the DFL last year, was under enormous pressure to do a Vikings deal because the governor wanted it and his party wished to support him.   But the public was insistent that no public dollars be spent, so how to make both the governor and the public happy?  Find another source of revenue.  Enter pulltabs.  One can only suspect that the legislature and the Gambling Control Board was under enormous pressure to make the pulltab numbers work no matter what.  Explicitly or implicitly the understanding was this.  Yes solely consulting with the gaming interests was stupid and a conflict of interest, but that stupidity was compounded along the way.  At some point someone in the governor’s office should have asked how the numbers were generated, or the same should have occurred in the many legislative hearings.  But it did not.  Why?
            First, no one really wanted to know.  The deal was more important.  Second, One can see a scenario of bureaucracy where everyone thought that someone else had checked the numbers and thus by the time they got to them they just assumed the numbers had already been vetted. 
            But third, there is the capacity question.  By that, most of the people looking at these numbers lacked the skills or knowledge to read them or make estimates regarding the pulltab revenue stream.  Yet there were many red flags that should have given one reasons to question them.  We were in the middle of a recession with less disposable income for gaming, especially among the poor who were already the biggest gamblers and among the most exploited by casinos and gambling already.  Minnesota already had a robust and extensive lottery and charitable gaming industry–what evidence is there that there was an untapped market that could be expanded?  Finally, what evidence was there that there were many organizations that wanted to do these pulltabs, again given how well developed  the existing gaming industry was already? 
            These are just some of the questions that should have been asked by legislators.  That is there job.  Maybe some did know better but they remained silent, especially among the DFL who felt they had to support the governor.  Overall, DFLers produced 55% of the votes for the stadium.  Additionally, of the 90 Democrats voting on the stadium 62 or 69% voted for it, while 50 of 109 or 46% of the Republicans supported it.  Given that a DFL governor pushed the bill, the DFL produced the majority of the votes for the stadium, and over two-thirds of them supported the Vikings proposal, the Democrats own the stadium.  Yet the Republicans should not be let off the hook–many of them voted for it and Senator Julie Rosen and Maury Lanning–Republicans, sponsored the bill in the Senate and House.
            Government can do better than it did here.  The bigger issue is how do we increase the capacity of public officials to make good decisions.  But here the Vikings pulltab story points to a huge bipartisan public fiasco due to a pressure politics, negligent or willful blindness to the facts, and simply bad decision making.  Given that, we should be no more shocked about the Vikings deal than Captain Renault was about gambling in Casablanca.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage and the Supremes: What will the Court Do Now?

    So after two days of arguments before the Supreme Court, what are the prospects for legalization of same-sex marriage across the United States if not in Minnesota?  The best guess right now is that there are not five votes to strike down all bans on same-sex marriage across the country but that instead potential inaction by the Supreme Court may be one of the best things to happen for those who support the right of gays and lesbians to wed.

Constitutional Law 101
    The Supreme Court under Justice Roberts has a history of closing the doors of justice.  What do I mean by that?  Since Roberts and Alito joined the Court the mostly conservative majority has issued numerous rulings making it more difficult for individuals and entities to bring cases.  The Court has taken a narrow view of standing.  Standing refers to whether a person has a right to bring a case to court.  Not everyone is allowed to bring a case to court.  One must show an injury.  By that, the Constitution and the rules of civil procedure require that  persons show that they are injured in someway–legally or injured in fact–and that they are the appropriate person or persons to claim that injury.  During Roberts' tenure, his Court has made it difficult for taxpayers to challenge government use of money for religious purposes, and in general has also made it hard (as in Walmart sex discrimination  case) for class actions to move forward.
     In other cases, when it comes to medical devices or generic drugs, the Roberts Court has made it difficult to sue on grounds that federal law preempts state law.  Finally, the Court has also  made the basic threshold requirements for alleging a claim or injury more difficult, giving judges more discretion to thrown out cases.  Finally, the Court has made it difficult to challenge the facial validity of a law.  This was the case with the Indiana voter ID case.
    In short, the Roberts Court is closing the door to the federal courts.
    Finally, there are two other points about constitutional law that one needs to know.  First, for a case to be brought in court there must be case or  controversy.  By that, there must be a real dispute with opposing parties.  If there are no opposing parties then there is no dispute and therefore the courts must dismiss the case.  Second, as a general principle, courts should generally not involve  themselves in political questions or disputes, reserving their resolution for Congress, the president, or the states.

Closed Doors but Coming out of the Closet?
    Normally closing the doors of the courts means a denial of justice.  But with the two gay rights cases before the Supremes, this closed door policy may bring same-sex marriage out of the closest?  How so?  One needs to understand what law professors call the procedural posture of the two cases.
    First look at the California Prop 8 case.  The CA Supreme Court declares that a state law denying same-sex couples the right to marry is unconstitutional.  Prop 8 is then adopted by voters to overturn that ruling.  Prop 8 is then challenged in federal district court and it is declared unconstitutional.  The 9th Circuit on appeal agrees, ruling narrowly that once rights have been granted they cannot be retracted for some group without violating the Equal Protection clause.
    However what makes the CA case interesting is that the State of California refused to defend Prop 8 on appeal.  Instead, the district court let some of the supporters of Prop 8 intervene to defend it.  This is where the problems begin.
    On Tuesday the Supreme Court asked whether supporters of Prop 8 had a right to bring the suit.  The Court said that the appropriate party to defend Prop 8 was the State and that these individuals lacking standing to bring the case.  Moreover, several members of the Court also wondered whether these supporters had suffered any injury in fact or law.  By that, can they show how same-sex marriages harm them or traditional marriages?  The Court seem unconvinced by their answers. 
    The standing and injury issues are important.  If there is no standing or injury, the case would be dismissed.  If dismissed, the lower court decision would stand, thereby invalidating Prop 8, and therefore by default legalizing same-sex marriage in California.  Six of the Supreme Court Justices  suggested this is a possible direction they may go.  Effectively, they are closing the door of the federal courts and that may work to the benefit of advocates of same-sex marriage.
    The same closing of a door may also work to the advantage of the same-sex marriage in the DOMA case.  Here, the challenge is the 1996 federal DOMA law denying federal benefits to same-sex couples even in states where such marriages are recognized.   But again there is an oddity to this case–the Obama administration has refused to support the constitutionality of the law in court and instead is arguing against it while still enforcing the law. The law is defended by the Republican Leadership in the US House of Representatives and not by the president (whose job it is to defend federal laws).
    Why is this significant?  There may not be a case or controversy here.   If no one is defending the law then the case gets dismissed.  Several Justices expressed concern about this along with concerns about standing.  Given that a lower court had ruled against DOMA, refusal of the Supremes to rule on this case may mean that the lower court decision stands and DOMA is gone.
    Finally, in both cases majorities seemed unwilling to want to rule in a way that would create a 50 state rule.  They expressed concern that for the Court to act would pre-empt states from experimenting with marriage, a traditional state function.  This was Kennedy’s  issue concerning the DOMA case.  Other justices thought that gay marriage was such a new concept that they should let states do what they want.  Still others raised concerns that DOMA stood in the way of state action and that federalism  dictated that DOMA was unconstitutional.

So what does all this mean?
    These procedural issues are important and may work to the benefit of same-sex marriage supporters.  It is clear the Roberts Court wants not to rule on these cases.  Yes, there are some Justices who would rule that bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.  But it is not clear that there are five votes to do that.  Moreover, the nature of the facts in these two cases make it difficult  to reach this kind of ruling.  Do not expect either of these two cases to be clear rulings to be similar to the famous Loving v. Virginia that declared that bans on mixed-race marriages were unconstitutional. 
    The Court here could use standing, injury, or the case and controversy concepts simply to throw out the cases.  What would that mean? Prop 8 is gone and same-sex marriage in California  is legal and the DOMA is unconstitutional.  This may not be the bigger ruling many want, but it is a long way toward constitutional recognition of same-sex marriage.

The Minnesota Connection
    Minnesota figured prominently in the Prop 8 case.   In1971 the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in Baker v. Nelson that Minnesota state law prevented same-sex couples from marrying.  This was the first ruling on same-sex marriage in America and I have covered this case in my State Constitutional Law course for over 20 years.  That case was appealed to the US. Supreme Court and the Supremes denied to hear it in part presumably because it did not raise a federal question.  This case was discussed in the Prop 8 case in terms of whether the denial in Baker still represented good precedent for the Supreme Court to stay out of the same -sex marriage dispute.
    Assume DOMA or Prop 8 falls, what does it mean for Minnesota?  Legally maybe invalidation of the federal DOMA might raise questions about the MN DOMA (although the MN DOMA is about MN recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states).  Depending on how the Supreme Court rules, it may open up legal challenges to the state law.   Additionally, if the federal DOMA falls, then if MN legalizes same-sex marriage the federal government will have to recognize the marriage.  It is less clear legally what the Prop 8 case means for Minnesota.
    However, culturally, decisions in these two cases will have a major impact on Minnesota. It may create more momentum for Minnesota to act legislatively, especially if the legislature does not act this year.

Last Thoughts: Kennedy’s Swan Song?
    Every year I do a training session at Reuters/Thompson/WEST on the Supreme Court.  About three years ago I argued that Justice Kennedy’s last vote on the Supreme Court would be to strike down laws banning same-sex marriage.  He would do that and then resign.  I still am betting that.  Kennedy will go out as the most ardent defender of GLBT rights ever on the Court.  He will do that as conservative old line Catholic who is pro-life, anti-death penalty (for minors at least), and who supports prisoner rights.  His decisions read of words about respect for all life and about human dignity–including for gays and lesbians. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Blue-Collar Education in a White-Collar University

Is American higher education closing its door to the poor and blue-collar students?  According to a recent  New York Times  article the answer is yes. In “Better Colleges Failing to Lure Talented Poor” the Times discusses a recent study finding that poor but talented students are increasingly unlikely to apply to elite colleges, instead opting to attend community and weaker state schools that offer lesser prospects and educational challenges for them.  The study suggests that schools are not doing a good job in enrolling blue-collar students because of poor recruitment techniques.
    The NY Times and the study it reports on have largely missed the point.
    The failure of elite colleges to recruit and retain the talent poor is not just  a problem of financial aid and bad communication to prospective students.  It is also about attitudes, culture, and a failure to foster a learning environment welcoming to working class students and faculty.  It is about the hierarchy of higher education, and the problem of class in America.
    I am one a dying breed of first-generation college students who became a professor and see first hand the return of higher education in American into what it was before World War II–a citadel for the affluent.  Since the 1970s the number first generation college students who go on to get their doctorates has declined, and with that, the percentage of faculty who come from blue collar roots has deteriorated.  The faculty who teach our students increasingly are detached and removed from understanding a working class world.  Blue-collar students have few role models who appreciate their experiences.
    I am also the editor of the Journal of Public Affairs Education.  In a recent issue of the journal  several working class faculty told their stories about life as students and professors.  My story is also included.  The stories recounted ivy league schools with legacy admissions that discriminate against first generation students and even if accepted, fail to appreciate the different ways blue-collar students experience the world, be it in how they talk, dress, or forgo spring break to exotic places because  they need to work.   The faculty stories also point to the same schools unwilling to recruit faculty from state schools because they and their students and parents want to see professors with ivy league degrees next to their names.  It is the good old boy network of high education that  recruits their professors from the ranks of their former students.
    There is a class hierarchy among universities. At the apex come the Ivy League schools, the Seven Sisters, and then the many small-private Ivy League–like schools. It then descends to big research state universities and eventually to community colleges. We all know the hierarchy. We know it from which schools we want our children to attend and from the schools we covet teaching in. The Ivies are supposed to be the most selective, but certainly they are among the most expensive. Working-class and first-generation students are often priced out of going there, and recent studies suggest that admissions officers are focusing more on students who can pay the full tuition.  Research documents that first-generation college students amass far greater debt than those who are not first generation, thereby precluding them from attending these schools.  Other studies also indicate that in general, cost has become a new barrier to higher education and is forcing many first-generation students to drop out of college and perhaps never graduate. The dropout rate for first-generation college students is four times greater than that for those whose parents attended college.
    One may argue that cost is reflective of academic competitiveness and quality. But that is not necessarily the case. Take Harvard, for example. Several studies recount how legacies—children of parents who previously attended Harvard— have a greater chance of securing admission than those whose parents did not attend the school.  Legacy admissions at Harvard are near 30%, nearly four times the rate for the general population.  For supposedly the most selective school in the country, the legacy applicant pool is not as competitive. Additionally, applicants who attend a select number of preparatory schools also seem to benefit in terms of admissions. Children whose parents can afford to send them to the Harvard-Westlake School and Phillips Academy as well as other private schools experience significantly better chances of securing admission to the Ivy League schools than those attending public high schools. Finally, as Ross Douthat  discusses in his aptly titled Privilege, those attending Harvard do so with a sense of entitlement and are rewarded with connections and networks that replicate themselves well beyond school. Overall, students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds face difficulty getting into good high schools that serve as a feeder to elite colleges. Once a parent has attended an elite institution, his or her child has an advantage in being admitted as a legacy. Now one may contend that in fact these children represent the best and the brightest, and that is why they enjoy these advantages. However, given the declining social mobility in America, many students from blue-collar families never have the opportunity to compete fairly—they are economically restricted in their ability to compete.
    Higher education reflects a hierarchy that mirrors the social-economic inequalities and decreasing mobility of American society.  But the bias against the poor is also  cultural, reflecting a world view largely ignorant if not hostile to the experiences of many.  This is what they NY Times and higher education in America largely fail to grasp.
    So how do my blue-collar working-class experiences affect my teaching? I have never held out myself as a role model specifically to blue-collar students. I do not discuss my family background or politics in class. I do not think of myself in terms of identity politics, nor do I approach students by categorizing according to specific identities or background. Yet class affects my teaching in the sense that I do not give anyone special treatment because of their backgrounds, including their socioeconomic status. I emphasize hard work and smarts, and not connections, in my approach to teaching. All my students realize that. Moreover, I am more comfortable with working class students and the most rewarding teaching I ever did was at Minneapolis Community College where I taught  mostly first generations and those on welfare.
    I  have both sympathy and empathy for my students from working-class backgrounds. I can appreciate the situation they are in and respect that they are struggling to go to school and trying to earn a living. But at the same time, from my own life I have learned that these students are not asking for special treatment, just a fair chance and opportunity. I did receive financial aid and support to pay for school, but to succeed academically I learned I had to do it on my own. I showed professors I was willing to work hard and expected them to help me by putting in the time to teach and talk to me. I recognize that my blue-collar students have many obstacles to overcome, they are hesitant to ask for help, and they feel they have to do it on their own. I will provide mentoring and support; I reach out to talk to them; but I expect them to work. My role model, if one exists, is that merit and hard work will be rewarded.
    Conversely, I accept few excuses based on anyone’s background. I teach in a graduate program that includes many working adults. I do my best to appreciate that they are attending school and working, but I cut little slack for them. If I could grunt out work and school, they too should be able to do that. They are expected to deliver and perform. This is the message I learned from my experiences, and that is the message I impart—it is about performance. My blue-collar students understand this message and thrive with it.
    As blue-collar students and faculty we do not want anyone to cut us slack. We accept we have to work harder than the more affluent and we do. We simply want to be given  a fair shot to compete.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Thoughts on the Recent Star Tribune Poll on Same-Sex Marriage

In a February 25-27, Star Tribune poll that was reported on March 6, “Fifty-three percent of Minnesotans say the state statute banning same-sex unions should stand. Only 38 percent say legislators should overturn the law this year, while 9 percent are undecided.”  The is poll has generated significant discussion, with opponents of same-sex marriage contending that its results validate their argument that the rejection of the marriage amendment last fall does not translate into support for same-sex marriage in Minnesota.  Supporters of same-sex marriage contend that the poll was flawed, pointing to the language or wording of the questions.

However, there is a different issue here–How accurate was the poll?  In the last few years the Star Tribune polls have been way off, such as predicting Dayton to win big over Emmer in 2010.  Yet at the same time in 2012 the last Star Tribune poll was about accurate in predicting the Rick Nolan and marriage amendment results.  So what should we think about this poll?

The paper reports that the survey included 800 respondents and had a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent.  But additionally the poll also had 80% of respondents coming from landline and 20% cell phone, and the partisan split was Democrats 35%, Republicans 27%, Independents/Other 30%.

Consider first the landline/cell phone issue.  The best estimates now are that close to 40% of Minnesotans are cellphone exclusive or primary users.  Cellphone exclusive users tend to be younger, landline older, but as cell phone use grows, this trend decreases.  Why is this breakdown important?  The best evidence is that among those age 30 or younger, over 70% favor same-sex marriages.  Thus, if the Star Tribune only had 20% cell phone users–less than half of what the actual usage is in Minnesota–then it potentially under-countered support for same-sex marriage in the state.  This means that one could potentially adjust the 53/38 split on the issue by 6 or so points.  By my estimate, a survey of 40% cell phone users might change the poll results to 47% wishing to continue to support a ban on same-sex marriage while 44% wishing to repeal the ban.  Suddenly the poll looks tighter and within the margin of error.

Yet the partisan breakdown is interesting.  It lists 35% DFL, 27% GOP and 30% Independent/other.  Compare this to the 2012 exit poll listing 39% DFL, 31% Republican, and 30% Independent/ other.  The Star Tribune poll perhaps slightly underpolls Democrats but at 35% I would argue that this is close to where DFL support is in the state.  However, at 27%, the poll is lower than the 2012 exit poll and below what I think is an accurate read on Republican identification in the state.  I put it at around 31-32%–about where the 2012 exit poll locates it. 

The partisan breakdown may perhaps both undercount DFL and GOP voters in the state.  With the exception of those under age 30, partisanship is a good predictor support for or against same-sex marriage.  It is possible that the poll, were it to adjust for partisanship, could yield even two or three more points either way for maintaining or repealing than ban.  Thus, one scenario might mean that  up to 47% might support repealing the ban (adding this correct to my other correction), or  conversely, we are again back to about 50% supportive of keeping the ban in place.  It is just too difficult to make predictions here.

However, there are three bottom line points I want to make here.  First, no one single poll tells the story about public opinion on an issue.  Second, methodology matters and the mix of cell phone users and partisans can impact the accuracy of the poll.  That is why nerds like me read  the footnotes first. Third, the Star Tribune poll may not accurately reflect where the public is on same-sex marriage and that it is possible, but not certain, that the real sense of public opinion may be closer than the poll suggests once margins of error, cell phone usage, and partisanship are factored in.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

March 15–Day of Decision for Cautious Minnesota Democrats

By March 15, we will  have a better idea of what Minnesota Democrats in the legislature are made of.  But if early indications are correct, timidity, cautious, and maybe disorganized are the words that best describe the DFL majority approach to governing this year.
    First, why is March 15, so important?  This is the first committee deadline at the state legislature.  Every year the legislature agrees to deadlines for legislation.   These deadlines are referred to a committee deadlines.  For a bill to have legs or remain viable it must pass some committee in its house of origin by a certain date.  If it does not, the bill is presumed dead and theoretically it may not be taken up again.  This year the first committee deadline is March 15, for policy bills.  Thus a bill introduced in the House of Representatives must pass a committee by March 15, for it to live another day. 
    The second critical deadline is March 22.  For any bill that passed in one chamber by March 15, its companion bill in the other body must pass a committee by March 22.  Finally, March 29, is a third deadline for major appropriation and finance bills.  These deadlines do not apply to bonding, budget, and tax bills.
    What all this means is that expect to see by March 15, votes on critical issues that include guns, same-sex marriage, election reform, and a host of other issues that the DFL majorities have bee holding hearings on for the last several weeks.  What committees do with those issues in next several days will be the clearest sign so far regarding how the DFL is interpreting the 2012 elections.
    But one does not really need to wait until March 15; instead, the DFL is proving to be timid, cautious, and inept at governing and it really seems to have defined its mandate from last year as more rejection of the GOP for over-reach that a call for boldness and change.  Just consider a few examples.
    Guns.  The DFL seem all hot and bothered to legislate on guns with proposals for universal background checks and bans on assault weapons placed on the agenda.  Yet soon the assault weapon was pulled and then this last week Representative Paymar’s bill for background checks was effectively made DOA with an NRA-sponsored one that commanded 74 sponsors.  The bill follows the NRA line of targeting those with mental illness as the cause of gun violence.  Maybe it will pass, but anything that does pass will largely be ineffective or fail to address the multi faceted problems  of guns and violence in Minnesota.
    Reproductive Rights.  Perhaps the biggest disappointment this past week was a 71-58 vote in the House to ban insurance coverage for abortion for women who secure their health care coverage  under the Exchanges being set up in Minnesota pursuant to the Affordable Care Act.   Even DFLers supported this bill.  For the tens if not hundreds of thousands of women in Minnesota who will get their health care coverage through this bill it means that they will not be able to exercise their reproductive rights unless they have their own money.  This limit may very well be unconstitutional  under the Minnesota Constitution.  But regardless of the constitutionality, this shows a DFL party hardly united and supportive of women’s rights.
    Same-sex marriage.  Legalizing same-sex marriage portended to be the hot button issue of the 2013 session that would vex the DFL.   Was the demise of the Republicans last November due to overreach on the social issues and the constitutional amendments?  The DFL seems to have accepted that view and has moved very cautious on same-sex marriage.  It was not clear that the majority wanted to move on this issue and Dayton’s tepid stance on the issue–I will sign the bill if it reaches my desk–is hardly a major legislative push on the topic. 
    But now to complicate the issue a Star Tribune poll on same-sex marriage suggests that a  majority opposes legalizing it.  The poll may be flawed but regardless of that, it adds support to DFL inaction on the issues.
    Election reform.  Right from the beginning the DFL seems to be pursuing election reform issues that really will not make much difference.  It is concentrated its efforts on voting reform.  Yes,  changing absentee voting to early voting is not a bad idea but largely two major recounts in this state have shown that voting is not a major issue.   However, even with this issue the House Elections Committee seems to puttering around.  The biggest problems are in the areas of lobbyist reform, legislature disclosure, revolving door,  and unlimited soft money contributions to parties and the caucuses.  There is no movement let alone bills on this topic.  The response by the legislature?  Some legislators and the governor want to raise contributions to candidates–hardly a reform and instead more of a bill of convenience for them.
    Taxes.  Governor Dayton’s Minnesota Miracle round two is dead.  Efforts to extend sales taxes to services and clothing and services are dead as the governor has withdrawn support for both.  The misfire on taxes best describes how timid and inept the DFL politics seems to be this session.
    The tax proposals were dead even before the governor nixed them.  While the economic theory behind taxes services is good, the governor played the politics all wrong.  He never brought the DFL in from the start to get them to buy into the tax reform and it was Tom Horner and not Dayton who had originally proposed sales tax reform.  Dayton was pushing an idea he did not prepare his party for and he also pushed ideas that had significant and powerful lobbyist and special opposition to.  There was no way the DFL was going to support an issue opposed by major interests that fund their party, caucus, and candidates.
    Moreover, Dayton forgot that the DFL has a two year term and the Senate four.  House DFLers on taxes and a range of issues have very different interests in moving bills on these topics.  They will seen the voters sooner.  In addition, the DFL is still very much a coalitional party with those from the urban cores, suburbs, and Iron Range having very different interests.  Dayton who was so smart as a gubernatorial candidate in bringing these different interests together has fallen largely flat in doing that legislatively.  Finally, this is the same DFL that was consistently out-foxed politically by Governor Pawlenty–they were unable then to use their majorities effectively and the same appears true now.
    I remember my hardcore DFL friends telling me over a year ago that Dayton and the DFL  were biding their time for the second two years of the governor.  Their theory was that with the GOP out and the DFL in real change would happen.  I am still waiting.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Les Republicans–I Dreamed A Dream (That Nothing was Wrong with Our Party)

Marco Rubio is living a dream along with the rest of the Republican Party.  It is partly  a dream that the government can do no good and the free market can do no wrong.   It is a dream that the Party’s core message is fine but that the tone needs to change.  It is a belief that being a party that is against helping one another, a party that has only one message, a party that tells the public that you are on your own and that 47% are takers, simply needs to put better candidate faces in front of the public to succeed.  It is a party that believes that opposing gay rights, reproductive rights, the Violence Against Women’s Act, civil rights, higher minimum wages, and reasonable gun restrictions is not a serious impediment to winning the votes of young people, moderates, people of color, and the poor.  This is Rubio’s dream, or perhaps fantasy.
    The challenge for the GOP is evolve or die.  While many Republicans may embrace Social Darwinism, they fail to realize the reality of Political Darwinism–parties must too evolve and change or face extinction.  While today we have become accustomed to the American two party system composed of Republicans and Democrats that was not always the case.  Over time the Whigs and have come and gone along with the Know Nothings and other major or minor parties that have graced the political landscape, only to vanquish because they failed to roll with the times.  The challenge that the GOP may be facing is that there may have been a critical realignment of the American political system but no one has told them about it.  What is a critical realignment?
    Over time membership, labels, and even the existence of who the major parties are has changed over time.  Political scientists such as Walter Dean Burnham describe critical realignments, or realigning elections, as until recently, have occurred about every 30-40 years in American politics.  Realignments were triggered by changing economic conditions or crisis that slowing build up to a very intense election that redefines the major political agenda and parties in American politics for the next couple of generations.  Among the characteristics of such elections were short lived but very intense disruptions of traditional patterns of voting behavior.  Major parties become minor; politics which was once competitive becomes non-competitive, or vice versa.  Formerly one party areas become arenas of intense partisan competition; large blocks of voters shift their partisan allegiance.
    Second, critical elections are characterized by abnormally high intensity.  This intensity includes ideological polarization within and among parties and an abnormal rise in voter participation. This intensity spills over into party nominations and platforms where "rules of the game" are changed and/or the party becomes polarized. Party coalitions shift or existing parties decompose and new or third parties emerge to reflect changes in coalitions and voting.
    Finally, critical elections produce new majority parties and policy programs and agendas that dominate the institutional structure of American government.  These parties will continue to dominate for a couple of generations until the next realignment occurs.
     Burnham has identified several critical elections over time with the first in 1800.  Here the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republican and the Adams Federalist parties emerge.  The Democratic Republicans win the presidency and take over the two houses of Congress.  This party is composed of mainly farmers, former Anti-Federalists, and those from the southern and middle southern states.
    The second critical election is in 1828. The Jacksonian Democrats emerge as the major party.  The Democrats now are composed of southerners and westerns representing rising middle class merchants and investors.  The third is in 1860 when the Republican Party of Lincoln emerges.  The Republicans represent the northern anti-slavery states and those committed to the supremacy of national power over states’ rights.  The fourth critical election is in 1896 when Democrats no longer simply represent the southern slave states but they include the prairie states and farmers.  The Republicans take on the Progressive banner of reform.  Finally there is the critical election of 1936.  The FDR landslide creates a pro-government and emerging civil rights oriented Democratic Party consisting of unions, workers, Blacks, Catholics, and Jewish voters.  The Republicans are pro-business and anti-government.
    Since 1936 political scientists have been waiting for their realigning Godot. Some claim it occurred in the 1960s when Barry Goldwater drove the Republicans to the right and Lyndon Johnson signed civil rights legislation that lost the south for the Democrats.  Or maybe it  occurred with the election of Reagan and the emergence of Reagan blue collar Democrats.  One could even make the case that Obama’s 2008 election was a critical realignment that moved the Democrats in one direction and forced the Republicans further to the right as the party of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. The point is that right now the GOP is living in the Reagan past and they need to evolve and  realign much like the Democrats did in the 1980s.
    Realigning and reinvention is not easy.  But the GOP is on the road to oblivion otherwise.  Republicans have all but disappeared from the Northeast. Look to votes on issues such as the debt limits, medical marijuana,  and others, the core Republican votes are in the South with even mid-west and western states bolting to vote with moderate Democrats.   The Republicans are not just in danger of being the party of the two percenters, but also of just the South.  They are the party of cranky, greedy old  rich folks who seem not to care about anyone else.  They are the party of Marie Antoinette and "Let them eat cake." To think that this is a game winning strategy for the future is more than a dream, it is a fantasy.

Addendum:  One reader sent me this comment.  I think it is worth posting.

Great column.  History demonstrates that 1800, 1828 and 1860 were clearly
realignment elections.  Arguably, there was no further realignment until
1932-36, when the Democrats replaced the Republicans as the majority party.
That majority began to unravel with the defection of the southern Democrats
on account of civil rights.  In 1968 and later, the Republicans became the
national majority, but lost the Congress for a period on account of
Watergate.  The Republican majority was built on a coalition of the racist
white South and the old business Republican party; but this coalition was
inherently unstable.  Minnesota is probably at the forefront of the ongoing
realignment due to moderate business Republicans rejecting reactionary
right-wing positions and moving toward the Democratic Party.  In Minnesota,
we have the Independent Party as a way-station for many of these people.
Its inability to elect legislators and a Governor likely limits its future,
and at the same time will increase the Democratic hold on the state.  This
same realignment is occurring across the northern, far-west and into other
areas with a dominant urban population.  The best evidence of this is to
compare the electoral map of 1896 and 2008, which are remarkably similar,
but the parties are reversed.  If the election of 1800 was a triumph of the
agricultural vote, the election of 1936 was the triumph of the urban vote.
Since we have become an urban nation (with a significant majority living in
urban areas and living urban lifestyles) the question for the future is from
where will there come a second urban party.