October 29th, 2014
Last night was the final discussion forum. Sometimes they are called debates, but they really aren't. Our topics last night were limited to issues affecting cities. I suspect the audience was expecting a little more. However, the debate was sponsored by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, and the questions were written by their people. The topic is hugely important, but a little dry.
I have tried to run a positive campaign. I did run ads this week pointing out how some of my opponent's votes contradicted what she claimed to support during our discussions. For example, she claimed to support all-day kindergarten and the 5% raise for nursing home workers, but voted against both on the floor of the House. Her reasoning was that the bills included other "irresponsible spending;" however, at some point you have vote for what you support if it really matters to you. And the budget was balanced, so the other spending, whatever it was, at the least did not incur debt.
As for the silence of this blog, my willingness to write a blow-by-blow daily campaign account evaporated when I realized that the account itself could and would be used against me. There was some attack mail sent out using quotes from old columns taken out of context, with all sense of humor subtracted and replaced by fake indignation (how could the DFL nominate somebody who says things like this? They mustn't have vetted their candidate.), so that made me hesitant to fling my unfiltered thoughts onto the world-wide web.
The learning continues. In nearly every case, I don't offer any solution to problems presented as I simply don't know enough background to make a promise to fix it. All I can promise is to look into it, and I will. "Will you support adding $200 million to X fund to ensure that nobody is left behind?" (a hypothetical but typical question), the answer is, of course not. I got a call from a lobbyist yesterday wondering why I wouldn't sign his pledge to support a specific bill. Well, I have heard no hearings on the bill. I don't care who else of eminence has signed the pledge, I am not going to support something until I hear the pros and cons and have a chance to ask questions of my own.
Off to knock some doors!
As I continue to visit (last week it was mainly attending and participating in forums) with people, it becomes clear that needs exceed resources in many areas: Special Education. Nursing Homes. Mental health programs. Veterans' services. Highways and bridges. Job training for health care workers. On and on. It is sobering to realize that the pie which will be split up for these needs will simply be too small.
Another problem in evidence: Even people with good training struggle with flat wages and reduced benefits, sometimes while working companies which are recording record profits. We really don't have much of a middle class in the old sense of the word where a run-of-the-mill corporate job would give a family with one bread-winner a comfortable living and a secure retirement. The recovery has been halting and tepid because it has not resulted in a spending binge by the broad swath of our populace. It merely has built up the coffers of the bigger companies with money they use for stock buybacks (which reduce the percentage of the company owned by common shareholders), monstrous bonuses at the top and mergers and acquisitions.
A third issue: We have people working at Starbucks with four year and graduate degrees and not enough people to take care of those who need health care, mental health assistance, home health, and so on. We don't have enough teachers applying for openings in rural areas, perhaps other areas as well. There is a big mismatch between the graduates four-year institutions produce and the jobs available for them when they graduate.
I offer no solutions. However, legislators are given endless information from various studies, think tanks, etc., and are left to choose solutions, or concoct combinations from the menu offered.
This week, I am speaking with a group which is working to solve the present nursing home crisis, amongst other problems in eldercare. I will be all ears.
An area newspaper asked for a 300 word explanation of my motives for running for office and qualifications. I include it here:
The top reason I entered this year’s race for Minnesota House of Representatives (1-B) is concern that, due to a long series legislative cuts, nursing homes in our corner of the state are going to close. Two have closed already, others are on the brink.
The problem? Nursing homes are not reimbursed enough by the state to pay competitive wages. The good people who care for our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles cannot afford to take 30-50% less pay than they can earn other nearby jobs.
My 103-year-old Great Aunt Olive resides at Fair Meadow nursing home in Fertile. Her biggest fear is that she will “get shipped off somewhere.”
The sad fact is, two area nursing homes have already “shipped off” their residents and more will follow unless something is done.
Our elders should be able to age and be cared for in their community.
I have lived in Fertile, MN all of my life. Since, childhood, I have worked in the nursery and greenhouse my grandfather started in 1937, owning and managing the business for the past 17 years.
For five years, I served as chair of the board of the Northwest Minnesota Foundation. During that time, I became familiar with what works and what could use some improvement in our region.
One thing I have learned: The rest of the state barely knows we exist.
We need strong and effective representation in St. Paul or our interests, including funding for our roads, schools and nursing homes, will be ignored by people who think of Brainerd as “north.”
I hope to provide such strong representation, and would appreciate your support.
I didn't get pictures, since I was organizing the event, which came in the middle of a busy weekend, but Aunt Olive had a successful 103rd birthday party yesterday. We held it at the Fertile Hilton. Many relatives came as my father's siblings decided the occasion was a good excuse for a family reunion. So, the weekend was full of food, music and...food. Aunt Olla's birthday, in the end, was just the dessert. But she basked in the attention and enough other people got pictures so we will have a way to remind her of the event and who attended later on.
Meanwhile, campaigning goes on. I knocked doors today, and there is always bookwork and correspondence to clean up. I haven't been a very good nephew about getting in to see Olive at least once per week.
The Twins finally fired Ron Gardenhire. When a team loses 90 games four years in a row, somebody has to take the blame.
I never did like Gardenhire's in-game managing decisions, as much as I enjoyed his engaging personality off the field. He had flair off the field, but was boring on the field. Tom Kelly is a bore off the field (unless you like his dry-as-a-bone announcing style, which I do), but had a flair for unusual and successful decisions under pressure on the field.
Yesterday, Minnesota House Majority Leader Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) came to Fertile with several aides to visit the Fair Meadow assisted living. Here she is in the middle, with my campaign treasurer (the hardest job on the campaign) Gloria Kaste on the right, and Erin in the middle. We had a great visit, not only viewing the building, but visiting with residents.
The next stop was Crookston, so I asked the Majority Leader to ride with me so we could visit. I asked her about the politics of nursing homes in the legislature. If anything is evident from visiting with people in the past few days it is that the crisis of a nursing home labor shortage is getting worse by the day in northwestern Minnesota, and that several board members of homes, one mayor, one administrator, and others I have talked to say that unless something is done, they will not be open next year at this time. So, I asked the majority leader--is there hope? Does anybody care down there?
The answer was fascinating. The short answer is yes, there is hope. The long answer is...more complicated. The politics of nursing homes are much more intense with the battle lines more demarcated than I had understood.
Last night, a fund-raiser. For me. It was a deliberately small affair and not really a fund-raiser because nobody was required to give money to get in the door or to eat the delicious snacks (I can't spell "or derves"). The biggest honor for me was that Sen. Kent Eken, Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, and former long-time Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe all were in attendance and gave speeches on my behalf. I was very moved, and have been truly touched by their fatherly advice (plus the just as frequent grandfatherly advice of former Rep. Bernie Lieder) throughout this campaign, an effort which is truly an unfamiliar experience for me. They know the turf. To talk to them is to access some rare wisdom and over 100 years of legislative experience.
My sign mentor would immediately recognize something wrong with this picture: You are supposed to hammer in the rebar first, then attach the sign with zip ties. However, just like my grandfather used to move trees a little to the left just after he planted them, so I can often find a better place for a sign just after it has been pounded into the ground. So, I pulled this one up and hammered it in a few feet to the north.
It was a dizzying week of events, sign distribution, door-knocking, topped off by a fundraiser. I slept all day today and hope that rejuvenates me a bit. A campaign is both physically and emotionally taxing, I am finding. The big part for me is not knowing, after a day's work, whether that day's work did any good. I suspect that is a common feeling in the corporate world, and numerous other environs, but out here in the countryside, if you mow a strip, you can see that strip is mowed. The accomplishment cannot be denied. When you knock 70 doors and 12 people answer, but you left literature hanging from the other 58 doorknobs, how much did you help your cause? You'll never know, of course. You can only rely on research which indicates that door-knocking is the single most effective campaign tool. So, it is just to keep going until the clock runs out.
When daydreaming about politics in past years, I had always hoped to avoid the tradition of lawn signs if I ever were to run. In fact, Betsy Hodges recently won the Minneapolis mayoral race without putting out a single one!
But wasn't possible in this Minnesota House race. Lawn signs are apparently unavoidable, I was informed early on. People love to see them pop up and compare who got which spot and who has more here and who has more there--so I have spent a couple of days spreading lawn signs about, with a lot of help from volunteers. It is sort of an unwritten rule that signs wait until after Labor Day, but after that, Katie bar the door. Up they go, all over.
By the way, if you have a good spot for a lawn sign, don't hesitate to email. We'll get you one in a hurry. Gotta keep up with the Joneses in the lawn sign war!