Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bemidji Pioneer: At long last Minnesota has senator

Minnesota finally has a second U.S. senator. Shortly after 11:15 a.m. Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden gave the oath of office to Al Franken, with U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Vice President Walter Mondale at his elbows.

It was a long trip to that moment, which included a recount and court challenges by the prior occupant, former Sen. Norm Coleman. The seat has been empty since Jan. 3, and Sen. Klobuchar’s office has had to perform double duty to pick up the slack in constituent services which run the gamut from Social Security and veterans benefits issues to expediting passports to helping with foreign adoptions.

Sen. Franken will need to hit the ground running — but he’s had eight months to study, observe and prepare for the most serious role of his life, that of representing Minnesota in the U.S. Senate. He becomes the 60th member of those who caucus Democratic, giving the Democrats a filibuster-proof majority. But it was encouraging Monday to hear Sen. Franken say that he doesn’t consider himself the 60th senator, but rather the No. 2 senator for Minnesota.

It is a downfall that Sen. Franken won’t assume his seat on the Senate panel considering health care reform until after the bill is marked up, but no doubt he can have some input as the bill reaches the floor. He will, however, be part of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s probing of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Key to our area will be Sen. Franken’s membership on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. Sen. Franken campaigned heavily on all three area reservations, and was in constant contact with tribal leaders on all three reservations, and so should know the concerns and issues of American Indian populations.

That was a weakness of Sen. Coleman, as he infrequently visited local reservations and did not seek a seat on the Indian Affairs Committee, having been appointed to the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

Serving on the Indian Affairs Committee is an important seat for a Minnesota senator, as is a seat on the Agriculture Committee, which both Coleman and Klobuchar were on. The last Minnesota senator to hold a seat on the Indian Affairs Committee was the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, who took that position seriously and was an able spokesman for area American Indian issues. Hopefully, Sen. Franken can do the same.

Now as the state of affairs settles down in Minnesota, in the aftermath of a long trial, former Sen. Coleman must be thanked for his public service to Minnesota. As a staunch supporter of renewal energy standards, he fought to position Minnesota in the new green economy, and in the use of alternative energy, be it cellulostic ethanol from sugar beets to clean-coal technology for an Iron Range power plant. Those efforts will keep Minnesota on the forefront of emerging green technologies.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Would you like some genocide with your Happy Meal?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ward 4: An Endurance Contest (sort of)

This is my first post on the MN Progressive Project:

Spending between 5 to 6 hours in a hot, stuffy gymnasium on a beautiful Saturday isn't exactly most people's idea of a good time. I would argue that Northside Minneapolis DFLers are not "most people". We are a community dedicated to making our neighborhoods better places to live. That was made crystal clear last Saturday at the Ward 4 DFL convention.

The Ward 4 convention was a bit of endurance contest but not in the way that you might think. It is true that there was a fierce contest between incumbent city council president, Barb Johnson and neighborhood activist, Troy Parker. However, it seemed to me that many folks endured more out of a dedication to our Northside community than to a particular candidate. People's willingness to vote ballot after ballot without anything to sustain them except conversation with their neighbors and the occasional piece of pizza, makes me proud to be a Northsider.

It was energizing to witness the dedication of the delegates in attendance. There were several people who were first-time delegates. Many of these folks were recruited by Troy Parker's campaign and he should be congratulated for his efforts. It was one of the few DFL conventions that seemed to reflect the community. We need to ensure that this positive development continues.

Although there were people on different sides, for the most part, the convention was positive and there were a lot of conversations occurring between delegates supporting opposing candidates. This unification was briefly challenged by a flyer that was distributed by MN ACORN, working on behalf of Troy Parker, after the second ballot. The goldenrod flyer stated "In 2005, Barb Johnson got major campaign contributions from banks, mortgage lenders and housing developers: Wells Fargo, Citigroup, TCF, Colonial Bank and Master Development". Legally, candidates cannot accept campaign donations from corporate entities. MN ACORN's claims were false and it definitely hurt Troy Parker. He was not able to recover from the blow and make up his vote deficit . Although Parker claimed to have nothing to do with the flyer distribution, that was a little difficult to swallow when ACORN was running his floor operation and the flyers were distributed by supporters wearing his campaign T-Shirts.

I was disappointed by ACORN's tactics but also in Troy Parker's unwillingness to denounce the flyer. As the campaign season begins, I hope we remind candidates to stick to the issues, rather than smear tactics. As Northsiders, we deserve campaigns that are respectful and candidates that run on their values and experience, not cutting down their opponent. Either way, Northsiders are in for a spirited campaign season. Marcus Harcus stated that he would not honor the endorsement at the convention and was dropped after the first ballot because he was not viable. He remains in the race. Troy Parker will also remain in the race, despite previously stating that he would honor the DFL endorsement process. According to the Star Tribune, Parker claimed that endorsing convention was unfair and will continue campaigning for that reason.

In an area of the city that is often infamous for divisions over this faction and that faction, it is an important message to send to the city at-large that Northsiders are engaged, energized and ready to hold our elected officials accountable. It is also an important message to send to our current Ward 4 city council member, Barb Johnson, that our community expects more from her representation. Simply returning phone calls and having adequate constituent services is no longer enough. Council President Johnson has been given a unique opportunity this election year to stop conducting business as usual and begin to seek out the opinions of the ENTIRE ward, not just those living on Victory Memorial Drive. Although I support Barb Johnson, I look forward to the debate that her opponents will bring to our community. Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Peggy's Election Picks

President: Barack Obama - because he's awesome.

US Senator: Al Franken - because he's my friend and a good man.

US Representative District 5: Keith Ellison - because he's my brother and perhaps, the coolest, most down congressman EVER.

State Representative: Anyone with "Democratic-Farmer-Labor"after their name. Except if you live in 58A. Ahem.

Minneapolis School Board Director (vote for up to three): This is a bittersweet one for me as I'll be finishing my term at the end of the year. My picks are Carla Bates and Sharon Henry-Blythe. I haven't been inspired enough by any other candidates. For the 3rd pick, you're on your own.

School District Question 1 - Strong Schools, Strong City Referendum: VOTE YES!!!

School District Question 2 - Establishment of Election Districts for Special School District No. 1: Vote Yes.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Random Groggy Thoughts

I am sick. I'm not usually a big complainer when I'm sick but I'm gonna complain about this bout of illness. We are 7 days out from Election Day. I can't afford to be sick. I can barely talk and I'm achy all over :(

I've been thinking a lot about Paul Wellstone lately. On October 25th, it was the 6 year anniversary of his passing. I definitely want to be more coherent when trying to express my thoughts on life 6 years later.

I would like to have one wall in my house that is completely made out of dry erase board. I need to map out my plans and ideas for the election and just other things in life. Maybe I'll just settle for one wall covered in giant post-it notes.

Please don't tell anyone but I don't like carving pumpkins. I like scooping out the guts of the pumpkin but that's about it. I'm such a perfectionist that if it's not exactly the way I want it to look, I will hate it and throw it away. I am a true Virgo when it comes to pumpkin carving. I do, however, adore eating pumpkin seeds. Yummers (thanks, Nora).

I just found out that I was selected as one of the 10 Outstanding Young Minnesotans by the Jaycees. Yay! More to follow when I figure out just what this award entails.

That's all for now. I'm going to take some Nyquil and knock out.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Franken rallies for American Indian vote

Brad Swenson Bemidji Pioneer
Published Monday, October 20, 2008

CASS LAKE – American Indians face unique challenges that need representation in Congress, says Al Franken, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, who Sunday visited three reservations.

“There are unbelievable challenges facing these folks and it’s very daunting,” Franken said Sunday afternoon in an interview after meeting with about 20 Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe members at the Dik-in-aa-gan Child Care Center in Cass Lake. “The spirit and resilience of these folks is very inspiring.”

After Leech Lake, Franken then met with Red Lake Band of Chippewa members at Red Lake and ended the day with White Earth Band of Ojibwe members at Mahnomen. He’s visited all three reservations throughout his campaign, with Sunday’s trip to Red Lake his third. In August, he participated in a Red Lake powwow by dancing in four songs.

“Their needs are tremendous and … this is about the unique challenges that Indians face by being on the reservation, they’re so easily isolated and there is this legacy of cultural trauma that is still with them,” Franken said. “There is a legacy of poverty and of problems like domestic violence or violence, and the pathologies that come out of addiction and things like that they face that compound some of the other challenges they face,” he said.

Franken likes to quote the late Vice President and Minnesota Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey who said the nation’s greatness is judged by how it helps the weakest. Humphrey “always talked about what defines a society, and he was talking about people who are in the shadows,” Franken said. “Very often I feel that American Indians are still in the shadows, and that they need an advocate, and I want to be that.”

In speaking to the group, Franken said if elected he would seek a seat on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. The last Minnesotan to serve on that panel was the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, a Democrat who Franken said he wants to emulate, serving on both the Indian Affairs and Senate Veterans Affairs committees as did Wellstone. While on USO trips to Iraq, Franken said he noticed that American Indians “are the most represented peoples in the military.”

Democrats such as Humphrey and Wellstone often visited area reservation, a place Republicans rarely visit. It was a point not missed by Leech Lake Tribal Chairman Arthur “Archie” LaRose.

“Where is Norm Coleman?” LaRose said in introducing Franken. “He hasn’t come to see us and to my knowledge he hasn’t been up to see our relatives at White Earth or Red Lake. …The fact is that Leech Lakers have historically been Democrats and are today strong Democrats. We know who our friends are and will support them.”

He noted that Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty only visited when “he was trying to sell us on a one-sided casino deal that would have cost us and lost us hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Both Coleman and Pawlenty did visit the Red Lake Reservation for the funeral of Daryl Lussier and the wake of Chase Lussier, victims of the March 2005 school shootings on the reservation that left 10 people dead.

Republican Sen. Coleman is seeking a second six-year term, while also in the race is Independence Party candidate former Sen. Dean Barkley.

LaRose said that tribal members “don’t have a lot of money so we aren’t listed as big donors. But what we lack in money we more than make up for in voting power. … What we have on Leech Lake is a strong record for voter turnout and this year the most important thing we can do to ensure our future is to make sure we all vote.”

That push also includes state House DFL candidate John Persell, whose House 4A district includes most of the Leech Lake Reservation, LaRose said.

Votes to win the open House 4A seat “will come right out of here,” said Persell, who faces Republican John Carlson and Independence Party candidate Sharatin Blake, “We will win this right straight down the ticket.”

A campaign brochure passed out at the gathering, prepared by the State DFL Party, shows Franken in photos with officials of all three local bands, and lists as his issues that he recognizes and respects sovereignty, will improve the Indian health care system, will help every Minnesotan go to college and would seek more funding for tribal colleges, and “stand up for our [Indian] veterans.”

“It seems to me,” Franken said,”it’s a senator’s job to represent everyone in the state, and also especially represent people in the state who have had historic cultural trauma visited upon them.And it’s an obligation of any U.S. senator, especially one from Minnesota, to address them”.

Before the rally, LaRose and Franken talked privately, and LaRose listed three chief issues that are foremost in treaties between the United States and the tribes – education, health care and welfare – and that all are underfunded.

Franken told LaRose that if elected, he would seek the seat on Indian Affairs and establish a direct relationship with Minnesota tribes “to get stuff done.” In health care, he suggested an incentives program to get doctors to serve in reservation health care facilities and some kind of program to allow urban private doctors to spend several weeks on the reservation similar to what is done for Third World countries that lack access to health care, especially specialists such as eye doctors or dentists.

“I want to steer health care toward preventive care and I want to have more primary care physicians, and I want to use loan forgiveness for doctors,’ Franken said.”It’s not a revolutionary idea, but I want to promote that for getting doctors here.”

Improving health care on the Leech Lake Reservation is a main focus of the Leech Lake Tribal Council, LaRose said to Franken. “The solutions you are bringing up would be good for us.”

In introducing Franken, LaRose said that “you know Al Franken has a lot in common with Indian people. He has great respect for family – he has great respect for our Mother Earth – he listens well and he has an honest and true heart.”

With the Leech Lake Tribal Council formally endorsing Franken for the Senate post, LaRose said the election is one of the most important to Mother Earth. “Our great Mother Earth has been violated and she needs healing. We can no longer allow the careless policies of the past eight years to ravage our Mother. It’s time to admit that we have huge problems and get about the business of fixing them.”

"Franken understands tribal sovereignty and respects Indian nations as governments,” he said.

Having Franken visit “means a great deal to the Leech Lake Reservation,” LaRose said in an interview. “We’ve always been strong Democrats and supporters. I feel we’ve lacked the U.S. senator’s representation and support on tribal issues. … Al Franken can bring a lot to the table. He can help out all tribes in programs and businesses, economic issues.”

Transportation, health care, education are Leech Lake’s main problems needing federal help, he said.”There are a lot of other issues, too, related to those three main issues. … Al has made an effort to come here to meet with us and to find out what our issues are on the reservation level.”

Franken, whose career as a satirist shows through at times, told the group that if the United States can’t uphold the treaties as it should, “I guess, if we don’t keep our end of the bargain, the only thing to do is give you all your land back.”

Pioneer Editorial: GOP absent from Indian politicking

Bemidji Pioneer Editorial Board Bemidji Pioneer

Published Sunday, October 19, 2008

Democrat U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken’s visit to our area today begs a question. He will today visit with members of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Red Lake Band of Chippewa and the White Earth Band of Ojibwe on the three separate reservations.

Why make special visits to American Indian reservations?

American Indian tribes are sovereign nations whose members are also U.S. citizens and entitled to vote in non-tribal elections which include the reservation in their jurisdiction. And, as sovereign nations under treaty, tribes as a government have needs that must be raised to a government-to-government basis with federal, state and county governments.

Today’s visit by Franken isn’t his first — he’s visited the three reservations numerous times over the summer.

To our knowledge, U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, the Republican seeking re-election, has never set foot on the Red Lake Reservation, either as a candidate or a sitting senator. Why is that? Gov. Tim Pawlenty, another Republican, has never visited Red Lake during his administration, and only met with its officials in trying to get more state revenue through a joint tribal/state casino.

Columnist Dorreen Yellow Bird writes in the Grand Forks Herald last week of a pitch by longtime South Dakota native journalist Tim Giago’s suggestion that a Native American Party be formed to “educate” both Republicans and Democrats on Indian issues and how important the Indian voting bloc is.

“In the past, Giago said, the Republican Party ignored Indian people because they knew we voted Democratic. The Democrats, for their part, took us for granted because we were a done deal; we always vote Democrat,” Yellow Bird writes.

Why does it have to be that way? Can’t American Indians present their case before both Democrats and Republicans, and gain respect for those concerns equally from both parties? Perhaps the relationship has been tainted by the Republicans’ longstanding policy of assimilation of Indian tribes, yet it was Republican President Richard Nixon that set forth a policy of self-determination without termination.

The bottom line is that American Indians are a constituency with needs, along with other citizens, and should draw the attention of both parties.