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.