July 22, 2005Last column?
There's an unwritten rule in broadcasting that says never admit a technical mistake. Move on, it says, and pretend it didn't happen. I bring this up because basically I screwed up the last column. Not only did I put it on the Web site a day late, I also somehow managed to erase half of it so only the first half showed up. I blame this on the fact that I was on vacation for a week and forgot all my passwords and procedures. And frankly I still don't understand why all this spam gibberish continues to show up at the bottom of the stuff I write. But because I am a broadcaster and not a Web guy, I will pretend everything's fine and move on.
One thing I did ask last time is whether I should continue with this effort now that the session is over. I had a couple replies, including this one from Theresa Sheehy:
I would continue reading your column if you kept it up now that the session is over.
Hmmm...are you sure the New Media people at MPR didn't put you up to asking that?
Basically, the reason I often cite the newspapers is that I write this very early in the morning (usually before 6:30 a.m.), and I'm at work before the papers arrive at my house. My original idea was to have the column be sort of like one of those newscasts you hear on MPR every half hour, but focused on state politics and government. I thought I would grab an item from here and there as I go through the papers first thing, and direct you to items on the MPR website as well, but make the whole thing self-contained. My thought was that if you wanted to read the items I linked to you could, but if you didn't want to, you would still be left with a pretty complete sense of what was going on.
I'm not quite sure if it actually works that way. You apparently don't think so (and neither do some of our New Media folks). But read this comment from Ben Brown:
Please continue to write the column if when the legislature is not in session. It is a great source of information that is also quick. Your column lets me know about items I am interested in without having to go through many more items I am not (a problem I have with many newspaper sites). You are also a pretty funny guy. So thanks for what you've done so far and please don't deny a news junkie one of his favorite fixes.
Now Ben is obviously my target audience. The format is working for him. And, Ben, yes, sometimes my humor is intentional.
So there are at least two votes to keep this thing going. The big problem is that the flow of political news has dried up a little.
There are a couple interesting items on the MPR site today you might want to check out. Laura McCallum did a wrap-up of the session based on some behind the scenes interviews with legislative leaders that were embargoed until the end of the session. there are some interesting tidbits in there, especially about how early Gov. Pawlenty was suggesting the cigarette "fee" and about how foremost politics were in all the negotiations.
MPR's Mark Zdechlik also has some news about the 2006 campaign for U.S. Senate, including interviews with a couple of candidates you may not have heard about yet.
I have to do Midday for Gary Eichten the next few weeks, but I will write when I can. So I can't promise a new one every day, but keep checking back. Assuming I can fix my technical problems I'll keep writing when I can.
July 20, 2005I'm back. Should I stay?
OK, OK, I've now learned I should never take a vacation during a government shutdown. As soon as I left they wrapped things up. Thanks to Bob Collins for finishing the special session Capitol Letters for me. The big question now that I'm back the Legislature is gone is whether I should continue to write this column. Or more to the point, will you keep reading it? Drop me a line and let me know what you think.
A couple of items in the local political news today. First is Gov. Pawlenty's post-shutdown tour. The governor has embarked on a mission to rehabilitate his reputation. On Tuesday he was on Midday with Gary Eichten, spoke to the Strib editorial board, and spoke to the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce. MPR's Laura McCallum picked this nugget out of the Midday appearance:
Gov. Pawlenty says he won't sign a no-new-taxes pledge if he runs for re-election.
So if his values statement is that taxes are too high, why did he propose and pass a tax increase? Pawlenty was also downplaying the propects for another special session later in the year to deal with stadium issues.
Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:50 AM
July 14, 2005Goodbye
Mike Mulcahy is on vacation.
Aha! Caught you. You thought this was going to be another au revoir to the legislators. I wish it were. It's not.
One of the problems with the radio business is you're constantly saying goodbye to good people. It's a transient life and people come and go.
Yesterday, long-time Capitol reporter Michael Khoo made his final departure from the newsroom. Michael joined MPR in 1998 as one of our fellowship reporters and quickly established himself as a fine journalist, eventually joining the Capitol team.
He's off now to some two-bit law school -- Yale, I believe -- and I was only half-kidding yesterday when I told him if he ever needed someone to testify at his Supreme Court nomination hearing in the U.S. Senate, he need only ask.
As the session ends, it's a good time to pay appropriate homage not only to Michael and his work, but two other crack journalists. MPR Capitol Bureau Chief Laura McCallum and reporter Tom Scheck have devoted countless hours, including sacrificing a lot of personal time, so folks like you and me can understand -- not just know -- what's going on in the seats of power.
I get to watch the behind-the-scenes effort that makes what you see online and hear on the radio come alive. And so while it's tempting to throw up one's hands in disgust and frustration as this Legislature and governor have gone about their business, I can only say "we're lucky" arter watching Laura, Michael and Tom go about theirs.
--Bob CollinsPosted by Bob Collins at 10:31 AM
July 13, 2005It's like a metaphor
Mike Mulcahy is still on vacation
In what promises to be a marathon session,you'll have no trouble keeping up with the nuts-and-bolts of things just by visiting the MPR news site. I promise. So I'm going to "blog" tidbits during the day you won't find from the debate.
I'm on metaphor watch, for the most part. MPR colleague Tim Pugmire and I have observed that reps and senators, apparently in search of the perfect sound bite, are resorting to more and more metaphors. So we'll record them here as they come along, and see tomorrow which ones make the news.
And, no, I won't be writing through the entire day, since it looks like it will include the entire night. But check back here often.
2:31 - Rep. Mark Olson invokes metaphor #1 by noting the state is like a "boat going over the dam." Metaphor effectiveness rating:
2:36 - Rep. Sondra Erickson, immediately after the third reading is announced of the Omnibus Tax Bill, invokes a "point of personal privilege," to announce there are two members having birthdays today. And there'll be cupcakes served. Applause all around.
3:03 p.m. - Tax bill passes. Rep. Sviggum announces a vote to "suspend the Constitution" to take up the health and human services bill (the GOP caucus has been twisting arms to get support for the cigarette tax). I announce to the newsroom (which has been tracking action for planning purposes on All Things Considered) that the constitution is being suspended to take up the bill. Colleagues stream from their offices with worried faces, no doubt with visions of tanks rumbling down Rice Street. The vote to suspend the Constitution is approved. We all feel relatively the same as our state government careems lawlessly ahead. We wonder whether we'll still need fishing licenses.
3:13 - Rep. Mark Buesgens invokes story of Socrates who, he says, was put to death for refusing to participate in the Athenian democracy as a way to say the process that created the cigarette tax was not honest. Close enough to metaphor for me. Story is probably too long to make TV news. Metaphor rating:
There's a provision in the bill favored by the Minnesota Concerned Citizens for Life requiring anesthesia for fetuses to be aborted. Many legislators likely to approve the bill because of that provision are against the cigarette tax and are trying to separate the issues so they can vote for one and against the other. The effort failed.
4:06 p.m. - Video feed on TV and Web freezes as Rep. Kent Eken makes an appeal on nursing home reimbursement. His image is frozen...suspended as it were. Like the Constitution.
Capitol reporters are suggesting someone filed a "lights out" bill.
4:45 p.m. - Officials say they intend to keep going this evening starting around 5 without electricity for microphones, cameras etc. They're rounding up court reporters to handle transcriptions and will give their floor speeches, presumably, in booming voices. Not sure how they'll take votes but perhaps the raising of hands. You know, the old way of doing things.
There's a metaphor in there somewhere.Posted by Bob Collins at 2:36 PM
July 11, 2005The Joy of RSS
(Mike Mulcahy is on vacation)
I'm really not a geek by nature and this is probably old news to most of you but RSS has really made following politics in Minnesota a lot easier. RSS -- really simple syndication -- is a code/language that allows a 'reader' (like Yahoo or Bloglines) to assemble all the stuff that's being posted -- from news articles to blogs) on one page. So rather than you going from Web site to Web site, the content comes to you.
A complete list of MPR's RSS feeds can be found here.
Several blogs on Minnesota politics also provide RSS feeds but the dirty little secret of Minnesota political blogs is they're not very good. A good blog has to be updated every day and there are darned few that are.
One RSS feed that has been of value to me is from the Capitol itself. The Minnesota State Legislature offers a feed of its What's New list. Here's a list of RSS feeds at the Capitol. Among the more useful is the Session Daily feed from the House Information Office.
Individual legislators also provide RSS feeds. But legislators are notoriously bad updaters and, besides, most of the content is of the "I'm terrific and the other party isn't" variety.
What's new here
Both of the MPR main talk shows addressed the shutdown today. As I write this, Dean Johnson and Steve Sviggum are on Midday.
Midmorning this morning featured Bob Meeks, longtime lobbyist at the state Capitol and Twila Brase, president of the Citizens' Council on Health Care. That audio is available now in RealPlayer.
Let's hear from you.
Posted by Bob Collins at 11:29 AM
July 10, 2005Bringing the people together
(Mike Mulcahy is on vacation)
Perhaps unwittingly, judging by a survey of newspaper editorials and columns around Minnesota this weekend, the Legislaure has succeeded in uniting the polarized people of Minnesota in disdain for its government; assuming the editorials are a fair reflection of popular thought (quite an assumption, indeed!)
Some of the highlights:
Colunist Doug Grow in the Strib says:
The big problem, other than too many ideologues, are the old-timers in both parties, who enjoy wallowing in dysfunction. These old pols typically come from safe seats and can afford to be more interested in winning than governing.
The Pioneer Press did not deal with the shutdown in its editorial on Sunday (at least online) but former legislators John Tuma and Steve Morse took a bipartisan swipe at Gov. Pawlenty over environmental efforts.
The political blog Minnesota Politics, which spends way too much time citing only the Star Tribune as its information source, provides this assessment in the who won-who lost competition.
Even though the Senate Democrats were opposed by both Pawlenty and the Republican House, they got almost all of what they wanted, from a practical point of view.
The St. Cloud Times, Duluth News, and Rochester Post Bulletin also did not address the shutdown in its weekend editorials. But a letter to the editor in St. Cloud's paper from Ronald Tupper of St. Cloud is an example of similar thoughts being expressed on all sorts of Letter to the Editor pages.
What we need in St. Paul is a group of citizens concerned for the state of Minnesota and its inhabitants, not for how to keep their part-time jobs and the perks that go with them.
The Albert Lea Tribune editorial board was awake on Saturday, and working.
There's obviously a myriad of factors that have turned the state Capitol into more of a wrestling ring than a center of state government, but one fix is for both political parties to call for new leadership. Those moderate legislators on each side of the aisle need to learn that collectively they have more power than the few extreme members on the left and right, who tend to dominate party leadership.
And the Bemidji Pioneer takes another look at what the people can do to prevent shutdowns in its Sunday editorial.
The process definitely needs an overhaul. Two Republican state senators Sean Nienow of Cambridge and Dave Kleis of St. Cloud opened a Web site asking for petition signers to their “legislative accountability measures.” People going to www.moreaccountability.com can read about Nienow’s bill eliminate all compensation and expense reimbursement for legislators in the event of a government shutdown and Kleis’ bill calling for a 2006 constitutional amendment to allow a July election for all House and Senate members whenever they fail to set a budget for at least one fiscal year by the constitutional deadline in the odd-year session.
And, although the Worthington Daily Globe took a pass on writing about the shutdown, Roy Crippen's (somewhat hidden) advice for us is worth considering anyway now that it's over: more peanut butter sandwiches.
I sometimes thought, in the time I worked for newspapers, I would not even have reported that Elvis Presley favored sandwiches with bananas sliced over peanut butter. In my small circles, everyone liked peanut butter and bananas. I would have taken for granted that Elvis liked that combination. I assume Pope Benedict and Condoleezza Rice eat peanut butter sandwiches with bananas. Or jelly. Maybe Smucker’s grape jelly.
The point? Time to focus on that we have in common.
--Bob CollinsPosted by Bob Collins at 8:18 AM
July 8, 2005OK, he's gone, let's deal
And now we know. The only thing it took to get the legislators and the governor together is for Mike Mulcahy to go on vacation. If we'd only known, we could've pulled this off sooner. Our apologies to anyone caught up in the budget shutdown. It was all Mike's fault.
The big story today, of course, is the rumor -- apparently soon to be fact -- that the negotiators have reached a deal. MPR's Laura McCallum has pieced many of the elements together.
Senate Majority leader Dean Johnson tells Minnesota Public Radio the budget agreement does not include the governor's plan for slot machines at Canterbury Park, a plan known as "racino."
Laura was also on the beginning of today's first hour of Midday and outlined more (Listen with RealPlayer).
At the moment, "analysts" Bob Meek and Tom Horner are talking about the political fallout from this whole affair.
As of 11:40 a.m., there's talk in the newsroom here of carrying any news conferences from the Capitol live. We'll also stream them on the site. So keep checking back.
Morning Edition this morning talked to a couple of former legislators about the shutdown and what led up to it. MPR's Cathy Wurzer talked with former Rep. Peggy Leppik and former Sen. Deanna Wiener (Listen with RealPlayer).
The guy hanging around with a long face in the newsroom today is Mark Zdechlik. Poor Mark had a piece produced and ready to run on All Things Considered tonight looking at the windfall at Canterbury Downs with the racino. Then the lawmakers dropped racino from the final deal.
Maybe he should've gone on vacation too.
12:45 p.m. -- Still no white smoke at the Capitol. I notice, however, the DFL has not yet scratched its planned protest outside the governor's mansion. It's scheduled for 4:30 p.m.
1:15 p.m. -- Channel 17, which usually shows House/Senate coverage, instead is showing aviation weather. Fridays are generally slow at the Capitol anyway, but you can't really see that "history of the Capitol" film of theirs too many times, can you?
1:40 p.m. -- Editors and producers have just completed their daily meeting. Show producers have a tough job because they have to lay the groundwork of their shows at least a day in advance. It requires a fair amount of clairvoyance. So what to do on Monday? Midmorning is thinking about an "it's over" show. But they don't want to do another "it's not over" show. Rumors out of Washington is that Justice Rehnquist will retire so they're considering an 11 a.m. show although they've invited Gov. Pawlenty to appear. Lots of waiting if you're a producer.
3:30 p.m. - Capitol folks (reporters) are saying some "senior DFLers" have some concerns that are delaying the final resolution.
4:09 p.m. - Hope. DFL cancels protest outside governor's mansion.
5:20 p.m. - Laura McCallum provides an update to All Things Considered. (Listen with RealPlayer).
5:30 p.m. - Negotiations continue. Presumably stations are now rejiggering their staffs. MPR is no exception. After working a full day, editor Bill Catlin prepares to head to Capitol to cover things until Tom Scheck can take the night duty. Tom has also worked much of the day. If you ever want a thankless job with horrible hours and twice or three times as much work as your colleagues have to do, be a Capitol reporter. Tom is taking a break for a softball game where, presumably, there's more action than at the Capitol.
5:33 p.m. - MPR online Web boss John Pearson checks in to coordinate online coverage plans for the weekend. My colleague, Mel Sommer, and I split up the days. I'll cover Saturday and Mel will take Sunday. We'll update the Web site from our homes. The weekend is rapidly becoming a work session.
July 7, 2005Stuck on racino
The governor and legislative leaders met until one a.m. Thursday but still haven't reached a deal to end the partial government shutdown. They're still stuck on gambling, in particular, Gov. Pawlenty wants a vote on a plan to put slot machine at Canterbury Park. MPR's Tim Pugmire has the latest on the overnight negotiations:
Pawlenty invited both sides to his office shortly after Senate DFLers unveiled their latest budget proposal. The offer includes an expansion the card tables at Canterbury Park. It also embraces one of the governor's education reform initiatives: performance-based pay for teachers. Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson described the offer as a substantial compromise.
They're going to meet again Thursday. If they can get a tentative deal together by the time the House and Senate convene, there could be a vote to reopen (at least temporarily) the shutdown parts of government. But just to repeat: Gov. Pawlenty wants a vote on the racino proposal. The question is, will DFL'ers give him one?
As this all plays out there are about 9,000 state employees waiting to hear whether they can go back to work. Hundreds of them rallied at the Capitol Wednesday. MPR's Art Hughes talked to some of them:
The shutdown forced Health Department employee Nancy Petschauer to go on vacation. She considers herself fortunate to have the time available, and another income earner in her house. But she's having to think about unpleasant choices if the impasse continues.
And one consequence of the shutdown is proving particularly painful: the lack of permits for some truckers. The Pioneer Press reports that may soon change:
Howitzers are massed at the Iowa border, buyers can't get their houses delivered, and a nuclear reactor could be stopped at the St. Croix River. On the third business day of the Minnesota government shutdown, real economic and military hardships were evident.
But will there be relief for everyone else? Stay tuned. And keep those comments coming. I'll try to be a little more diligent about canning the spam. I'm also going to be out of the office for the next few days, so keep listening to the radio and checking the Session 2005 section for the latest news.
Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:30 AM
July 6, 2005Day 6
Day Six of the partial shutdown and finally the public pressure may lead to some action. When most lawmakers went home Saturday afternoon, the shutdown was two days old. Legislative leaders were still pushing for partisan advantage. Well, when the rank and file came back from the Forth of July break yesterday, they had learned the public wasn't paying any attention to which party was doing what. It was a plague on all their houses. Here's what MPR's Laura McCallum reported:
Republican Sen. Paul Koering says he's embarrassed to be a legislator right now. The freshman senator from Fort Ripley says the partial government shutdown reflects badly on all state leaders. Koering was in four parades over the weekend, and says people in his district don't understand the stalemate.
The main impact on the public over the weekend was thought to be closed down highway rest stops. Not anymore. The Star Tribune notes that while the impact is still limited, it is being felt by more people:
If your new factory-built home was slated for delivery to your lakefront lot this week, you're out of luck. The state worker who processes transportation permits is on furlough.
Of course the biggest impact of the shutdown is on the more than 9,000 state employees who aren't working. Their unions asked the special master yesterday to put them back to work. The Pioneer Press includes it in their Day Five wrap up:
The state's two biggest public employee unions also tried Tuesday to persuade a judicial referee to recommend that all the workers temporarily out of work be declared essential to the state's health and safety and ordered back to their jobs.
Of course the biggest "scam" that's going on is that the state is still collecting taxes that pay for the services that aren't being performed.
Both House Speaker Steve Sviggum and Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson say they hope they can reach a deal by Midnight tonight. Why tonight, and not May 23 or June 30 I don't know, but that's what they
July 5, 2005Gridlock
I spent some time at the Capitol on Saturday and learned something. As bad as this shutdown looks from the outside, it's even worse close up. There was no movement in negotiations this weekend, and there doesn't appear to be an end in sight. The talks were about "concepts" and "process," not about specific proposals to balance the budget. The gridlock was firmly in place. Two things might change that.
One, Gov. Pawlenty may have just been stonewalling over the weekend. Because he believes DFLers deliberately shut down parts of government to make him look bad, he may have been content to let them feel the heat over the weekend. After all, how much worse can it get for him politically once the shutdown happened? By taking all his previous offers off the table he let Democrats know the shutdown problem is now theirs to fix. Maybe he'll come back to the table this week after letting them sweat for a while.
Two, July 15 is the new deadline. That's when the state will actually have to pay the major costs of the shutdown in severance pay to the 9,000 laid off state workers. It's also when those workers are officials laid off. That seems to be the only major pressure point in sight.
There is a third possibility. That is that the shutdown will drag on through the summer in the same sort of twilight zone of non-negotiating we've seen the past few days. Let's hope that's not what happens.
Now let's turn it over to you.
As one of the 9,000 "nonessential" workers, I just want to share that each one of us has a story and a family that is being affected by this situation. We are not being paid. We can ask for our vacation time in to replace the lost wage, but not until we resume work. So, in the meantime, we receive nothing. We may be able to use vacation pay, but we cannot go anywhere because we have to be at work the day following the long overdue decision making of the Legislature. Some vacation...
Without the safety nets I pay for through my taxes, I shudder to think what we would look like now. I have been told that there is a place in Indiana, where people are given tents to set up along other tents, all filled with people 'without'. I talk to other people in other states and no one has what we have. And sadly may not have again.... the desire to creat opportunity for all residents. I am not wealthy in money, but I do feel very fortunate that I have been able to contribute my tax dollars to a long time 'safety net' that is nothing short of a humanitarian necessity.
Jarek halftek sent me this note:
I am appalled. This is a place where seven commissioners, voting 4-3, can effectively levy tax over one million residents of Hennepin county. Yet, it is also a state where over 5 million people have no functional government. Sixty-seven senators, 134 representatives, and one governor are deadlocked. If seven elected officials can govern one million people, why do we need over 200 to govern 5 million people?
And we'll end today with this comment from a reader named Susan:
The fact that a portion of state government is operating leaves the remaining 9,000 state employees hostage to a group of political ego-maniacs. What incentive is there, at this point to resolve this for us?
No, thank you. Keep those comments coming. This column is much better when you talk instead of me.
Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:48 AM
July 1, 2005Closed until further notice
Midnight came and went without a deal to keep parts of Minnesota government open. Who pays the price? Nine thousand state workers. Gov. Pawlenty and House Republicans are blaming Senate DFLers for leaving before the midnight deadline. The DFLers say they plassed a bill to keep government running, but the Republicans wanted to put a 10 day time limit on the extension, and they weren't willing to do that. Whatever. There's no deal and no end in sight. MPR's Tom Scheck has the ugly details:
With two and a half hours left before a partial government shutdown, DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson walked into a nearly empty Senate chamber and announced that the Senate was going to adjourn until this morning.
The fact is many people may not feel the effects of the shutdown in the short term. By keeping state parks open the Legislature may have taken a great deal of pressure off to get a deal done. Gov. Pawlenty says all previous offers are off the table and negotiations have to start again from scratch. The Pioneer Press gives a sense of what it was like at the Capitol last night:
Throughout the evening, legislators from both the House and Senate, both Democrats and Republicans, lamented their failure to reach a budget deal and, in some cases, referred to the situation the state faces as a constitutional crisis.
So just to sum up:
left unfunded are K-12 education, human services and transportation.
Immediate impacts: rest stops closed, no new driver's licenses issued, grants to some non-profits halted, some inspections and permits suspended.
How does it end: your guess is as good as mine