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Ortman back from War College: firing wildly and with shiny tap-dance shoes

As we mentioned earlier in the week, State Senator (and possible U.S. Senate candidate) Julianne Ortman spent the week at the Army War College’s National Security Seminar.   Part of a new Army recruit’s basic training regimen includes learning how to shine shoes.  Well, it seems Ortman may have taken a lesson or two while there because she came back ready to attack and with shined-up and ready-to-go tap dancing shoes.

Earlier today, Ortman fired off several rounds of criticism at U.S. Senator Al Franken on Twitter, which was countered by myself and a few others — not to defend Franken (because he and the rest of Congress have a lot to answer for), but rather to ask Ortman what she would have done instead.  After all, it’s easy to criticize, but harder to advocate alternatives.   We saw this in effect during this legislative session’s budget battle, where Republicans never articulated an alternative budget.

Did Franken “hide” his knowledge of the NSA program?

Ortman’s initial attack against Franken called out the Senator for “hiding” the NSA program.  As a member of the Judiciary Committee, Franken had been briefed on the program to some level of detail.  Well, it is certainly true that Franken did not comment publicly on this topic until yesterday.  Why is that?  Because it was illegal for Franken to discuss it publicly. 

Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act modifies Section 501 (d) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as to say:

“No person shall disclose to any other person (other than those persons necessary to produce the tangible things under this section) that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has sought or obtained tangible things under this section.”

Even worse, the briefings that lawmakers received on such programs were subject to unusually stringent security.  Lawmakers were not allowed to take notes, staffers were not allowed to attend, and per the provisions of the law stated above, the lawmakers were prohibited from talking about the programs.

So did Franken “hide” his knowledge of the programs?  No.  Did he do enough to push back?  The record on that is unclear.  Two Democratic Senators, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, have been pushing the limits on these programs, obliquely hinting that there was something afoot.

Ortman seems to be suggesting that Franken should have done more.  Perhaps that’s true.  But one can only imagine if Franken had violated the law and revealed details of a classified national security program.  I sincerely doubt that Ortman would be saluting his whistleblowing — rather, she’d be crying about Franken putting our national security at risk.

Ortman goes on to make an additional charge:  namely, that the PATRIOT Act didn’t authorize such programs.  Unfortunately, Ortman provides no basis to back up her claims that have any merit.  And, sadly, she tap-dances around any of the direct questions asked of her — would she have voted for the PATRIOT Act and FISA modifications?  What is her argument for why these programs were prohibited?  Where was her outrage when these programs were authorized under a Republican administration? Does she think Franken should have broken the law and spread details of these programs?

While I haven’t attended the National Security Seminar, I can only imagine such brazenly partisan behavior probably isn’t considered in our nation’s best interest.  Let’s hope that if Ortman does run against Franken that she finds some lines of attack that aren’t based in distortions and falsehoods.

Here’s the entire exchange, so you can judge for yourself:

Get to the appoint: Chaska Ward 1 looking for a new councilor and other news

Chaska City Councilor Scott Millard resigned his seat effective at the end of the May 20 City Council meeting, and the Council has chosen to appoint a replacement to hold the seat through the end of Millard’s term.  The seat will be up for election in 2014.  Ward 1 residents who are interested in the position are welcomed to pick up an application package at City Hall (inexplicably, there’s no information on this process on the city website’s homepage).  Applications are due back by June 12, and applicants will interview with the Council on June 17.  The appointment will be made at the July 1 City Council meeting.  Don’t know if you live in Ward 1 (the southwest ward)?  Check out this map to see where to fall among the city’s four wards.  Per the Chaska Herald, former Ward 1 Councilor Gino Businaro has indicated he intends to apply.

In other news:

  • State Senator Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen) is attending the 2013 National Security Seminar at the U.S. Army War College this week.  Certainly such news can (and will) be viewed within the prism of other rumors.
  • Last week was a crazy week for politics in the Sixth Congressional District (which covers Carver and central and western Carver County) as both U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and DFL challenger Jim Graves pulled out of the 2014 race.  Former State Representative, current talk show host, and 2010 governor’s race loser Tom Emmer seems poised to jump in the race, making him the leading contender for the GOP nomination.  Meanwhile, no names have emerged on the DFL side thus far.  The Sixth is the strongest Republican district in the state, so there’s a thin bench of state legislators to pick from.  St. Cloud’s Tarryl Clark, who lost to Bachmann in 2010 before failing to secure the DFL nomination in the Eighth Congressional District in 2012, is sure to come up as a possibility.  State Auditor Rebecca Otto also lives in the Sixth, but is considered unlikely to run.  Graves would have likely stood a stronger chance to win the seat given the fundraising he’s already accumulated, which makes his decision curious.  Politicians who fear defeat are unlikely to make a difference in the long run, so perhaps Graves’s decision is less of a loss to Democratic hopes than thought.

It’s not news when the train doesn’t wreck

With the central element of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — the health care exchanges — slated to go online in October, there’s been a lot of concern about how these exchanges will be implemented.  17 states (including Minnesota) have elected to build their own exchanges, 27 states are defaulting to the federal exchange, and seven states are doing a hybrid model based on the federal exchange.

Opponents of the law, naturally are going all gloom-and-doom on the implications (even going so far as to take a quote by Democratic Senator Max Baucus where he worried about a “train wreck” out of context to further their cause).

But what if it doesn’t turn out to be a train wreck after all?  There have been some interesting developments in recent weeks that lead one to believe that strong, proactive management of exchanges by states can lead to positive results.

In Maryland, the largest insurer in that state (Care First) proposed a shocking 25% increase in premiums for 2014, which was widely cited as a troubling statistic for the ACA.  But nearly every other insurer in the state has proposed premium increases below 10%.  Care First either stands to lose a significant amount of market share, or they’re going to have to lower their rates.

In California, meanwhile, proposed premiums on their health care exchange have come in significantly lower than predicted.  2009 Congressional Budget Office projections anticipated that a “silver” plan (one that covers 70% of expected health care costs) would have a yearly premium of $5,200, while an actuarial firm projected an annual premium of $5,400.  When the actual prices were released yesterday, the actual average yearly premium for a “silver” plan is going to be about $3,300, or 35% lower than the CBO projection.

Oregon’s health care exchange is seeing similar patterns to Maryland.  After releasing the costs for all of the plans that will be on its exchange earlier this month, two large insurers have asked to come back and lower their prices after discovering that some competitors were pricing the same coverage for less than half the cost.

Meanwhile, we’ve seen evidence that health care inflation has been slowing substantially.  Provisions of the ACA have contributed to this trend and further policies, such as increased use of competitive bidding for Medicare-paid medical equipment slated to roll out between now and 2016, should only continue it.

These sorts of things should provide us here in Minnesota with hope that our health exchange — named MNSure — will be able to deliver coverage to citizens at a reasonable cost.  Minnesota has always worked hard to give our citizens access to health care and that should only get better under the ACA.

From a political perspective, we too should also remember that what voters tend to value about these sorts of programs is the real-world impacts on their lives.  Opponents of Medicare thought that implementation problems (that did happen) would end up undermining the program and resulting in its repeal.  Opponents of Medicare Part D thought the same thing.  In both cases, what opponents of those programs discovered is that voters ultimately liked the fact that they were guaranteed health care as a senior citizen and that they liked programs that helped them pay less for their prescriptions.  Outright repeal of these programs today is essentially unthinkable.

Ultimately, I think we’ll find the fact that the ACA ensures that you’re always going to have access to our health care system in a reasonably affordable way is going to outweigh any implementation problems at the beginning of the program. In fact, if states that are actively managing their exchanges end up producing better results, it may become a political liability for states that have chosen to actively fight implementation of the law.  After all, if dysfunctional California can build a working exchange with lower-than-expected health insurance premiums, why can’t Texas?

[Image courtesy of the Alexandria Echo Press, is of a 1904 train wreck in Osakis.]

Ortman faces uphill climb in potential race against Franken

Public Policy Polling released the first detailed polling on the 2014 U.S. Senate race today.  It shows that U.S. Senator Al Franken is — as of today, anyway — in pretty good shape 17 months out from the election.

Franken currently holds a +9 in his job approval ratings (51% approve vs. 42% disapprove) which is a solid rating for an incumbent heading into a re-election campaign.  Franken also currently holds at least a 15-point lead against any of the possible challengers polled.  Businessman Mike McFadden (the only potential candidate who has publicly expressed interest in the race) and Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek trail Franken by 15 points, while State Senator Julie Rosen trails by 16 and U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann, radio talk show host Jason Lewis, and Chanhassen’s own State Senator Julianne Ortman trail Franken by 17.

There’s not a lot of good news in the polling data for Ortman.  Ortman’s name recognition is low (80% didn’t know who she was), but among those who did know her, almost four times as many had an unfavorable opinion as had a favorable opinion.  Those numbers gave her the lowest favorability numbers among the potential candidates in the poll.  Worse, she had an unfavorable opinion among Republicans and self-identified conservatives who knew who she was.  Franken leads Ortman by 29 points among women and by four points among men (even though Franken polls -8 in job approval among men).  However, her low name recognition does give her the opportunity to introduce herself on her own terms to voters.

Numbers like these help explain why Ortman may have felt the need to take time from the end-of-session rush last week to try and blast Franken over the IRS investigations of Tea Party groups.  If she intends to run, she needs to drive name recognition and establish herself as a credible contender because based on the polling numbers and Franken’s formidable fundraising — it’s going to be an uphill battle.

Carver County House Vote Tracker – 2013

With the 2013 Legislative Session in the books, here’s a look back at how Carver County’s House delegation, Rep. Ernie Leidiger (District 47A – central and western Carver County), Rep. Joe Hoppe (District 47B – eastern Carver County), and Rep. Cindy Pugh (District 33B – northeast Chanhassen) voted on the key bills that the chamber took action on this year:

votetracker13

[CORRECTION, 5/21: Pugh voted “Yes” on the SF 541 Sunday sales amendment, not “No”.]

Data sourced from the House archive of roll-call votes.

It’s totally not about that

State Senator Julianne Ortman held a press conference today to try and finger U.S. Senator Al Franken for playing a role in the current controversy over the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) giving unwarranted scrutiny to certain conservative 501(c)(4) groups.

In 2012, Franken and a group of other Democratic Senators sent two letters to the IRS, requesting that they give added scrutiny to 501(c)(4) groups.  Both progressive and conservative organizations had been setting such groups up because they are tax-exempt and not subject to campaign finance disclosures.

You can see the letters at the links below:

February 2012 letter

March 2012 letter

In each, the Senators in question ask the IRS to scrutinize all 501(c)(4)s.  Ideology doesn’t come up in either letter.

So, let’s sum up the argument here.  Ortman is asking us to believe that the letters from 2012 which called for additional scrutiny to be applied to all 501(c)(4)s are significantly responsible for IRS misbehavior that began in 2010 and was actually uncovered and stopped after the letter was sent.  Not even the reliable conservatives at Powerline are buying that one.

Why, then, would Ortman go to the trouble of calling a press conference to highlight this non-news with no real relation to her role as a State Senator?  Oh, yeah:

When asked about such a thing, Ortman played the “who me?” card.

Uh-huh.  It’s totally not about that.

And let’s not forget that Ortman has never exactly been shy about sending letters of her own demanding action by other parts of government.  Earlier this session, she asked Attorney General Lori Swanson to break from usual practice and preemptively give a ruling on whether legislation was constitutional or not.  Last session, Ortman demanded that the Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court investigate the handling of family cases in the First District.

So it seems that Ortman’s outrage over legislative letter-writing is rather subjective.  Just remember, though, about those 2014 rumors:  it’s totally not about that.

Senate passes care workers unionization bill; House vote expected Saturday

The Minnesota State Senate voted 35-32 today to pass S.F. 778, which would enable independent day care operators and personal care attendants who serve customers that receive state subsidies to organize unions.  All Republicans in the chamber, including Sen. Julianne Ortman of Chanhassen, voted against the bill as did four DFL Senators (Terri Bonoff of Minnetonka, Melisa Franzen of Edina,  Greg Clausen of Apple Valley, and Bev Scalze of Little Canada).  The bill now moves to the House; which is expected to take up the bill on Saturday.  It appears that there are sufficient votes in the House to pass the bill, which Governor Mark Dayton has indicted he would sign.

Republicans in the Senate subjected the bill to 17 hours of debate, reflecting the highly controversial nature of the bill.  Unionization of such persons would be a different model than the traditional form of labor union, where employees organize and collectively bargain with their employers.  If the union were to be approved in this case, independent day care operators and personal care attendants — who generally function as small businesses of their own or independent contractors — would have a union to work on their behalf in St. Paul, bargaining with state agencies on work rules and regulations and lobbying legislators on reimbursement rates.  Care workers who provide services to clients that receive state subsidies but who vote against the union would be subject to “fair share” dues to cover a portion of the costs of the union’s representation as they would benefit from whatever changes the union negotiates.

Republicans have objected to the redefinition of the traditional union relationship introduced by this bill.  Additionally, they point out that in some cases AFSCME Council 5 — which is seeking to represent the day care workers — would end up negotiating with other AFSCME employees over work rules.

These are indeed valid concerns — and that’s coming from someone who generally finds themselves in labor’s camp on these sorts of issues.  The much-derided federal Employee Free Choice Act had a number of good reforms in it, for instance — such as equalizing the standards for certifying and decertifying unions and improving enforcement of certification elections.

But S.F. 778 feels like a step too far.

That’s not to say, though, that independent day care operators and personal care attendants don’t have valid concerns.  Day care subsidies were cut by 2% in the last budget cycle, passing increased bills to strapped working class families and forcing hard decisions on providers of day care services.  Personal care attendants, meanwhile, are besieged by low pay, long hours, and physically demanding work.  They deserve better from state government than what they have received in recent years.

DFL majorities in the Legislature should focus on passing those reforms into law this session as opposed to passing a bill that looks like political payback.  There’s no reason that we can’t increase reimbursement rates and address a number of the work rule issues that would be of great benefit to these vital workers.  And if Republicans come back in the future and want to undo those changes, it shouldn’t be politically difficult to hammer them for it.

[Picture is S.F. 778 author Sandy Pappas.]

Senate passes marriage equality; Ortman votes no

The Minnesota State Senate today passed the marriage equality bill by a vote of 37-30, following four hours of debate.  State Senator Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen) voted no on the issue.  Only one Republican, Senator Brandon Petersen, voted in favor of the bill, while three DFL Senators voted no (Dan Sparks, Leroy Stumpf, and Lyle Koenen).

senatemarriage

Governor Mark Dayton has indicated he will sign the bill, and a signing ceremony is planned for 5 p.m. Tuesday afternoon on the South Side Capitol Steps.  Minnesota will be the 12th state to institute marriage equality.

Rumors were swirling before the vote that Ortman, who had been consistently opposed to marriage equality in recent sessions, may be reconsidering her position.  At times during the debate, she was spotted conferring with Senator Scott Dibble, the bill’s author.  Hanging over Ortman’s vote was the notion that she might be a candidate for higher office in 2014.  Recent speculation has indicated that she may be looking at the race for U.S. Senate against Al Franken.

 

The Republican base is strongly opposed to marriage equality.  Polling from January shows 79% disapproval among Republicans, which likely makes the path to endorsement difficult for a marriage equality supporter.

Leidiger catches Agenda 21 and Tenther fever

Bills filed in the waning days of the odd-year legislative session are often considered throw-away bills — filed weeks after deadlines for committee hearings and passage in the current year, most of them are left in the dustbin when the even-year session comes around.  But they can provide some useful insight into the workings of the minds of the legislators who file them — in terms of what their ideology is or who they feel they need to appease.

Mayer’s State Rep. Ernie Leidiger was listed as an author on two bills to be introduced today — H.F. 1833 and H.F. 1834 — which are, well, interesting.  Both bills are chief authored by freshman Rep. Jim Newberger (R-Becker).

H.F. 1833 is designed to protect Minnesota from the scourge of United Nations Agenda 21.  To most of the world, Agenda 21 is a non-binding, voluntarily implemented United Nations effort to encourage sustainable development practices.  The practical impact of such efforts have been uncontroversial and common-sense things like state or county level requirements for comprehensive land use plans for local governments and ENERGYSTAR ratings for applicances.  But to a few, it’s something far more sinister: the end of America as we know it.  Glenn Beck, for instance, has turned Agenda 21 resistance into its own cottage industry — tying all his media platforms to it.  And, sadly, it’s not just talk radio blowhards getting in on the act.  Bluestem Prairie’s Sally Jo Sorensen has been on Minnesota links to this movement — see here and here.  Newberger himself has long been a proponent of such ideology, as documented here.  Even State Rep. Cindy Pugh (R-Chanhassen) has gotten in on the act, back in her SW Metro Tea Party days.  (Incidentally, the SW Metro Tea Party will be holding another Agenda 21 session next week –postponed from April.)

Meanwhile, H.F. 1834 is a resolution designed to restore what proponents see as the rightful purpose of the federal government as limited by the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution.  Followers of this ideology — known by some as “Tenthers” — believe that many of the things the federal government does today, including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, veterans programs, and federal drug enforcement, are not valid.  This is milder version of legislation from last session that sought to give the state the right to nullify federal laws that were judged by the Legislature to be outside of its purview.  The nullification issue, though, has long been settled from a legal perspective, however, and was settled once and for all by the Civil War.

After a fairly quiet session that seemed to start productively with his working with county elected officials on transportation issues, it’s too bad that Leidiger hasn’t been able to contains these extreme urges and find ways to work to move productive legislation through the House.

[Photo courtesy Wikipedia, of recommended headgear for Agenda 21 conspiracy buffs and Tenthers.]

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