Friday, March 31, 2006

Taxpayer's League statement on Bachmann campaign literature

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:43 PM |  

Full text available at
It has come to our attention that State Senator Michele Bachmann’s campaign has distributed a literature piece which claims that Senator Bachmann has the highest cumulative Taxpayers League voting record of all the candidates in the years 2000-2004. Bachmann’s literature claims an average of 96% from 2000-2004, and an average of 95% for Representative Krinkie.

This is not accurate.

For the period of time that Representative Krinkie and Senator Bachmann have served in the legislature together (actually 2001-2005), Krinkie has a cumulative 100% voting record, Bachmann a 92% voting record and Representative Knoblach a 75% voting record.

Senator Bachmann’s calculations depend on including four years of scoring for Representative Krinkie in which she did not hold elected office and omitting 2005 – a year in which she scored 77%.

For the complete text of David’s statement, copies of past Legislative Scorecards and reprints of Senator Bachmann’s campaign literature, click here.
My thoughts? I thnk anyone would hard pressed to run as being more fiscally conservative than Phil Krinkie. And even if true, a calculated 1 percent is hardly worth quibbling over. Just not a good strategy decision.

Phil's certainly not ashamed of his voting record, and Michele shouldn't be either.

At least one of Michele's dings by the Taxpayer's League was the lose/lose vote set up by the Governor when he forced legislators into a situation where a vote against the "health impact fee" was also vote against a life-affirming provision in the Health and Human Services Bill. I wouldn't fault either Phil or Michele for their votes on that one.

Hopefully there's a lesson here. There are four good Republican Candidates in the 6th District, and each brings something different to the table. Each should play to his or her strengths, not others weaknesses. The 6th is not about who would make the "best Congress person." They'd all be great. It's about what kind of Congressperson do 6th District voters want.

Update: Residual Forces has good thoughts on this and there's a lively comment string going. Just a caveat for comments here -- personal attacks don't add to the discussion. If that's all you got, take it elsewhere.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Riding out of the hills and shooting the wounded

Posted by Craig Westover | 10:14 AM |  

Why didn't I think of this?

For the record, I think the MSM, especially the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune, have done a great job covering the Dean Johnson controversy. I have to give special kudos to the Strib, however. It quickly gave the story legs by making it the lead story on its web site by Wenesday afternoon and kept up a steady stream of online and daily stories. The Strib was the first to run an institutional editorial, which despite showing its bias against the marriage amendment, did not let Dean Johnson off the hook. Pat Doyle followed up yesterday with a piece post ethics hearing that raised all the right issues.

On the radio, Rosenbaum and O'Connell (AM1500 KSTP) deserve special mention for hitting the story hard and often.

Kersten is a little late to the battle, but she's got it right, except for the shot at the press. It's not the press quitting on the story. It's readers. This is a case where the press can only sustain a story so long, and two weeks is an awfully long time for a political story to play the big room. If there's no public outcry to pursue the truth, there's no news peg, however, to keep it going.

St. Paul smoking ban a go for Friday

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:20 AM |  

Couple of smoking ban pieces worth noting in today’s Pioneer Press. The first is a complementary piece on Dave Thune on the front page. The temptation, of course, is to call it a “puff piece” and rip it. That’s the tactic that groups like the American Lung Association use whenever a person dares to question the political wisdom of smoking bans or the scant scientific evidence for the exaggerated claims about the dangers of secondhand smoke. That’s a cheap trick. It’s far more instructive to look at the Thune article and sees what it really tells us. The answer is a lot.

First, there is much to be admired in a person that sticks to his stand despite criticism. However, there is a difference between standing up to criticism and failure to consider the criticism and, when it’s a question of economic and scientific data, refusing to study and make a logical refutation of the criticism that justifies one‘s position.

Thune has stuck to his guns on the smoking ban, but he also made clear when he and I appeared on the Patriot, he does not understand the data behind scientific studies of secondhand smoke and statistical studies of the economic data of smoking bans. I sympathize with the fact that his father has emphysema from smoking -- my father, a smoker, died of cancer. Been there, done that. But that fact doesn’t change the data on secondhand smoke nor does it give a person that happens to be a council person any moral authority to justify a law.

That Thune was a smoker, rides a motorcycle, and, as Bob Moffitt of the ALAMN says, defies the stereotype of a smoking ban proponent also carries no additional moral authority. I found this comment by Moffitt amusing --
"I think that Dave defies so many of the stereotypes that opponents like to place on proponents of the smoking ban," Moffitt said. "Here you've got a Harley-riding, formerly smoking, rock 'n' roll sort of populist who doesn't fit the mold" of an anti-smoking advocate.”
The comment says more about Moffitt than Thune. If I had a nickel for every time Bob Moffitt has referred to me (a life-long non-smoker) as being “pro-smoke” and a “minion of Big Tobacco” and cast the same epithets at reputable scientists that question data he refuses to defend, well, there would be some real money behind defending property rights. I don’t cut Thune much slack for his unwillingness to educate himself enough to pass judgments on the statistics people feed him, but I cut Moffitt none.

Moffitt is a professional communicator that uses statistics to mislead and when challenged, refuses to defend his claims. That is unforgivable.

Back to Thune. The article notes that Thune pushed through a city ordinance requiring equal protection for gays and lesbians. Now as the only columnist (to my knowledge) that not only is opposed to a constitutional amendment effectively banning same-sex marriage but openly supports legal recognition for same sex-marriage, I have a little credibility to speak to this issue. (However, my argument must stand on it’s own -- as must Thune’s contention that secondhand smoke is dangerous.)

Thune’s championing of this ordinance is another example of misplaced liberalism.

There is no such thing as “group rights.” Only individual rights exist. What we have done in this country is gone from the rightful position that no individual should be discriminated against, with the burden of proof resting with the individual to prove discrimination, to the attitude that one is discriminated against simply by being a member of a group. The later is the logic Thune applies to the gay and lesbian issue and also to the smoking ban issue. The ban is framed from a collective group perspective, ignoring individual rights.
"You shouldn't avoid doing things out of a fear of not getting re-elected," Thune said. "It's not that I don't care about getting re-elected, but I think you need to do the things that you think are right and let the election fall where it may."
I agree, but an ardent belief in the justness of one’s cause neither ensures that one is right or that the end justifies the means.

That brings us back to the smoking ban. That Minnesota would be a better, healthier place if no one smoked is beyond doubt. That secondhand smoke is unpleasant, makes one’s clothes and hair smell, can exacerbate existing conditions like asthma can not be denied. That there is a correlation, albeit weak, between prolonged exposure (measured in decades) to secondhand smoke and certain diseases is also statistically valid. It is also valid that government tax revenues won’t go down after the smoking ban is implemented, although the argument can be made that they won’t rise as fast. But here’s the point that Thune and others miss in the end justifies the means approach.

The statistically supportable data on secondhand smoke is that it has no short-term impact on an individual’s health. If you take the strongest correlation, that between secondhand smoke and lung cancer, according to a study published by the California EPA (Chapter 7), one would have to work in a smoking environment for 21 years before his or her odds of contracting lung cancer exceeded that of the general non-smoking population. After 21 years, the odds increase between 3 and 50 percent (the 95 percent confidence level). The rate of lung cancer for the non-smoking population is approximately 10 in 100,000. The percent increase means working in a smoking environment for 21 years increases one’s chances of getting lung cancer go from 10 in 100,000 to 10.3 to 15 in 100,000, and that’s assuming a person does nothing exceptional such as eating right, watching his weigh and having regular check-ups.

In other words, the question for a policy maker is whether or not that risk, accepted by people that work in the hospitality industry for 21 years, justifies the public policy of a smoking ban. It has nothing to do with scary statistics nor is secondhand smoke a health crisis.

The economic effects bear up under the same analysis. From another Pioneer Press article reporting that a suit by St. Paul bar owners that would have postponed the start of the smoking ban was denied --

Though many studies on the economic effects of smoking bans have found minimal impact, bar owners say they will lose customers to cities bordering St. Paul. O'Neill said his clients are disappointed by the ruling.

Let’s set the record straight -- a smoking ban is not going to be an economic disaster for the city of St. Paul. If one is concerned about government revenues, sleep easy. Economic activity will prevail. Bar owners that can have raised prices and increased expense of promotions to bring in more taxable revenue in hopes of generating the same profit. But if your concern is about the ability of government to pick winners and losers in the market place, to arbitrarily put some people out of business for the comfort and convenience of others, then you should toss and turn a little.

Yes, the economic damage from a smoking ban is anecdotal. That’s the point. Remember the data on secondhand smoke, because the ban is positioned as necessary to protect workers’ health. A person runs a health risk from working in a smoking environment only if one chooses to work in that environment for 21 years or longer, and then the risk is minimal. A wise policy maker, in Thune’s position, must look at that data and decide is it worth putting some people out of business (and not compensating them) to protect people (who just might be out of a job because of the ban or forced to change jobs).

The final point, which is never discussed is what criteria should policy makers use to decide when an individual health issue, like secondhand smoke, rise to the level that necessitates government intervention. Government can intervene in just about anything. What people like Moffitt and Thune refuse to consider is a set of criteria for when it should do so.

The Pioneer Press story notes that the judge in the case ruled that the city never gave up its “right” to legislate health matters when it merged its health department with Ramsey County. Cities don’t have “rights”; they have power and authority. By law, power and authority are limited. However, when it comes to public health issues, there are no criteria limiting government power. That should keep one awake at night.

A hopeful note, having nothing to do with smoking bans, the eminent domain legislation that recently passed the senate contained language that would go through all Minnesota law and change the words “right of eminent domain” to “power of eminent domain.” That’s not a mere semantic change. It is, perhaps, a first step back to a “new breath of liberty.”

The Thune piece is nicely done and certainly intended to be complementary. I think that's a good thing. By portraying Thune in the best possible light, the article clearly shows us a man for whom the end justifies the means. A policy maker that is willing to use the power of governemnt, not to facilitate individual freedom. He's not afraid to impose his will on others in the name of the public good. He is not about preserving the rule of law, he' rather rule through the law. The article portrays what Dave Thune thinks a city council person should be and do -- and that is one scary vision.

UPDATE: The Kool Aid Report's Dementee does a nice job on this.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Star Tribune still on the Johnson story

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:57 PM |  

House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, spent about 20 minutes with Rosenbaum and O’Connell today on AM1500 KSTP talking about a number of issues. The first topic was the Dean Johnson controversy. Host Ron Rosenbaum summarized events and said (I’m paraphrasing), “So it seems like we don’t know what’s true [whether or not justices talked about the same-sex marriage law to Dean Johnson], and we’re not going to find out."

Sviggum gave a nervous laugh and said “Yes.”

The general consensus is the Johnson story has run its course. Nobody cares who said what to whom, and nobody is particularly concerned that nobody else cares. Pat Doyle of the Strib may be an exception.

Doyle bothered to do a follow-up to the Ethics Committee hearing, writing about two members of the committee, Tom Neuville, R-Northfield, and Wes Skoglund, DFL-Minneapolis, both of whom believe that Johnson’s comments about talking with members of the court are “plausible.”

In the recording of the ethics committee hearing made public on Friday, Johnson’s attorney Ellen Sampson stated that Johnson had three meetings in his office with a justice present in which gar rights was discussed in general. Witnesses were present. She said Johnson also had two less formal discussion with a witness present on one of those occasions.

"I think it is possible he had a meeting and the topic came up," Neuville is quoted by Doyle. "If push had come to shove, I think [Johnson] would have had witnesses. I didn't sense he was gaming or bluffing."

I would hope he wasn‘t bluffing; Johnson and his attorney were under oath. Doyle also writes --
During the closed session, Neuville talked about a predicament that he said the ethics panel faced if it pushed ahead with the inquiry and tried to determine who was telling the truth.

"If we are all dedicated to trying to protect the integrity of the Senate, it's going to be hard to do if we start asking Supreme Court justices to come in here and ask them to basically say they violated their oath by making those statements," he said.

While Johnson has most recently talked of having a conversation about the marriage law with a single justice, his attorney told the committee in the closed session that there were conversations between Johnson and more than one justice.
Here in a news article is what I tried to convey in my Pioneer Press column today. The truth is just not that important. If it has any importance, it’s up to somebody else to pursue it. This story cannot have a happy ending -- somebody is lying.

Nobody is interested in pursuing the truth. Okay. But let’s at least be honest about that.

COLUMN -- Resolution of Johnson controversy does little to get at the truth

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:27 AM |  

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson and the Senate Ethics Committee left Minnesotans wanting for a few good men.

In response to a weak resolution by the Senate Ethics Committee, Johnson issued a brusque apology this week on the Senate floor for remarks made to New London pastors in which he claimed assurances from state Supreme Court justices that they would "not touch" Minnesota's marriage law. Johnson's 80 seconds of remorse closed out the ethics complaint and the Senate's interest in his shifting claims about conversations with state Supreme Court justices.

Last week, Republicans filed an ethics complaint against Johnson. It was referred to a bipartisan, four-member Special Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct.

You want answers? "One of the things we're going to ask Sen. Johnson," said Sen. Mike McGinn, R-Eagan, "is 'Who'd you talk to, when did you talk to them and what did they tell you?' "

But McGinn's question was never asked; the issue of judicial integrity was never addressed; the truth was never pursued — and that's just fine with everybody.

Ellen Sampson, Johnson's attorney, stated that the senator did not believe that his statements, although inaccurate, violated Senate rules. The ethics committee went into closed session (later made public) charged not with investigating to see if Johnson's statements were true, but only to resolve IF they were true, would Johnson have violated Senate rules? If the answer were yes, then they would decide how to proceed.

Behind closed doors, Sampson said Johnson had three meetings in his office with a member of the court with witnesses present and two less formal discussions (which contradicts a statement by Chief Justice Russell Anderson that such discussions "never happened"). Sampson acknowledged that no justice made any assurances or commitments, but gay rights were discussed in general terms. Based on these discussions, Johnson formed an opinion, stated it badly, and has apologized, she noted.

You want the truth? Considering Sampson's comments, the committee discussed what might happen if the ethics complaint went forward. Could members of the state Supreme Court be compelled to testify before the committee? Did grants of immunity come into play? What are the separation of powers issues? What role would the Board of Judicial Standards have?

Tough questions that don't have easy answers. But still, one must ask — should the search for truth be predicated on how difficult it is? Johnson claims he had conversations with justices about a potential case. Anderson denies such conversations took place. That's the issue, and moving it forward was in the hands of the ethics committee. They punted. Sampson went on the offensive.

Sampson laid out the proposal calling for Johnson to concede probable cause (without actually admitting he violated Senate rules) and make a formal apology on the Senate floor. The committee suggested that Johnson write a letter of apology to the pastors' group and the state Supreme Court. Sampson rejected a letter to the court. It wasn't brought up again. With the two apologies, the complaint would be dropped. The vote was 4-0.

You can't handle the truth. In an awkward press conference, the ethics committee rationalized its resolution. Asked about getting to the truth of the matter, members glanced uncertainly at each other. Senate President Jim Metzen, DFL-South Saint Paul, said he "didn't know how to answer." Sen. Tom Neuville, R-Northfield, added that the uncertainties about procedural matters regarding the testimony of justices implied no guarantee the committee could have arrived at the truth. The consensus: The committee avoided partisanship, had a bipartisan vote, the process worked.

On Monday, Johnson again apologized for his "inaccurate statement," saying he had received no assurances about the fate of the marriage law from any Minnesota Supreme Court justice. He did not deny conversations took place.

You still want the truth? You can't handle the truth — that is, the version of truth this resolution of the Johnson controversy feeds us.

In a world of legislative politics, embellishment is routine. Deep down, senators don't want to judge a colleague's conduct too harshly, lest they be held to the same standard. Fact is, we need a Dean Johnson to occasionally "sand off the truth." If we demand that politicians "get things done" for us, we shouldn't question the manner in which they do it. They'd rather we just say "thank you," Dean Johnson, and move on.

Lacking a few good men, we can't do any better.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A way out of the same-sex marriage debate

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:05 PM |  

Among a plethora of Republican-sponsored bills intending to amend the state constitution comes the following proposal (SF1958) by chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Don Betzold.

1.1 A bill for an act
1.2 proposing an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution
1.3 by adding a section to article VI; restricting the
1.4 judicial power to define marriage.
1.7 An amendment to the Minnesota Constitution is proposed to
1.8 the people. If the amendment is adopted, a section shall be
1.9 added to article VI, to read:
1.10 Sec. 14. The judicial power of this state does not include
1.11 the power to define the gender of parties who may enter into a
1.12 civil contract of marriage. The gender of parties who may enter
1.13 into a civil contract of marriage must be defined by law as
1.14 enacted by the legislature.
1.15 Sec. 2. [QUESTION.]
1.16 The proposed amendment shall be submitted to the people at
1.17 the 2008 general election. The question submitted shall be:
1.18 "Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to provide
1.19 that the gender of parties who may enter into a civil contract
1.20 of marriage must be defined by law and that the judicial power
1.21 of this state does not include the power to define the gender of
1.22 parties who may enter into a civil contract of marriage except
1.23 as provided by law enacted by the legislature?
1.24 Yes .......
1.25 No ........"

Although I don’t believe an amendment is necessary to protect Minnesota’s marriage law, if there must be an amendment, this is the tack I think should be taken -- but this is not the bill.

Betzold doesn’t have the credibility to carry such a bill, and the language of this bill supports that. Any amendment that addresses separation of powers and does not include a definition of marriage still must address the concerns of those that want such an amendment -- that it protect the current Minnesota law and protects the authority of the legislature to define marriage and by implication, civil unions. This bill doesn't get there.

If I were writing an amendment it would read --
The legislature of this state shall have the sole authority to define the legal requirements of a civil contract of marriage and the sole authority to define, by legislation, all other marriage-like relationships to be formally recognized by the state, as regards number and sex of the parties involved. Such definition shall not be subject to review by the judiciary of this state.

This provision does not prohibit any two or more individuals of any sex from engaging in independent contractual arrangements to achieve a marriage-like relationship. The recognition by the state of such a relationship extends only to the validity of the legal contacts in force, and no other rights or obligations of the state to the parties can be assumed.
I’m not a lawyer, and I’m sure the language can be tweaked, but this amendment allows the legislature to define marriage and determine what "marriage-like" individual relationships will be recognized by the state, without interference by the judiciary. If cases arise, for example, the issue of whether the University of Minnesota can provide domestic partner benefits, the issue can be debated in the legislature and laws passed on a case by case basis based on the will of the people.

The amendment does not go so far as to deny a same-sex couple, for example, from on their own contracting for all the rights and obligations of a married couple. However, the amendment recognizes that only the contractual agreements are recognized by the state. The state is under no obligation to recognize any non-defined aspects of the relationship.

While I do not agree with the sentiment behind the amendment I’ve outlined, I think that if the real concern of opponents of same-sex marriage is “judicial activism,” this amendment mitigates that concern. If the real concern of those sympathetic to same-sex marriage is keeping a ban out of the constitution, this amendment mitigates that concern and leaves the issue open for debate in the legislature. Both sides should be able to agree that the issue remains in the hands of the people through their elected legislators.

What is needed is a corageous, conservative Republican to carry the legislation.

Let's move on

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:15 PM |  

I just moved my column for Wednesday’s Pioneer Press putting my spin on closure in the Dean Johnson controversy. Given the outcome and the general “let’s move on” attitude from both sides of the aisle, I’m a little amazed the story lasted as long as it did.

In today’s Pioneer Press the ever-available, always quotable University of Minnesota professor Larry Jacobs says he believes Johnson’s apology will allow the “Justice-gate” controversy to die. The tale has simply played out.

Played out? Moving on now indicates that there wasn’t much reason to raise the issue in the first place. It says there was very little interest on the part of the public or the press in resolving the issue of judicial integrity -- which remains unresolved.

“I think this story is going to die from lack of oxygen,” said Jacobs. Even the profligate pundit can’t bring himself to ask, should it?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

A few thoughts on Doran's withdrawl

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:28 PM |  

I haven’t had a chance yet to comment on Kelly Doran pulling out of the race, but I like what Kennedy vs. The Machine had to say --
As we told you back in January, Kelly Doran was entirely too sane to win the DFL endorsement even though he would have made a formidable general election foe in either the senatorial or gubernatorial contest.

Here was a man who offered up largely centrist positions, a sunny demeanor, and millions of his own self-generated dollars — and those running the DFL asylum said, ‘no thanks.’

As first reported by Checks and Balances, the real estate developer has observed the first rule of wealth creation — know when to cut your losses.
I do not take Doran’s leaving the race as a good thing for conservatives. As KvM notes, Doran occupied the centrist ground, which is now open territory. Where will those voters go? Hatch and even Kelley could disingenuously adopt them and Pawlenty is probably already there. With winning the election the ultimate goal, the GOP will imagine it must swing to the left to encompass those voters. A battle-winning, war-loosing strategy.

Fisking the Dean Johnson ethics committee hearing

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:40 AM |  

I’ll be writing on the Dean Johnson issue again this Wednesday in the Pioneer Press, with some reflective thoughts on what the controversy ultimately means -- why it was and continues to be important. Much can be learned from listening to the recording of the hearing, and for those with the stomach to watch political sausage being made, I recommend listening to it. (Rules and AdministrationSubcommittee on Ethical Conduct)

Journalistically objective news accounts of the ethics committee hearings are found in the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune. Below are my impressions.


As one listens to the tape of the hearing, one is struck by confusion of the committee members about what exactly it is they are charged with doing and how the process is to work. Listen for the process questions that keep cropping up. The first of these concerned “probable cause.”

“Probable Cause” in the sense the committee is using it is a determination of whether or not the committee should even address the ethics complain as it was filed. Before the committee can address the truth or falsity of the charges it must assert its jurisdiction. It must determine IF the charges were true, do they rise to the level of a violation of the Senate code of ethics.

The committee asked Sen. Johnson if we would consent that there was probable cause so the committee could move on to considering the complaint. Johnson’s attorney, (Ellen Sampson) replied “Absolutely not. Sen. Johnson will not concede probable cause.”

At the point, the public committee hearing adjourned into closed session. Here’s how this works. In closed session the committee debates whether or not there is probable cause -- whether or not the complaint (IF it is true) rises to the level of violating Senate rules. The session is taped for the record. However, if the determination is that there is no probable cause, that EVEN IF THE COMPLAINT WERE TRUE, the charges do not violate Senate rules, then the tape is sealed, and the complaint is then publicly dismissed for lack of probable cause.

If however, probable cause is determined, as it was in the Johnson case, then the closed session tape becomes publicly available and part of the public record. That being the case, one can understand why the determination of probable cause is so important to both sides.

In Closed Session

Johnson did not speak in the closed session until very near the end. All comments were made through his attorney. That shouldn’t be construed as a negative against Johnson in the sense that its prudent when one is so close to the issue that a more reasoned voice is a better course of action.

Johnson’s attorney made the case that there is no probable cause (as defined above). She stated that Johnson did in deed have meetings with state Supreme Court justices where the gay marriage issue was discussed. She stated that the actions of the Court in this matter were beyond the purview of the Senate Ethics Committee. Johnson was not naming names and didn’t want to drag the Court into the issue. Johnson’s comments were what they were -- “wish was the father of the thought” -- but it was speech, not action. Past ethics hearings dealt with action not speech.

First she played the guilt card -- have others not ever misstated something? Then she used the lawyer’s ploy of stating that she isn’t going to state something. If the issue were not gay marriage, she said, would we be here today? What, she asked is the motivation of the groups that raised this issue was a question? But Sen. Johnson did not want to get into that.

Let me add an aside here. The tape was played for me by Minnesota for Marriage. I’d been hearing from that organization for some time and from others not associated with the group, that Dean Johnson was, on numerous occasions, citing conversations with the Supreme Court to support his contention that a marriage amendment was not needed. The frustration felt by the Minnesota for Marriage people was that no one in the Press was interested in Johnson’s use of the Court to push his political position. I sense that was the motivation for the taping. After my column broke on Wednesday, I had a conversation with the group’s spokesperson, and they were at that point, deciding whether or not to make the tape generally available, which they did. The point being, releasing the tape was not really an organized or coordinated effort on their part. If anything, my column forced them to do so. Motivation of Marriage for Minnesota has nothing to do with the credibility of Johnson’s comments.

Johnson’s attorney then went on to hit the speech issue. Freedom of speech is a bedrock concept, she said. Johnson’s remarks were a mistake, but they were speech, not action. We have freedom of speech. She quoted the Biblical injunction “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Her contention was that to punish Sen. Johnson for an inaccurate statement was beyond the purview of the committee -- this was not probable cause.

My impression at this point was Johnson was scoring big time. The senators that brought the complaints forward, Mike McGinn, Eagan and Claire Robling, Jordan, seemed weak, lacking stomach for a fight. In comments made after the hearing at a press conference, they noted they didn‘t really know why they were chosen to present the case other than they are generally regarded as “quiet“ members of the Republican caucus, less partisan than others. I do not imply they did not believe in what they were doing. I just sensed they were over matched by attorney Sampson.

McGinn did bring up (following attorney Sampson’s remarks about speech) that if there was no finding of probable cause, the public might not be satisfied. Quietly, but eloquently, he stated there would still be a cloud over Sen. Johnson and the Supreme Court. As long as the question remains, he said, the question will haunt us. To know what the right thing is and not do it is the purest form of cowardice.

At this point in the hearing, there is a lot of discussion and cross talk about what might happen if the complaint went forward and an effort was made to determine the truth of Johnson’s statements. Could members of the state Supreme Court be compelled to testify? How would the question of immunity play out? What are the Separation of Powers issues? Only the House can impeach a justice. This is not an impeachment issue and the Senate has no authority in that area other than trying a case brought by the House. There is a Board of Judicial Standards to handle such issues.

Here I would note the committee has strayed from its charge to determine probable cause. These discussions have nothing to do with whether or not Johnson’s comments, if true, rise to the level of violating Senate rules. They have to do with what the committee would have to do if it determined there was probable cause, what the problems might be in proving whether or not the complaint against Johnson is true. Probable cause should not hinge of the consequences of its own determination. The committee here is looking for the path of least resistence, not the road to the truth.

At this point, we have arrived at the money quote of the hearing (approximately 41:10 of the recording). In response to a question, Attorney Johnson stated (this is a paraphrase) --

There were three meetings in Sen. Johnson’s office with a member of the Court (not clear whether this was the same member or a single different member on three different occasions) with others present where gay rights was a part of the discussion. Also a couple less formal discussions -- one with someone other than Johnson and the justice present, one with no other person present. In none of the discussions did a justice make any assurance or commitment to Sen. Johnson concerning DOMA. The topic was discussed in general terms. Johnson took from these discussions to form his opinion, stated it badly, and has apologized.

This is a statement that tries to have it both ways. It says that Johnson was telling the truth when he said he discussed DOMA with state Supreme Court justices, but allows wiggle room by saying he received n assurances. The tactic here is that Johnson is putting the the burden of proof on the decision of the committee. If they want to determine if Johnson is telling the truth, they must imply the accusation that members of the Court have violated judicial ethics. Johnson is assuring them, the conversations were no big deal. If they want to call the Court into question, the onus is the committee, not Johnson.

This was followed by more discussion and cross talk about specifics of the transcript of the entire tape from New London. The main issue was appearance from the transcript (it was obvious none of the committee members had listened to the actual recording beyond the specific quote) that Johnson had been cut off after he made his remarks and did not have a chance to clarify them. I have listened to Johnson’s remarks about the Court in the context of surrounding conversation. He does not appeared pressured. The question is respectful.

Late in the hearing Robling points out that since making the comments, Johnson has had plenty of opportunity to clarify them. I would add that I tried for over a week, delaying my column for a week, to talk with Johnson and give him the opportunity to comment on his remarks. He chose not to respond.

At this point, attorney Sampson said Johnson took his opinion of what he heard in discussion with Justices and turned it into an assurance. That does not bring dishonor to the Senate.

Here she made another Jack McCoy, television lawyer-like trick. She noted that during the New London meeting, Sen. Johnson saw a pastor that is active in the “anti-gay movement” with a backpack on the table. He cannot say the pastor was there purposely to “entrap” Johnson. Johnson is not going to comment on that. It does look like he was cut off in the middle of his comments, but he made the comments, he’s sorry for it, and the rest is history.

A comment before proceeding. If the purpose of the ethics committee was putting the Johnson issue behind us by finding the truth, it failed. It did not merely not find the truth. It raises new questions about the integrity of the Court.

Committee member Tom Neuville said he was dismayed that Johnson would not admit probable cause. He quoted Senate Rules about avoiding dishonest statements and then ran through the litany of Johnson’s changes statements about what he did or did not say and what he was or was not told by state Supreme Court Justices.

Neuville also said “I think a Supreme Court judge might have said it.” He didn’t think the committee could decide that in front of cameras in an open meeting.

“I’ve talked to Supreme Court justices, too . . . .” he said and then stopped. He asked if the recording will be made public. Told, yes if probable cause is found, there is some laughing on the recording and some joking about going back an erasing. Neuville goes on “I think Supreme Court justices could have made such statements." He suggests turning off the mics and negotiating with Sen. Johnson. This idea is quashed quickly. Neuville moves that there is probable cause.

Sampson points out that Johnson’s remarks were not made on the Senate floor and then there is a five-minute recess for her to confer with Sen. Johnson.

Say what you will about Dean Johnson, but it is hard to deny he is a leader. On “At Issue” today, former Governor Wendell Anderson noted that Johnson was minority leader in the House as a Republican and majority leader in the Senate as a Democrat. “It takes skill to do that,” he said. Indeed it does. And it takes skill and leadership to stand accused and take charge of the hearing and design your own “punishment.” That’s exactly what happened.

At this point, the committee is in disarray. It is clear there is no stomach for confronting the state Supreme Court and determining who is telling the truth and who is lying. With Johnson’s offense being framed as simple exaggeration, no one on the committee wants to risk the tag of hypocrite the next time he speaks on the Senate floor. No one is anxious to tie the bell on the cat’s tail of the truth. It’s a good reminder -- all that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.

Sampson comes out of the adjournment with a proposal. Sen. Johnson does not believe he violated Senate rules and his comments do not rise to that level. He made an inaccurate statement and some of his explanations were not accurate. He is not interested in challenging the statements of the Court. Johnson is willing to conceede probable cause and make an apology.
Speaking as for the committee, chairman Sen. Jim Metzen says that’s what “we” were thinking. At a minimum more of an apology than just a newspaper statement. Suggestion is made that a letter of apology be sent to the pastors in New London and to the Supreme Court.

Sampson’s immediate reply is Johnson is willing to admit probable cause, but not write a letter to the Court. Their comments are their business. He is willing to write a letter to the pastor that organized the meeting and if he wants to share it with others, that’s his affair.

What followed is anti-climatic. Some arguing over the language of the committee resolution and just what Sen. Johnson was admitting to and what he was apologizing for. Sampson summarizes saying that the committee finds probable cause, but Sen. Johnson does not agree, but does agree his comments were wrong, and he agrees to apologize.

I’m not sure I understand, but it sounds like originally Johnson was trying to appear truthful by lying about the truth that he did have conversations with multiple members of the state Supreme court. Now he is trying to regain his honor by telling the truth about lying about the fact that he was indeed telling the truth.

That seemed to satisfy the committee. For the record, Neuville states that he thinks the Court is also telling the truth and that there is a misunderstanding between the Court and Sen. Johnson.

Some more disjointed discussion. Sampson emphasizes the definition of probable cause and that with finding of probable cause the committee is not commenting on the truth of the complaint. Sen. Johnson does not agree with the probable cause finding (although remember, it was his attorney that suggested this line of negotiation), but he is prepared to apologize.

To this point, except to affirm in answer to a question that he would not question the motives of those that brought the complaint, Johnson had not spoken during the hearing. At this point, he raises three questions (and I would ask, are these the immediate questions of a contrite man?).

He first asks if the committee's finding can be used against “Dean Johnson” on campaign literature? He notes he has a military career and should the opportunity for promotion to arise, could the committee finding be considered? He also asks what impact it might have if he applied for a corporate job.

There’s more cross talk, no definitive answer. Some comments about what happens if the case goes forward and then a vote on the final resolution that essentially states after Sen. Johnson apologizes on the Senate floor and writes a letter to the pastors (no one on the committee pursued the issue of a letter to the Court) the complaint will be dropped. The vote is 4-0 in favor of the resolution.

After the Closed Door Session

Not on tape, but broadcast on Channel 17 later Friday afternoon, the four members of the ethics committee held a press conference and talked about what an uncomfortable situation it was and how their resolution sought to avoid conflict. [Note -- not to find the truth.]

One of the reporters asks about getting to the truth of the matter. The committee members look at each other waiting for someone else to take it. Sen. Metzen finally says he doesn’t know how to answer. Neuville adds that even if the committee moved forward, there was no guarantee they could have gotten to the truth. Pressed on this issue later, he said “Some things are not resolvable.” The committee did resolve the issue relative to the rules of the Senate.

The committee notes that an apology on the Senate floor is not easy. The committee tried to avoid politics. It was a bipartisan vote. When pressed for the content of Sen. Johnson’s apology, no member of the committee could say exactly what it is he would apologize for. But they agreed, the process worked.

But perhaps the best ending to this summary is the words of Dean Johnson himself. His interpretation of the hearing (paraphrased from a clip on today’s “At Issue”) --

“I don’t think I violated Senate rules, and (apparently) the committee agrees with me. I’ll apologize for my comments, and we’ll move on.”

Annette Meeks and Wendell Anderson on Dean Johnson

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:44 AM |  

I just listened to former Governor Wendell Anderson and Annette Meeks on “At Issue.”

I could not be more appalled at the lack of integrity and courage as I have just witnessed.

When host Tom Hauser directly asked Anderson about the whether or not the issue of the Court’s comments to Johnson were resolved, Anderson said “I won’t go there.” He said the Court was above reproach, that there is no politician that has never misspoke or exaggerated and now it’s time to move on.

Hasuer, noted that to be above reproach justices should not make the kind of comments Dean Johnson says they made and turned the stage over to Meeks. She said that Chief Justice Anderson denied that they made such comments, and she takes him at his word. "It’s time to move on.”

Hauser, for whom I have a great deal of respect, seemed a bit flummoxed. He sort of mumbled that according to the recording of the ethics committee hearing Johnson contends that justices did make those comments, but “nobody seems to think that’s an issue so I guess we’ll move on to other issues . . . .”

“Yes,” said Anderson with what must be described as a smug smile. “Let’s move on.”

I’ll be posting later today a “fisk” of the ethics committee hearing. I just couldn't let this pass without comment.

A Sunday Sermon

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:54 AM |  

Regardless of what Sen. Dean Johnson says in is apology on the Senate floor on Monday, the words “embellishment” and “ sanding off the truth” will be flung with reckless abandon around the state capitol and in media commentaries until they, too, like the word they euphemize, lose their meaning.

The Pioneer Press today editorializes on lying.

Unfortunately, in today's political climate, the Johnson dustup is just a symptom of a larger, systemic problem.

Don't misunderstand. We're not letting Johnson off with an "everybody does it" explanation. What he did — embellish or even fabricate a story that raised questions about the integrity of the state's highest court — was particularly troubling. But it may well be more common than any of us would like to admit. . . .

Indeed, in an end-justifies-the-means political climate, hyperbole is the currency of the day. This manifests itself most publicly in floor debate, op-ed pieces and political advertising, perhaps the greatest threat to what many people would agree is "the truth." The bigger problem is that which we don't see. How many small meetings have there been between a politician and a constituency in which the truth was sacrificed to curry political favor?
I agree with where the Pioneer Press editorial is coming from, but let’s also confess that conflicting points of view do not always make a lie. Honest disagreement is not just a possibility, it is an inevitable reality as long as people accept the obligation to think for themselves. The operative word, however, is "honest."

Our focus ought not to be on “lying,” but on “truth,” for therein lies the essential problem. It is a two-fold problem. First, is the philosophical notion that there is no objective truth -- no right and wrong and all morality is relative. Second is the pragmatic notion that truth doesn't matter; everybody lies.

What makes each of those arguments problematic is the unwillingness of individuals to do the tough thinking. As finite minds in an infinite universe, we may never know what is ultimately true in the moral realm, or if one prefers, the mind of God, but that doesn’t excuse us from the obligation of trying -- continuously trying.

In my Presbyterian catechism, I learned that “the most important think in life is to know God and obey his will.” I believe that. But I also know that the charge is impossible in this life, and to think that I have ever arrived at that point is human arrogance. As God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind, “Who is this that darkened counsel by words without knowledge?” The finite mind can never comprehend the incomprehensible.

Faith is not unexamined belief and blind acceptance of some rigid dogma (or uncritical rejection of the same). Faith is ultimate belief in a higher, universal truth. Objective “Truth” does exist and our obligation is to continuously challenge our earthly and temporal “knowledge” in search of what lies beyond them. Morality is not relative, expressions of morality can be.

Before getting lost in the wilderness of philosophical wanderings, let’s move to the pragmatic problem of lying -- “everybody does it.” I think that’s true, and that is the root of the problem. People lie out of either fear or arrogance, and those are the same reasons people condone lying.

On the one hand, to call someone out for lying puts a target on one’s back. In the ethics committee hearing, Sen. Johnson’s attorney repeated the Biblical story of Jesus and the prostitute -- “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” She asked the committee, who among them had never misspoken in a public meeting? Who could stand up to the scrutiny of having every word they speak recorded?

That is intimidating. I am intimidated. I harbor no illusions that I have never written anything that wasn’t one hundred percent factual, never recalled a phrase or thought that might not be construed as plagiarism, am bullet-proof to charges of hypocrisy, have never appeared to have flip-flopped on an issue. And my insistence on some accountability in the Johnson matter might come back to haunt me.

But what I tell myself, and what I say to others, is the greatest lie is knowing the truth and (out of fear) not speaking up. “Judge not, lest ye be judged” speaks to moral condemnation; it is not a command to lie by silence. One must rationally judge the conduct of others or there can never be trust and, in the political realm, government based on any principle other than the raw power of physical enforcement. Of, by and for the people becomes poetry, not politics.

People also lie out of arrogance, and they abide lying for the same reason.

I have received a number of emails expressing the idea that lying for a good reason is sometimes justified, but none so concise as this --

Dean Johnson may well have lied. I say so what. I have a feeling we could find plenty of lies from any and all politicians if we did a little research. If Dean Johnson did lie, "fall on his sword", he picked a very worthy cause.
I can only describe that end-justifies-the-means attitude as arrogance. Who does not believe his cause is just? If lying is acceptable to pursue a “just“ cause, then there simply is no role for truth in politics. If there is no role for truth, there is no role for trust, no role for law, no hope of the liberty provided by an ordered society.

But what of those that say we should simply move on? What of those acknowledging that either Dean Johnson is or somemembers of the Supreme Court are lying, but conceding that some issues are simply too difficult to resolve? It is enough to determine that a lie was told, elicit an apology and quickly move on? Is it too much work to find the truth?

Is that attitude not also arrogance? Is that not a statement that "my" political concerns take precedent over truth?

In the grand scheme of things is another light rail line or a same-sex marriage amendment more important than faith and trust in the highest court in the state? Is practicing politics more important than protecting its integrity? Is our legal system a pantomime of integrity acting out but not speaking the truth?

Resolution by attrition of will is all-too-common a course and proves the tool of tyrants. Lie long enough, and people will tire of pursuing the truth.

Perhaps this is why we are quick to honor as heroes those that speak truth to power, but are slow to emulate them. But honor without emulation is shallow, hollow and, indeed, faint praise, deserving no more gratitude than ought be given to he that apologizes only after being hounded into it.

If he is true to form, Dean Johnson will say in his apology on Monday that he hopes he and the Senate will have learned a lesson from his experience. I hope in that, at least, he is telling the unembellished truth.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Sen. Dean Johnson Ethics hearing today

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:21 AM |  

From today's Pioneer Press --

Four state senators — two Republicans and two Democrats — today will consider whether Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson violated Senate ethical standards in his Jan. 19 statements about a gay marriage amendment and his subsequent attempts to explain the statements.

The trial-like hearing by the Special Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct will begin at 8:30 a.m. in Room 318 of the Capitol.

Johnson, DFL-Willmar, will be represented in the hearing by attorney Ellen Sampson. The case against him will be presented by two Republican senators, Mike McGinn of Eagan and Claire Robling of Jordan. The hearing agenda calls for Johnson to have an opportunity to testify and for McGinn or Robling then to cross-examine him.

"One of the things we're going to ask Sen. Johnson is: 'Who'd you talk to, when did you talk to them and what did they tell you?' " McGinn said Thursday.

In a meeting with clergy in Willmar that was tape-recorded without his knowledge, Johnson said three members of the Supreme Court assured him the court would not strike down a 1997 law banning gay marriage. Since the tape recording became public last week, Johnson has said he "embellished" a brief conversation with a single justice and received no assurance about how the court would rule.

For Johnson to be found in violation of the Senate's ethical standards, three of four subcommittee members must agree. The four members are: Senate President Jim Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, Dennis Frederickson, R-New Ulm; Tom Neuville, R-Northfield; and Wes Skoglund, DFL-Minneapolis.

Random Rambling

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:45 AM |  

Just a thought. Perhaps it’s a blinding glimpse of the obvious. But the Dean Johnson shibboleths of “embellishment” and “sanding off the truth” really clarify the endless insults that petty tyrants never tire of.

In addition to Dean Johnson’s continuing slouch toward the truth, the past couple of weeks has seen the release of the Minneapolis report on the economic impact of the smoking ban, in which the stated conclusions are embellishments that aren’t supported by the data of the report itself and the defeat in committee of Rep. Mark Buesgens Education Access Grant legislation.

In the brief discussion before the Buesgens bill was voted down, and in the testimony opposing the bill, the same old arguments against school choice were raised again and again. In his final statement, Busegens dealt with every one, yet the bill went down.

A bit of irony -- at the hearing I talked with Rabbi Joshua Borenstein of Torah Academy, Salah Ayari, principal of Al-Amal Islamic school, and Peter Noll, director of education for the Archdioceses of the Twin Cities, all unified in support of the educational access grant bill. The woman testifying against the bill on behalf of the Jewish Community Relations Council cited Minnesota’s Blaine Amendment, irrelevant to vouchers constitutionally and born in an era of anti-Catholic bigotry, as a reason to vote against the legislation.

It’s about an hour and a half. It’s well worth watching. Here’s a link to the House Education and Policy committee Meeting. You’ll either laugh or cry.

READER RESPONSE -- Minneapolis economic impact of smoking ban report is more embellishment and sanding of the truth

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:03 AM |  

Following the embellishments and the sanding off of the truth on the Dean Johnson story has kept me busy, and I haven’t given the pending March 31 smoking ban it's justified coverage. Fortunately there are others out there that are countering the embellishments.

First, however, lets look at the embellishments.

I’ve often accused Bob Moffitt of the ALAMN of only reading executive summaries of studies and not looking into the hard data. Well, the executive summary is exactly what he posts on his blog for March 20. And, just to make sure that no one looks at the hard data, there is no link to the actual study. No need to look for yourself, people. Bob will provide the answers.

Are there questions? Even in the information Bob posted, these two paragraphs should raise alarms. How do you get from this paragraph --
City staff who presented the report noted that these findings do not directly address the question of whether the Indoor Smoking Ordinance had a beneficial or adverse economic impact on the local hospitality industry. Many factors affect alcohol and food sales, including the local economy, the weather, and the attractions offered by entertainment venues. The study also does not take inflation into account. In addition, staff pointed out that revenues do not constitute profits, and profitability is a better gauge of business success than gross revenues.
-- to this:
Nonetheless, these findings counter anecdotal reports of a wide-ranging negative impact of the Indoor Smoking Ordinance on liquor licensees, or a deep reduction in revenues for neighborhood bars. The industry as a whole experienced a higher rate of revenue increases post-ordinance than in a comparable period in the previous year. All major commercial areas experienced increased revenues in 2005. And while two types of businesses did experience decreases in revenue, they were either almost negligible (less than 1 percent for downtown clubs) or relatively modest (4.15 percent for neighborhood bars).
Reader Dan McGrath writes:
I've taken a close look at the report, and find that the summary (which is all reporters seem to care to read) and the actual data tell two distinct stories. This lie needs to be exposed.

The most significant flaw in the report is that it lumps hotel revenues in with bowling alley food and liquor sales. This accounts for about 1/3 of all revenue examined, and skews the study like a ton of lead on the scale. Hotel room rentals (to the tune of $145,000,000) have nothing to do with bar revenues!!! If you toss out the hotel data, and adjust for inflation, the study actually shows losses in most segments, and where there are gains, they are around 1%. To top it off, the study only looks at spring/summer months. Imagine how much worse the numbers would be if they included winter data (they say they'll get around to it - maybe - if they have the resources). Oh, and 43% of all Minneapolis bars were excluded from the study. Looking at their area map, it looks like pretty much all of the "neighborhood" bars were excluded, except NE.
I’ll save Bob the time. Dan is a pro-smoke minion carrying water for “Big Tobacco” and awakes every morning with the single desire of blowing deadly secondhand smoke in the faces of little old ladies, nuns and puppies. Did I miss any steps in your logic, Bob?

That said, go look at the study itself. (And Bob, you're certainly welcome to comment on the substance of the study.) You don’t even need to understand math to question the embellishments in the brief summary. Just read the disclaimers in the footnotes, look at the map of the areas studied, and step outside and think about the difference between a “balmy” 28 degrees when the study was done and evening temps of 65 to 75 degrees when neighborhood bars set up temporary patios for smokers -- which was when the study was conducted.

Embellishments? Sanding off the truth? It’s not just and has never been just for Senate Majority Leaders.

Thanks Dan.

UPDATE: More here.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A pox on both your houses

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:44 PM |  

Nothing like the Nazi card to get people riled up. I opened up the flap on the Dean Johnson controversy, so I’m taking the crap that’s starting fly around on this issue personally.

Let’s start with the basics. Dean Johnson didn’t just screw up.” Dean Johnson consciously lied (if you believe Chief Justice Anderson) and compromised the integrity of the state Supreme Court and the state Senate. He has had numerous opportunities to clear up the matter and he hasn’t taken them. He’s the only one that can repair even a portion of the damage he has done to the Court and the Senate. He should be hounded until he does so.

Move to phase two. Marriage for Minnesotaand the Republican Party gave it a good try to stick to the issue of Johnson’s compromise of the Court and the Senate, but they couldn’t resist the temptation to score political points at the expense not of Johnson, who left himself open to it, but at the expense of the larger issue of Court and Senate integrity. Every new Republican press conference reminds me of my kids tattling at the dinner table -- “Dad, Tyler’s looking at me funny again.” Nothing like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory -- at elast in the battle for the moral high ground.

Onward. Now we’re starting to hear from the lefty blogosphere and apologists with smokescreen tactics. Well, Bush lied and nobody said anything. It took Cheney four days to tell the truth about shooting a guy. Marriage amendment supporters are a bunch of homophobes. Pastor Brent “violated the Geneva Convention” and whatever. Moral high ground? The integrity of the state Supreme Court and the Senate ought to be just as important to the Democrats. It’s more important for them than for Republicans to get Dean Johnson to come clean. But no, this time it was the Democrats hiding in the bushes waiting for the GOP to screw up.

Let’s talk about Minnesota Democrats Exposed, who has done an outstanding job keeping up with the rapid developments in the Johnson story. Unfortunately, he too couldn’t resist taking a swing at the tar baby that is the liberal blogosphere. Now the fighting is over whether MDE photoshopped a Nazi reference on a web post put up by Beckey Lourey. MDE’s posts have almost a gleeful tone as Dean Johnson digs himself deeper into a whole. He’s still the go to sight for the Johnson story, but a friendly word of advice -- leave the yowling from fence posts to the left. It’s not commentary.

Back to the left. Becky Lourey, whom I praised for her lone vote against the bill restricting protests at funerals, has entered the fray as a defender of Dean Johnson. Problem is, she’s not defending Dean Johnson --- she’s attacking Republicans. As David Strom noted when giving Ember Reichgott Junge the benefit of the doubt in their debate on "At Issue," Lourey is probably responding to Republican name calling. I think that’s ture, but that, too, doesn’t change the fact that Lourey’s response (while it puts her head and shoulders above other would-be Democrat leaders in the way of courage) has taken the focus of the issue even further off track by dragging national and irrelevant state politics into the fray.

No, MDE, Lourey didn’t call you a Nazi. She’s making the point that if you let people trample over others, as the GOP is doing since it lost its way on this issue, eventually they are going to trample you. The poem quoted is a cultural icon -- deal with it.

Which I guess brings us back to Nazis and full circle. Let’s keep it simple --

The issue was, is and, regardless of all the crap people through at it, will be about the damaged integrity of the state Supreme Court and the Senate. Democrats can try and make it about the war in Iraq, and Republicans can try to make it about the preservation of traditional marriage and civilization as we know it. And if either side wins on those points, we all lose.

Democrat or Republican; left or right -- let’s keep this thing focused on what’s important. Then but only then, for God's sake let's move on.

My apologies, but I'm pissed

Posted by Craig Westover | 2:10 PM |  

I have to do some reading to prepare for an interview tomorrow and make some phone calls, so posting will be light. That’s frustrating because it’s just noon and it’s already been a frustrating day. So if I may borrow from my friends at the Nihilist in Golf Pants, here’s the top six things that have pissed me off already today.

6. All the letters to the editor today in the Pioneer Press today taking a hunk out of Pastor Brent Waldemarsen for taping Sen. Johnson’s incriminating remarks about the Supreme Court. Maybe his action means you aren’t going to invite pastor Brent to your next secret circle discussion of the Da Vinci Code, but the big issue is still the impact of Johnson’s comments on the integrity of the Court. That doesn’t go away by changing the subject.

5. Laura Billings column excusing Dave Thune and brother-in-law Mayor Chris Coleman for smoking in public. Laura, the problem is not that they smoke in public, it’s that they implemented a smoking ban based on the public health issue that secondhand smoke kills people. Sorry, but if you believe that secondhand smoke kills people, and you expose people to secondhand smoke, just what does that make you? Or were they merely embellishing and sanding the truth in the name of a good cause when they said secondhand smoke kills? Smoking ban proponents don’t get a pass on this one.

4. Eric Schubert’s overwrought Op-Ed on making the marriage amendment a “wedge issue.” Now, I’ll be among the first to say I am not especially proud of the GOP when I hear party members emphasize that the marriage amendment will drive conservatives to the polls in November and that’s the reason it must be kept alive. But understand, a wedge issue is made a wedge issue not by the side that brings it up, but by the side that doesn’t want to vote on it. Same-sex marriage is divisive because Democrats don’t want to be put in the position of taking a stand on the amendment. They can’t vote for it, because that goes against the party principle of inclusiveness; they can’t vote against it, because the majority of their constituents favor it. Sorry, principles are a bitch. You gotta take a stand, guys, and then the issue goes away.

3. The whole Bush lied meme that is being tossed around in response to the Dean Johnson controversy. Let’s set that one straight. Just like Johnson’s lie is not the issue -- it’s the impact on the Court, stupid -- if Bush lied (which I don’t agree with, but let’s say he did) that is also not the issue. The issue is the Democrats had a chance to join those damn libertarians on the moral high ground before the war -- (simplistically) invading Iraq was wrong because regime change is not a moral reason to go to war. But the Democrats didn’t take the high ground. The public was security mad after 9/11 and the Dems were as eager as the Republicans to flex their strong-on-defense muscles. Now things are a little tough, public attitude has changed, and they want to cut and run for political reasons, so blame Bush. It’s like excusing your robbing a bank because someone said there was more money in it than there really was. Democrats, deal with it. You went to war for the wrong reason, to make a political statement, not because somebody lied.

2. Today‘s front page of the Pioneer Press that featured “a guy who's still beeping after he's dead. The ex-football hero in a sex scandal trial. Developments in a sex slavery case. A millionaire trying to set up a murder for hire from jail. The Easter Bunny banned by some bureaucrat -- in a story written, as a sharp-eyed reader pointed out today, by a guy named Hoppin.” What? The National Enquire is buying the Pioneer Press? I’m spiking my column on the consequences of changes in judicial campaign laws and working on this one -- "Alien obelisk in Fridley attracts tornados."

1. But the number one thing that has pissed me off today is the House Education Policy Committee that today voted down the Educational Access Grant Bill. I am too mad to write about it. The arrogance of those voting against the bill that would have allowed a small percentage of low-income families in city schools to use limited vouchers to attend private schools is incomprehensible to me. I doubt this makes the front page tomorrow. Maybe if they held the committee meeting naked and spent some time stomping bunnies instead of trampling the future of young children the story might get some ink. Like I said. I’m pissed.

Defenders of Sen. Johnson strike back

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:30 AM |  

When I say that the so-called "gay agenda" is really a leftist agenda that has nothing to do with sexual orientation, this is what I have in mind. I recieved this email, "Hands off Sen. Johnson (OR yet another example how the US lags behind its more civilized allies!!)," (which mistakenly assumes that becasue I criticize Dean Johnson for "embellishing" the truth, I MUST support DOMA), that leaps from same-sex marriage to a whole host of left-wing causes. The assumption is, attacking Johnson for impugning the court is wrong, becasue he suuports a good cause.

Unless you've been in a cave for the last few years, you should be well aware that Canada & Britain are light-years ahead of the US in giving homosexual couples their badly-needed due--while our country, in its infinite wisdom, continues to pursue the woefully infantile gay marriage ban! But then, what do you expect when--w/apologies to one of your heros, Jeane Kirkpatrick--we always trail all our allies! Yes whether child care, infant mortality, life expectancy, or income distribution (US exec's make 400x entry-level works, vs. 22x in Europe or 11x in Japan) we can always count on the US to set up a poor example. And let's not forget pulling out of Kyoto & the ICC, as well as our being the only industruialzed nation to execute prisoners--putting us right up there w/Iraq under Saddam!!!
A little cruder, perhaps, but this comment is essentially no different than that made by Ember Reichgott Junge on "At Issue" this past Sunday. She led off a debate with David Strom of the Taxpayer’s League praising Johnson for his apology for a poorly worded comment, noting that it took Dick Cheney four days to say anything about shooting someone. Not that the two are connected, but she has an agenda to push.

Strom responded to the question and jumped right into the fact that Johnson had and was continuing to change his story -- “He lied.” This took Junge somewhat by surprise, that Strom was being so blunt. Her immediate retort was that if Strom were going to go down that road then she was going to, and she did, talk about how despicable and hate-mongering supporters of the amendment are. Again, how does Junge’s response relate to the significance of Johnson’s comments? It doesn’t. But as Strom notes on his blog --
I suspect that from her point of view, she was responding to what she saw as name calling, but another way to view this turn was to suggest that any means used to defeat the marriage amendment would be acceptable because liberals are right and their opponents are wrong.
Patrick Campion asked me last Saturday on "The Patriot" if I'd heard the "fake but accurate" argument yet. At the time, I hadn't, but here it is in a comment on a liberal blog --
But unlike most of what the Prez says, the crux of Dean Johnson's remarks are TRUE: Minnesota judges do have to face the voters in elections. They know what that means should they decide that DOMA is unconstitutional.

Dean Johnson spoke a truth the religious right doesn't want Minnesotans to think about.
In other words, the judges that the religious right is afraid are unethical and will overturn DOMA are indeed unethical, but because they want to be reelected and WON'T overturn DOMA. If this is the extent of the trust we have in the Courts, then its "Annie get your gun." We have no rule of law.

Other examples are starting to emerge. Bottomline, ultimately a free society works only when people are willing to put aside temporary self-interest for what is really in their rationale self-interest. That requires making a determination about "right" and "wrong" and not excusing the latter because the cause is "just."

Update: Add this comment to the list. And thanks to Kennedy v. The Machine for this, although I don't know what they mean by "perhaps."

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A quick bit of media commentary

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:36 PM |  

Following a story closely, as I have with the Dean Johnson controversy, one is struck by how misleading the news media can be on a minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day basis. Case in point --

I just watched a KSTP news report on the Dean Johnson ethics complain. The ran video of Johnson the parallel this report from the Star Tribune as released by the state GOP.
“Senate Republican leaders filed an ethics complaint against DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson this morning, saying an investigation is needed to get to the bottom of a recorded conversation in which Johnson said Supreme Court justices had assured him they would not overturn state law to allow same-sex marriage. … Johnson said he had not yet read the complaint and would have more comment this afternoon. But he said, ‘I expect this is just further political shenanigans.’” (Patricia Lopez, “Ethics Complaint Filed Against Senate Majority Leader,” Star Tribune Website, March 22, 2006)
To its credit, the GOP also released comment Johnson made later in the day, several hours before the KSTP report I just watched. Here Johnson now says he takes the ethics complaint seriously.
“The ethics complaint filed against me today is being taken seriously. We have a process in place in the Minnesota Senate which I respect. I intend to let the process work.” (“Senate Majority Leader Johnson Issues Statement Following Filing Of Complaint Against Him,” E.C.M. Publishers Inc. Website, March 22, 2006)
You can read this as a “flip-flop” or that it says something about Johnson’s arrogance or simply as, at this point, an embattled man trying to salvage some dignity and speaking without thinking. The point is, KSTP presented only half an image -- the image it had on video, and left out Johnson’s later comment.

Incidently, bringing that perspective to the news is what I believe is a primary function of an Opinion Page.

READER RESPONSE -- Heard on the grapevine

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:21 PM |  

I've heard a joke that the Independent Party is calling a quick session to ensure that Johnson cannot join their party! He's hardly been a credit to either the Republican or Democratic Party!

Ethics complaint filed against Sen. Dean Johnson

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:54 PM |  

MDE has posted the Ethics Complaint filed today against Senator Dean Johnson. From the statement of Assistant Minority Leaders Claire Robling, R-Jordan, and Mike McGinn, R-Eagan --
"Because we understand that if we do nothing we are giving tacit approval of unethical conduct, we believe further investigation is necessary.

"While we disagree with the Senate Majority Leader and the DFL caucus on a host of different issues, this action is not about any of those issues -- this is about upholding the integrity of our Supreme Court and the integrity of the Minnesota Senate.”
Ron Carey, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party issued the following statement --
"While today is a disappointing day for our state, I am encouraged to see that Senator Johnson's unethical conduct will not be swept under the rug.

"Unfortunately, we have arrived at this moment because Dean Johnson has undermined the integrity of the Minnesota Supreme Court and Senate. Today's action seeks to uphold the honor of these institutions.

"It is our hope the Senate will deal with this matter in a non-partisan and timely fashion.

"Minnesotans should hold their elected leaders to a high ethical standard. Dean Johnson must deal with the consequences of his behavior."

UPDATE: Newspaper coverage of the ethics complaint

Republicans file ethics complaint against Senate majority leader

Ethics complaint filed against Senate Majority Leader

Fisking Amy

Posted by Craig Westover | 12:12 PM |  

Feeling fisky, and along comes this email from Amy Klobuchar. Klobuchar is going to be Drinking Liberally tonight at the 331 Club in NE Minneapolis.
Mark Kennedy voted for millions of dollars in tax breaks for the oil companies -- oil companies making record profits in the hundreds of billions of dollars, while Minnesotans face high gas prices and rising heating costs.
Putting two facts together, even if both are true, does not necessarily establish a connection. In this case, it is purposely misleading. Even the Democrat's (Ted) Kennedy has supported oil depletion allowances. Not since the early deregulation years of the 1970s have oil company profits ever -- even once -- exceeded taxes paid by oil companies. That Minnesotans face high gas prices and rising heating costs has more to do with regulations on building oil refineries, limits on exploration and the pressures of overseas demand created by rising standards of living than on tax breaks. Is there a plan here, somewhere?
Mark Kennedy supported the prescription drug bill that insulates drug companies from competition. A study released last month shows that the failure to negotiate drug prices for Medicare Part D is costing taxpayers $90 billion a year.
I’m not a any kind of a fan of the prescription drug program but letting the government negotiate prices is the worst solution to the problem of drug prices that can be implemented. Drugs are expensive and there are people that cannot afford what they need. But the majority of people can and do find a way. As it did when the government started negotiating vaccine prices, a plan like this would lower profit margins, drive companies out of the business, reduce supplies and research. If the problem is that some people can’t afford drugs, lets address that problem rather than implement a solution that way exceeds the problem and in the end will only make things worse.
It's time to end this culture of corruption -- this culture that rewards the special interests at the expense of hard-working American families. And it's up to us to change Washington.
Not voting the way Klobuchar thinks the vote should go is not corruption. Political spin is fine, but wield it like sword don’t bludgeon me with a club.
It's time to sweep in a culture of change.

We need a serious change of course in Iraq by bringing home a significant number of our troops in 2006 and transitioning to Iraqi responsibility for governance and security.
Too much to cover briefly, but both Democrats and Republicans went into the war with an objective. Is Klobuchar’s view that Bush is not meeting the objective and we need new tactics or is it the objective is too difficult and we need to cut and run? The first is a legitmate differentiation; the second is a cop-out.
We need to tackle corruption and cronyism by cracking down on lobbyist-funded perks and political favors for special interest groups, corporate allies, and campaign contributors.
Fluff. If you want to keep the money out of politics, take the power away from government. If government hasn't anything to sell, no one will be lined up to buy.
We need universal, affordable health care by letting people buy into the same health care plan that members of Congress get.
Universal access, quality, low cost healthcare. Pick any two. Again too much to be brief, but consider: healthcare events can be “predicable and affordable,” “unpredictable but affordable,” “predicable but unaffordable” or “unpredictable and unaffordable.” The first two categories most people can handle, and they buy insurance to cover the third. It’s only the last category, which affects only a small number of people from all economic levels, that is the thorn in our healthcare side. Again, why give us a Canadian-like universal system that is rotten for everyone instead of focusing on the problem pockets?
We need energy independence through homegrown renewable energy, and a gas gouger penalty for oil companies to stop the rip-offs.
At risk of sounding like Gordon Gecko, “gouging is good.” If prices are kept artificially low, the demand is artificially high. Inevitably, that leads to shortages or quotas. Energy independence is not necessarily a good thing if it is so expensive that it significantly reduces economic growth. Neither Klobuchar nor Kennedy score very well on this issue.
And we need to dump the budget deficits by returning to pay as you go budget rules and making sure Congress doesn't get any more pay raises until the budget is balanced.
Forget the fancy talk and feel good legislation. We need significant spending cuts and that means cutting entitlement programs. Politically that’s tough, and we’ve made so many people dependent on government programs that shouldn’t be that it’s socially and economically tough as well. But until we face the fact that chipping around the edges of spending and going to the well time after time taxing the wealthy and expanding the definition of wealthy, isn’t going to work, there is no plan.

Amy, you got to do better.

To MDE: "DOMAGATE is more than a partisan issue"

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:07 AM |  

Minnesota Democrats Exposed has done an outstanding job keeping up with the flurry of developments on the Dean Johnson story. It’s the go-to place for the latest published and inside information. But with an exasperated sigh, I have to comment on the post “DOMAGATE: ARE DEMOCRATS WAIVING THE WHITE FLAG?”

I don’t dispute MDEs contention that from a political perspective Republicans have scored frequently this past week. Admittedly, Sen. Dean Johnson’s slouching toward the truth hasn’t hurt the Republican effort any. No, where I take exception is the somewhat gleeful tone of the post.

Dean Johnson has put the legislature and the judiciary in a lose-lose position, and that is not good for Minnesota, the Republican Party, or the marriage amendment (pass or fail). The issue in this controversy is the integrity of the state Supreme Court and the legislative process. Both parties should be uniting behind that issue rather than quibling over which party is less evil.

Putting Dean Johnson up on ethics charges is not going to bring closure to the issue; nor is it the political coup the Republican Party thinks it is. Dean Johnson is important right now only because ultimately he is the only one that can repair the damage he has done to the judiciary and the legislative process.

Looking toward restoring faith in the process would be a more honorable path for Republicans than trampling Dean Johnson and the DFL.

Senate should vote on marriage amendment

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:34 AM |  

Regardless on one's view of the Defense of Marriage Ammendment, this is how an institutional editorial should be written. Great job, PiPress!

Senate should vote on marriage amendment


The Minnesota Constitution is clear: An amendment to it requires majority votes from both houses of the Legislature, and a majority of people voting in the general election in which the amendment is proposed.

The constitution does not require that one house or the other vote for or against amendments; it does not require that proposed amendments get a rubber stamp from either house; it does not require that they get anywhere at all.

It does require, as stated above, that before an amendment can be voted upon by the public it has to get majority approval in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

That's a useful hurdle.

Amending the constitution isn't easy; nor should it be. The system designed to conserve it protects the constitution from short-lived frenzies and railroaded subversions. It protects residents from those, and, to an extent, from the tyranny of the majority.

Hence, the Minnesota Senate is under no obligation to approve an amendment to the constitution that bans marriage between same-sex partners.

Neither is it obliged to even vote on it. Squelching legislative proposals with procedure rather than vote is an oft-practiced tactic of both parties, and whether it's good or bad depends often on what one thinks of the proposal and the party that's making it.


That said, the proposed amendment should come to a vote in the Senate.
Here's why:

• It's a bad idea, for several distinct reasons*, and the senators who know it should stand up and be counted.

• Bad ideas are better off confronted than suppressed.

• Minnesotans are, by and large, fair and reasonable people. Despite the conversation-stopping epithets hurling from the extremes of this debate, most people live lives of considerably more nuance, and their decisions will be informed accordingly.

Legislators who fear backlash to their anti-amendment vote have more to fear from a perception that they don't respect the ultimate thoughtfulness of their constituents.
So, senators, vote on the proposed amendment. Vote "no," we say. But vote, and count on Minnesotans to be thoughtful, either way.



1. It's a solution in search of a problem. There's no evidence that gay marriage is a threat to anybody.

2. It endorses, implicitly at least, a religion. That should be left to, and in, our churches.

3. Although there are good, honest people who feel passionately that such an amendment should pass, it's nonetheless part of a much more cynical electoral ploy by politicians.

4. By limiting access to the benefits of civil society, it limits liberty.

COLUMN -- No nice way to say it: somebody's lying

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:03 AM |  

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

"Falling on one's sword" was the Roman choice of death before dishonor. In Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," Brutus, facing inevitable defeat before the army of Marc Antony, falls upon his sword.

"This was the noblest Roman of them all," says Antony, coming upon the body of Brutus.

Redemption did not come easy for theatrical Romans. Nor is it painlessly achieved in modern politics.

Someone is lying. On Monday of this week Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court Russell Anderson took the unusual step of holding a telephone press conference to respond to the claims of DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson that he, Johnson, had conversations with justices in which they assured him that they would not overturn Minnesota's Defense of Marriage Act.

Although in the past week Johnson has apologized for his remarks, stated he received no commitment from any justice and admitted he "embellished" a single "casual" conversation with a single justice when speaking at a New London pastors meeting, he still maintains that a conversation did take place.

Anderson was unequivocal in his press call that no such conversation happened. He was asked three times whether his denial was referring to Johnson's comment that he had not received a "commitment" from justices concerning the marriage statute or was Anderson in fact denying that any conversation ever took place. All three times Anderson affirmed that no such conversation about DOMA with any justice ever took place.

"I have talked with every member of my court, including the former chief justice," Anderson said at one point, "and we have not had conversations with Sen. Johnson about DOMA or how we might decide any matter relating to it. This just never happened."

Somebody is lying. There simply is no other, nicer way to say it. Either Johnson is lying about having a conversation with a member of the court, and by doing so compromising the personal integrity of state Supreme Court justices and the judicial system, or one or more of the justices is lying, in which case there has been a significant breach of judicial ethics that compromises the legislative process.

And that's OK? The rift between Johnson's claims and Anderson's denials is more than your run-of-the-mill "he said-she said" political mudslinging. It is not one political party trying to outspin the other. It is another straw on the back of a judiciary camel that already suffers from perceptions of partisanship and "activism."

That a politician embellished the truth is no shocking revelation. Denial as the first line of defense is almost expected. What is disturbing is that embellishment and denial are so easily accepted. Sen. Johnson, the DFL party and even Gov. Tim Pawlenty have adopted a "let's move on" attitude and appear content to leave a cloud hanging over the integrity of the state Supreme Court and the veracity of the legislature.

On the same day the chief justice made his statement essentially saying Johnson completely fabricated his conversations with state Supreme Court justices, the Senate DFL caucus gave Majority Leader Johnson a vote of confidence.

"We had a unanimous vote to unequivocally and enthusiastically support Sen. Johnson now and in the future," Assistant Majority Leader Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, told the Pioneer Press. "It is as simple as that."

No, it is not that simple.

We can trust neither a legislature nor a judiciary where truth is an option. We cannot simply "move on," accepting that it's OK for a legislator to "embellish" and "sand off the truth" as long as it's for a good cause. We cannot move on while the state Supreme Court remains under the shadow of ethical impropriety. Nor is it OK, as Rest also suggested, that we leave the conflicting comments of Johnson and Anderson "for them to work out."

Someone is lying — either the Senate Majority Leader or members and a former member of the Minnesota Supreme Court. Neither is an attractive alternative for Minnesotans, but it's a situation that must be dealt with.

"Falling on one's sword" means accepting the responsibility for and the consequences of one's actions. If Dean Johnson has fallen on his sword, it was lying flat on the ground. He has apologized for his "mistake," but let stand ethical questions about the judicial system and the integrity of the legislative process. He must forthrightly respond to Anderson's comments to redeem himself and repair the damage that he has done to the integrity of the legislature and the judicial system. Redemption is never easy.

UPDATE -- Last evening after the Opinion Page was set, the AP ran a wire story reporting that Gov. Pawlenty is “ready to turn the page on the controversy surrounding DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson.”

"He's asked for forgiveness and a second chance," Pawlenty is quoted as saying. "I think we should give it to him and move on."

Although Pawlenty said he remains troubled by inconsistencies in Johnson's account and that of high court members, he also said "There's a lot of work that needs to be done here in St. Paul relating to education and health care and transportation and the like. The matter has been aired out pretty good and at some point we need to turn the page and get on to the business of the people."

As I wrote above, it’s not that simple. As long as doubts remain about the integrity of the court and the legislature, it is wrong to simply “move on.” Good government is “the people’s business.” If we can move on with important issues about the state Supreme Court and the legislature (not about Johnson per se) unresolved, then it was wrong to make a big deal, a front page story for a week, in the first place.

Moving on now means the flap was little more than a political issue. It was all about wounding Dean Johnson as a political leader and sucking up DFL cycles defending him. To move on with unresolved issues demeans the integrity of principled action. One must pay a fee when fighting for principle, even if the process taxes one’s patience.