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Why the Minnesota Legislature does not care (much) what you think

Devil[1]This is NOT a photo of Senator Tom Bakk

The title is from press coverage of a paper by Professors Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University.  It’s written in dense political science lingo but the bottom line from the abstract is clear:

“…economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”

Is the picture different in Minnesota and other states and localities?  Doubtful.

The current session of the MN Legislature is supposed to wind up Monday, May 18th, at midnight.  At least from an environmental perspective, this has been one of the most miserable sessions one can imagine.  Environmental protections are being rolled back left and right, with relatively little public awareness.  Do Minnesotans *want* more pollution in their air and water, and the resulting death and disease?  Do they *want* accelerating climate change?  Not likely, but nobody is asking the people, and only a few are informing the people.

Still, negotiations continue, and will continue at least up to midnight on Monday.  The time is now to call Governor Dayton (651-201-3400), your Senator, and your Representative.  Find their contact info here.   It could be that the best way to reach the Governor is his Facebook page: .   Also, contact one of his policy advisors at, or call, (651-201-3400), or use this email contact form.

Corporate media minimizing public awareness

Example from this weekend:  It is announced that mining interests on the Iron Range are getting one of their key objectives — legislative blocking of enforcement of the Clean Water Act.  Both sides have reason to cover their tracks by calling it a “compromise.”  But it’s not a compromise.  It is a rollover.  Minnesota Public Radio reports it this way “Iron Range legislators, Dayton reach compromise over sulfate standards for wild rice.”  But this is a lie.  An honest lead would say something like “Iron Range legislators prevail, Dayton rolls, Clean Water Act not to be enforced….”  How much does this matter?  By itself, maybe not so much.  The Clean Water Act is rarely enforced in Minnesota.  But considering that MPR misrepresents events as a matter of course, and many people likely regard MPR as a reliable source, the cumulative damage has got to be substantial.   Why?  Darkside interests have worked for a long time to reduce public funding for “public” broadcasting, to make it more dependent on industrial funding.  There are probably few bad actors interests who don’t throw a little money at the “public” broadcasting system in order to buy favorable coverage.

For another take on this, see “Establishment Journalists Pride Themselves on Staying on the Official Rails.”

Now, what about reporting on the Legislature?  People and orgs who lobby, and reporters who depend on sources being cooperative, tend to be economical with truth that might piss people off.  If one lobbies legislators–and I’ve done my share of that–naturally one doesn’t want to annoy them, or to give the impression, however true it might be, that the Legislature is a pay-to-play setup where citizens voices mean little much of the time.   People, likely starting out with the best of intentions, get drawn into the system.  (This is not to say that lobbying isn’t useful.  It is.  But not usually for informing the public.)

Bad examples close to home

“My” two legislators, Rep. Mike Kelly and Sen. Matt Schmit, get dishonorable mention here, because they treat me with disregard and contempt anyway, so what-do-I-have-to-lose?  Neither, to my recollection, have ever responded to an email, a letter, or a phone call.  Kelly got into office, defeating an incumbent, by bombarding the district with “independent” mailings saying different versions of “She voted to raise your taxes!!!!”  That was bullshit, but he got in with it, and incumbents have so many advantages they are hard to get rid of.  Matt Schmit, Senator, moved into the district to run and got in by defeating another incumbent, John Howe.  Howe was likely one of the few reasonable Republicans left in office.  Neither Schmit nor Kelly are the worst members.

In this session, Kelly, Chair of the House Transportation Committee, has distinguished himself by blocking action to protect Minnesotans from the dangers posed by unit crude oil trains (“bomb trains”) that run through Red Wing, through his district.  Schmidt has been one of the few DFL senators to vote for “dirty water” bills and amendments.  Both have been involved in promoting the City of Red Wing’s garbage incineration scams.  Schmit, in his emails, has been promoting SF 2101, a bill intended to promote more ethanol production and more forest incineration.  It’s the single worst bill I’ve ever seen in Minnesota.  Pathetically, mainstream “enviro” interests are also supporting it. Why?  Do they really think Minnesota needs more ethanol plants?  More polluting “biomass” burners.  Are they insane?

But the most telling thing was to see Kelly and Schmidt appearing side by side at a Town Hall Meeting a few weeks ago.  Dodging, weaving, and bullshitting, Schmidt gabbing and Kelly mostly silent, they didn’t tell the audience anything accurate or useful, and gave observers the impression that the Republicans and the DFL present a united front against the people.  These two, like so many, are political operatives, not representatives.  Of course, not all members of the Legislature are like this, many of both parties do try to represent the best interests of their constituents, and are responsive to communications.

Did you vote for higher utility bills? Most of “your” legislators did.

There are bills to gut regulation of electric utilities–SF 1735 (Marty) and HF 843 (Garofolo).  Attorney General Lori Swanson writes (read the whole letter here):

I am a proponent of strong regulatory oversight for public utilities.  This Office has testified against this bill (as well as telephone deregulation initiatives) in multiple committee hearings in both the state Senate and the House this year. … While my Office can testify in opposition to legislation–as we have repeatedly done here–I do not get to vote on such initiatives….I strongly encourage you to share your views with members of the state legislature.”

I heard three people testify against this: Utility regulatory attorney Carol A. Overland (Legalectric), James Canaday from the AG’s office, and myself.  Most of the funded, lobbying, “environmental” and “energy advocacy” orgs were present, and they were silent.  SILENT!

Only four senators voted against this obscenity:  Bruce D. Anderson, David M. Brown, Julianne E. Ortman, and Dave Thompson.

In the House, HF 843 passed 73 to 56.  The vote is here.

Closing with this action alert from Land Stewardship Project (lightly edited):

We need Governor Mark Dayton to ready his veto pen to stop backroom deals adopted late Saturday night.

The Minnesota Legislature decided that instead of weakening the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Citizens’ Board, it will outright ELIMINATE it. This outrageous idea, which was not introduced as a bill or heard previously in any legislative committee, was unveiled late Saturday night and promptly adopted in conference committee in a backroom deal. The Citizens’ Board was established in 1967 with the creation of the MPCA, to ensure the agency serves the public interest and to establish an open and transparent decision making process. It has worked well and is a model the state should be proud of. [Not so.  The Citizens’ Board is 90 percent rubber stamp, but that doesn’t justify getting rid of it.  That ten percent is worth something.]

This effort to eliminate the Citizens’ Board is driven by corporate interests who want to make it more difficult for citizens to have their voices heard. This language is included in the Agriculture and Environment Budget Bill, along with many other bad provisions, including a sham buffer strip proposal that puts off addressing the serious issue of agricultural runoff polluting our water. […]

Calls are needed to Governor Dayton at 651-201-3400 or 800-657-3717. The legislative session is scheduled to adjourn at midnight on Monday, May 18, so calls must be made immediately. Negotiations are ongoing and around the clock, so make this call after you read this e-mail.

SUGGESTED MESSAGE: “The Agriculture and Environment Budget bill ELIMINATES the MPCA Citizens’ Board. […] This entirely new outrageous proposal was adopted late at night in conference committee. I know officials from the MPCA have made it clear to the Legislature that they oppose this provision, yet the Legislature persisted. The Legislature was fairly warned, and for the good of Minnesota you should veto this bill.”

OK, so it’s noon on Monday and the Legislature has 12 hours to go.  Time to get on the horn…..especially to the Governor.  With the Leg gone to Hell, Dayton’s veto powers are the main hope.  Bills especially needing veto:  SF 2101 (“bioeconomy”), and SF 1735/HF 843 (electric deregulation).

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Residents prevail: St. Paul abandons biomass incinerator scheme at Ford site

Anne Hunt has written a letter to the Highland Villager, appearing on March 18, 2015,  saying: “the site is not appropriate for that technology[biomass incineration]” and it’s been eliminated from consideration.

Below are two letters that appeard in the previous week’s Villager, one from Nancy Hone and one from Alan Muller: Continue Reading →

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