We have come to the point in our political culture when a major party candidate in a race for the U.S. Senate begins her tastefully produced TV commercial with the words: “I’m not a witch.”
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Of course, the reference is to Christine O’Donnell, a darling of the Tea Party faithful who has persevered in her pursuit of higher office, knocked off a mainstream Republican candidate, and, hopefully, will suffer a decisive defeat at the polls on Nov. 2. In the late ’90s, Bill Maher, host of the HBO show Politically Incorrect, began inviting O’Donnell, a Christian crusader for sexual abstinence, to be a guest on his show. You can Google up clips of O’Donnell on Maher’s show, including one in which she admits to having “dabbled” in witchcraft. But she’s not a witch.
Polls and political strategists indicate that the electorate will swing right in 2010, with Republicans picking up statehouse offices and making gains in Congress. It’s the Tea Party effect, which has fed on a slumping economy, coupled with appeals to latent racism two years into the administration of this nation’s first black president.
And the Tea Party phenomenon is not a simple matter of grassroots anger; there is something else at work behind the scenes. Jane Mayer, writing about the billionaire Koch brothers in the Aug. 30 edition of The New Yorker, shows that monied interests – like those of oil refining and pipeline magnates David and Charles Koch, of Koch Industries (its holdings, which generate an estimated $100 billion per year, also include Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra) – are providing the cash to fuel the anti-Obama think tanks and Tea Party groups. The Kochs and other big business players are using the Tea Party movement to help weaken environmental regulations and bend tax laws to further favor the rich. You can find Mayer’s story, “Covert operations,” here.
Which brings us to the race for governor of Minnesota. The Jewish Community Relations Council, Jewish Community Action, the American Jewish World, Mount Zion Temple, and a dozen other congregations and Jewish groups hosted a debate among the major party gubernatorial candidates on Oct. 3.
On the Mount Zion bima, former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton (DFL), Tom Horner (IP) and State Rep. Tom Emmer (R), fielded questions from Prof. Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota. The results were a mixture of platitudes and stark policy differences on issues roiling the Capitol in St. Paul. Looming over the discussion is a $6 billion state budget deficit.
Horner, representing the Independence Party, the party of Jesse Ventura (who never did much party-building during his tenure as Minnesota governor), is a lifelong Republican who, like many others, left his GOP home because the party’s activists have swung far-right, especially on moral issues – same-sex marriage, abortion, etc. Horner has received the backing of a number of Republican notables, although Gov. Tim Pawlenty just recently endorsed Emmer, who is the Republican standard-bearer in the race.
Pawlenty – who seems to be running for president, or vice president, in 2012 – urged his Republican partisans to stick with Emmer, a shoot-from-the-hip type lawyer from Delano, who was elected to the state House in 2004. The governor warned that a vote for Horner would only help elect DFLer Dayton. In response, Horner issued a statement slagging Pawlenty policies that have led to a poor jobs climate in the state. The statement also noted that Pawlenty was late in endorsing Emmer, who Horner said “increasingly is the choice only of Palin-Bachmann Republicans.”
Horner emphasizes traditional economic concerns, vis-à-vis the business climate; but we are in a period of economic pain when political leaders must address the problems of working-class people who are increasingly anxious about holding on to jobs and their homes. Further, Horner favors expansion of the sales tax, a regressive measure that will further weigh down those struggling to keep afloat financially in these hard times.
Turning to Rep. Emmer, I first became aware of his priorities in 2005, when he loudly objected to HIV/AIDS prevention content carried on the Web site of the Minnesota AIDS Project (MAP). The educational effort used some rough language and graphic illustrations – in its attempt to reach people on the street at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. I recall that Emmer voiced his umbrage that the state was funding a group that sanctioned the use of the “F” word (he called it the “f-ingheimer”); and he introduced a bill to specifically withhold state funding from MAP due to “explicit sexual content” on its Web site. This is the kind of mentality that Minnesota does not need in the state’s top executive office.
Also, I have noticed that Emmer has been grossly misconstruing Dayton’s position on taxing wealthier Minnesotans to help narrow the budget gap. As he did at Mount Zion and last week during an MPR interview, Emmer contends that Dayton’s proposals will “kill small business in the state,” by increasing the tax rate for those earning $150,000. Emmer seems to know that most small businesses are S corporations and LLCs, which pass through net profits as individual income. The problem here is that small businesses are not making money after paying the bills.
The candidate who merits your vote for governor in 2010 is Mark Dayton. Although I disagree with some of his views (such as his support for a state-run casino at the Mall of America), his policy positions embody compassion for those down on their luck, offer an inclusive vision of Minnesota society, and emphasize equity in taxation. Dayton, a scion of the department store family, grew up in privileged circumstances; but he has put his money into progressive causes over several decades and has dedicated himself to public service.
The late Sen. Paul Wellstone said, “Politics isn’t about big money or power games; it’s about the improvement of people’s lives.” Mark Dayton will carry on the Wellstone legacy, and he’s the smart choice for Minnesota governor in 2010. And after voting on Nov. 2, all of us must stay involved, and keep up the pressure on our elected officials to help realize the vision of a more just and humane society.
– Mordecai Specktor / firstname.lastname@example.org
(This editorial solely reflects the views of its author. It is not intended to represent the viewpoint of Minnesota Jewish Media, LLC, the parent company of the American Jewish World, or the opinions of its investors.)