Stadium strikes out democracy


With the inevitable cost overruns such big projects always seem to have
and interest on a 30-year debt the $522M new Twins stadium will
ultimately cost Hennepin County citizens $1 billion. But, Minnesotans
have already paid an even bigger price.

We the people were summarily dismissed by those who are elected to
represent us. State law that says citizens must weigh in, on the ballot,
and vote on the creation of any countywide sale tax. It’s called a referemdum, and perhaps many Minnesotans didn’t understand what
that word meant, but, in public opinion polls right up to the end, over
70 percent said they didn’t want public money going to Carl Pohlad’s stadium dreams. That’s been the public’s stand for a decade, so, every
legislator who voted for this massive corporate welfare project can’t
say they didn’t know.

They just didn’t give a damn.

This was a bipartisan insult to basic principles of democracy.In the
Minnesota State Senate, Democrats topped Republicans voting for the
stadium: Democrats 22, Republicans 12. In the Minnesota State House, it
was neck and neck: 37 Republicans and 34 Democrats voted to ignore the
will of the people. In his first run for City Hall, Minneapolis Mayor
R.T. Rybak campaigned against any public subsidy for a Twins stadium,
but, met with corporate boosters the day after he was elected and
“working to find the right deal” was the first of all his major campaign
promises he’s broken.

From City Hall, when the big builders come with expensive condominium
projects (or a corporation like Target) all the way to Congress when
it’s weapons manufacturers (or Halliburton/KRB), when their corporate
sponsors come calling to pick the public pocket, too many politicians,
both Democrat and Republican, write a blank check. Corporations and the
wealthy, like Mr..Pohlad (#77 on Forbes 400 Richest People in America
with a net worth of $2.5 BILLION), are never told “There’s no money in
the budget for that.”

Rybak presided over the closing of the 510 homeless shelter, when
nightly homeless people are turned away when they don’t win the lottery
for a mat on the floor. Homeless youth, estimated at almost a 1,000, must
vie for fewer than 200 beds. Shelters turn away battered women, often
with their chldren, fleeing abuse, because services to deal with
domestic violence have never been fully funded and had a 20 percent budget cut last year. Politicians re-draw the poverty line to make thousands more ineligible for help to facilitate more budget cuts.

At the same time Pohlald gets money for a stadium, more Minnesota children will lose health care. Clean water won’t get full funding in Minnesota. Although our vibrant arts create more revenue than professional sports, they face cuts, too. While milllionaire atheletes will get a stadium “with essential amenitites”, more and more youth have to pay fees to play
sports in our public schools and summer programs are cut.

Besides the assault on democracy, there are real human consequences to
spending hundreds of millions annually on corporate welfare. Real people
don’t get healthcare or sleep in their cars or stay with an abusive man
because there’s no place to go. Our children are shortchanged and our
environment is polluted further. False promises are made about “economic
development” and corporations take the money and run.

Small businesses actually create 80 percent of the new jobs, struggle to offer ever-more expenseive health insurance and are too often driven out of business altogether because they can’t compete against the stacked deck of big business subsidies. We’re told universal healthcare is impossibly
expensive but, what corporations are ever denied taxpayers’ money for
their pet project—from Target’s new $100 million corporate headquarters to
Northwest Airlines’ $350 million Iron Range maintence center that was never built?

What does all this say about public priorities and who sets them?

Our democracy has been highjacked by economic elites, with a
corporate-owned mass media that magnifies priviledged voices and drowns
out or excludes the rest of us. Both major political parties are funded
by these elites and the Twins stadium deal is undeniable evidence that
that’s who most Democrats and Republicans answer to.

Continued crowing about “America is the greatest democracy on Earth”
rings damn hollow. These days, I’m looking south to Bolivia as their
president, Evo Morales takes back his country’s natural gas from
international corporations and President Hugo Chafez reorders his
country’s priorities to get healthcare and education to the majority.

That’s what real democracy looks like.

Lydia Howell is a Minneapolis journalist, poet, activist. She’s
producer/host of “Catalyst:politics & culture”, Tuesdays, 11am, on KFAI
Radio (availble online for 2 weeks after broadcast She’s
also Arts Editor for the new online journal TC Daily Planet