How campaign workers fought to achieve the first-ever collective bargaining agreement with the MN DFL

Behind the scenes of Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL)’s Nov. 6 historic general election wins, campaign workers claimed a lesser-known victory, won after a fraught struggle against  – ironically – the DFL. Minnesota campaign workers negotiated the first-ever collective bargaining agreement. Their efforts in securing this agreement from the MN DFL were aided by Campaign Workers Guild, an independent national union formed by former Bernie Sanders campaign workers. The two-year accord gives campaign workers a three percent pay raise and, for the first time in any state, time and a half pay for overtime, along with other benefits. Continue Reading

How the Minnesota DFL Lost Their Narrative

    One can already see the Minnesota Republican political narrative for 2016 and it is not pretty for the Democrats.  Simply put the narrative is that the DFL is out of touch with middle class Minnesota, they are the party of gridlock, and GOP will defend the middle class and stop the bickering.  How did all this happen?    The strength of the DFL narrative in 2010 and even though most of the 2013-14 session was its defense of the middle and working class.  They had a great narrative: an increased minimum wage, tax increases on the wealthy and cuts for the middle class, more money for K-12, and the Women’s Economic Security Act.  This is a terrific “We are on your side message.”  But somewhere along the way to the 2014 elections the Minnesota DFL lost their message and the battle for images and symbols.  Spending on a new state senate office building did not help and the messaging on taxes and spending fell flat, costing the DFL the House in 2014.     Now the DFL are in trouble.  Dayton’s push for commissioners’ pay raises was simply politically dumb.  After years where most Americans if not Minnesotans have not seen pay increases, arguing for commissioners’ raises when they already make two to three times the median family income in Minnesota was not smart.  Nor were defenses of it by some DFL commentators that these individuals deserved raises or else government would not be able to recruit or hold talented administrators.  It sounded greedy…like private sector business CEOs who whine they do not make enough.    But then it got worse.  The Dayton-Bakk fight did not look good.  It painted a party as dysfunctional, undermining another narrative that the DFL had for the last two years–they delivered on their promises.  And then the deal to address the raises was brokered by Kurt Daubt–the GOP Speaker of the House.  His intervention sets up a narrative that the DFL cannot govern alone and that what is needed is unified Republican control of the legislature.  Moreover the deal he did broker did not take the pay raises off the table–it merely postponed them until later this year–even closer to the 2016 elections.    And then this past week the State Auditor sharply criticized the mismanagement of MNSure.  Yes it has insured many more Minnesotans yet its managed was flawed and it needs to be fixed.    Finally, while no one doubts we need to spend billions more on infrastructure and that the Republican proposal to spend the non-existent surplus on roads and bridges is an insufficient smoke and mirrors idea, the DFL have not messaged their proposed tax increases well.    So think about 2016 and the issues Republicans will use.    The Senate office building will be nearly done, standing as a monument to government excess; pay raises for commissioners while the middle class struggle; tax increases for infrastructure; health care mismanagement; and possibly a feuding DFL that cannot work together.  Together they paint a picture of Democrats as out of touch with middle class Minnesotans and as a party that potentially cannot get anything done (aided by Republicans who now have an incentive to drive the state into a budget impasse or shut down again and then blame it on the DFL).  This is a 2016 Minnesota replay of what the national Republicans did in 2014 when the ran against Obama and the Senate Democrats.    What is perplexing is how the DFL lost control of its narrative again.  In the larger scheme of things they are probably do way more to help middle class Minnesota than the Republicans are, but they are simply terrible at messaging and one wonders if they can improve their ability to communicate and understand how these issues play beyond their metro base. – [See original post at:] Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Only compromise will stop Minnesota’s mining range war

 Like the range wars once fought over water and grazing rights in the western U.S. in the 1800’s, Minnesotan environmentalists and mining supporters are waging a modern-day range war. The Minnesota Range WarEnvironmental and tribal organizations warn that expanded mining in northern Minnesota will harm wild rice and exacerbate mercury pollution in lakes and rivers. They point to evidence of dwindling wild rice and to DNR listings of dozens of endangered lakes where residents are advised not to eat the fish because of high levels of mercury contamination. Environmentalists suspect the state will not enforce strict environmental mining controls if Polymet Mining and Duluth Twin Metals mines are permitted to start operations in the Mesabi Range and fear that a wilderness area of the state will be ruined for future generations. On the other side of this battle are 70% of the residents in northern Minnesota, who support mining the world’s largest undeveloped deposits of copper, nickel, platinum, palladium and gold located within the Mesabi Range as their future, if not their birthright. The Polymet proposal is to mine copper, nickel and precious metals for 20 years, although there are proven reserves to continue mining the Northmet project for another 20 years or longer. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Jim Oberstar remembered by Senator Al Franken

Hours before Senator Al Franken was to address the convention of Minnesota Congressional District Three Democrats at Maple Grove Junior High School, he learned that his adviser and friend, former Congressman Jim Oberstar had died at home in Maryland, peacefully in his sleep.  Saturday May 3rd was to have been just a rip-roaring, lets-get ’em fired-up for the coming election rally and endorsement fete.  With the endorsement of Sharon Sund to dethrone Eric Paulson, it certainly was that.  The convention also became a venue of tribute to and affection for one of the most effective, citizen-centered politicians to ever come from Minnesota and to ever sit in The House.  Jim Oberstar from Chisholm had served 17 successive terms in Congress and was one of the world’s foremost authorities on transportation.Legendary columnist and sports writer Jim Klobuchar (also from The Range) shared his thoughts and read a letter to the gathered about Jim Oberstar sent by his U.S. Senator daughter, Amy.  Southwest suburban DFL leader Steve Kelley and others payed their respects.   When Al and Frannie Franken entered the auditorium, the cheers and applause swelled, tapering off a full minute later.  The junior senator from Minnesota, searched for words and then, after a pause, found them.  This video will appear on the next cable cast version of Democratic Visions in a few weeks. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Clinically depressed motivational speaker advises Republican and DFL power players

I first met Jon Spayde at the Bryant Lake Bowl Cabaret maybe a year ago, on a Sunday night that is otherwise memorable only for the slush, cross walk puddles and snow that crusted Minneapolis. Mr. Spayde, who I soon learned, had done turns in theater, Harvard, internet editing, The Utney Reader and counseling, has a one man cabaret show featuring more than ten characters of his own creation including a clinically depressed motivational speaker, a Catholic priest, a ladies man and a ghost from the Snoose Boulevard era when Scandies got drunk and brawled a lot outside the saloons and vaudeville halls in Cedar Riverside. To my delight that night, Mr. Spayde was more than an impressionist – each of his lightly satirical characters was fully etched within the historic, pop culture and/or current issues contexts from which they emerge.   At Bryant Lake Bowl, Mr. Spayde invited members of the audience on stage to engage with the character of their choice in a conversation or line of questioning or even a faux psychiatric counseling session.  I chose Vic of Rhode Island.  Vic, through Jon, knew stuff about Providence, pizza and working class brio.   So do I.   He’s been there and the laughs perculated through the small theater. There ain’t nothing more comfortable for me on a drudgey, wintry night, than to hang out in hardscrabble improv comedy clubs like the Huge Theater or venues like the Bryant Lake Bowl and – during the twentieth Century – Dudley Rigg’s Brave New Workshop and Barbara Contardi’s kinetic, First Amendment on Bond Street in Manhattan. Of late, however, despite scores of improvisational riffs that spark ripples and waves of laffs and groans at Stevie Ray’s, Comedy Sportz, The Huge, and the post Dudley Brave New Workshop, and despite all of the improv groups (Hooray!!), the most consistently satisfying improv artist I’ve encountered is deceptively, low-amp Jon Spayde.  Why?  Well, dear possums, Spayde provides his characters with rich and informed contexts.  The man clearly reads books (and writes them), has himself been through hard times, frustrating times and great times, is good-hearted and intuitive and swims in a life stream with lots of different fish, snakes, anglers. poachers and game wardens.  Spayde, like Lorna Landvick (who also writes books and plays Bryant Lake Bowl), delivers more than a clever or risqué punch line; provides the ticket buyer with more than the shell of an archetype.  And he knows political issues and players – few other comedian performers in the local goldfish bowl of improv and cabaret comedy share his level of awareness.  Most are unfunny and trivial. We recently produced four new segments with Jon for Democratic Visions, the cable and internet program that is handcrafted by mostly DFL volunteers in the southwest ‘burbs.  The current program also features ex-blogger, vinegary scold Eric Pusey (late of Minnesota Progressive Project); a report on DFL Senate District 48’s precinct caucuses and an award-winning, short film on environmental activism.In the first of his new segments, Jon takes on the guise of his clinically depressed motivational speaker character to advise well known Republican and Democrat candidates and power players.Democratic Visions can be seen in Hopkins, Minnetonka, Edina, Richfield and Eden Prairie – Comcast Channel 15 – Sundays at 9 p.m., Mondays at 10:00 p.m. and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. Bloomington – BCAT Cable Channel 16 – Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. & 10:00 p.m.; Fridays at 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. & 2:30 p.m.Minneapolis – MTN Channel 16 – Sundays at 8:30 p.m., Mondays 3:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m.Segments of the program are posted on the web at  Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Video: MN Precinct Caucuses – Be heard on Feb 4

Minnesota’s precinct caucuses will be held on Tuesday February 4.  I’m hoping you attend and nudge your friends to attend.  I have produced the accompanying Democratic Visions video to help.And I here share with you a portion of a January 18 letter-to-the editor of The Journal, a New Ulm, Minnesota newspaper.The letter is co-signed by the Brown County Chairs of the Republican and DFL Parties.  That would never happen in Senate District 48 (Eden Prairie/Southern Minnetonka).  The political culture here in the southwest suburbs may be trending blue, but right wing activists continue to dominate the local Republican Party and, given early PAC mail attacks on moderate, frosh Representative Yvonne Selcer (DFL, HD 48A), party lefties aren’t likely to co-author with the righties any love-notes about the democratic process. But its damn comforting to know that political party folk elsewhere in Minnesota are in tandem, making a good case for caucus attendance. “As leaders within our political parties in Brown County, we would like to personally encourage you to attend your precinct caucus on Tuesday, Feb. 4.The precinct caucus is a gathering of your friends, family, and neighbors to exercise your rights in the American political process. It is your first opportunity during an election year to talk about issues, learn about the candidates running for statewide and local office, make recommendations for changes in your party’s platform, and choose delegates to represent you at upcoming county conventions and beyond.You are welcome to express your opinions on important issues, or you can come just to listen and observe. The atmosphere is similar to that of a neighborhood town hall meeting where the exchange of ideas is encouraged and all participants are treated with fairness and respect, regardless of whether you are expressing your opinion or just listening to others.The caucus system in Minnesota is a unique system in the United States, where ordinary citizens have the opportunity to participate not only in the selection of the candidates who will represent your political party but also in defining the issues and positions under which those candidates will run in elections. It is participation citizen democracy in action.Jim Hahn-Chair, Brown County, Republican CommitteeLori Sellner-Chair, Brown County DFL Committee” Democratic Visions is handcrafted by Eden Prairie, Minnetonka and Edina Democrats and has a YouTube Channel and can be seen has the following Cable Channels –Hopkins, Minnetonka, Edina, Richfield and Eden Prairie – Comcast Channel 15 – Sundays at 9 p.m., Mondays at 10:00 p.m. and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m.Bloomington – BCAT Cable Channel 16 – Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. & 10:00 p.m.; Fridays at 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. & 2:30 p.m.Minneapolis – Minneapolis – MTN Channel 16 -Sundays at 8:30 p.m.; Thursdays at 2 a..m. Continue Reading

Candidates and karaoke: City council candidates face off in North Minneapolis

Four North Minneapolis candidates faced off in a public forum followed by karaoke at the Capri Theater on Saturday, September 7. About 90 audience members heard candidates respond to wide-ranging questions on everything from police-community relations to homelessness to the HERC garbage incinerator to youth policy. Economic empowerment was an overarching theme that the candidates often returned to in the forum, which was sponsored by Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) and moderated by community leader Sina Black. With no DFL endorsement for the seat and incumbent Don Samuels running for mayor, the candidates are running hard and are eager to differentiate themselves from their opponents. Other than Severson’s repeated and rather pointed observation that he has lived in the 5th Ward his entire life, the candidates stuck to the issues and did not criticize each other. (Buckner is also a lifelong resident of the ward; Alexander moved to the ward after completing law school; Yang was born in a refugee camp in Thailand.)The candidates include:Ian Alexander, a family law attorney who lost his previous home in the north side tornado. Alexander ran unsuccessfully for the legislature last year, and came within a percentage point of gaining the DFL endorsement at the May convention. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | A party insider’s take on the Minneapolis DFL Convention

*The following post reflects my own opinions and has not been revised, approved, or endorsed by any campaign, committee, or party officer.Last summer I was asked to run to fill a vacant director spot on the Minneapolis DFL Executive Committee. I had never attended a city DFL meeting, but I knew it would be a great way for me to get more involved in citywide politics this side of the river. After a brief speech to the Minneapolis DFL Central Committee, I was asked instead to run for the vacant role of Outreach Officer. I don’t know how long the position had been vacant, but the only other person who volunteered to run for an Executive Committee role was uninterested in being the Outreach Officer. I said, “OK,” and I was elected with the Central Committee understanding I was new to Minneapolis politics but willing to learn and work hard. Continue Reading

OPINION |Two calls for DFL action on effective gun regulations

More effective gun controls are addressed on the current edition of Democratic Visions.Sami Rahamim discusses with AM950 Radio’s Nancy Nelson his response to the September killing of his father Reuvin Rahamim and two of his father’s employees and a United Parcel Service driver in his Bryn Mawr, Minneaplis sign company.  Sami, Rahamin attended the State of  the Union speech on the invitation of Congressman Keith Ellison.  He and other survivors of families who had been victimized by gun violence heard President Obama call out to Congress that they “ … deserve a vote!”   As a citizen-lobbyist, the 18-year old Mr. Rahamim has spoken on behalf of reforming gun laws in Saint Paul and Washington D.C.Link – a strong commentary about reluctant Minnesota DFL legislators, Eden Prairie’s Doug Lind reminds our state lawmakers that they need to show backbone and pass effective laws that will reduce the careless and evil use of weapons. TV SCHEDULEMinneapolis MTN Channel 16 – Sundays at 8:30 p.m.Dem Vis is also streamed live on Sundays at 8:30  p.m at this MTN Ch 16  link: Comcast Channel 15 Sundays at 9 p.m. and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. in Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Edina, Richfield and Hopkins.  Bloomington Cable Access Television (BCAT) Channel 16 on Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. & 10:00 p.m., Fridays at 9:30 p.m. , Saturdays at 7:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. DEMOCRATIC VISIONS CHANNEL – YOUTUBEDemocratic Visions is produced by unpaid volunteers through DFL Senate District 48 at the Bloomington Community Access Television studio on Old Shakopee Road.  Browse more than more than 125 segments including discussions, commentary and humor on a wide range of political issues - Continue Reading

FREE SPEECH ZONE | Retrospective: Notes on six remarkable performances from the past year — including jazz, a DFL banquet, skydiving and a funeral

The most useful and popular of our theater, music and film critics arguably see and reflect on too much stuff too frequently.  A reviewer’s fatigue-fogged lens and carpal tunnel syndrome can both mug a great play or canonize a pile of digital kitsch on an IMAX screen.  As a suburban cul-de-sac dweller, I don’t see much and am not vulnerable to these trap doors.  Because some of the few live performances I have seen are very notable but have slipped through cracks, I here provide, for your consideration dear possums, my 2012 list of memorable performances including a one act play, a DFL banquet, a funeral service, music ensembles and a video. ZEITGEIST / NIRMALA RAJASEKAR, 2/11/12, St. PaulThe new music ensemble, Zeitgeist, regularly teams up with other inventing and accomplished musicians in their Lower Town, Saint Paul performing space, Studio Z.  On the recommendation of my colleague and Zeitgeist Board Member Craig Sinard, my wife Carol and I attended a Zeitgeist concert-seminar of sorts in February featuring composer Nirmala Rajasekar.  Rajasekar is an internationally acclaimed virtuoso and teacher of a 7-string, plucked, South Indian, classical instrument called a Saraswati veena. We arrived a bit late, which in Minnesota – home of the crowded back pews – means that the tardy get the front row seats.  Such was the case that evening.  We quietly maneuvered into forward positions about seven feet from Ms. Rajasekar who was positioned cross-legged on the floor with the large, lute-like instrument.  A menagerie of instruments and Zeitgeistians Heather Barringer and Patti MCudd (percussion), Pat O’Keefe (woodwinds) and Shannon Wettstein (piano) fanned out behind her.The ensemble’s sound was at once exotic, tropical, familiar and fun.  The veena family of instruments, we learned, is counterpart to the sitar of Northern India, but evolved from a South India Carnatic tradition with distinct rhythms and human voice-like harmonics and tones.  The veena played by Ms. Rajasekar has a large, carved wood resonator – a large bowl set on the floor against her right thigh, that tapers into a hollow, 4-foot long neck.  The neck supports a 24-fret, fingering board and a smaller gourd-shaped resonator that rests on top of the left thigh.  An ornate, down-curving tuning box culminating in a dragon’s head, and a rank of 4 main strings and a rank of 3 “drone” strings stretched over their respective bridges complete the instrument. The Saraswati veena, we learned, is named after the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, arts and science.  Hearing the waves of ethereal, pulsing, darting and swooping music above sustained harmonically rich chords produced by Ms. Rajasekar – and at one point her daughter Shruthi, e goddess must be very pleased.  A mere mortal like myself was mesmerized.  When jamming with improvising marimbas, drums, blocks, chimes, saxophone and piano the experience became illuminating, liberating and spiritual.  The experience was nourished by both east and west and was something new.  I rank my visit to the jewel box of Studio Z with the hour I spent absorbing, from only 15 paces, Leonard Bernstein rehearsing the New York Philharmonic one summer afternoon on the southwest flank of the Great Lawn in Central Park.Video: Nirmala Rejasekar ensemble on TPT’s Minnesota Original –          LORIA PARKER, 4/26/12, New YorkMy good friend Peter Brownscomb and I had cabbed it from the East Village to 69th Street and Lexington Avenue to find a recital hall perched inside Hunter College, There we would find Loria Parker, another long time friend, who we hadn’t seen in years.  Loria had the title role in a one-act musical sponsored by the Ziegfeld Society, a non-profit group working to put fading Broadway traditions back on the boards. “America’s Funny Girl  – Fanny Brice,” crafted by Society President Mark York was premiering in the austere setting of the Lang Recital Hall that none-the-less was filling up with what appeared to be long-retired showgirls, cane-in-hand gents, Yiddish theater patrons, and friends of the cast.  The chatter of elderly, opinionated New Yorkers produced a wondrous, concerto of gab one cannot get in Minnesota – where I’ve spent the last two decades — not even on Seinfeld reruns.Back-story:  In the 1980’s Loria Parker and I had intersected in Manhattan’s cabaret circuit. At the time I was producing show bizzy, Phantom Agent segments for WNEW-TV’s PM Magazine.  I became friends with her father, the sly and vinegary effervescent, comedy writer, Coleman Jacoby (Bilko, Hope, Gleason) and her stepmother, Gaby Monet, an Oscar winning, documentary producer (HBO and Concepts Unlimited).I hadn’t heard Loria perform since a gig at Jan Wallman’s Cabaret about 1988.  That show featured one of her father’s songs and, on opening night, her presentation of a Hebrew National Salami to TV legend, Steve Allen – a recurring bit from his 1950’s run on The Tonight Show.  Steve and Coleman, both Friars Club elders, loved the tribute.  Loria’s strong, rounded alto, expressive personality, timing, and easy command of her dad’s bouncy lyrics and Sondheim’s tongue-twisting angst were remarkable.   This level of talent in 1978 had won Loria (as Catherine Jacoby) a singing role as Fanny Brice in the made-for-TV movie, “Ziegfeld:  The Man and His Women.”   It is my understanding that Loria and Barbra Streisand are the only actresses to portray Brice in major films.  Mark York heard of the film, located Loria, cast her in the title role and recruited her husband Gerry Janssen (a retired vocal coach) to operate the spotlight.  By long distance phone before the show, Loria confessed to me that she hadn’t been on stage in years; explaining that she had been building an image consulting firm, reviewing plays for the web publication and caring for family members.  The Canary, in other words, had the jitters.  But the personable flare that had won her bouquets in cabaret and regional theater were in full bloom at Hunter.  For sure, the audience came pre-loaded with affection; they were, after all, informed society members.  Fanny had been the Ziegfeld Follies’ biggest star.  Some, I figured, had heard Brice on the NBC Radio series “The Baby Snooks Show.”  Snooks – an impish, four-year old brat, who bested all grownups, had become Brice’s signature character in spite of decades of star turns on vaudeville and Broadway stages. Projecting the charismatic and comic flash of the seasoned trooper that Fanny Brice must have been in 1950, near the end of her still active life and the time frame of the play, Loria Parker delivered the full package.  She was ably supported by Jeffrey Scott Stevens and Jeff Dickamore in multiple roles including a butler, a stage manager, Eddie Cantor, Irving Berlin and Nick Arnstein – foils that served as brackets for Parker’s singing and York’s piano accompaniment for such Brice standards as “My Man,” “Second Hand Rose,” and “More Than You Know.”Although York builds his play on a fictional encounter between Brice and a college newspaper reporter – one with a gnat’s grasp of show biz history, he respects the factual record of the beloved comedienne’s life and garnishes the libretto with her actual words. For example, the reporter asks Fanny what it’s like to be an overnight success with the Baby Snooks character.  Parker, as Fanny, quips,”Listen kid, I’ve done everything in the theater except marry the property man.  I’ve been a soubrette in burlesque,  I’ve acted for Belasco and I’ve laid them out in the aisles at the Palace.  I’ve doubled as an alligator and I’ve worked for Ziegfeld and the Schubert,  and I’ve been joined in the holy bonds to Billy Rose. Continue Reading