The DFL takeover of the Minnesota State House this election was pretty stunning in some ways. Getting 89 seats out of 134 looks substantial. There are several ways of looking at the strength or fragility of the margin. One way is to look at the DFL share of the two party (Republican and Democratic) vote. Across Minnesota the DFL took 55% of the two party vote in the state House. That's a substantial margin at the aggregate level, and indicates the DFL could hold onto the state House for several terms. There were only 20 (of 134) districts where the DFL did worse in 2006 than in 2004, indicating the DFL "wave" was quite uniform across the state. You can see this in the graph below. Most of the dots are above the y=x line, indicating the DFL did better in 2006.
Another assessment is to look at the margins in individual races, and see where the majority was won, lost and inflated, and thus where it could decline next time. The DFL won some of the close races they had lost narrowly last time. You can see this in the following graph.
Notice the bunch of districts just above the horizontal 0.5 line, but also just to the left of the horizontal line. Those are the districts the DFL picked up.
The broad wave of the DFL win is indicated also by how they picked up most of the districts decided by small margins.
Notice how there's a clump of districts just above the line marking 50% of the vote (and a DFL win). Of the 11 districts decided by less than 1 per cent of the two party vote, the DFL won 9 of them.
So, the DFL wave in Minnesota in 2006 was impressive. The aggregate vote won suggests it could be maintained for a while, but the small margins in a significant minority of districts suggest the Republicans could pull back 10 seats next time without much effort.
Here in Minnesota we have the interesting dynamic of a Senate race where the Democratic party is leading by 10 percentage points (on average), and the Governor's race is all tied up between the major parties at 40-something apiece. This has led to the totally predictable dynamic neither Amy Klobuchar and Mike Hatch (Democratic nominees for Senate and Governor) nor Mark Kennedy and Tim Pawlenty (Republican nominees for same) are doing joint campaign appearances.
Finally the Star Tribune interviews some of these people. Pragmatic and results focused would be one way of describing their political views. Less substantively they all seem to find Klobuchar and Pawlenty more attractive and articulate. If you go into politics it helps not to have a funny voice. In fact, it helps both men and women in [western] politics to have a deep voice. Whatever their other differences Kennedy and Hatch might both lose because they speak squeaky.
Last week's Minnesota Poll in the Star Tribune revealed something a little odd, but nevertheless predictable (and predicted): Tim Pawlenty is slightly ahead of Mike Hatch in the governor's race, and Amy Klobuchar has a big, big lead in the Senate race. Who are those Pawlenty-Klobuchar voters? My guess is they are largely found in the western and southern suburbs of the Twin Cities, where voters are familiar with Klobuchar from her role as Hennepin County attorney, less familiar with Mark Kennedy, and well-disposed towards our archetypically suburban governor, Tim Pawlenty.
So, I would like to reprise my campaign prediction from 2 months ago. The dynamic between the Senatorial and gubernatorial candidates in Minnesota is going to be interesting. Look for Tim Pawlenty to steer well clear of Mark Kennedy during the campaign, but look also for Mike Hatch to try and tag along with Amy Klobuchar. Although Pawlenty was slightly ahead of Hatch, there were two warning signs for the incumbent. Hatch had lower name recognition and higher favorability ratings, yet was still only just behind. If I had more time for this kind of thing I'd keep a running tally of joint campaign appearances by the top-of-the-ticket candidates ...
Josh Marshall on public support for WWII during the Battle of the Bulge and public support for Iraq now. Historical research in action.
Minntelect's analysis of Minnesota state House races. If you're really interested in politics.
This article in the Star Tribune about opposition to the International Baccalaureate was interesting and frustrating. It was interesting because the opponents of the IB are right in a limited, general way; that the IB's externally graded examinations are a somewhat different approach to instruction and assessment than American education typically takes. But it was frustrating that the article sets up this even-handed conflict between opponents of IB and supporters.
When you read on, you find that the only people opposing it are some fruit loops in suburban Republican conventions, and that those notorious anti-American pinko terrorists Tim Pawlenty and major business leaders support it. This is the kind of faux-balance that gives American journalism a bad name. It would be fairer and more accurate to write that the opposition to IB is marginal.
Curious to find out more about the group opposing the IB, EdWatch, I checked out their website. You'd think if you were going to bemoan the faltering standards of American education as it falls prey to the centralizing grasp of the "Nanny State" you would want to give at least the appearance of competence with the English language. Apparently not ... Here on just one page I found the following spelling and grammatical errors in a minute's reading:
It's hard to take people like this seriously when they can't even write proper English.
Notice the governor much this legislative session in Minnesota? For sure, he popped up to sign a stadium bill, and made a bit of show of going to the not-so-political fishing opener, but that's about it. Maybe Pawlenty was doing something behind the scenes, but most of the reported action in getting a bonding bill together was done by the legislature. I'm sure we'll see Pawlenty turn out for Memorial Day, 4th of July and State Fair events, but beyond that don't expect to see much of him during summer. And perhaps after.
Keeping out of the way and not doing or saying anything significant or controversial is probably going to be the path to re-election for Tim Pawlenty. I'm guessing that will probably include keeping to himself on the campaign trail, and steering a little clear of Michele Bachman (R-6th District candidate) and Mark Kennedy (R-Senate candidate).
The amazing thing about the Minnesota political scene this year is how crowded and noisy it could get. This is quite the advantage for an incumbent governor. First up, you have a Senate race that will draw national attention, and could get ugly quickly. Mark Kennedy is trying to walk away from his established record as a loyal Bush Republican. Even if he succeeds in doing that, he must start out at a slight disadvantage to Amy Klobuchar in the Senate race. Klobuchar just has to run a competent campaign and take advantage of the slight advantage that Democrats have shown in Minnesota at the last two presidential elections, and she will win. If Kennedy looks like he is going down, look for Pawlenty to distance himself.
Similarly, in the 6th district where there were about 12,000 voters who voted for both Patty Wetterling and George Bush, I imagine that Pawlenty is not going to embrace Michele Bachmann on the campaign trail straight away. There are enough people out there who could potentially vote for Wetterling and Pawlenty that Pawlenty will probably keep his distance for now.
The 5th district is highly unlikely to go Republican, but with Mike Erlandson now stepping into the DFL primary, that contest will also soak up political interest and coverage. That's good news for an incumbent governor who wants the gubernatorial race to slip into the background.
This analysis is predicated on the assumption that so long as a governor hasn't made a major screw-up, incumbency and the name recognition and deference it conveys, is an advantage. Say what you will about Tim Pawlenty's policies but he hasn't made major screw-ups. Even if you disagree with the social spending cuts that were made, many of them affected people who would already vote for the Democrats. The electoral impact was probably slight. Pawlenty could campaign with Bachmann and Kennedy, but given that they're not certain to win their races, the risk averse thing to do is to stay away from them.
The last factor to consider in assessing Pawlenty's re-election chances and strategy is the DFL contest for the gubernatorial nomination. Currently, there are three candidates: Steve Kelley, Becky Lourey and Mike Hatch. Kelley has pledged to abide by the endorsement process at the DFL convention in Rochester from June 9-11, but the other two have not. Thus, it's likely there will be a primary for the DFL nomination in September. This is great news for Pawlenty, since it means he might not have to engage his opponent until September. (By the way, the websites are revealing. Mike Hatch's looks like it was designed in about ... 2001, Kelley's in 2003, and only Lourey's seems up-to-date and professional in its internet aesthetics)
Kelley seems like a decent, earnest man with an interest in policy, and representing a suburban district might be placed to pick up votes in the suburbs. But if his effective campaign season is less than two months, and with potentially competitive races in the 6th District and Senate, it's not clear he's a man who will get his voice heard above the melee. There's only so much attention people have to give to politics, and some races just get ignored. This nearly always benefits incumbents.
Hatch's website makes it quite clear what his strategy is going to be: attack Tim Pawlenty. Hatch is clearly a political animal. There's nothing wrong on a personal level with being motivated to run for another office just because it's there and you enjoy the contest. But it's not clear that gives voters a sufficient reason to dump the incumbent. If Hatch is the DFL nominee we can be quite confident he'll raise the noise level in the race, get coverage, and go on the attack against Pawlenty. Hatch and Pawlenty clearly don't like each other, and I wouldn't be surprised if Pawlenty climbs down into the ditch to wrestle with Hatch if that's the race we get. But this kind of strategy is always risky for the challenger, if voters just decide it's a plague on both parties, the incumbent retains some advantages.
That brings us to Becky Lourey. She's different, and I don't mean that in a lily-livered Midwestern way of saying I don't like her. This week's City Pages article is a good one; clearly impressed with Lourey and her biography and values, but rightly skeptical of whether she can raise her name recognition in a campaign. While I could absolutely see her getting the DFL nomination in June and September, it's not quite clear what the path to victory in November is. Can she raise money? Can she get free media attention? As a rural woman who supports gun rights and opposes the Iraq war, Lourey confounds some of the normal stereotypes of Minnesota Democrats. This is still the state that elected Jesse Ventura 8 years ago, and while Jesse was a noisier candidate, it does indicate there's still an inkling for the unconventional populist candidate in Minnesota politics. Moreover, because she defies easy stereotyping Lourey could potentially be the more challenging candidate for Pawlenty to run against because she's different. And Minnesota could still be a state small enough that a candidate will go quite far by making a supreme effort to meet as many voters as possible. If you start early enough this kind of campaign can be effective and difficult to defend against.
All in all, Pawlenty is probably going to win re-election by 2-3% of the vote, but a strong flowover tide from the Senate race could overwhelm him. And if it gets really close the DFL candidates all have the advantage of having last names further up the alphabet than he does ...
Unintentional irony award for the day goes to Bloomington resident, Tim Volk, quoted in the Star Tribune:
I think it's pretty loud. I was using my leaf blower and I could hear [the planes] over my leaf blower, and we know how loud those are.
Don't read Katherine Kersten when someone else will do it for you!
In the interests of healthy political diversity I think it's important to read contrary opinions. Back in the day I used to pair The Spectator with The New Statesman in reading about British politics. I try to read George Will's column, though realizing that Will is not exactly representative of American conservatives today. I'll skim over Andrew Sullivan's blog sometimes.
One of the things that distinguishes Will and Sullivan is that they can write pretty well about interesting topics. Such is not the case with resident Star Tribune conservative, Katherine Kersten who mostly writes badly, and often essays on the mundane. Her columns are predictable in the worst way, never failing to advance a cliche where a new insight might have been possible. I feel sorry, really I do, for conservatives in Minnesota who have to put up with Kersten as their regular acknowledged local voice on the pages of the Star Tribune.
When she's not dull Kersten does provide moments of unintentional levity, and bizarre self-parody. Unfortunately to get to the comedy gold every fifth column or so, you have to read the dross.
Seems like demands for improvements to the West River Road are gathering force.
While they're at the project they could replace the concrete (!) pedestrian paths with asphalt ones. When I'm not running on the trail beneath the road, or the grass strip between the river road and Edmund Blvd, I'm on the bike path.
You will never catch me on the pedestrian path. I'm not going to accumulate any more impact on my legs than I have to, and they reckon concrete is several times worse for your bones and joints than even asphalt.
By way of today's trivial cultural exchange between our two great countries, most of the pavements/sidewalks in New Zealand are asphalt, not concrete. Of course the trail running is something else again, so I never did run much on the pavement.
Amy Klobuchar has a lock on a small section of the DFL Senate primary.
That's my observation from noting the number of Amy Klobuchar bumper stickers on nice middle class sedans on the Mississippi river roads the last few weeks. Not a Wetterling sticker to be seen amongst this commuter traffic.
Klobuchar stickers bear an uncanny resemblance to the "Mondale!" stickers that were rushed into production in 2002, with the same font, and same blue background. This suggested that Klobuchar may have the backing of the DFL party elite, and going to her website there is quite the list of endorsements from DFL state house members and senators. And from all over the map too. I was concerned that Klobuchar may run well in the cities and inner-ring suburbs but dissipate outside the 494/694 loop. But she seems to have the backing of DFL members from all over the state. That's promising.
Wetterling doesn't even have a list of endorsements that I could find.
By accident or design the DFL seems to be focusing more on 2006 Senate race than the Governor's race. That's curious, since some political scientists suggest that most voters pay more attention to the Governor's race when they are held together. In this theory, candidates for Senate benefit from being associated with their parties candidate for Governor.
Who will the DFL put up against Pawlenty? Say what you will about Mike Hatch, but he's carried a fight to Pawlenty most of Pawlenty's term. That is worth quite a lot to a party that doesn't hold any other statewide office.
City Pages reports on the craziness out in Minnetonka, where a vocal minority is opposing Minnetonka High School's introduction of the International Baccalaureate qualification to the district. Apparently, the IB is
"anti-American, anti-Christian, .... and rejects the Judeo-Christian values held by the majority of families in our district and instead promotes the atheistic Secular Humanist principles of multiculturalism, pacifism, one-world government, and moral relativism.
That well known godless communists George Bush has endorsed the IB, so it can't be all that bad.
One of the parents complaining about the IB says "Our education system is the envy of the world ... Why would we want to subordinate that to some organization connected with the United Nations?"
Umm, no. Or at least not according to the best international comparisons out there, available from the TIMSS study of international achievements in mathematics and science, and the PIRLS study of reading ability.
The United States' educational performance is virtually indistinguishable from Canada, Australasia, and Europe, and somewhat behind those hard-working kids in Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan.
Now you could make the claim that the U.S. education system is productive, since it achieves pretty good test scores for fewer hours in school (the same is approximately true of Australia and New Zealand, which also have low schooling hours compared to Europe and Asia). But that's a distinctly second order way of being the envy of the world.
If the gas tax isn't a good way to fund roads, where should the money come from?
"I think gas prices are high enough the way it is," said [name deleted to prevent embarrasment], 44, of Apple Valley, mother of three sons.
Higher pump prices have been especially tough on "people who have kids and are driving all over the place," [name deleted] said. Roads do need improving, in her opinion, but "I think they should find another way to get the money."
That includes [name deleted], 39, of Ramsey, who drives for a living making linen deliveries.
"Obviously, we need to expand capacity -- add more lanes," he said. "But any addition to the price of gas I'm totally against. It's too high right now to consider."
Now I'm not sure what these people's other political views are, but in general it astonishes me how socialist midwestern American views are about funding and providing roads, co-existing with a scepticism about government action in other areas.
My dissertating mornings at home have been interrupted briefly the last few days with the cheery ring of people soliciting campaign contributions. As a non-citizen I have the perfect excuse for politely declining first R.T. Rybak's requests ... and now several days in a row Patty Wetterling's. (Not them personally calling, of course ...)
It took a while for the penny to drop. Wetterling's campaign called both Monday and Tuesday, and I think all they said was that they were calling from "Patty Wetterling's office." Today when I asked if I could take a message [for the U.S. citizen in the house] the woman replied "It's Patty Wetterling for Senate. We'll call back." I bet you will, I thought.
My anecdotal take on this is that you don't do three call backs if you're not running for office.
Rep. Phil Krinkie (R - Useful Idiot & Shoreview) has
distinguished himself made his name with obsessive opposition to light rail. However, at the end of a long rant about light rail he actually has a sensible idea or two:
Krinkie would propose redesigning the routes so the system no longer looks like a wheel, with all the routes passing through the hubs of downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Under his vision, the buses would run on dedicated lanes on the freeways, with other buses or circulating vans picking up people to get them to the major lines. Many of the bus stops would have platforms, just like light rail, so people and wheelchairs could slide right in. They would also have heat in the winter, air conditioning in summer and feel safe, Krinkie said. Riders could buy coffee or a newspaper, and it should be legal to eat and drink beverages on the bus, he said.
I can understand why people take their cars when waiting for the bus is uncomfortably hot or cold 8 months of the year.
Of course, of course, the devil is in the details with an idea like this. I'm sure Krinkie wants to reduce the bus services inside the city so people in the suburbs can have better bus service. But as an addition to the bus system, a good idea.
Back in the day when Norm Coleman was the mayor of St. Paul one of his responsibilites -- aside from grinning like an idiot -- was to balance the budget each year. Then he got himself that job in Washington promising to be "Minnesota's mayor in Washington," where he can pull gimmicks like this: voting against cuts in the Medicaid budget and against paying for tax cuts with offsetting spending cuts or tax increases elswhere.
ah well, at least I was sorta prescient that he should consider running.
Just how well did the DFL do last week?
On the one hand, their gains were concentrated in places where local issues appeared to predominate.
On the other, their share of the two party state legislative vote (0.522) ran slightly ahead of Kerry's two party share of the presidential vote (0.518).
Minnesota's state house seats are redistricted by a neutral body, which makes it quite unusual that in 2002 the DFL's 0.493 share of the statewide state house vote netted them just 52 seats out of 134 (39%).
This year the DFL captured 0.522 of the statewide state house vote, but fell short of a majority of seats. They imrpoved their share of the vote in 97 of 134 districts; and in 94 of the 125 seats contested by both parties in both years. (Obviously if a party doesn't contest a seat in one election year this can't help but radically change the two-party share of the vote).
As you can see from the following graph the DFL improved their vote share in most seats held by the Republicans in 2002. The real missed opportunity for the DFL lies in five districts (25B, 14A, 19B, 24B, 56A) where they needed to raise their vote by less than 2%, but went backwards.
On the other hand in their own districts (see below), the DFL managed to raise their vote share in 37 out of 52 districts, and only lost more than a couple of percentage points in 2 districts that were close.
A landslide election would have seen the DFL vote share rise in nearly every seat, and they fell somewhat short of that mark. But increasing your vote overall by nearly 3%, and increasing your share of the vote in 75% of contested districts is a solid vote of confidence.
It must be hard to be Steve Sviggum this week. After five straight elections in which your party has gained seats in the legislature suddenly and unexpectedly (do you think they poll in state house races? no.) the tide reverses itself.
In private Sviggum must surely know that when you lose seats in three places (1) Rochester, (2) the Twin Cities suburbs, (3) lakes district seats with Indian counties that "undercurrents of the war in Iraq" have nothing to do with it.
Yet that is among just one of two ridiculous reasons Sviggum adduces for the Republican losses.
The other ridiculous reason "The consequences of the politically created "do-nothing Legislature" in 2004 could only be felt by House members" is great in hindsight. But the Senate DFL took a bit of a risk -- if people really did prefer the House Republican/Governor's policies the House DFL would have been at the end of the hiding.
Sviggum seems to be one of those politicians who must be smarter than his public persona, because his colleagues would surely not keep him on if they think the Iraq war was why they lost seats.