Tuesday, March 11, 2008

You Don't Need a Weatherman to Know. . . .

. . . which way Lori Sturdevant blows. The Star Tribune editorial writer, columnist and DFL weathervane simply can't understand why those nasty Republicans would reject the leaders who sold them out over the transportation bill. She turns her benevolent gaze toward the misunderstood solons of District 41, Ron Erhardt and Neil Peterson, in her Tuesday column. Well, maybe I can help her understand.

Sturdevant begins her description of Antietam, also known as Edina's South View Middle School, as follows:

One vote was the elephant in the theater full of District 41 GOP elephants Saturday at Edina's South View Middle School. It was the vote cast Feb. 25 by Republican Reps. Ron Erhardt of 41A and Neil Peterson of 41B to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto, and put a tax-increasing transportation bill into law.

Tax-increasing? One has to enjoy Sturdevant's gift for understatement. Yeah, $6.6 billion is tax-increasing.

The punishment meted out to the two wayward representatives was stern. Endorsement for the fall election was not only denied them; it was bestowed with ease on their opponents, Keith Downey in 41A, Jan Schneider in 41B.

True. Downey and Schneider won easily, which should surprise no one. People who pass $6.6 billion tax increases typically aren't popular within the GOP. Or elsewhere for that matter.

Both endorsees took pains to say that their critique of the veteran lawmakers went beyond a single vote.

Again, true. But now watch how the adjectives start to shift.

But Schneider's abrupt emergence as Peterson's opponent in late February spoke louder -- as did a scourging seconding speech for Schneider by Marlene Overpeck, who said she "felt betrayed" by Peterson's vote. "I expect the Democrats to act irresponsibly, not our own representative," Overpeck said.

So Schneider's entry was "abrupt." Perhaps it was. So was the imposition of a $6.6 billion tax increase. And the seconding speech was "scourging." Heavens, we can't have that. Ms. Overpeck should understand that emotion is not allowed at the BPOU.

Downey has been running hard since last summer -- even taking a leave of absence as manager of a business consulting firm, the better to campaign. One look at the proliferation of his campaign's red ballcaps and T-shirts where 41A delegates were seated said it all. He didn't need heavy rhetorical artillery to wrest endorsement from Erhardt -- though he wasn't above some not-so-subtle references to age.

Age? Really? We can all safely assume that the Democrats will not say a word about Senator McCain's age in the upcoming campaign then, since mentioning it would be out of bounds.

"The stark choice we have today is, we can focus on the past or the future," said Downey, who is several decades Erhardt's junior. "We can embrace a DFL-lite agenda, or a Republican agenda."

Downey put the choice pretty clearly. Correctly, too.

Applying "DFL-lite" to Erhardt and his late wife Jackie would have been a local laugh line not long ago.

Since February 25, it hasn't been a laugh line at all. It's been fact. And Ms. Sturdevant can rest assured that none of us have been laughing.

A financial planner, Erhardt has been among the party's most prolific fundraisers and reliable foot soldiers for more than 30 years. He's run for the Legislature with party endorsement nine times, and has never won his seat with less than 56 percent of the vote. In 2006, he was the second-best Republican vote-getter in his district, behind only U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad.

The role of a financial planner is to help his clients keep and grow as much of their wealth as possible. Apparently Erhardt has a little trouble with the concept. As for his vote getting ability in 2006, it was probably pretty good. At that time he hadn't voted for a $6.6 billion tax increase.

That point begs a longer look: In 2006, DFL U.S. Senate candidate Amy Klobuchar took District 41 with more than 56 percent of the vote. Pawlenty won there too, but his percent of the vote barely cracked 50 percent.

Klobuchar ran an outstanding campaign, no doubt about it. But this is 2008. It would be interesting to find out whether Erhardt is still more popular than Pawlenty in his district now. That's a question Sturdevant would prefer not to beg.

And in 2004, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry carried District 41A with 51 percent. Rumor had it that there were rumblings under old Edina gravestones for days thereafter.

You'd think that those votes -- and not just the one on the transportation bill -- would have been on District 41 minds Saturday. It doesn't seem to be a propitious time for Republicans to be in purge mode.

Sturdevant is a political junkie and she thinks in these terms. That's her prerogative. The thing to remember is this: while Downey was actively campaigning for the endorsement, it was quite likely that Erhardt would have won endorsement if he hadn't decided to override the veto. Once he betrayed his supporters, Downey's already-active campaign gained all the traction it needed.

Peterson tried to remind the convention of events on the larger political stage.

And failed.

"This district is trending blue," he said. Republicans aren't automatic winners anymore. A Republican has to be able to attract independent and even DFL votes to prevail. "I've done that before, and I can do it again," Peterson said.

Not without the support of your party, Mr. Peterson.

Those words were for naught, as was Erhardt's assurance, "I fit the district." He clearly didn't fit the convention.

The message here: these citizens couldn't possibly be representative of the GOP or of the district. Never mind that in 41, as was the case throughout the state, thousands of people participated in the caucuses and BPOUs for the first time. You might think that a political columnist would welcome the new faces and voices to the process. The Obama campaign is always celebrated for its ability to attract newcomers. Apparently 41 is different.

The legislators' defense of their transportation votes -- that they were needed to solve a problem that is as keenly felt in Edina and Bloomington as anywhere in the state -- also fell flat. Delegates were unpersuaded by reminders that the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Partnership -- both important GOP allies -- supported the transportation bill.

Never mind that the transportation issues have been building for the past 30 years. Never mind that there were other proposals on offer to deal with the problems. The only solution in Sturdevant's world was a $6.6 billion tax hike. Our friends on the Left often instruct us about "false choices." This would be one. As for the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Partnership, well, let Sturdevant tell the story.

Maybe that's because delegates could see for themselves how far the business community's support went. Former state Chamber governing board president Scott Thiss placed Downey's name into nomination for endorsement. Business Partnership lobbyist Jill Larson sported a Downey sticker. "I'm here as an individual," she said by way of explanation.

Just a guess - the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Partnership have probably received a little feedback about their support for the bill, too. They know which way the wind blows, too.

And a House staffer whispered to reporters that Erhardt expected a letter of support from Chamber president David Olson. No letter arrived. ("We had members on both sides of that one," Olson explained. He spoke at the GOP District 48B convention on behalf of another override-backer, Rep. Jim Abeler of Anoka. Abeler, too, was denied endorsement, but wasn't dumped in favor of an upstart.)

Do you hear that sound? Listen carefully. It's a tiny violin playing a plaintive melody for Erhardt. As for Abeler, Sturdevant doesn't mention that he had no opposition at his BPOU and still couldn't get an endorsement.

About half of the delegates at South View Saturday indicated that they were newcomers to convention politics. Then they likely don't know what a hard-fought primary battle -- or a November bid by a formidable independent -- can do to a party's prospects.

Just a guess. They did know. Sturdevant assumes that Erhardt and Peterson will definitely go forward and run. Perhaps they will, but without the support of the party and the party loyalists, they are doomed. And if 41 is trending as blue as Sturdevant asserts, they were doomed anyway.

If they knew, maybe they would not have looked so pleased with themselves at the convention's end.

Sometimes doing the right thing is reward enough.

Cross-posted at True North. Stop by and get your news!


Daria said...

Nice job of unraveling a tangled mess of liberal logic. Effective without being too hard on the poor, ignorant liberal columnist.

It seems that doing the right thing solely because it is the right thing to do is a foreign concept to a lot of liberals, especially politician types. They often seem to have an almost Ayn Rand-esque "what's in it for me" component built into their decision making process.

Ironic when one thinks about it.

- D

Leo Pusateri said...

From what I understand, there were some pretty strong-handed tactics on the dem side, and some chairmanships threatened if they didn't vote to override Pawlenty's veto.