Lori Sturdevant, an editorial writer and columnist, has covered state government and politics for more than 30 years.

Posts about People

The motivation void in the Sixth

Posted by: Lori Sturdevant Updated: May 31, 2013 - 1:13 PM

"I'm not a politician; I'm a business guy," erstwhile DFL congressional candidateJim Graves told MinnPost's Eric Black as he explained Thursday why he's suspending his second try, now that Republican U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann has announced that she won't seek reelection in 2014.

Evidently the St. Cloud hotelier is good at self-analysis. No smart politician would have made the confession he did in the next breath: “Now there are zero things on my agenda that I feel a need to do in public life.”

So in 2012 the Graves campaign was all about taking Bachmann out of office, and not about health care or fair taxation or America's economic competitiveness -- or public service? An admission like that will hobble any future Graves candidacy -- not that he gave much indication that he has any desire to pursue public office again.

Graves withdrawal, coming two days after Bachmann imposed term limits on herself, creates a major headache within the DFL camp. State party chair Ken Martin put a brave face on the situation: "Although (the Sixth) is a conservative district, with the right candidate this is a great opportunity for Democrats," he said in a statement.

But until Friday morning, DFLers thought the right candidate was a moderate-minded, deep-pocketed businessman with a compelling life story, deep roots in the district, an already established name and the seasoning produced by coming within 4,300 votes of Bachmann in 2012. Finding a candidate with similarly appealing DFL credentials will be a tall order in what is, by the numbers, Minnesota's most staunchly Republican congressional district.

Graves' decision is also likely to make both political parties wary of recruiting candidates from business ranks. His move is reminiscent of the 1965-66 decisions of Northwestern National Life CEO John Pillsbury Jr. to get in, then get out, then get into the 1966 gubernatorial race. He likely would have been the GOP nominee that year, but for all that indecision. He lost at the state convention to Harold LeVander, who went on to win the governor's office.

The Graves episode serves to remind Minnesotans that despite their many parallels, government is not business. The motivation required to succeed at each is different. A call to public service ought to run deeper in a candidate than a desire to cut short the career of an opponent, no matter how flawed she may be.


Minnesota tax reform limping along after Senate vote

Posted by: Lori Sturdevant Updated: April 30, 2013 - 1:18 PM

The Minnesota Senate’s base-broadening, rate-lowering tax reform is limping badly as it heads into conference committee to tangle with the more conventional DFL revenue-raising ideas of Gov. Mark Dayton and the state House.

The fact that it took two tries to pass the Senate’s $1.8 billion tax package Monday, and then by a tepid 35-31 vote, revealed weak support among suburban DFLers for reform ideas that have been faulted by Dayton as well as Republicans for pinching the middle class.

The beating the Senate bill took illustrates why economists’ advice to lower tax rates and broaden the range of tax-triggering activities has been so hard for politicians to follow. Reform inevitably creates winners and losers. It’s easy for political opponents to draw attention to the losers and blind voters to the winners. 

On Monday, Republicans roundly condemned the addition of clothing, non-prescription drugs and personal grooming services to the sales tax base. Little mention was made of the fact that the bill would also reduce the state sales tax rate from 6.85 percent to 6 percent, and would offer low- and middle-income families a credit each year to balance the clothing tax increase.

Suburban DFLers also recoiled from the bill’s boost in income taxes for the top 7 percent of the state’s earners. Many of the people in that taxpaying cohort live in suburban districts.

Both the income and the sales tax features of the Senate bill will be hard sells in conference committee. Dayton reiterated Tuesday his desire to confine income tax increases to the top 2 percent and to leave the state’s sales tax untouched, as the House tax bill does.

Senate tax negotiators still have a chance to argue that broadening the sales tax base and expanding the income tax increase to more filers is superior tax policy. Those moves would give Minnesota more competitive tax rates and a more dependable revenue stream from the growing service sector of the economy. 

But Monday’s try-try-again vote will accompany Senate conferees into negotiations, and may speak louder than they can.




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