If you're worried about the results of the 2010 Minnesota election, relax! We're getting some of the best representatives that money can buy.
What's good for General Motors is good for the country, they used to say. Here in Minnesota, we have a different way of saying it: What's good for business is a Legislature whose members know what's good for them. With a Republican takeover of both houses of the Legislature, including a Senate that had been controlled by Democrats since 1973, business should be very good.
Not so good, maybe, for education or health care or poor people or any of the other spendy parts of a state government saddled by recession and the Magical Thinking of a Republican Party that thinks it can cut deficits by cutting taxes. But good for business, which is the only issue that counts.
DFL legislators who never put up an effective fight against the No New Tax mantra of Gov. Tim Pawlenty and never had a comprehensive strategy for communicating the goals of all their legislative maneuverings should share the credit for the GOP takeover. But the lion's share should go to the business front groups -- MN Forward, the Chamber of Commerce, Minnesota's Future and others -- who took advantage of last January's Supreme Court decision allowing corporate contributions and poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into beating Democrats.
It will be months before we know the full scope of the corporate politics behind the legislative takeover. We may never know the sources of much of the money, since anonymous contributions are permitted in the anything-goes political climate.
But one Democrat who felt the sting of the corporate lash was David Bly, a state representative from the cow-and-college precincts of Northfield who was seeking a third term. Bly, a high school English teacher, has been a leader in the fight for a universal health care plan for Minnesotans and other progressive causes. He was told by DFL Party leaders that his seat was safe, then stood by helplessly as business interests paid for an endless blizzard of attack ads -- a dozen or more -- that were mailed to voters in District 25B. Bly abided by spending limits for lawmakers -- spending about $31,000 on his campaign -- while the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Leadership Fund, the Minnesota Coalition of Businesses, and something called NFIB, the National Federation of Independent Business, may, when final reports are in, turn out to have spent far larger amounts on behalf of his opponent.
Bly lost to his GOP opponent, Kelby Woodard of Belle Plaine, by an unofficial margin of 31 votes, and a manual recount of the 17,800 ballots that were cast is scheduled for Nov. 29. Woodard may turn out to be a model legislator, but those who helped him by attacking Bly didn't brag Woodard up; they tore Bly down. And no matter how the recount turns out, Bly is unlikely to win back his good name.
The corporate-funded attack ads that flooded his district even slimed him as a crook that would steal cash right out of the hands of the elderly. One attack ad targeting seniors described Bly as someone who believes in "give and take." Then came the punch line: "They give, and he takes," accompanied by the image of an elderly hand passing a $100 bill to a politician. In case that was too subtle, there was another picture of the politician stuffing $100 bills in his suit coat.
"It's outrageous," says Bly. "It was cleverly crafted -- it didn't outright accuse me of being a crook. It only implied it. But I was trying to make the case for why I should be reelected, and I was drowned out by accusations against me that were totally untrue. I had no way I could counter them. My name was dragged through the mud."
For the record, Bly has supported a balanced approach to state budgeting, including cuts and tax increases where necessary. With 56 percent of state voters voting for gubernatorial candidates who argued for the same -- DFLer Mark Dayton and the Independence Party's Tom Horner -- a solid majority of Minnesotans agree that a sane remedy for budget-balancing is a balanced approach. One proof of voter sentiment? Corporate cash spent against Dayton did not prevent his election, although it may assist a last-ditch recount challenge the GOP seems to be preparing.
At the local level, however, with limited media attention, outside cash has a big impact: Many targeted DFLers were knocked off, and the NFIB bragged that 90 percent of its endorsed Senate candidates and 81 percent of its House candidates won election.
So relax, everyone. Business is picking up. And business just picked up a new Legislature coming into office in January. Many of the new lawmakers probably don't even know where the Capitol is. But that's OK. They know who the boss is.
Nick Coleman is at firstname.lastname@example.org.