Writing the Rural Democratic Agenda…

Just though I’d post this diary I did on Kos:

We got beat last election, and in rural america we got beat bad. Why? We made some tactical mistakes, and too many democrats stayed home. But in rural america, that don’t explain it all- We had a metro centric agenda. There, I said it, and it’s true, and it’s a big part of why we lost big.

So having gotten that out of the way, how do we adapt the democratic agenda to rural america? No, we don’t have to suddenly fall in love with Keystone XL and oppose marriage equality and sing the praises of Monsanto. And just what is our “small d” democrat’s core agenda… Let me shorten it to paragraph length:

1. Democracy, as in one person one vote and open, transparent government.
2. Fairness and equality of opportunity
3. Economic equity
4. Protecting and caring for the less fortunate and the environment
5. Peace

All 5 of those core democratic party values neatly align with rural values. But our metro centric democratic party is metrocentricly giving them largely metro application… For example, metro minority folks should not be harassed by bad cops simply due to the color of their skin. My rural district (MN 22A, CD7) is over 90% white and probably wouldn’t relate to that, but they can relate to being ticketed for not putting their feet down on a motorcycle at a 4 way stop when there’s no other vehicle except the cop’s squad car for miles around! So we’re not making a hard right turn and abandoning democratic party values, we’re merely adapting time proven democratic party values to a rural environment.

So let’s look at those core values and flesh them out into a rural agenda:

1. Democracy- some of the strongest opposition to the MN republican’s Voter ID constitutional amendment in 2012 came from rural areas. Why? Because in many townships and small cities we have mail in ballots, and Voter ID would have taken them away at great cost- Like $30,000 to turn our municipal garage into a polling place for our small town of less than a hundred. We need to share these great reforms like vote by mail statewide and nationwide! And when our electeds go away to the capitals hours and days away, we should have the ability to watch every meeting and offer testimony via the internet as if we were there!

2. Fairness- Rural folks understand what’s fair and what ain’t- They’ve seen locally owned small businesses like car dealers and stores bullied by big businesses who demanded unrealistic inventory levels and fancy buildings while denying them the volume discounts given to their big city competitors. Same with the small and medium sized family farmers, forced to expand (“get big or get out”) when it made no business sense for them. 15% of the population of my district own their own businesses and a bit over 10% are farmers, and the republicans have been cultivating their votes with false fears of “anti-business democrats” for years. We need to counter that by wedging small businesspeople and family farmers away from the republicans by making franchise law and farm bill reform to protect small business from bullying by big business and big ag a part of the rural democratic agenda. We further need to provide the same standards of service rural folks pay taxes for like education and broadband internet as the metros get a part of our rural democratic agenda. And finally, we need to respect smallness- The pressure to consolidate schools, municipalities, etc. must end… Especially when their is no proof that such consolidations will save money or improve services.

3. Economic equity- With low rates of unionization, rural workers are among the nations poorest. That’s why minimum wage increases should be a top priority on our rural democratic economic agenda, and the voters agree… While South Dakota elected not a single democrat to statewide office in 2014, by referendum they passed a substantial minimum wage increase! And the earnings of those family farmers and small businesspeople are just as important, so we need to put just as much effort into protecting them from bullying and gouging by big business.

4. Caring for and protecting the less fortunate and the environment- None of us are born the stereotypical strong independent types who don’t need anyone or even a government to take care of them, and most of us will die in similar state of dependency. While the republicans fake concern for the young until the end of the second trimester and my republican state rep is a shill for the nursing home industry, we are at heart a democratic party that cares for people at all stages of life and should start acting like it. Toward that end, Universal health care and a free public education from preschool through community and technical college belong in our rural democratic agenda. And while the republicans seem happy to institutionalize seniors and the disabled in some of our rural counties at twice the rate seen in the metro counties, true accessibility in our homes and our small towns so we can stay out of nursing homes should be in our democratic rural agenda. Sustainability is a core rural value- without fertile soil a farm is useless and worthless, and farmers can and have taken the lead in producing sustainable biofuels… Thus opposing projects like Keystone XL which benefits no americans and threatens the future of farming and rural life belongs in the rural democratic agenda, along with support for farmers sustainably producing renewable biofuels and bio-materials.

5. Peace- Nowhere has the pain of war been more felt than in rural america, which has traditionally contributed more service men and women per capita than the metro areas. Providing the same high level of services to our service people and veterans in rural america as they’d receive in the metros belongs in the rural democratic agenda. And to prevent the scarring of yet another generation of rural young folks by war, our democratic rural agenda demands that wars be fought only by neccessity!

OK, that’s a start, what’d I miss?

Election Postmortem…

I lost, big time.

My opponent got about twice as many votes as I did, near 10,000 votes to my near 5,000. But I was running a low budget campaign, flying the flag for the DFL on the cheap so my opponent couldn’t spend the whole campaign season in front of his computer being a “consultant” or whatever. Joe apparently took my candidacy more seriously than I did myself, spending around $17,000 as of October 20th to defeat me, which was pretty much a given anyway. So Joe spent darn near two bucks a vote for an easy victory, while I spent around $4000, or less than a half a buck a vote, to lose cheaply. About $3000 of each of our campaign funding was state campaign subsidy, so figuring that in, Joe spent around $14,000 or near a buck and a half of donor’s dollars per vote, while I spent around $1000 of donor’s dollars- less than a quarter a vote!

Dang, all I have to do is file for office and a republican blows $17,000… Despite the lingering burnout, I might do this again!

That said, the reality remains that this is a lot of hassle to go through for a fundamentally republican district. So much so, that no DFL candidate won in the district, even Al Franken who won the state by double digit margin. Heck, Al lost my district by a double digit margin, and while Collin Peterson won the CD7 end of the district by a couple hundred votes, Tim Walz lost his end of my district by around a thousand, for a net loss.

That begs the question, was it worth it?

Yes, in that I was able to help organize the district for the DFL and probably unintentionally pulled out some votes for the DFL candidates up the ballot. No, in that being tied down as a candidate in the district, I wasn’t able to help other DFL candidates.

And the further question, should we do it again?

For me, the answer is probably no- Campaigning is too all consuming, and I’m not hyper local enough to confine my campaigning to just one little district. Heck, I’ve even got velcro on my motorcycle and sidecar so I can switch campaign signs when I cross district and even state lines! But for the right person, 2016 will be an opportunity to give Joe a run for his considerable money and maybe even ride Hillary’s pantsuit tails to the legislature. And if any DFLer steps up, I’ll be glad to support them!

In the meantime, while this website is paid for through next june, I’m going to go back to blogging about rural progressive issues over at my other blog, http://www.BlueOutHere.com and of course Kos and other forums.

thanks again for all you help and inspiration, Diana Slyter


an Election Eve Thanks!

This campaign began a couple minutes before filing closed back in June. I expected it to fizzle, and quickly be forgotten. You folks put on a fundraiser and powered up my campaign. I was worried about not making the $1500 threshold to earn the state campaign subsidy and having the campaign fizzle, and you responded so strongly that we passed that threshold with several hundred dollars to spare. I was having trouble getting the campaign set up financially, and DFL candidates in nearby districts came to my rescue and showed me how. When the DFL House Caucus was of little help, the 3rd Congressional District DFL’s homegrown candidate support newsletter came through. I needed signs and mine were crude, and the great DFLers of Pipestone County produced the best signs of the campaign. Then you top that with the campaign T-shirt design with my name in rainbow sparkly letters, and found a vendor for it to boot. You all came out to parade with me and our DFL candidates, and supported me in the forums and debates. And even though this was a long shot campaign, you took it as seriously as a tight presidential race.

From the bottom of my heart, thanks!


My opponent has spent over $17,000 to hang on to a safe seat!

Me, I spent barely $3000…

The pre-general election campaign finance reports are out today, and you can peruse them to your little hearts content at http://www.cfbreport.state.mn.us/rptViewer/viewRptsCan.php . The reports tell the truth: I’ve been a cheapskate, spending barely $3K on campaign necessities. I knew this is a long shot race, even maybe a “political suicide mission”, so I ran a thrifty campaign. Heck, with Republicans typically winning the district by 20 percent or so margins, I ran pretty much to at least provide a Democratic Farmer-Labor (DFL) voice in the district, and to be ready to win in case my opponent slipped up. So I wasn’t exactly the most serious candidate…

My opponent Joe Schomacker, though, apparently took my candidacy quite seriously, blowing the aforementioned $17K in this safe Republican district. Meanwhile, after a modest and short fund raising effort, I kept $7k in the bank, in case the race suddenly became competitive. Joe could have shared his campaign largess with his Republican party. Or he could have just left it in the bank, in case he faced a serious challenge in 2016 or wanted to run for higher state office. But no, he pretty much blew it, spending $17k more than what it would have taken to defeat this newbie challenger who is challenged by mere color coordination. Now that’s a newbie political mistake, but Joe claims to have a B.A. in Political Science and even a Masters from no less than George Washington University!

And true to form, I found similar lack of financial restraint in other Republican candidate’s reports. Over in the B side of district 22, Republican incumbent Rod Hamilton collected both mileage reimbursement AND reimbursement for tires from his campaign… Rod, you’re supposed to pay for the tires out of the mileage reimbursement! In neighboring district 16A, Republican incumbent Chris Swedzinski has spent so much on radio ads that he might as well have just bought the station- small market low power AM stations sell cheap these days, especially if they’ve only got even lower power at night license restrictions, which suits the Republican’s key demographic perfectly.

And these free spending Republican candidates want us to trust them with our state’s thirty billion dollar or so budget?

Meanwhile, our DFL campaigns have been models of efficiency- Read through their reports and you’ll find small sums spent for paint, rebar, fence posts,  paper by the ream, etc.. Clearly, these are the kind of folks you want writing your state’s budget- The folks that know the value of a day’s work and how to make a modest wage stretch to feed and shelter a family. So much for the myth of Republicans being budget hawks…

So Joe, I love ya… But I’m not gonna endorse you. And whatever party wins control of the house, don’t let Joe near any finance committee!

A Future Without Farmers?

Over in that poorly (republican) run state to our east where the only thing winning is the Packers, there’s talk that rural Wisconsin is slowing becoming a giant woods again, accented by the odd small town, farmhouse, and vestigal dairy farm. Why?   Dairying isn’t exactly a growth industry with demand being flat, and Wisconsin’s hilly farms were platted in closer to 40 acre chunks before the Homestead Act made 160 tracts the standard to the west. Throw in corrupt republican administrations in South Dakota that are willing to throw millions of the taxpayers money at thousand plus head dairies and processing plants big enough to play football in after the bankruptcy auction clears out all the machinery, and it’s no wonder there’s a declining population of cows to keep the dairy state’s vegitation in check.

You say it can’t happen here in southwest Minnesota? Well,  you can plow a bit farther here than in Wisconsin before a steep hill or stream forces a change in direction. But we’ve got lakes and marshes that can’t be plowed, and windy ridgetops better suited to grazing and wind turbines. We’ve adapted to that environment and the need for off farm employment to get health insurance and such with a near crop monoculture, raising feed corn and soybeans. And given the current surplus of corn and resulting low prices, maybe we’ve adapted too well…

It get’s worse… over 80% of Minnesota’s crops are used to feed livestock, make ethanol, etc. Like dairy, consumer’s consumption of most meats has been flat. Same with bread, causing farmers in the drier lands to the west to shift from growing wheat to beans and corn, further glutting those markets. And the feed corn and soy beans we produce such bounties of here are commodity crops, easily and cheaply shipped by rail and sea anywhere in this continent and world. Thus the rainforest that’s being burned off today and the arctic plains that are warming may soon be our competitors. With the world’s great granaries expanding, dollar a bushel corn is a possibility. A couple years of that and we’d likely see little acreage planted in windy southwest Minnesota, and with the prairie grasses long gone, we might never plant crops again after our topsoil blows and washes away. Farmers spend much of their income in our small towns, and as that income disappears, so will the folks that live and work in those small towns… By mid-century, southwest Minnesota could be a bleak landscape of windswept topsoil slowly covering ghost towns marked by abandonned elevators.

Or… We could return to “integrated farming”, a fancy term for the way we successfully farmed for centuries. These traditional farms provided for farm families first, providing vegatables, meat, milk, eggs, fuel, and even lumber to build the farm. Livestock manure enriched the soil and boosted crop outputs, providing  more feed for the livestock. Wetlands were left alone to provide a reliable source for water and hunting opportunities, while trees were maintained to provide a windbreak to reduce soil loss as well as providing fuel for winter heating and lumber for building. A wide variety of crops and livestock were raised, providing protection through diversity from market swings, disease, and crop failures. Today we call that “sustainable farming”, and it works- Remember that “Organic Valley” milk you saw in the store? It’s produced by a co-op of dairy farmers in the hardest, hilliest place in Wisconsin to survive as a dairy farmer, the bluff country of southwest Wisconsin. By ignoring the obsolete advice of Earl Butz to “get big or get out”, they’re surviving and thriving, while South Dakota’s taxpayer subsidized megadairies go bankrupt!

Republicans, Where’s My Tracker?

Trackers are the always politely dressed and silent folks that campaigns, parties, and those infamous “independent expenditures” pay to follow opposing candidates around in hopes they’ll say or do something stupid. Remember the “Macaca moment”? Yup, caught by a tracker, who the republican candidate was dumb enough to throw some ethnic slurs at. But trackers are expensive- Figure the cost of a couple staffers pay, car expenses, food and lodging, etc.- And even at minimum wages, tracking a candidate quickly becomes a six figure annual expense. That’s why trackers are usually only seen in high profile statewide races, and no less than two were following Franken around FarmFest.

And what with all the cell phones/video cameras, surveillance cameras, and social media around these days… trackers are pretty much a waste of money. Looking back at the last presidential campaign, most of the “dirt” on losing candidate Romney came not from trackers, but publicly available sources and ordinary citizens who heard Romney say something so outrageous they shared it with the world. I know this firsthand from being a researcher and blogger in my retirement- I seldom need to visit an actual industrial facility anymore- Google, Zillow, and Loopnet will tell me if the Sioux City postal processing facility is big enough to handle all the mail from all the surrounding postal facilities the Postal Service wants to close (It ain’t). Same with evaluating whether the Hostess bankruptcy administrators got fair price for Hostess hundreds of properties and thousands of trucks, and could they have gotten a better price and at least been able to pay the laid off workers their earned vacation pay due? The datas all there, I just have to wait until after the election to have time to plow through it all! And with drones soon to appear in the big box stores at consumer friendly price points…

So it comes as some surprise that the republicans and/or their “independent expenditure” buddies have brought the sleaziness of trackers to the level of stalking our state house candidates. In Edina, the tracker is so near attached to exiled republican now democratic representative Ron Erhardt that he introduces them to the audience at events. And attached they are… They even tried to record video at a League of Women Voters forum that was televised on the Edina community cable channel! And out here in rural Minnesota where everybody knows everybody and their families business for the last century at least anyways, the republicans and/or their rich “independent expenditure” friends even dispatched a tracker to stalk district 17A incumbent democrat Andy Falk around as he talked with voters. Now Andy and his family are for real farmers, so the trackers have every opportunity to hide in the ditches along Minnesota 9 with telephoto lenses and catch Andy climbing into the combine without using the OSHA recommended 3 points of contact or whatever. But the republican’s trackers don’t even need to do that… Just walk up to the house, and the Falks would probably treat the trackers to coffee and cookies while they warmed up the tractor to pull out the rental car the trackers put in the ditch…

But those are the high profile districts, places like district 17B where the republicans and/or their wealthy friends have put out no less than 18 attack mailings against democratic representative Mary Sawatzky, who voted against marriage equality… Apparently voting for a much needed minimum wage increase is just as big a sin in the cult of republicanism. Now it’s nice to see the republicans and/or their wealthy friends giving all this much needed revenue to our “socialized” Postal Service, but if you can’t get your point across in even a dozen mailings, give up! Besides, all that slick paper don’t recycle so well…

Now given that my opponent has yet to mail out the slick campaign literature his campaign must have spent more than my whole budget to print, I doubt we’ll see any attack pieces in this backwater race. But when it comes to trackers, I’m feeling really neglected. And while this is nowhere near a high profile race, it’s such a target rich environment- I mean, I live on the edge of town, and I could sunbather au natural if it weren’t cold out now, and only the wildlife would be the wiser. And just consider all the evidence I leave right out in the driveway for all to see- Two german cars, made by a “socialist” company that likes unions from “socialist” europe, even though they were assembled in Mexico and Brazil! Then there’s the insect scarred apples out back, clear evidence of “socialist” organic farming!

And besides the insult of being neglected, trackers are such fun to play with… a young republican from the ‘burbs in even a new car is no match for a old lady democrat, especially when said old lady is on two wheels! We can play cat and mouse games all over the Buffalo Ridge, then when night falls I’ll be happy to provide plenty of lighting for their cameras. And should said trackers get hungry out here far from the nearest cafe, I filled up the fridge and cubboards at that “socialist store”, Costco, and I’ll be glad to have some help eatin’ up all these victuals before they spoil! Should warn ’em  though, some of it’s organic. I’ll even let any trackers have my bed while I crash on the couch, hope the “socialist” Pioneer Public TV don’t keep ’em up, ’cause the Sioux Falls stations don’t come in well when it’s snowin’.

So republicans, when do I get my tracker?

October Campaign Update…

First off, the political weather observations: DFLers in the metro area are enjoying unusually balmy autumn weather, with reporting stations like the Strib’s Minnesota Poll reporting Franken and Dayton leading their cold republican opponents by margins of over 40% in Hennepin and Ramsey counties. In the rest of the metro counties where chill winds led to republican wins in almost every county during the 2010 election day cold snap, Franken holds a heart warming 6% lead and Dayton trails by only 3%. But in the rest of the state, including the DFL “banana belt” cities like Rochester and Duluth with it’s traditional warm lake winds as well as the tundra    to the west, Franken trails by 11% and Dayton by 1%. Statewide, they both hold double digit leads, and even the poll aggregating sites like pollster.com give both 10% leads. In CD1 the republican candidate is so hopeless that the race isn’t even being polled, and in CD7 a private poll gives Colin Peterson a lead in the 20% range, melting a republican “push” poll from our chilly spring that reputedly put Westrom within single digits of beating Peterson. I’ve seen but one generic ballot poll of state house races and it showed DFLers 8% up, about the same margin of victory we had in the aggregated state house vote in 2012, and way better than we did in the 2010 electoral cold snap! Nationally, the polling shows democratic voters just as disinterested as they were in 2010, but now republican voters are equally disinterested- This was reflected in the primary turnout where the republicans lured even less voters to the polls than the DFL, despite having high profile races at the top of the ballot.

And now your extended forecast for election day: The statewide races are largely in the bag, with 538 et al giving Franken and Dayton 90% or so odds of victory. But the “temperature gradient” (spread) between metro and rural poll margins of victory is incredible: 40+%, I’ve never seen anything like that. The rest of the metro polling results are warming for DFLers too in this once republican leaning “donut” of  outer ring suburbs. Being newly competitive here means DFLers could pick up some new state house seats in the suburbs and maybe congressional seats in CDs 2, 3, and maybe even 6! But out here on the usually chilly Buffalo Ridge, a rural backlash could help republican state house candidates to warm and cozy seats in the state capital this winter… If they can get their flock of Tea Party followers out to vote. And given that said Tea Party demographic was sort of, shall we say, “mature”, and that at least in Minnesota, we don’t set up polling places in cemeteries, may explain why the republicans off year election “drop off” is as bad as the DFLs, and more permanent to boot! So we are left with hard to forecast state house elections out here in southwestern Minnesota, with the “models” arguing between a frigid blizzard that could see several incumbent DFL representatives lose in swing districts to warm gulf breezes that let DFL candidates in currently republican held swing districts on either side of me sail to victory. But up here in my district atop the Buffalo Ridge, it’s almost always cold and windy, just a question of how cold… In this R+8 district my republican opponent with his incumbency and multi year head start on me will probably win.

But I’m still campaigning, just in case. Here’s my calendar of events this month:

10/7, 5:30 pm    Rock County Chuck Wagon Fundraiser at Pizza Ranch in Luverne

10/9, 2 pm          MN Transportation Alliance Forum at Worthington Fire Station

10/9, 6:30 pm    ARPM/Habilitative Services forum at 320 S. Lake Street, Worthington

10/11, 10 am       SMSU homecoming parade, Independence Park, Marshall

10/21, 6:30 pm  League of Minnesota Cities forum at Kilowatt Center, Granite Falls

10/23, 7 pm        Debate on Pioneer Public TV

10/27, 6:30 pm  SMSU forum in Marshall

10/29, 1 pm        CDW Education Cooperative forum at Comfort Suites in Worthington

As you can see, I’ll be pretty busy with these events and I’ve got campaign finance reports due in the middle of the month. I’ll also be busy helping staff our new regional campaign office at 1209 East College Drive in Marshall and delivering lawn signs and such- I’ll be meeting the Pipestone County DFLers at McDonalds at around 3 pm today to deliver some T-shirts.  Given that this is a “long shot” campaign I’m not soliciting any more contributions or recruiting volunteers- We’ve got DFLers that have the potential to win seats from republicans in neighboring districts and I’d prefer that you throw your support to them in these crucial last few weeks of the campaign.

Again, thanks for everyone’s help. And remember, you can vote early at your county courthouse, no excuses needed!