Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Yes, the Best and Brightest are Here

Like so many others, Susan and I have been in a political funk since the election. It has been draining our optimism and elevating our doubts about the future. In our younger days, we celebrated John Kennedy’s summons for the “best and the brightest” to join in the service of our nation. Overall, our generation and those that followed responded. The Kennedy challenge was the challenge of our “Greatest Generation”:  betterment of the human condition. That was always the goal.

With the advent of Donald Trump, we questioned our tomorrow and wondered where the “best and brightest” have gone.

Then some two weeks ago, I entered the hospital at the University of Minnesota for surgery that involved a six-day stay. It was there we found the answer to the question of our best and brightest.

Anyone who has been a patient knows about vulnerability. But no one knows it better than the health providers who combine medical excellence with warmth and understanding of patient care.

As the recipient of their professionalism, I realized that as a nation we have not lost our sense of excellence. No, we have just neglected to draw our talented youth into political service. For years, we pounded government and politics with daily attacks of incredible negativity and now we are reaping the results. The best are elsewhere.

The University of Minnesota Hospital radiated excellence and demonstrated a culture that is patient centered. From the cleaning staff that always greeted me with cheer and well wishes to surgeons who came regularly to check in and nurses who had to deal with the complicated challenges of medical technology while providing the ultimate healer, human warmth, all combined to renew our faith and confidence in tomorrow.

This experience not only healed a wounded body but also restored our confidence that the best and brightest are still there but we, the people, have to encourage them to enter public service. Without excellence in our governance no other excellence will thrive.

Let’s start with teaching civics in our schools and accepting responsibility for restoring quality in our mission to serve the public.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Call to Sobriety and Courage

In college, I remember the enormous impact one classmate had on our culture. His dominate and unyielding personality allowed him to impose his negativity on those around him. With surprising speed, his way became an acceptable norm.

That is precisely what Donald Trump has done to our nation. Initially, he infected the GOP campaign and analysts all said his reckless and vulgar behavior would change as the campaign developed. Then it would change with the nomination. Well, certainly we were told, it would change when he was elected. But the fact remains that his behavior is constant and will not change. And, we the people are his enablers.

Those of us who supported Hillary Clinton have wondered aloud how the Republican Party would treat her were she President and behaved in an identical fashion. But that approach simply results in an irrational tirade.

However, suppose the President were a Bush. Would Republicans act the same way? Would the party who for generations blistered Democrats for being “soft on Communism” be so quick to embrace a Bush Presidency that was rolling in Russian embraces? Would they accept the daily untruths and the eye rolling exaggerations? Add to this the contradictory messages, the absence of any system that resembles competency in management and the willingness to transfer so much domestic policy development to the Congress.

The realty is that we have granted Trump special treatment and assigned him very low standards because we have yielded to his dominance. It has also become increasingly clear that Trump lives in an alternative world. It is the world of rallies where he is the adored commander of all. Every utterance is cheered and all ideas are celebrated as the greatest ever. In that world, Trump possesses all truth and goodness and those who question or disagree are liars and obstructionists.

The world we identify as real is to Trump “fake” and, I suspect, he truly believes that. Tweeting is Trump’s link between the two.

Welcome to the world of government by chaos as predicted by Jeb Bush.

For those who regard this as alarmist, I ask you to reflect on Trump’s behavior. Does it pass any standard of normalcy?

There have been episodes in American history where the Chief Executive was not fully able to properly function. But in this age of nuclear weapons and instant decision-making can we afford to simply relegate our concerns to hope?

There can be no doubt that this is a highly sensitive area. But the reality is that it is now part of personal discussions and, frequently, hinted at by the media. Our best interests dictate that it be surfaced and treated in a mature and intelligent fashion absent any partisan concern. This will require statesmanship. Two Republican leaders come to my mind: Senator John McCain and former Governor Mitt Romney.

At the same time, current investigations must continue. However, the focus should be more sharply aimed at Russia hacking and the extensive financial dealings of Trump and his business and political associates as it relates to foreign powers. These areas of inquiry go directly to issues affecting our national security and whether that security is being jeopardized or compromised.

The Trump administration has made it abundantly clear that any effort to open the doors to Russian-Trump financial dealings will be met with adamant opposition. This makes it all the more important for Republican leaders to step forward and provide our nation with the same courageous and intelligent statesmanship as we received during Watergate from GOP Senate Majority Leader, Howard Baker.  He famously directed the Watergate Commission to determine: “What did the president know and when did he know it.” 

We must again rise to the occasion.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Wayne Simoneau – A Rare Gift

Wayne Simoneau was a simple man who left behind a large footprint. His passing this Sunday caused many to grieve and also reflect because Wayne had a considerable impact on many.

Born of the depression, growing up during World War II, Wayne was of the values of the Greatest Generation: hard working, truthful, loyal, and also caring about the well being of others.

As a husband, father, and provider as an auto mechanic, Wayne was a typical benefactor of the enormous growth of the middle class during the post World War II era. But his yearning to give back was the hallmark of his life.

With gratitude, Wayne Simoneau entered public service and quickly became a major player in the legislature and later in my administration as Commissioner of Employee Relations and concluding as head of Finance. No one was more skilled at bringing together conflicting players to work towards a common goal.

As a labor democrat, he brought many in his party along to support us on a major reform of Workers’ Compensation. My memory is of dozens of players but two fierce fighters, Wayne Simoneau and Mahlon Schneider (a dear friend and talented lawyer for business). Together they were unbeatable and as a result of the changes, Minnesota led the nation in job growth and we were able to retain some businesses on the brink of departure.

This was just one of his unlimited contributions as a talented political leader. So talented that time again I used him as troubleshooter to help solve knotty problems and do so quietly and effectively. People relying on buses can thank him for a quick end to the metro bus strike and all Minnesotans can be grateful for his leadership in bringing home the last leg of our journey to gain the AAA bond rating.

Thanks to the efforts of three masters of finance, John Gunyou, Laura King and Morrie Anderson we were able to dig out of a deficit situation and restore growth. This got us back to a AAA rating from two rating agencies but Moody’s was still holding out.

When Wayne took over as Commissioner of Finance, he set out to complete the Triple Crown. We went out as a team to make our case to Moody’s at their Wall Street headquarters. The presentations and Q and A went well. However, we flew home still not knowing the outcome. Upon arrival at the Governor’s Residence was a bottle of champagne from Bernie Ohman, my superb chief of staff, with the note that he had been called and we had won.

On a personal note, our  friendship began in 1973 when Wayne entered the legislature and continued to his death. He never allowed illness to impact his optimism and incredible sense of gratitude for being able to live such a satisfying life.

Perhaps my most fond memories are the regular reunions I enjoyed with Wayne and our dear friend, Janet Entzel,who also served with Wayne in the legislature and in our administration.

Janet and I have talked about an informal reunion with Wayne’s wife, Jane, and some of Wayne’s friends. We would like to lift a glass of champagne and toast his life of service. This simple and grateful servant of the people brought out the best in all of us and, as a result, he is now part of us. Can any person give a greater gift?

Thank you Wayne.  I love you.  Arne

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Time for the Veto Pen

Increasingly, Republicans are abandoning traditional core principles in favor of a “new conservatism” that has no definition or purpose other than political convenience. The latest alteration is the Republican proposal in the Minnesota state legislature’s conference committee on transportation that will prohibit local governments from making certain transportation decisions such as light rail. Republicantransportation proposal imperils future LRT projects

The party of local control is now espousing a centralization of power in the State Legislature. One can only wonder what is next. Presumably, any local decision that displeases them is potential fodder for this new effort toward a Super-Legislature.

It is clear that Republicans do not like light rail. However, as the May 3rd Star Tribune poll noted, 76 percent of the residents of Hennepin and Ramsey counties do want light rail. Why are their wishes and those of the local governments they elect ignored while legislators representing other areas of the state make the decision?

This usurpation of local control is a dangerous move and warrants Governor Dayton’s immediate announcement of a veto. Take out the pen and put this absurd idea out of its misery.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

MinnRoast: the Great Minnesota Get-Together

When was the last time you actually saw Democrats and Republicans laugh together and poke fun at each other? For me, it was last Friday night at the 10th annual MinnRoast held at the State Theater in downtown Minneapolis.

By way of background, MinnPost is an online alternative newspaper that increasingly draws a larger and larger audience. Its presence in Minnesota journalism is not to be taken lightly largely due to the talent it has picked up from the shedding that has taken place at the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press. Major writers such as Nick Coleman, Doug Grow, Joe Kimball and television political talent like Cindy Brucato and Mary Lahammer are all part of the MinnPost team.

Each year, MinnPost supporters, friends, sponsors and an array of political junkies come together for an evening of fun and camaraderie. But, in a larger sense, it really is the only gathering in Minnesota where both parties can participate without brandishing an array of weapons. Legislators like Jim Abeler (GOP) and Illan Omar (DFL) did a light skit about the famous comments of House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman relative to the boys in the legislative retiring room. Amy Klobucher and Tom Emmer from opposite ends of the political spectrum did monologues that were the best in political theater. Tom Horner’s “Lewis Carroll School for Aspring Press Secretaries” was clearly worthy of being on Saturday Night Live.  Horner, a political independent, has long been one of Minnesota’s best political commentators.

To me personally, there were two highlights. The first involved a wonderful conversation with 6th District Congressman, Tom Emmer (GOP) who praised Senator Amy Klobucher (DFL) for her ability to work across the political aisle. Tom and Amy have worked together in many areas including opening doors to Cuba. That is a major step forward.

The second was the honoring of Lee Lynch, founder of Carmichael Lynch Advertising, for his early sponsorship of MinnPost along with Joel and Laurie Kramer.

I had the pleasure of rooming with Lee way back in the late ‘50’s while we were both at the University of Minnesota. He was then and remains a person of extraordinary talent with a deep love of the Minnesota community. Although he tends to be partial to the Irish Green, he bleeds Maroon and Gold.

Overall, the quality of the production was solid, fast paced and well received. It reflected an extraordinary amount of work. But the efforts paid off in giving Minnesota something it desperately needed – a reason to come together. Our divisive times need a refreshing break and MinnRoast provided it.

Joel Kramer, the former Managing Editor of the Star Tribune, deserves special applause for his investment in the betterment of Minnesota. Truly – well done.