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.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Pitino and the Golden Gophers – a Restoration of Pride

It is likely that we have all encountered failure and despair during the course of life. Sometimes we refer to it as “hitting the bottom.”

As we look back to that period, we judge ourselves on the basis of how we handled it. Did we blame others, curse our misfortune, or did we face ourselves and commit ourselves to success?

This is precisely the situation Coach Richard Pitino and his players found themselves in at the conclusion of last season. They had just finished one of the worse seasons in Gopher basketball history and were immersed in a sex scandal.

While I personally do not know precisely what transpired, I do know this. They did not blame others; they did not curse the darkness; nor did they proclaim a lot of optimistic nonsense about next year.

No, Coach Pitino quietly put together a solid self-improvement program known as PRIDE. The overall goal was to instill in each player a mature understanding of responsibility. He understood that character builds teams not just talent.

This new commitment by coach and players has produced a total reversal of last season. This is a team and not a collection of players.

This was most apparent in the Nebraska game when Pitino put in his reserves including walk-ons for the final minutes of the game. Yes, the fans cheered but it was the starters that cheered the loudest and longest. Led by senior Akeem Springs, they united in their genuine appreciation and affection for those who worked so hard in practice to make everyone better.

This one moment said it all: Coach Pitino has a TEAM and it is really good.

With their quickness, balance, solid bench strength and high energy, they will in my view take Wisconsin and go on to win the Big 10 tourney. They are clearly the hottest team right now.

In the NCAA, the Sweet 16 looks probably and the Elite Eight within reach.

Congratulations Coach Pitino – you are the coach of the year and likewise to the players – you are the pride of Minnesota.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Leaders with a Mission – Blatz and Anderson

Far too often, Governor Dayton has chosen government leaders on the basis of political loyalty rather than competence. However, the selection of Kathleen Blatz as chair of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Commission (MSFC) is spot on. We need credibility and capability in the management of the public’s money.

One is hard pressed to think of any endeavor that has been more mismanaged than the partnership between Zygi Wilf and the government. It has been a nightmare of faulty promises, secrecy and ineptitude finally resulting in a Senate investigation led by Senator Sarah Anderson and the housecleaning of MSFC.

No Minnesotan enjoys a higher level of credibility than Kathleen Blatz and that is precisely what is needed if any semblance of public trust in governmental partnerships is to be restored. In typical Blatz fashion, she immediately reviewed the mission of the commission and engaged her board colleagues in a genuine discussion of purpose. She recognized that there can be no unity until there is a real understanding of the legislation that created MSFC.

As a legislator, District Court judge, and Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, Kathleen Blatz always had her compass fixed on the public good and never permitted any form of self-interest by anyone to enter into the final work product. That level of integrity and competence is precisely what the doctor ordered.

While the MSFC redefines it role and reviews its contracts, the state Senate will continue its work on restructuring the commission.  Headed by Senator Sarah Anderson (R-44A), the committee has an opportunity to truly straighten out the whole stadium mess. It began with false statements of funding by gambling proceeds “without using a single dollar of general fund tax revenues” and included a law limiting all public funding to $498 million. Obviously, truthfulness and law have succumbed to secrecy and an endless amount of public monies being directed to the stadium.

It is imperative that Senator Anderson, who is emerging as a state leader and possible gubernatorial candidate, direct a public review of the stadium project from the very beginning. Only then can there be a full comprehension of the oversight role and the assignment of that role to the commission or another entity. But without an understanding of the past, it will be futile to attempt to design the future.

Further, the Anderson committee has an opportunity to make a permanent contribution to future public-private partnerships by making a declaration of public policy that includes a list of essential ingredients with full public disclosure and competence at the top.

The end results of the efforts by the MSFC board under the leadership of Kathleen Blatz and the Senate Committee chaired by Sarah Anderson could well be a structure that is truly dedicated to the public good. That would be a change we would welcome.