Saturday, May 26, 2012

Personal Responsibility – Yes

Over the past three decades, the Minnesota Republican Party has been evolving from one with moderate and traditional conservative wings to one that is now engaged in an open tussle between the younger Ron Paul Libertarian types and the more radical social right of Mary Kiffmeyer and Tony Sutton.

For purposes of this blog, I will focus on the latter since they have been in power through the Pawlenty years and still control the legislature.    Further, under their leadership, the party has moved further to the right.  In addition to a total prohibition of abortion choices, their philosophy extends to endowing the fertilized egg with constitutional rights thereby prohibiting certain forms of birth control, strong anti-gay sentiment, anti-tax increases, pro small government, anti-the United Nations, etc.  Their message has always contained a certain political rigidity that is unusual in democratic systems and any deviation has resulted in the labels of “traitor”, “quisling” or “RINO” being applied.   We need only to remember the party’s attempt to oust six GOP legislators who voted against Governor Pawlenty’s veto of the transportation bill.

Briefly, any deviation from party orthodoxy was punished. 

Further, there has always been a firm adherence to self-sufficiency and personal accountability.  For instance, the platform GOP incumbents ran on in 2010 declared:  “Reform and Eliminate the Welfare System” as a headline and then continued, “People in need should be assisted primarily through private charity, including faith-based programs instead of government welfare programs.”   

However, when philosophy and comfort collide, the latter usually wins.  Such is the case with Michael Brodkorb vs. the Minnesota State Senate.

Originally, Tony Sutton, as GOP Party Chair, brought in Brodkorb because he excelled in campaign research particularly opposition research.  He played a key role in the Republican legislative victories of 2010.  Sutton then moved him to the Senate Republican payroll where he exercised party power over GOP Senators thereby causing some to refer to him as the “enforcer.”

Now circumstances are different.  The party is virtually bankrupt with massive debt as a result of years of gross mismanagement and the Senate Republicans are embroiled in a major legal battle with Michael Brodkorb.  It would appear that while this new Republican Senate majority was busy during the session trying to constitutionally protect the sanctity of marriage from the threat of gays, there was some serious extramarital bed hopping going on in Senate offices.  As a result, Michael Brodkorb was fired and the majority leader stepped down.

Brodkorb has now trained his weapons of research on his former employers and has concluded that others have probably engaged in this same activity and were not punished in a comparable fashion.  The result is some nervous stomachs fearful of disclosure and a Brodkorb demand for some $1 million to cover the loss of employment and damage to his reputation.

The Senate has engaged outside counsel at a rate in excess of $300 per hour.  It further appears that the intent is to have the taxpayer pay all legal and settlement costs.  So far, DFL leadership appears to be compliant.

Simply put, the Senate will do all in its power to postpone action until after the election and then surprise the taxpayer with the bills.

We, as taxpayers, are already saddled with an impending deficit of approximately $2 billion and an additional $2.4 billion owed to school districts.   We do not deserve to be further burdened with the costs of political misbehavior.

What others do in the privacy of their lives should be their business and not the concern or obligation of government.  The new Senate Republicans brought this mess entirely upon themselves and should be principled enough to fully accept the consequences and not expect taxpayer welfare. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

To Carl..with Love

For the past several years, the Minnesota Historical Society has been interviewing leaders from the “Greatest Generation” and publishing biographies.  This is a most worthwhile project because it is increasingly imperative that we, the post depression generations, do all we can to learn from this special generation.

One of those interviewed was Carl Platou who was honored this past week by the University of Minnesota.  Now most Minnesotans probably are not familiar with that name but, in so many ways, he defines the essence of the “Greatest Generation”.

Like so many of his time, he was born of immigrant parents, endured poverty during the depression, lost his mother at an early age, and enlisted in the Army after the outbreak of World War II.  All those events clearly impact a young person.

However, I cannot imagine a more sustaining and painful imprint than being trapped behind enemy lines in the Philippines and enduring nightly Banzai attacks from a fanatically dedicated enemy.  And the conditions in the jungle were just as challenging.  Carl described it as a “stinking mess.”

One hundred paratroopers went in and ten came out.  Carl, wounded and malnourished, was one of the ten.  But seared in his memory was the overpowering realization that in combat one is totally dependent on others.  Teamwork and complete interdependence were not just rah rah phrases but the difference between life and death.  It is the realization that life is about we not I.

So it is not a surprise that 67 years later some 200 of Minnesota’s leaders gathered to honor the life work of Carl Platou which ranges from building the nation’s first satellite hospital system while the head of Fairview to creating the University of Minnesota Biomedical Discovery District that occupies the vast space just north of the new football stadium.

In this gorgeous area, some of the world’s finest bio-medical scientists will tackle the challenges of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, etc.   The entryway will consist of a modest bench area bearing the name of Carl Platou.  I truly hope that each year all of us will stop by, sit, and reflect.  There will be no better place for some simple thinking about the impact of vision, hard work, and genuine commitment to the wellbeing of others.

What is so special about Carl is that he always has a vision of a better tomorrow and the ability to enlist others to pitch in and help.  And, wow, is he good at that.  And the reason is simple; he sees the good in others and draws it out.

Now the doctors say that Carl will more than likely lose his fight to cancer.  That is not true.  He has already won – just walk by the Carl Platou Biomedical Discovery District.

Friday, May 4, 2012

On Stewardship

John Taft, head of RBC Wealth Management located in Minneapolis, has written a very timely book titled Stewardship.  I say timely because our culture is in sore need of re-identifying its values.  And I add appropriately due to the fact that the word stewardship has been largely missing from our vocabulary in recent years.  When is the last time we heard a leader espouse values of stewardship?

There is an embracing quality in the word stewardship that includes responsibility, integrity, quality, and community - all in one word.  In essence, it defines the type of leadership reflected in the Greatest Generation.  Earlier Presidents like Washington, Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt set the standard politically.

John Taft with the legacy of President William Howard Taft and Senator Robert A. Taft is perfectly positioned to comment on stewardship.  Further, his predecessors at RBC Wealth Management (Dain Rouscher) were all known examples of superb stewards starting with Wheelock Whitney and continuing through Irv Weiser and Dick McFarland.

While the book contains an analysis of the financial crash of 2008, it is really about the qualities of leadership that our nation must focus on if we are to remain the global leader.  Toward that end, he pushes aside all the partisan shallowness that surrounds the ongoing debate and focuses instead on the core principles.  They are, he observes, “the only solid ground under our feet when everything is, or seems to be unstable.”

From an investment perspective, he looks back to another Minnesota giant, Harry Piper, Jr., for guidance;  “serving our clients is our basic purpose.  Service is the chief contributor to our growth and profitability.”  How refreshing.  How simple.

Compare that sentiment to that expressed by Goldman Sachs executives at the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in April, 2010.  Stripping aside all the contradictory and self-serving testimony, the simple reality was that Goldman Sachs stood firmly on all sides of a deal even when it was totally contrary to the wellbeing of a client.  In essence, the goal was simple:  make money and make it any way you can.

Tragically, this philosophy of short-term greed is not confined to Goldman Sachs or the financial services industry.  It has become contagious affecting virtually all institutions.

But the real loss here is that the good news is being squeezed out by the bad.  Those leaders who practice stewardship are overshadowed by the exploiters.

I love Tad Piper’s comment, “my dad always thought of this (financial management) as a noble profession, a profession in which we were privileged to serve the world in which we were admired.  He felt we had a higher calling to help individuals manage their wealth, corporations raise capital, governments build roads and schools.”

In using the word “noble”, Tad Piper is highlighting the ultimate human goal.  We all want to excel and believe that what we do contributes to the wellbeing of others.  The good butcher is performing a valued service just as the quality teacher or construction worker.

It is imperative that we do not allow the noise of greed or self-service to drown out the positive contributions of the many because they are the people who build a community.

John Taft is such a builder.  His leadership during the financial meltdown was extraordinary.  He stood by his principles of service to his customers and did so in an open and truthful way.  The result was a sensible path to recovery and stability.

Fortunately, his leadership gained national attention and he rose to become a major player in crafting legislation affecting the financial industry.  In 2011, he was selected chairman of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.

Since John Taft properly calls us all to stewardship, perhaps it is entirely fitting that I to call him to active political service.  He is a traditional Republican with all the skills necessary to make a splendid Governor or Senator.  The truth is he has it all: intelligence, experience, an engaging personality, and a genuine dedication to the wellbeing of others.

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