Sunday, December 31, 2017

Real Leadership --- Women’s March --- Richard Painter

As I look back at 2017 and try to determine who gave us courageous and impartial leadership at a time when so many of us were in a state of high anxiety, I would say without hesitation it was the Women’s March. They not only galvanized protestors from all over the nation but they gave the rest of us the most vital ingredient of life – hope.

On a personal level, I felt it in our household. Like millions of others, we were in a funk following the election. But when the March was announced, my wife, Susan, instantly declared her determination to go to Washington, ordered her pink headwear, and made plans with our youngest daughter, Jessica. It was clearly a March built out of unwavering fortitude and was organized not by people with titles of leadership but rather by those who had the natural talent and courage. It reminded me of the early stages of the American Revolution when ordinary citizens were so outraged they took to arms without any thought of their personal wellbeing.

And just as the result of 1776 led to our independence, the Women’s March was the force behind the Alabama and Virginia upsets and may well be the power that topples Trumpism in 2018.

Locally, my choice for leader of the year is an old fashioned straight shooter, Richard Painter. Like the organizers of the Women’s March, he has no assigned title of leadership but rather leads and inspires by personal example. As a constitutional scholar, chief ethics attorney during the administration of President George W. Bush, and current Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota, he comes equipped with knowledge but, more importantly, a healthy sense of outrage. And his principle weapon is our Constitution. While all too many Republican leaders hide in the shadows to protect their incumbency, Richard Painter, a Republican moderate, stands forcefully and aggressively against the continuing assaults made on our law by Trump and his allies. Time and again he is the one Republican who through lawsuits, television appearances and social media has risen above the politics of self-interest and reminds us that the majesty of law is what holds our nation together.

In a sense, it is refreshing that those we regard as ordinary citizens are the ones who define leadership for us. It is simply the determination to do right. I applaud, truly applaud, all those who marched in the Women’s March and Richard Painter. It is their intelligent and patriotic resolve that lights our path back to true democratic leadership.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

And Justice for All.

Recent events have brought to mind some terrifying days I experienced growing up in the Bronx. As a 6th grader, I was painfully shy with a pronounced stammer.

One day, two uniformed policemen came into the classroom, looked around, and pointed to me while declaring, “We want that boy.” 

I was escorted to the principal’s office, planted in a chair, and asked if I knew why I was there. I stammered “no” and was told to stare at the wall clock until my memory improved.

When it became clear that clock watching was not going to produce a confession, I was grilled on my whereabouts for a series of Saturdays. Fortunately, my father had formed a boys club at our church and he would take us to various points of interest in New York City. My Saturdays were covered.

This only produced frustration from the officers so I was directed back to clock watching.

That evening, I shared the horror with my parents who were Swedish immigrants and certainly not acquainted with the finer points of law. So my father wrote down the places and times of the boys club Saturday trips. Certainly, that would clear me they reasoned.

However, the next day I was back again facing the clock. My father’s list meant nothing because the police officers had been informed by a reliable witness that two boys crawled over the school fence, broke into the school, and caused minor damage. One was identified as an Italian and the other had blond hair.

Since there were few blonds in our Italian, Jewish and Irish community then it was clear that it had to be me. Of this the police were certain.

On the afternoon of the second day, Mrs. McCauley, my 6th grade teacher who bore a striking resemblance to Aunt Bee of Mayberry fame, burst into the principal’s office, grabbed me by the hand and boldly declared, “I want my boy back.”

Some time later, the mystery was solved and yes there was more than one blond in the Bronx.

However, the pain of that memory still makes me well up. My presumption of innocence was trampled by the authorities who had certainty of their side and by a principal who was all too willing to vacate her office and her responsibility to protect her students. My parents were poor and all too trusting in authority.

It was my teacher, Mrs. McCauley, who saved me from entering the juvenile system. To her courage, I owe my life.

Being a victim can be painful but the answer to an injustice cannot be to create another injustice.

I am deeply troubled by the resignation of Al Franken and the complete absence of anything resembling due process.

Now reports are surfacing that Leeann Tweeden, Franken’s prime accuser, may have been coached by Roger Stone, a major Trump operator. Since there was no vetting, we only heard her story. But there has been no explanation as to why she attended a USO event in 2009 honoring Franken and was captured on tape joking around with him. This is three years after she claimed to be traumatized by Franken.

She continued in 2011 with a tweet containing a photo of her and Franken together.

This is all very troubling. A rush to judgment is, unfortunately, all too human. But a rush to punishment is totally unacceptable.

Perhaps this is a time for reconsideration. We now know that the right wing attempted to plant a false accusation with the Washington Post.  On the other side, we also know that an accuser against Roy Moore of Alabama fudged the truth in her allegations.

Further, we know that Senate Democrats who asked for Franken’s resignation may have been motivated more by the politics of the Alabama Senate race than the seriousness of the allegations.

And now we have the supreme insult of New York Senator Schumer “advising” Governor Dayton on how to pick a successor. That is a certainty for GOP advertising in 2018.

It is time for all of us to sober up. Our nation is in peril with Donald Trump in the White House and Republicans yielding to his demands. We are increasingly moving towards authoritarianism and continued GOP subservience could possibly lead to the dissolution of the Mueller investigation.

While I am not always in agreement with Senator Al Franken, I firmly believe in due process which is a cornerstone of our democratic way of living. Whenever in history we abandoned it, we severely damaged ourselves. Just think about the lynching of Blacks in the South, the internment of people of Japanese descent in World War II, or the era of McCarthyism when lives were destroyed based solely on allegations.

The simple fact is that Al Franken has been the Senate’s most effective challenge to Trump and his subordinates. The possibility of any rigging by Roger Stone and his associates should cause all of us to call for a rescinding of the Franken resignation and a prompt and thorough review of all allegations by the Senate Ethics Committee.

He was elected by we, the people, and he should continue to serve until a legal determination has been made.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Warren Spannaus: A Profile in Courage

 In this day of incumbent protection, it is proper for us to remember those who served us with courage.  Warren Spannaus, a former Attorney General of Minnesota, literally put his political life on the line when he repeatedly fought for sensible gun safety laws.

I so well remember Tom Berg carrying the Spannaus bill in the House of Representatives. Somehow this piece of legislation turned into a highly charged public war and it ended the ambitions of two of our finest public servants: Warren Spannaus and Tom Berg. And, we the public were losers because both would have been superb Governors.

This nation was founded on the notion of competing ideas but somewhere we got derailed into an environment of absolutes. In that world, compromise and the exchange of views is unacceptable.

To his credit, Warren Spannaus always stood by our fundamental values of decency, kindness, and respect for the views of others. He was a first rate of politician and a revered public servant.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Joint Statement by Former Vice President Walter Mondale and Former Governor Arne H. Carlson

As former public officials, we are increasingly concerned about the role of money in influencing public policy. The U.S. House of Representatives is on its way to passing out major tax legislation without any public hearings. In addition, they leak out information daily about the possibility of major changes thereby preventing analysis and commentary.

This is repugnant in a democratic society. There are two certainties in the tax bill: large financial rewards to the Republican donor base and a massive increase in our national debt.

With this in mind, we issue the following challenge to House members who vote for this bill:

Publicly pledge to run for re-election.

This is the only way the public can express its voice on policies that are harmful to the general good and practices that are clearly undemocratic.

We are fearful that some members will vote “yes”, then announce their retirement to spend more time with their family, and accept lucrative employment from those who reap the benefits.


Walter F. Mondale                                                     Arne H. Carlson
Former Vice President of the United States              Former Governor of Minnesota
Democrat                                                                   Republican

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Roger Erickson – Another Minnesota Giant

In April 1945, the train carrying the body of President Franklin Roosevelt moved slowly down the tracks from Warm Springs, Georgia on its way to the Nation’s Capitol. Thousands of mourners lined the pathway to wave goodbye to their beloved leader. A reporter went up to one of the men waving softly while tears moved slowly down his checks. “Did you know the President?” the reporter inquired. “No” responded the man. “But he knew me.”

What a remarkable tribute.

Today, we celebrate the life of another great who truly knew us.

For some thirty-eight years, Roger Erickson with his partner, Charlie Boone, dominated the airwaves with America’s most humorous and delightful morning show on WCCO radio. It was always fresh and tasteful. There was no place for vulgarity or self-promotion. No, it was about the character of Minnesota: hard work, honesty, respect for others, and community. We were all neighbors in the Minnesota of Boone & Erickson; farmers, doctors, teachers, plumbers – even politicians – were just neighbors and no one more important than another. Nor was anyone immune to being the subject of wholesome humor.

Susan and I were blessed to share in Roger’s life on numerous occasions. On one, we invited the show to be aired from the Governor’s Residence. At 4 a.m. we stumbled down the stairs in our robes only to be greeted by the banter and laughter of Roger and Charlie. And this was before we had our coffee.

But that is the way it was for nearly four decades. Morning became a time for joy commencing with the Good Morning song. We all enjoyed our breakfast while Boone and Erickson took us through their adventures at Minnesota Hospital or the Lutefisk Lament. And who could turn the announcement of school closings into a major source of humor and delight. That was sheer artistry. 

When we received word that Swedish King Carl XVI Gustav and Queen Silvia would be visiting Minnesota, Susan and her staff went about planning the reception. The goal was to balance the formality and protocol of a royal visit with the warm hospitality of Minnesota.

This included the University of Minnesota Marching Band to greet the royal couple outside the Residence and a garden covered with a white tent and tables with formal settings to accommodate over 300 guests. It was an absolutely beautiful setting.

But the key was to set the tone and who better to serve as Master of Ceremonies than Roger Erickson. He was perfect with his light and warm humor and his remarkable ability to make everyone feel comfortable.

So comfortable, in fact, that the King leaned over to Susan and asked if he should speak. Susan’s response was enthusiastically positive. Than the rather shy King inquired about what he should say. Her response was simple. “Anything you say, they will love.”

What is of special note here is that we were informed by the Swedish advance team that the King would not speak and they were quite emphatic about that.

My personal belief is that Roger was so successful in creating a welcoming and warm environment that the King was moved to verbally participate.

But that was Roger Erickson. Maybe not all Minnesotans personally knew him but it is certain that he knew us and we are all richer for it.

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