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(This is part 3 of a three part series on gay men and women living in Northern Minnesota.  Part 1 can be found here.  Part 2 can be found here.)

Next year, Minnesotans will vote on an amendment attempting to define marriage as a union solely between one man and one woman.  A “yes” vote will ingrain into the state’s Constitution the belief that gay marriage should be forever outlawed.  And while a “no” vote will not bring about marriage equality, it will hold the current line.

In part 2 of the series, we looked at the efforts of gay men and women to fit into the larger Northern Minnesotan community.  Here in part 3, they discuss their thoughts, opinions, and feelings on the upcoming marriage amendment.

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(This is part 2 of a three part series on gay men and women living in Northern Minnesota.  Part 1 can be found here.  Part 3 can be found here.)

In preparation for next year’s vote on the definition of marriage amendment in Minnesota, I interviewed over a dozen gay men and women about what it was like to grow up in the Northern portion of the state.  In part 1, they discussed the trials and joys of coming out.  Here in part 2, we’ll look at their interactions with a masculine society.  For some, fitting in has proven easy, but for others, it has been a harrowing task marked by harassment and discrimination.

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(This is part 1 of a three part series on gay men and women in Northern Minnesota.  Part 2 can be found here.  Part 3 can be found here. )

In 2012, Minnesotans have a choice.  On our ballots, we will vote on whether or not to add an amendment to the state Constitution defining marriage as a union solely between one man and one woman.  In preparation for the upcoming vote, I interviewed over a dozen gay men and women from Northern Minnesota.  They told me what it was like to grow up gay in the region, and how it felt to come out in a blue collar culture that places a high value on masculinity.  They spoke on the gay community—or lack thereof—in the area, and in a resounding voice, they denounced the 2012 amendment as a personal affront on their well-being and sense of citizenship.  This is their story.

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Wed Aug 03, 2011 at 10:58 AM PDT

Keynes is Dead; Hoover Lives

by Tony Sterle

Our nation has failed to learn from history.  With the passage of the debt ceiling deal, we have once again attempted to balance the budget and cut spending in the midst of an economic downturn.  How did that work out last time?  Not well:

President Hoover feared that too much intervention or coercion by the government would destroy individuality and self-reliance, which he considered to be important American values. Both his ideals and the economy were put to the test with the onset of the Great Depression. Calls for greater government assistance increased as the U.S. economy continued to decline. Hoover rejected direct federal relief payments to individuals, as he believed that a dole would be addictive, and reduce the incentive to work. He was also a firm believer in balanced budgets, and was unwilling to run a budget deficit to fund welfare programs.  By 1932, the Great Depression had spread across the globe. In the U.S., unemployment had reached 24.9%.

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One of my favorite movies is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.  The film tells the story of a regular Joe named Jefferson Smith, who is propelled to the Congress by the governor of some unnamed Western state.  Smith is both wholesome and naïve—two traits that Jim Taylor, a corrupt political boss, plans to use to control his senate votes.  See Mr. Taylor has this plan: he wants to pass a Public Works bill that builds a useless dam while padding his pockets and the pockets of his supporters.  Taylor controls a bunch of the politicians in the Congress, who respond to his every whim and desire, so he thinks he’s got this dam locked up.  However, once Smith learns of Taylor’s embezzling scheme, he takes to the Senate floor and filibusters the graft bill, talking continuously until he passes out.  Of course, this is a movie, so in the end, Smith wins, the bill fails to pass, and the government becomes a little more pious and people-serving.  

Unfortunately, life is not a movie, and the current Mr. Smiths in Washington are losing to a new version of Mr. Taylor.  This fellow, like Taylor, holds massive sway over our politicians and goes by the name of Grover Glenn Norquist.  He is the president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) and a fellow Harvard alum (needless to say I’m very proud).   Under Norquist, the ATR sponsors the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” which at its core, compels the politicians who sign it to oppose any form of tax increase ever.  Like ever.  Like even in the case of war, flood, and famine ever.  I mean seriously, here’s the language of the pledge:

I, _____, pledge to the taxpayers of the __ district of the state of___, and to the American people that I will:  ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax  rates for individuals and/or businesses; and  TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and  credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates

It clearly doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for flexibility.  Now, at this point 236 Representative and 41 Senators have signed the bill, nearly all of them Republicans.  Why do they do it?  They need to in order to get elected.  Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Reportputs it like this:

Politicians used to look to guidance from parties. Now they look to guidance -- or threats -- from interest groups…I think there's a tendency for candidates to believe they have to appeal to the base, and there's a kind of threshold of credibility that they need to achieve, and that leads them to signing these pledges…if you don't sign the pledge, it can define you as a candidate, and you might spend the rest of the campaign defending and trying to move away from that issue.

Our politicians—particularly the Republicans—are faced with a sort of join or die situation.  They can sign a pledge that will tie their legislating hands in Washington, or they can stay home and not make it to Washington at all.  Confronted with this kind of logic, I can see why they do it.  The choice even for Moderate politicians, I imagine, must go something like this: “I can sacrifice a small amount of my principles now and get elected or I can allow somebody even crazier and more extreme than I am to sign the pledge and beat me.”  Signing just makes sense.  But the fact that politicians are forced into Grover Norquist’s pledge means that our government doesn’t really belong to the politicians or the people anymore—it belongs to Grover Norquist…and that might have been his plan the whole time.  

Now, I know a lot of Conservative folks read our blog, and so you guys might be thinking, well so what?  I don’t like taxes.  I’m with Norquist on this one.  But I would submit to you that most of the recent budget crises that have taken place in our government both on the state and national level are in large part due to Norquist and his pledge.  Want to fix the debt ceiling dilemma with a combination of large spending cuts and small tax increases on corporate jet owners?  Too bad, you can’t.  Grover Norquist says no.  Want to stop the Minnesota state government from shutting down by mixing spending cuts with miniscule tax increases on Minnesota millionaires?  Guess what?  You can’t.  It doesn’t matter that the last time we actually balanced the budget was under President Clinton who raised top marginal tax rates from 31% to 39.6%.  All that matters is that Grover Norquist, with his ideological aversion to any and all forms of taxes, gets his way.  

We need to stop this anti-tax nonsense immediately and keep our government from heading down a dangerous road.  I’ve repeatedly written about the consequences we will face if the debt ceiling is not raised (in case you haven’t been following the situation, Republicans are refusing to lift the ceiling if it means increasing taxes).  Look, economists are worried; Moody’s is worried (which is why it has threatened to downgrade U.S. treasury bonds from their AAA rating).  Even Republican politicians have shown signs of revolt against Norquist.  Heck, as I’ve been composing this article, stories have come out that suggest that Norquist thinks Norquist is being too ideological.  

This pledge and ones like it don’t have a place in politics.  Period.  We need our leaders to have flexibility in their governance.  We need the Mr. Smiths of Washington to step up and give this Mr. Taylor the boot.  It’s time for Norquist and his pledge to go—it’s time for compromise.  



Fundraising is officially underway for the campaigns of Minnesota’s 8th Congressional district.  Yesterday, DFL candidate Tarryl Clark sent out a press release announcing that:

The campaign received contributions totaling over $140,000 in the first two months of the campaign. In total, over 1,800 individuals gave the campaign an average contribution of $76. The campaign ended the quarter with more than $130,000 cash on hand.

Duluth City Councilman, Jeff Anderson, has raked in a little over $30,000 in his first month, and though former Congressman Rick Nolan has yet to reveal any official figures, you can be sure that he has some campaign contributions ready to put to work.  All told, since starting their burgeoning campaigns, the DFL candidates have raised well more than what Cravaack was able to make in the first quarter of 2011, $120,000 (though to be fair, overall, he’s had the most time to raise money, so his total campaign coffer sits at about $350,000; still, the DFL has outpaced him starting with the time period when all the campaigns actually existed).  

One has to wonder why the DFL candidates in this race have been able to generate so much momentum.  One reason is probably that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is specifically targeting Cravaack, considering his district a likely place for a Democratic pick up.  Another explanation, though, centers on some of the questionable political choices that Cravaack has made in his tenure as a Freshman Congressmen.  

This morning, the Duluth News Tribune reported that Cravaack is moving with his family to New Hampshire, meaning that he will only be able to spend certain Saturdays within the district.  Cravaack declared the move a chance to spend more time with his children (his wife works in the Northeast area).   Now, on a personal level, that’s a responsible thing for a guy to do.  He wants to be a good dad, and I respect that.  However, it will almost certainly serve to put him out of touch with the people and the problems of the 8th Congressional District, and as someone who is supposed to be representing that area on a national stage, Cravaack’s move seems, in another respect, a rather irresponsible political choice.  

Combine his decision to move out of the district, with his support for Paul Ryan’s budget plan, with his vote to end Medicare as we know it, and with his endangering of the economy through his debt ceiling vote, and Cravaack’s reelection chances start to look somewhat dim.  I’ve written before that I think Cravaack is a smart guy and a good man, but his votes make it clear that he is out of touch with the wishes and the needs of the people he is tasked with representing.  His move makes that lack of contact even worse.  People are taking note, and besides their own messages of progress and prosperity, that’s partly why his opponents have been so successful at raising a rather good chunk of change.  

If I were a gambling man, I’d put the odds of Cravaack winning this next election at somewhere around 35%.  So long as the DFL works hard and stays on point, we should have the opportunity to take back the seat and restore a strong Progressive Minnesotan voice for Medicare, sensible budgeting, and a good education to the Congress.  

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