Congratulations, Sen. Al Franken

June 30, 2009

Justices of the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled today that Al Franken won the election for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by Norm Coleman.

Senator-elect Al Franken and his wife, Franni, after the Minnesota Canvassing Board certified him the winner of the states November 2008 senatorial election, June 29, 2008 - Minneapolis Star-Tribune photo

Senator-elect Al Franken and his wife, Franni, after the Minnesota Canvassing Board certified him the winner of the state's November 2008 senatorial election, June 29, 2008 - Minneapolis Star-Tribune photo

Pat Doyle wrote for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled today that Democrat Al Franken won the U.S. Senate election and said he was entitled to an election certificate that would lead to him being seated in the Senate.

“Affirmed,” wrote the Supreme Court, unanimously rejecting Republican Norm Coleman’s claims that inconsistent practices by local elections officials and wrong decisions by a lower court had denied him victory.

“Al Franken received the highest number of votes legally cast and is entitled [under Minnesota law] to receive the certificate of election as United States Senator from the State of Minnesota,” the court wrote.

In upholding a lower court ruling in April, the justices said Coleman had “not shown that the trial court’s findings of fact are clearly erroneous or that the court committed an error of law or abused its discretion.”

The justices also said that neither the trial court nor local elections officials violated constitutional rights to equal protection, a cornerstone of Coleman’s case and any possible federal appeal.

The ruling was a unanimous, 5-0 decision.

Congratulations, U.S. Sen. Al Franken.

Update: Coleman conceded; NPR report hereNPR political blog here. Coleman was surprisingly gracious, considering he fought so hard for 238 days after the election.


Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska on education

September 7, 2008

What is Sarah Palin’s record on education as Governor of Alaska?  One place to look would be her two State of the State addresses to the Alaska legislature, in which she laid out her plans for education.  These speeches do not indicate what was actually enacted into law in the following legislative session, but they offer a glimpse of what Palin hoped to do.

So here are the education sections of her speeches, without comment – except that at the end of the post, I include her office’s release of Alaska’s educational acheivement on standards measures, as recorded in 2008.

Alaskans?  How did she do?  Comments are open.

I especially invite comments on the contrasts between Sen. McCain’s acceptance speech and Gov. Palin’s speeches.

Alaska’s Gov. Sarah Palin on education in her 2007 State of the State address:

. . . First, my philosophy: More government is not the answer. But we all know government’s proper role is to help change the conditions to improve lives and economically stimulate communities. Government can’t make you happy, it can’t make you healthy, it can’t make you a productive member of society. Government’s role is to provide the tools.

One such tool is education. My commitment to education is unwavering.

My budget includes fully funding the “K through 12” foundation formula. In addition, I’ve included more than $200 million in new dollars to cover the increased retirement costs for local school districts, so that more local school district dollars get into the classroom, where the money belongs.

Remember, we’re facing a potential $10 billion dollar PERS / TRS retirement plan shortfall that affects local schools. Our $200 million dollar line item for school districts is part of the half BILLION dollar proposal to help the districts, local governments and the state alleviate the pension plan burden while we work with the Legislature on a long-term solution.

I’ve also committed to help provide local school districts with more predictability, for better planning by supporting “early funding of education.” So I’ll introduce a separate education appropriation bill and ask the Legislature to begin work on it immediately and ask that it’s passed within the first 60 days of the session. Our local school districts deserve to know what they have to work with early enough for them to create efficiencies through planning. They shouldn’t have to “pink slip” teachers in the spring, and make “last minute” rehire attempts in the fall.

But my vision for education is NOT only about funding – it’s about changing the way we think about, and operate our schools. It’s not the amount of money we pour into each child, but how we spend the money that counts.

We’ll look at successful education programs statewide and Outside that can be replicated, and we’ll look at new approaches! We’ve got to do something different. Our high school graduation rate is 61%. That’s unacceptable! Our vo-tech opportunities need to grow so that our kids stay in school and then fill the voids in our industries. And at the same time, we need to make sure those who want to go to college are ready.

We know that we need more mechanics, technicians, teachers, doctors, and nurses. We shouldn’t have to import our workforce when it’s growing up before us.

And so a centerpiece of my administration IS our commitment to a “world class education” system. Let’s take education and move beyond No Child Left Behind to ensure that “no ALASKAN is left behind.”

We’ll work with our Congressional delegation to ADAPT federal mandates to fit Alaska. I’m so thankful Sen. Lisa Murkowski is also committed to changing federal requirements so they make sense for the uniqueness here. Flexibility is needed, for rural schools, especially.

To meet our challenges, I’ve asked our departments to bring together the private sector, the Department of Labor, postsecondary institutions, and our wonderful alternative education choices, including home schools, to ensure that students have the skills to meet Alaska’s workforce needs. And, I will continue to ask families and individuals to take more responsibility.

You’ll hopefully find this theme consistent throughout my administration – cooperative efforts and personal accountability.  . . .

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin delivering her 2008 State of the State address, January 15, 2008 - Photo from Palins official website

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin delivering her 2008 State of the State address, January 15, 2008 - Photo from Palin's official website

Gov. Palin’s remarks on education in her 2008 State of the State Address, January 15, 2008:

. . . Challenges lie ahead, but let’s look back at the last year and at some accomplishments. In Education, we are shaping a three-year funding plan to finally shift the school debate from perpetual “money talk” to accountability and achievement! We are focusing on foundational skills needed in the “real-world” workplace and in college.  . . .

It is our energy development that pays for essential services, like education. Victor Hugo said, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” It’s a privileged obligation we have to “open education doors.” Every child, of every ability, is to be cherished and loved and taught. Every child provides this world hope. They are the most beautiful ingredient in our sometimes muddied up world. I am committed to our children and their education. Stepping through “the door” is about more than passing a standardized test. We need kids prepared to pass life’s tests – like getting a job and valuing a strong work ethic. Our Three-year Education Plan invests more than a billion dollars each year. We must forward-fund education, letting schools plan ahead. We must stop pink-slipping teachers, and then struggle to recruit and retain them the next year.

We will enable schools to finally focus on innovation and accountability to see superior results. We’re asking lawmakers to pass a new K-12 funding plan early this year. This is a significant investment that is needed to increase the base student allocation, district cost factors and intensive needs students. It includes $100 million in school construction and deferred maintenance. There is awesome potential to improve education, respect good teachers, and embrace choice for parents. This potential will prime Alaska to compete in a global economy that is so competitive it will blow us away if we are not prepared. Beyond high school, we will boost job training and University options. We are proposing more than $10 million in new funding for apprenticeship programs, expansion of construction, engineering and health care degrees to meet demands. But it must be about more than funds, it must be a change in philosophy. It is time to shift focus, from just dollars and cents to “caliyulriit,” which is Yupik for “people who want to work.” Work for pride in supporting our families, in and out of the home. Work for purpose and for action, and ultimately destiny fulfilled by being fruitful. It’s about results and getting kids excited about their future – whether it is college, trade school or military. The Lieutenant Governor and I are working on a plan to make attending Alaska’s universities and trade schools a reality for more Alaskans through merit scholarships.

Education achievement statistics from the Governor’s Office, 2008:

spacer Education


The value of local historians in small-town Alaska

September 2, 2008

A woman who watches and records events in Wasilla, Alaska, notes recent history:

Dear friends,

So many people have asked me about what I know about Sarah Palin in the last 2 days that I decided to write something up . . .

Basically, Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton have only 2 things in common: their gender and their good looks. :)

You have my permission to forward this to your friends/email contacts with my name and email address attached, but please do not post it on any websites, as there are too many kooks out there . . .

Thanks,
[An Alaskan]

ABOUT SARAH PALIN

I am a resident of Wasilla, Alaska. I have known Sarah since 1992. Everyone here knows Sarah, so it is nothing special to say we are on a first-name basis. Our children have attended the same schools. Her father was my child’s favorite substitute teacher. I also am on a first name basis with her parents and mother-in-law. I attended more City Council meetings during her administration than about 99% of the residents of the city.

She is enormously popular; in every way she’s like the most popular girl in middle school. Even men who think she is a poor choice and won’t vote for her can’t quit smiling when talking about her because
she is a “babe”.

It is astonishing and almost scary how well she can keep a secret. She kept her most recent pregnancy a secret from her children and parents for seven months.

She is “pro-life”. She recently gave birth to a Down’s syndrome baby. There is no cover-up involved, here; Trig is her baby.

She is energetic and hardworking. She regularly worked out at the gym.

She is savvy. She doesn’t take positions; she just “puts things out there” and if they prove to be popular, then she takes credit.

Her husband works a union job on the North Slope for BP and is a champion snowmobile racer. Todd Palin’s kind of job is highly sought-after because of the schedule and high pay. He arranges his work schedule so he can fish for salmon in Bristol Bay for a month or so in summer, but by no stretch of the imagination is fishing their major source of income. Nor has her life-style ever been anything like that of native Alaskans.

Sarah and her whole family are avid hunters.

She’s smart.

Her experience is as mayor of a city with a population of about 5,000 (at the time), and less than 2 years as governor of a state with about 670,000 residents.

During her mayoral administration most of the actual work of running this small city was turned over to an administrator. She had been pushed to hire this administrator by party power-brokers after she had gotten herself into some trouble over precipitous firings which had given rise to a recall campaign.

Sarah campaigned in Wasilla as a “fiscal conservative”. During her 6 years as Mayor, she increased general government expenditures by over 33%. During those same 6 years the amount of taxes collected by the City increased by 38%. This was during a period of low inflation (1996-2002). She reduced progressive property taxes and increased a regressive sales tax which taxed even food. The tax cuts that she promoted benefited large corporate property owners way more than they benefited residents.

The huge increases in tax revenues during her mayoral administration weren’t enough to fund everything on her wish list though, borrowed money was needed, too. She inherited a city with zero debt, but left it with indebtedness of over $22 million. What did Mayor Palin encourage the voters to borrow money for? Was it the infrastructure that she said she supported? The sewage treatment plant that the city lacked? or a new library? No. $1m for a park. $15m-plus for construction of a multi-use sports complex which she rushed through to build on a piece of property that the City didn’t even have clear title to, that was still in litigation 7 yrs later–to the delight of the lawyers involved! The sports complex itself is a nice addition to the community but a huge money pit, not the profit-generator she claimed it would be. She also supported bonds for $5.5m for road projects that could have been done in 5-7 yrs without any borrowing.

While Mayor, City Hall was extensively remodeled and her office redecorated more than once.

These are small numbers, but Wasilla is a very small city.

As an oil producer, the high price of oil has created a budget surplus in Alaska. Rather than invest this surplus in technology that will make us energy independent and increase efficiency, as Governor she proposed distribution of this surplus to every individual in the state.

In this time of record state revenues and budget surpluses, she recommended that the state borrow/bond for road projects, even while she proposed distribution of surplus state revenues: spend today’s surplus, borrow for needs.

She’s not very tolerant of divergent opinions or open to outside ideas or compromise. As Mayor, she fought ideas that weren’t generated by her or her staff. Ideas weren’t evaluated on their merits, but on the basis of who proposed them.

While Sarah was Mayor of Wasilla she tried to fire our highly respected City Librarian because the Librarian refused to consider removing from the library some books that Sarah wanted removed. City residents rallied to the defense of the City Librarian and against Palin’s attempt at out-and-out censorship, so Palin backed down and withdrew her termination letter. People who fought her attempt to oust the Librarian are on her enemies list to this day.

Sarah complained about the “old boy’s club” when she first ran for Mayor, so what did she bring Wasilla? A new set of “old boys”. Palin fired most of the experienced staff she inherited. At the City and as Governor she hired or elevated new, inexperienced, obscure people, creating a staff totally dependent on her for their jobs and eternally grateful and fiercely loyal–loyal to the point of abusing their power to further her personal agenda, as she has acknowledged happened in the case of pressuring the State’s top cop (see below).

As Mayor, Sarah fired Wasilla’s Police Chief because he “intimidated” her, she told the press. As Governor, her recent firing of Alaska’s top cop has the ring of familiarity about it. He served at her pleasure and she had every legal right to fire him, but it’s pretty clear that an important factor in her decision to fire him was because he wouldn’t fire her sister’s ex-husband, a State Trooper. Under investigation for abuse of power, she has had to admit that more than 2 dozen contacts were made between her staff and family to the person that she later fired, pressuring him to fire her ex-brother-in-law. She tried to replace the man she fired with a man who she knew had been reprimanded for sexual harassment; when this caused a public furor, she withdrew her support.

She has bitten the hand of every person who extended theirs to her in help. The City Council person who personally escorted her around town introducing her to voters when she first ran for Wasilla City Council became one of her first targets when she was later elected Mayor. She abruptly fired her loyal City Administrator; even people who didn’t like the guy were stunned by this ruthlessness.

Fear of retribution has kept all of these people from saying anything publicly about her.

When then-Governor Murkowski was handing out political plums, Sarah got the best, Chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission: one of the few jobs not in Juneau and one of the best paid. She had no background in oil & gas issues. Within months of scoring this great job which paid $122,400/yr, she was complaining in the press about the high salary. I was told that she hated that job: the commute, the structured hours, the work. Sarah became aware that a member of this Commission (who was also the State Chair of the Republican Party) engaged in unethical behavior on the job. In a gutsy move which some undoubtedly cautioned her could be political suicide, Sarah solved all her problems in one fell swoop: got out of the job she hated and garnered gobs of media attention as the patron saint of ethics and as a gutsy fighter against the “old boys’ club” when she dramatically quit, exposing this man’s ethics violations (for which he was fined).

As Mayor, she had her hand stuck out as far as anyone for pork from Senator Ted Stevens. Lately, she has castigated his pork-barrel politics and publicly humiliated him. She only opposed the “bridge to nowhere” after it became clear that it would be unwise not to.

As Governor, she gave the Legislature no direction and budget guidelines, then made a big grandstand display of line-item vetoing projects, calling them pork. Public outcry and further legislative action restored most of these projects–which had been vetoed simply because she was not aware of their importance–but with the unobservant she had gained a reputation as “anti-pork”.

She is solidly Republican: no political maverick. The State party leaders hate her because she has bit them in the back and humiliated them. Other members of the party object to her self-description as a fiscal conservative.

Around Wasilla there are people who went to high school with Sarah. They call her “Sarah Barracuda” because of her unbridled ambition and predatory ruthlessness. Before she became so powerful, very ugly stories circulated around town about shenanigans she pulled to be made point guard on the high school basketball team. When Sarah’s mother-in-law, a highly respected member of the community and experienced manager, ran for Mayor, Sarah refused to endorse her.

As Governor, she stepped outside of the box and put together of package of legislation known as “AGIA” that forced the oil companies to march to the beat of her drum.

Like most Alaskans, she favors drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. She has questioned if the loss of sea ice is linked to global warming. She campaigned “as a private citizen” against a state initiaitive that would have either a) protected salmon streams from pollution from mines, or b) tied up in the courts all mining in thestate (depending on who you listen to). She has pushed the State’s lawsuit against the Dept. of the Interior’s decision to list polar bears as threatened species.

McCain is the oldest person to ever run for President; Sarah will be a heartbeat away from being President.

There has to be literally millions of Americans who are more knowledgeable and experienced than she.

However, there’s a lot of people who have underestimated her and are regretting it.

CLAIM VS FACT
•“Hockey mom”: true for a few years
•“PTA mom”: true years ago when her first-born was in elementary school, not since
•“NRA supporter”: absolutely true
•social conservative: mixed. Opposes gay marriage, BUT vetoed a bill that would have denied benefits to employees in same-sex relationships (said she did this because it was unconstitutional).
•pro-creationism: mixed. Supports it, BUT did nothing as Governor to promote it.
•“Pro-life”: mixed. Knowingly gave birth to a Down’s syndrome baby BUT declined to call a special legislative session on some pro-life legislation
•“Experienced”: Some high schools have more students than Wasilla has residents. Many cities have more residents than the state of Alaska. No legislative experience other than City Council. Little hands-on supervisory or managerial experience; needed help of a city administrator to run town of about 5,000.
•political maverick: not at all
•gutsy: absolutely!
•open & transparent: ??? Good at keeping secrets. Not good at explaining actions.
•has a developed philosophy of public policy: no
•”a Greenie”: no. Turned Wasilla into a wasteland of big box stores and disconnected parking lots. Is pro-drilling off-shore and in ANWR.
•fiscal conservative: not by my definition!
•pro-infrastructure: No. Promoted a sports complex and park in a city without a sewage treatment plant or storm drainage system. Built streets to early 20th century standards.
•pro-tax relief: Lowered taxes for businesses, increased tax burden on residents
•pro-small government: No. Oversaw greatest expansion of city government in Wasilla’s history.
•pro-labor/pro-union. No. Just because her husband works union doesn’t make her pro-labor. I have seen nothing to support any claim that she is pro-labor/pro-union.

WHY AM I WRITING THIS?

First, I have long believed in the importance of being an informed voter. I am a voter registrar. For 10 years I put on student voting programs in the schools. If you google my name ([name deleted] + Alaska), you will find references to my participation in local government, education, and PTA/parent organizations.

Secondly, I’ve always operated in the belief that “Bad things happen when good people stay silent”. Few people know as much as I do because few have gone to as many City Council  meetings.

Third, I am just a housewife. I don’t have a job she can bump me out of. I don’t belong to any organization that she can hurt. But, I am no fool; she is immensely popular here, and it is likely that this will cost me somehow in the future: that’s life.

Fourth, she has hated me since back in 1996, when I was one of the 100 or so people who rallied to support the City Librarian against Sarah’s attempt at censorship.

Fifth, I looked around and realized that everybody else was afraid to say anything because they were somehow vulnerable.

CAVEATS
I am not a statistician. I developed the numbers for the increase in spending & taxation 2 years ago (when Palin was running for Governor) from information supplied to me by the Finance Director of the City of Wasilla, and I can’t recall exactly what I adjusted for: did I adjust for inflation? for population increases? Right now, it is impossible for a private person to get any info out of City Hall–they are swamped. So I can’t verify my numbers.

You may have noticed that there are various numbers circulating for the population of Wasilla, ranging from my “about 5,000”, up to 9,000. The day Palin’s selection was announced a city official told me that the current population is about 7,000. The official 2000 census count was
5,460. I have used about 5,000 because Palin was Mayor from 1996 to 2002, and the city was growing rapidly in the mid-90’s.

[Name withheld from this forum at writer’s request]
[e-mail address masked by MFB]
August 31, 2008

Tip of the old scrub brush to Andrew Sullivan.

Update:  Nice link from P. Z. Myers at Pharyngula, “Palinanity.”  Important video there.


Biden, aye!

August 23, 2008

Joe Biden it is. I’ve known Biden and watched him since my first turn staffing the Senate, 34 years ago. Day in and day out, he’s a good man. More, he will make a great vice president.

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iraq (September 11, 2007) - Wikimedia photo

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., at a Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iraq (September 11, 2007) - Wikimedia photo

One of the things that has always distinguished Biden to me is his dedication to his family. Shortly after he was elected to the Senate, his wife and infant daughter were killed in a car-train accident, which also injured is two sons, Beau and Hunt. Biden informed Senate leaders he would not leave his children at such a time, and that he’d resign his election. Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and several others worked to persuade Biden to find some way to serve. By the time I joined Mansfield’s office in 1974, Mansfield was glad to have persuaded Biden, since his expertise and cool judgment were needed in the latter days of the Watergate Constitutional crises.

Bill Bradley tells the story, touchingly, in his book Time Present, Time Past, about how Arkansas Sen. John L. McClellan told Biden the best thing he could do would be to serve in the Senate and work hard — McClellan having lost his wife to spinal meningitis while driving back to Arkansas on business, and then one son to the same disease (in Africa, a few years later), and two more sons in an auto crash and an airplane crash.

Biden resolved the problem by commuting every day, from Wilmington, Delaware, to Washington, D.C. Not moving to the capital kept Biden grounded, in a way most senators cannot be.

Beau Briden today is Delaware’s attorney general, and a Captain in the National Guard, deploying to Iraq in October 2008. Hunt is an attorney working in Washington, D.C. Biden remarried in 1977. He and his wife, Jill, have a daughter, Ashley.

Ear worm: For several years while I staffed the Senate, Biden led off the roll call votes. I cannot hear his name without hearing in my head the Clerk of the Senate calling the roll for votes, “Sen. Biden,” and when Biden offered his assent the clerk would quickly intone, “Biden, ‘aye.'” When my phone beeped and I saw it was Biden, I still heard the Clerk’s voice, “Biden, aye.”

Great pick on Obama’s part.

You should check out:


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