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More McFadden views: From Minnesota’s ‘immoral’ test-scores gap to an economic ‘game-changer’

In addition to the senior entitlements issues that were covered in last week’s posts from my most recent interview with Republican Senate endorsee Mike McFadden, McFadden discussed his thinking on several other issue areas. For example:

  • McFadden favors shifting federal education dollars from support of underperforming public schools to more support of charter schools.
  • He considers the high gap between white and non-white student test scores in Minneapolis public schools to be “immoral.”
  • He isn’t impressed with the fact that the U.S. economic recovery is stronger than most other wealthy industrialized nations, terming that statistic “like being the tallest midget in the world.”
  • Likewise, McFadden isn’t impressed with the fact that the unemployment rate in Minnesota has now dropped to pre-recession levels, stating that “when I talk to Minnesotans and go around this state, nobody feels like we’re moving ahead.”
  • He agrees that the growing concentration of wealth in the top 1 percent of the population is a problem, but his for ideas for addressing that situation are the same as his general ideas for stimulating the economy.

In general, McFadden continues to make the economy Topic A and probably Topics B and C as well. He describes himself as a businessman and a “problem-solver,” seeming to use the two-terms as roughly synonymous.

Yes, the economy has grown most quarters since President Obama and Sen. Al Franken took office and the unemployment rate has come down, but McFadden says the figures constitute “the slowest rebound from a recession… that we’ve ever seen in the history of the United States… It is bad. It’s absolutely bad…. Typically, it’s a 4 to 5 percent growth, and we’re at 1 to 2 percent and, like I said, we had negative 3 percent last quarter.”

McFadden’s main idea for stimulating faster growth is to reduce regulations (although he often goes out of his way to say that the government has to regulate) and especially to approve a number of stalled energy and mining projects, like the Keystone Pipeline and the Polymet mining project on the Iron Range.

McFadden had emphasized these issues in our first interview, so I tried to get him onto a list of topics we had never discussed, but he said I was “going to have to write about it again.”

He doesn’t actually get to tell me what I have to write about, but he was generous with his time and he addressed all the topics I raised, so here goes. Said McFadden:

You’re gonna say I’m a broken record, but I’m gonna keep saying it. I mean energy is a huge issue. It’s a huge opportunity. It’s a game-changer for this economy. And it’s a game-changer for the people of Minnesota because it allows me to put more money into their pocket. And it allows me to create more manufacturing jobs, lower heating bills, lower gas prices. And I’ll increase manufacturing. Another piece of it is regulation. We just continue to add regulation after regulation after regulation, and it’s no more apparent than in the Iron Range with that [Polymet] copper mine.

Mike McFadden
MinnPost file photo by Brian Halliday
Mike McFadden

He said more along those lines. Because I was aware that McFadden wanted to talk again about the economy, I had prepared myself with a few facts. For example, if the cause of the weak recovery was U.S. policy, how did he explain the fact that the U.S. recovery had been stronger than most of the other wealthy industrial nations with the exception of Germany, especially considering that some of those whose recoveries were weaker had tried to address the problems with fiscal austerity? That’s when he said that having a stronger recovery than some of those other nations was ““like being the tallest midget in the world.”

Shortly before our interview, it came out that the June unemployment rate for Minnesota was 4.5 percent, the lowest since February of 2007. I asked McFadden whether he was aware of the state’s unemployment rate? Replied McFadden:

Do you know what the unemployment rate is in the Iron Range, Eric? It just came out, too. It’s close to 10 percent. Do you know what it is in Bemidji? It’s close to 11 percent. Do you know what the labor participation rate is in Minnesota? The lowest it’s been in 30 years. Do you know what the wage growth has been over the last six years? The average weekly wage has gone up $8…

That’s why the vast, vast majority of Minnesotans don’t feel like we’re going in the right direction. And we have the capability to get back onto the road of growth and prosperity by taking advantage of our energy resources…

Lastly, on economic matters, I asked McFadden whether he agreed with the data suggesting that wealth is becoming more concentrated at the top of the affluence spectrum and whether he considers it to be a problem. Replied McFadden: “Yes, it’s happening and I think it’s a problem and I think what it really does is put the spotlight for this economy to really start growing again.”

Last topic for now: education policy. Since early in his candidacy, McFadden has spoken about his experience on the board of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in the Phillips Neighborhood of Minneapolis, a Catholic private school that has had very impressive results getting underprivileged students of color to graduate and get into college.

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I asked McFadden whether there was something Cristo Rey was doing that could be applied more broadly to the challenge of educating kids from poor families, inner-city neighborhoods, demographic groups that are underperforming and that could be influenced by federal policy, since McFadden is running for a federal office.

McFadden acknowledged that Cristo Rey’s model could not be applied broadly to schools all over the country that are struggling with hard-to-educate kids. “We can’t scale it up fast enough,” he said. But the success of Cristo Rey — and charter schools that are also succeeding — is “evidence of what we can aspire to.”

The results in Minneapolis, which has the largest gap in average test scores between white and African-American students, are “immoral,” McFadden said.

The federal government doesn’t run public schools, McFadden acknowledged, but a lot of federal money flows to schools, and what he said he would like to see is “a bigger allocation of what the federal government is currently spending on education as a whole be allocated towards charter schools.”

Comments (57)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/28/2014 - 09:25 am.

    While I do appreciate your lazer focus on McFadden, I wonder if you might get around to asking Franken about his positions. Obamacare would be a wonderful place to start.

    ….Especially since he’s decided not to debate the merits before the public.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/28/2014 - 09:50 am.

      Once more

      Al Franken has a Web site with detailed statements of his positions, as well as a legislative record.
      You people should really read, rather than using every one of Erik’s postings as an excuse to post the same opinions.

    • Submitted by Sean Huntley on 07/28/2014 - 09:55 am.

      What do you mean he has decided not to debate the merits before the public?

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/28/2014 - 11:12 am.

        Probably (one can never tell)

        referring to Franken’s declining to participate in an NPR State Fair candidate’s debate (he probably felt that including a bull on the panel would be unfair to his opponents).

      • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 07/28/2014 - 11:36 am.

        State Fair

        Franken has declined MPR’s request to do a senate interview during the MN State Fair. Obviously, that is not the same as “not debating the merits before the public.” At least, I assume that’s what Mr. Swift is referencing.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/28/2014 - 01:08 pm.

      I took a look at McFadden’s

      Web site to see what policy statements and specific proposals it contained.
      It’s only content was information about how to donate money to his campaign.
      Definitely a position statement.

  2. Submitted by Michael Hess on 07/28/2014 - 10:42 am.

    Go Broad

    It’s clear that Mr Black won’t be voting McFadden and doesn’t think anyone else should either but this singleminded focus on creating articles that put the candidate in a negative light and corresponding articles boosting the performance of Sen Franken in office is getting a little tired. By all means go after the candidates and their positions on the issues but at least try to be consistent.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/28/2014 - 01:10 pm.

      He is

      He’s asked McFadden to provide the same sort of specifics that Franken has.
      McFadden reacted as though a kid hit him in the groin.

    • Submitted by John Clouse on 07/28/2014 - 02:40 pm.


      “…creating articles that put the candidate in a negative light…”
      Black asks the questions, McFadden provides the “negative light.”

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/28/2014 - 03:15 pm.

      McFadden’s willingness to entertain Eric’s questions is like Franken appearing on AM 1280 “Northern Alliance Radio Network”…except he lacks the fortitude to do so.

      • Submitted by jason myron on 07/31/2014 - 12:53 pm.


        Who listens to the Patriot…I mean besides you and the eight other people? That station has only slightly more power than my old Marantz receiver from back in the 70’s. It takes no fortitude to ignore a small band of ideological misfits whose daily highlight is yelling along with Mark Levin…

        • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/04/2014 - 01:51 pm.

          If it’s that inconsequential, all the more embarrassing that Franken refuses an appearance. Doesn’t take much to scare him, I guess.

      • Submitted by Flo James on 08/03/2014 - 11:19 am.

        Paul Wellstone

        If Paul Wellstone was still alive I am sure he would go on AM1280 NARN since he went on Jason Lewis.
        Paul was not afraid to debate others he disagreed with and seemed to enjoy the back and forth.
        Too bad more politicians only go on shows that agree with them.

        • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/04/2014 - 01:55 pm.

          I agree Flo. Wellstone was a fanatic, but he was an honest one and not afraid to argue what he saw as the merits of his agenda. That’s what earned him the respect he got from many on the right.

          I met Paul Wellstone, I re-wired his funky green bus; Al Franken is no Paul Wellstone.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 07/29/2014 - 09:42 am.

      That “negative light” may be the disheartening…

      …feeling it gives you to realize that McFadden is the best a major political party in MN could do.

      He leads a parade of hollow men from the GOP.

  3. Submitted by Bruce Bruemmer on 07/28/2014 - 10:48 am.

    When you fashion metaphors

    it is best to avoid targeting human groups with terms generally regarded as archaic and offensive.

    How about:
    He isn’t impressed with the fact that the U.S. economic recovery is stronger than most other wealthy industrialized nations, terming that statistic “like being the fastest sloth in the world.”

    No charge.

    • Submitted by Barbara Skoglund on 07/28/2014 - 03:53 pm.

      Real classy

      Just goes to show you that having a high class income has nothing to do with being classy.

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/28/2014 - 07:20 pm.

        True, that.

        • Submitted by Jonathan Ecklund on 07/31/2014 - 10:10 am.


          And from “Minnesota Democrats Exposed” no less… basically, Al Franken suggested a rape joke during a brainstorming session for a skit written in 1994 that never made it on the air. No straw is too small for Mr Swift to grasp at.

          • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/04/2014 - 01:57 pm.

            The link was City Pages, but that’s beside the point. So, rape jokes are OK as long as they were told at least 10 years ago and don’t get passed around widely. Please elaborate on that.

      • Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 07/29/2014 - 05:16 am.


        That is correct. We have many examples of that among us.

        • Submitted by jason myron on 07/31/2014 - 01:35 pm.

          Many examples, Pavel?

          No you don’t…if you had, you would have been using them already and Swift wouldn’t have had to resort to digging up the same tired story from a long defunct blog, previously run, ironically enough, by a person whose political career was trashed by a scandal. What you DO have, is an irrational, white-hot hatred of a guy who you are convinced stole an election. The same response most of you have when ANY republican loses ANY election, and the supreme disappointment that he didn’t turn out to be the buffoon that all of you hoped and claimed he would be. So…if you have “many more examples” please proceed….

  4. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/28/2014 - 10:56 am.

    Why let facts get in the way of spin?

    Looks like the unemployment in those northern counties are improving along with the rest of the state. And they are doing better than a lot of other red states.

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/28/2014 - 11:16 am.

    Public schools can’t do

    what schools like Cristo Rey do:
    dump all their problem students on someone else (meaning the public schools). It’s been shown that charter schools do no better than public schools when comparable students are compared.

    • Submitted by William Gleason on 07/28/2014 - 01:31 pm.

      Cristo Rey high school

      is a private Jesuit school and not a charter.

      (Just for clarification.)

      Although Cristo Rey has an impressive record of success, I am afraid that its methods are probably not appropriate for our public schools. Nevertheless what goes on there should be of interest. You can’t even attend unless your family income is UNDER a certain level and they have consistently placed almost all graduates in colleges or universities.

      I am a great fan of the institution, probably the only thing Mr. McFadden and I agree on.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/28/2014 - 02:31 pm.

        Further clarification

        Income is not the only criterion for admission. Students must also submit test scores, grades, and letters of recommendation.

        No, that would be entirely inappropriate for public schools.

        • Submitted by William Gleason on 07/28/2014 - 04:37 pm.

          You are of course right

          But I thought it interesting that for this one criterion the well-to-do are actually penalized, something that made me smile.

      • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 07/28/2014 - 04:36 pm.

        Thanks for the clarification

        It would seem to not support McFadden’s position on public education and charter schools in more ways than one. First, it’s not a charter school. Second, because it’s not a charter school, it doesn’t have to accept all students like public schools and charter schools (at least in MN) are required to do. Third, because it can choose only a select few, which are tested for means and academics, it can make the numbers look pretty darned good. That is, if you start with the highest achieving kids with low income, you’re going to see results that appear to outclass the rest of the kids in the same income bracket. That doesn’t mean that Cristo Rey isn’t doing some good. It does mean, however, that it’s easy to look successful if you start out with a few good cards up your sleeve.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/28/2014 - 06:47 pm.

        How many

        special education/special needs students do they have?

  6. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 07/28/2014 - 12:17 pm.

    I love the part where he says

    “Oh, you lived.” Sounds like something I’ve said to my kids.

    The role of a father is to teach his kids to be responsible citizens, to play by the rules, to be self-reliant, and if you were my kids, how to throw a pass while rolling to your left.

    Overtly or subliminally, that ad is reminding us that too many people in our society have been conditioned to look to government to solve their problems, no matter how small and solvable.

    People who know this, recognized the message. Unfortunately, those who didn’t, are the ones who need to hear it the most.

    • Submitted by Jon Lord on 08/01/2014 - 01:06 pm.

      sort of

      Like Mills is ‘self-reliant’. Or Romney, and on and on.

      If a person can find a job to support themselves and a family then they won’t look to the government for aid. People who know this, recognize there aren’t enough decent jobs for everyone. Then there are companies who turn people away because of race, age, medical condition, background, education, etc, including the fact they aren’t hiring.

  7. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 07/28/2014 - 12:50 pm.

    Ideology over reality on education

    Since, in general, Charters are more likely to be the “underperforming” schools, shifting money from underperforming schools to charters doesn’t make a lot of sense. Once again ideology and hatred of strong, traditional public schools outweighs reality and research. Sadly, Franken’s views seem pretty similar on education.

  8. Submitted by Ken Bearman on 07/28/2014 - 12:51 pm.

    Education and bread-and-butte issues

    “[McFadden] considers the high gap between white and non-white student test scores in Minneapolis public schools to be ‘immoral.'”

    What’s immoral is equating test score numbers with education. Teaching to a test isn’t educating. Measure ability to think and solve problems, not regurgitate answers on a test.

    Based on Mr. McFadden’s statements so far, I’d guess his answer on bread-and-butter economic issues would be, “Bread should be buttered on both sides.”

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 07/28/2014 - 04:29 pm.

      Wall Street

      Is far more immoral. And his candidacy will reignite the issue.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 07/28/2014 - 06:28 pm.

      How Come

      Conservatives never talk about morality when it comes to the behavior of corporate persons? (At least the corporate persons who haven’t renounced US citizenship in favor of Ireland or some other tax dodge.)

      As if passing legislation and constitutional amendments to erect barriers to minorities voting is moral.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/28/2014 - 06:50 pm.

      Some basic arithmetic

      If you double ALL test scores (all students do twice as well)
      the gap between the best and worst students will also double.
      You’d expect more of a gap in a state with a better educational system.

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/29/2014 - 10:05 am.

        I agree that if by “better” school system you mean to say “more expensive”, your point certainly holds up. But for those of us that believe better means more effective your observation makes little sense.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/29/2014 - 01:45 pm.

          Not if you do the arithmetic

          “Effective” requires some quantitative measure to be meaningful.
          If one system has a score of 20 on some measure and another has a score of 40, the gap is 20.
          If you double both measures, so now one school scores 40 and the other 80, then the gap is also doubled to 40.

          This of course assumes that the improvement is multiplicative. If it is additive then the gap would not change. But that’s maths.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 07/29/2014 - 07:15 pm.


      Okay Ken please help us understand how you recommend that we…

      “Measure ability to think and solve problems, not regurgitate answers on a test.”

      Now remember that the measurement must be done outside of the Teacher’s control. Since we are actually measuring how well they taught the child to “think and solve problems”. And hopefully we can use this data to improve their effectiveness.

      While we are at it, should we stop having children take tests and quizzes in class?
      I am sure the kids would like to hear that.

  9. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 07/28/2014 - 12:55 pm.


    He looks and sounds like a buffon. I sure am not going to vote for a guy who gets hit in the groin by some kid and thinks that is going to sway my vote. I have been a republican for years, but the candidates the GOP are rolling out this year are embarrasing. I have yet to hear one new constructive idea out of any GOP candidate.

  10. Submitted by John Clouse on 07/28/2014 - 02:36 pm.


    Have you asked McFadden how closely his views align with A.L.E.C.?
    So far it seems as though he would get a 100% ratting from them!
    That’s one reason all of his answers seem like dejavu. Every republican has espoused them for years.

  11. Submitted by Bruce Pomerantz on 07/28/2014 - 10:09 pm.

    Me Me Me

    “. . .energy is a huge issue. . . .because it allows ME (emphasis mine) to put more money into their pocket. And it allows ME (emphasis mine) to create more manufacturing jobs. . . . And I’LL (emphasis mine) increase manufacturing.”

    Me thinks the man has a megalomania complex.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/29/2014 - 09:18 am.

      Of course he does

      What else would drive him to remove his son’s stitches by himself? You can’t tell me that a financial macher like Mr. McFadden is really going to quail at $100 for the care of his son.

      • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/29/2014 - 09:37 am.

        Apochryphal physician’s bill

        “$5 for removing the stitches.
        $500 for knowing what the hand should look like after the stitches are removed.”

  12. Submitted by Gerald Abrahamson on 07/29/2014 - 10:50 am.

    “Do you know what the unemployment rate is?”

    Let’s see his policy and/or proposed law to directly address the unemployment problem–both today AND into the future.

    McFadden doesn’t have a clue. He couldn’t create a reasonable law to fix it if his life depended on it.

  13. Submitted by Todd Adler on 07/29/2014 - 11:49 am.


    Touting the Keystone pipeline as an employment project is pretty much a nonstarter as it will create just a couple hundred permanent jobs nation-wide. Chances are few to none of those will be in Minnesota. To be fair, it’ll create a lot of temporary construction jobs, which will help people in that industry while the pipeline is being built. And once they’re done with the pipeline hopefully there will be another large construction project coming down the pipe (pardon the pun) to keep the workers employed.

    As far as energy independence goes though it will hurt rather than hinder. The reason they want to ship the oil to Texas is so it can then be exported to other markets. Texas is where the export terminals are at. You don’t need to go all the way across the country if you just want to refine the oil and sell it domestically. If that were the case, the pipeline would just have to go to the nearest refinery, which is not thousands of miles away.

    Likewise the Polymet mine is just a boondoggle that will end up costing more money than it makes. We’ll get a couple of bucks in employment taxes for twenty years, the mine will go bankrupt, and we’ll end up spending billions of dollars to clean up the pollution for hundreds of years.

    Montana, a big mining state, found it would have been cheaper for them to simply buy the ore on the open market and give it away than let the miners come in.

    The objective here is not to simply get jobs for people in depressed areas, but rather develop jobs and industries that don’t wreck the place in the process. Polymet and Keystone do not meet that criteria.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/29/2014 - 01:47 pm.

      Lost jobs

      in the railroad industry would be one cost of building Keystone. The oil will be shipped one way or another, it’s just a question of how, and of who profits.

  14. Submitted by Sally Sorensen on 07/29/2014 - 05:40 pm.

    June 2014 stats for the Bemidji LAUS (aka, Micropolitan Region)

    One of the Bemidji Pioneer staffers is patting himself on the back for fact-checking Bluestem, while claiming that the June 2014 unemployment rate is 8.7 percent.

    It’s not–it’s 6 percent, still far, far lower than McFadden claims

    See data here:

    Unemployment in Bemidji was last at 8.7 percent in January 2012, and 11 percent, as McFadden claims? Nowhere that I can see in the historical data going back to 1990.

  15. Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 07/31/2014 - 10:41 am.

    McFadden conveying numerous falsehoods

    Thank you, Sally Sorenson, for fact-checking his outlandish claim about Bemidji. Here are several others.

    “Do you know what the unemployment rate is in the Iron Range, Eric? It just came out, too. It’s close to 10 percent.”

    The unemployment rate in Northeast Minnesota is 5.9%.

    “Do you know what the labor participation rate is in Minnesota? The lowest it’s been in 30 years.”

    It’s actually up a full percentage point since January.

    The rate dropped 4.4 percentage points under Pawlenty – 22x as much as under Dayton.

    “It is bad. It’s absolutely bad…. Typically, it’s a 4 to 5 percent growth, and we’re at 1 to 2 percent and, like I said, we had negative 3 percent last quarter.”

    Last quarter, the US GDP grew at an inflation-adjusted annual rate of 4.0%. It declined 2.1% in the quarter prior.

    Real per capita GDP has grown at nearly double the rate under Obama as it did under Bush.

  16. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/04/2014 - 10:20 am.

    “”Do you know what the labor participation rate is in Minnesota? The lowest it’s been in 30 years.”

    It’s actually up a full percentage point since January.”

    Doesn’t mean it’s not still at it’s lowest point in 30 years.

    Per capita GDP didn’t have anywhere to go but up. Doubling growth after a depression isn’t much of a challenge.

  17. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 08/04/2014 - 10:24 pm.

    Educational “reformers”

    With McFadden making all these pronouncements on education, I want to known what kind of teaching experience he has–in any school, public, private, K-12, or college.

    People have told me that no one who has never been a parent has any idea what it is like. I have found the same to be true for teaching. Placed in front of a couple dozen middle schoolers or college freshmen, half of whom don’t really want to be there, can McFadden keep them well-behaved and on task, if not engaged, and successfully teach the facts or skill that he is assigned to teach? Can he continue to do that all day with different groups of students, keeping in mind that each class has its own group personality and that what works with one class may fail with another?

    Has he at least talked to real live teachers (public, private, K-12, or college) about what they think they need?

    If not, he’s just another backseat driver.

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