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Big government, little government

Tom Emmer wants to reduce local government by a third. ALSO: LGBT kudos to Ellison and Klobuchar; Pawlenty blames Obama for BP oil spill; the oil spill and Minnesota’s loons; A fire at Target Field.

Tom Emmer, the MNGOP’s candidate for governor, has a bold plan for restructuring government. He claims he can take the state’s 26 agencies and reduce them to 12, slashing spending by about $20 billion, or a third of the total budget. How? Well, as Tom Scheck of Minnesota Public Radio details, there’s the rub.

Emmer won’t actually say what agencies would be cut. Instead, he’s “embarking on a listening tour to gather input from the public,” although the logic behind this isn’t entirely clear — unless the Minnesota public has a longstanding habit of poring over state government expense reports and documenting redundancies, this is the political equivalent of those man-on-the-street interviews that television news stations occasionally do to gauge public opinion, but only seems to gauge public ignorance.

This is not to say Emmer hasn’t given clues about what he might cut. “The Department of Human Rights needs to go away,” Emmer has said, according to Scheck’s article. He’s also suggested eliminating the Bureau of Mediation Services, the Housing Finance Agency, the Office of Enterprise Technology and the Metropolitan Council. Of course, his suggestions have been met with criticisms — there’s an especially pointed response to his comments about the Department of Human Rights from Velma Korbel, a former commissioner in the department. But the broadest criticism come from Jeff Zlonis of Public Strategies Group, who argues that just slashing organizations and reshuffling duties rarely makes anything more efficient: “You end up with organizations that are probably more bureaucratic, because you have more levels when you collapse organizations and put them together. Quite often you end up with more levels of bureaucracy, not less.”

Tom Emmer seems to be coming from one side of the spectrum, the side that believes that government is necessarily bloated and inefficient, and the best thing you can do is repeatedly starve it in an attempt to force efficiency. People who don’t trust government to get things done are going to try to shrink it, while people who think government can be a force for good in people’s lives are going to tend to expand it. This isn’t an especially new idea, but might help to explain the behavior of our elected official on the national level. Michele Bachmann, on the conservative side, has tended not to sponsor bills or support them, except when they go about defunding things, such as ACORN. She’s missed a number of votes because she was making media appearances, generally criticizing liberals (she just appeared on the Ben Shapiro show to call Obama the worst president in history), but, in a broader sense, criticizing government as a whole. If you believe government is bad for people, your job as an elected official is to try to control the growth of government, not contribute to it.

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But if you believe government can help people, you’re going to try and use it to that end. And so we have Keith Ellison, who, like Bachmann, is in Congress (although Bachmann seems a bit confused about that, as her website was recently thanking visitors on behalf of Bachmann for Senate). Ellison has been at the forefront of gay issues in Congress to such an extent that the National Stonewall Democrats are considering singling him out for additional support from their organization, according to Andy Birkey of the Minnesota Independent.

Amy Klobuchar has also been singled out for praise for her work on LGBT issues, according, again, to Andy Birkey: Klobuchar will be one of the headliners for a LGBT Pride event for Department of Justice employees.

In the meanwhile, Al Franken has been busy making government a little bit bigger. According to MinnPost’s Ken Ronnan, Franken has proposed an amendment to the Obama administration’s Making Home Affordable Program, suggesting the creation of a temporary “Office of the Homeowner Advocate,” out of concern that homeowners might lose their homes “just because of human error.”

There are moment when conservatives want a bigger government, though. Take Gov. Tim Pawlenty, as an example. It’s possible there has never been a bigger advocate for starving the government, but there is one area where he opposes the general conservative mantra of less regulation and oversight: The BP oil spill. Pawlenty was on “Good Morning America” Friday, and, as Hart Van Denburg of City Pages reports, he blamed Obama for the Gulf Coast oil spill, saying, “In April of 2009, on this adminsitration’s watch, the relevant federal agencies approved categorical waivers for environmental review for this operation.” The show’s host, George Stephanopolous, reminded Pawlenty that this was consistent with the previous administration’s approach. But it seems regulation and government oversight are primarily an issue when their absence can be used to pillory a Democrat.

The oil spill in the Gulf may seem quite a ways away, but, as Chris Niskanen of the Pioneer Press explains, Minnesota might be affected in a dramatic way: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources nongame lake wildlife expert Pam Perry points out that the Minnesota state bird, the loon, spends three years in the Gulf before it becomes sexually mature. “We have juvenile loons down there right now, and we don’t know what will happen to them,” Perry says. “Oil can have a direct impact on their mortality, but it can also disrupt the food chain. We certainly have a lot of concerns.”

By the way, the Minnesota DNR was the subject of a number of man-on-the-street complaints when Tom Emmer stumped at the Chuck Spaeth Ford dealership last week, according to the New Ulm Journal. Hopefully, when the DNR is slashed by Emmer, these same men on the street will have suggestions for what to do about the loons.

In sports: A kitchen at Target Field caught fire late Sunday, according to the Star Tribune. The fire was small and contained, and most of the damage was caused by water. Target Field can be damaged by water? We at the Daily Glean can’t be the only ones worried about what this might mean for the stadium when it rains.