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Arne Carlson weighs in on salary tussle

Former Gov. Arne Carlson
MinnPost file photo by James Nord
Former Gov. Arne Carlson

My old boss, former Gov. Arne Carlson, thinks there’s an opportunity that goes beyond politics in the controversy over Gov. Mark Dayton’s decision to give pay raises to his commissioners.

“If they are going to postpone this decision … It gives you time to do a comprehensive survey of salaries in the public sector, including higher education,” Carlson said.

And while he thinks the Senate’s recent vote to delay the raises until July 1 is appropriate, he also supports, in principle, Dayton’s decision to give the raises. “It is difficult to run complicated departments, starting with finance,” he said.  “When I was in office, we were getting raided by the private sector constantly.”

But, he added, “It’s really of a question of being competitive with [other parts] of the public sector.

Carlson has commented frequently about the inconsistency of public salaries, particularly when it comes to compensation at the University of Minnesota.

Two years ago, Carlson noted in a blog, “The governor makes $120,000 and the university president is paid $610,000 – a gap of $490,000.” Today that gap is slightly bigger: the governor now makes $125,000; the U of M president, $625,000.

Furthermore, Carlson wrote, “The lead attorney for the university makes $295,000. That’s about $180,000 more than Minnesota’s attorney general, $95,000 more than the attorney general of the United States, and over $70,000 more than the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court… The university lobbyist who pleads the school’s case at the State Capitol earns some $60,000 more than the governor.”

In 2013, Carlson said the legislative auditor should review the university’s human resources management system.  Today, he thinks the scope of the review should be even wider. “I would do a survey that includes salaries, pensions, and benefits,” across the public sector, he said.  “You will find people in local government that make more than in state government and I was stunned at the difference in pensions.”

Such a survey could take away some of the political edge of the issue, Carlson said, talk that legislators are bound to listen to. “There’s enough political flak that legislators don’t dare raise salaries,” he said. “But then they don’t have to explain the consequences. And the consequences are that you start losing people you can’t replace.”  

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Comments (48)


Has it ever happened in the history of surveys that the surveys have not turned out the way the surveyor wants them to?

The longer this is dragged out, the more political use will be made of it. Democrats will have their surveys, Republicans will have their surveys. It will all be very inconclusive. In political terms, this is a loser for the DFL. But loser causes are not always the wrong causes. If the government genuinely believes raising commissioner salaries is worth the political pain he is inflicting on others, he should do it. But now without political preparation, or the horribly misguided belief that he is the one who gets to decide what a political controversy is.

Yes let's not believe data and make our

decisions on emotions. Surveys are a tool and there is and a right way to do them that avoids many of the biases and explicitly states expected ranges within confidence limits.

I think Gov. Carlson has the right approach.

A survey was done

LAst year this issue came up. A survey and review was done. The results were reported and approved by Bakk AND Daudt. The governor then implemented this, after the Republicans used this study to boost their staffers.

More partisan reporting by Brucato, high on her history and the Republican viewpoint and short on real facts.

Republicans want the state,

Republicans want the state, and the University, to behave like private-sector corporations, by responding to "the market" in setting salary levels for high administrators, and even lowly types like some faculty. But when they do, and raise salaries to match other states and the private sector, suddenly it's "survey time" and delays, rather than correction of salaries long locked at year 2000 levels.

I don't know anyone with a modicum of rational thinking and practical wisdom who thinks that top government officials in Minnesota should get the dinky salaries they've been getting. Carlson agrees, no matter how he tries to spin this.

Pennywise, Pound Foolish

The fear of paying public employees competitive salaries is a problem. I work as a technology consultant and know a number of people who contract with state government. Over the past few years, state agencies have had a difficult time hiring qualified people because the salaries are no longer competitive. As a result, a number of state positions have gone unfilled - not many qualified people apply, and if they do, when offered a position they turn it down after seeing the compensation package. The agencies lose qualified people to county and city governments as well as to the public sector. This forces state agencies to hire consultants at rates that exceed the salaries of employees. As a matter of fact, most of the consultants I know make more than the commissioners. It’s pennywise and pound foolish.

Public sector versus private sector myth

Comparing salaries and benefits between public and private sector executives needs to be tempered with the fact that private sector executives are being compensated on how well they perform in a competitive marketplace.

Every decision a private sector VP or department head makes takes into account what his competitors are doing and how his decision will affect the company's profitability and position in the marketplace. Indeed, many are fired for this easily-measurable lack of performance. You're either dominating your marketplace or you're not. So any attempt at equalizing the pay and benefits between the two environments under some notion that the work is comparable is bogus.

A better way to calculate fair compensation in the public sector executive ranks would be to compare it to the compensation of other public sector executives in other, similarly-sized states. Perhaps a ranking could be established amongst states with the goal to always be in the top 50% to attract and retain competent executive leadership.

It certainly would be comparing apples to apples and would be easier for politicians to defend.

I don't know that Governor Carlson suggested private

sector comparisons but you are living in la la land if you think that private sector compensation is commensurate with successful operation of businesses, particularly large businesses. If that were true companies run by well paid executives would not go under.

How many wall street folks got bonuses after the crash? Did Mr. Steinhaufl or any of his subordinates have to give back their salaries after making extremely poor decisions about Canada and data security. How do you think the General Mills executives will do after they get nailed for age discrimination? I seen enough companies to know that the private sector executives make million dollar mistakes enough to affect the bottom line.

We compensate people frequently for style not substance and have no comparisons for what would have happened if....

Free Market Myths

"....private sector executives are being compensated on how well they perform in a competitive marketplace."

Mr. Tester, surly you jest. CEO salaries are not set in a competitive marketplace. Their pay is set by boards, which have interlocking directors.They all set each others' pay, so it's in each one's interest to raise the pay for this "market".

Second, CEO pay has risen from around 40 times average shop floor pay to 400 times shop floor pay over the last 40 years. is anyone seriously suggesting that CEO's are ten times more efficient and valuable than they were in 1975? Or is it that they've just rigged the game?

Further, poorly performing CEO's don't get the boot, they get a huge going away gift in the form of a golden parachute.

Finally, there is no relationship between CEO and corporate performance, none at all.

We're not talking about CEOs here

These people in question are comparable to VPs or department heads. Maybe you're experience is only limited to CEO, I don't know. But most people have jobs other the the top one and come and go as their performance dictates.

Public vs private sector

"Comparing salaries and benefits between public and private sector executives needs to be tempered with the fact that private sector executives are being compensated on how well they perform in a competitive marketplace."

"A better way to calculate fair compensation in the public sector executive ranks would be to compare it to the compensation of other public sector executives in other, similarly-sized states. Perhaps a ranking could be established amongst states with the goal to always be in the top 50% to attract and retain competent executive leadership."

I totally agree with both these points.

People must realize these commissioners are certainly not on the CEO level, in the private sector they would be lower level VPs or department heads, nothing more.

Raises of $35K per year are absurd. The majority of Minnesotans do not even make that much per year. Any increase should wait til the next governor appoints his/her choice of commissioners.


Governors Carlson and Dayton are in a unique position to know how many well-qualified candidates turned down high level positions because the compensation did not meet their current situations. Perhaps we should listen to them instead of making political hay.


I don't always agree with Carlson, but I appreciate his rational approach to issues where hysteria is the frequent response. A grown-up among children.

Babe Ruth

I think a lot about prices, and their seeming anomalies. I won't go into a lot of that here but I was reminded of the time a reporter pointed out to Babe Ruth that he made more money than the president. After a moment of reflection, the Babe replied, "Well, I had a better year."

The President in question

was Hoover. The Babe was probably right.

"Comprehensive survey" has already been done

The comprehensive survey, suggested by Governor Carlson, has already been done. The salary levels requested by Governor Dayton were recommended by the bi-partisan Compensation Council's 2013 report.

Thank you for the link

There is a downside to paying well-below market rates for government employees. It encourages corruption. There are plenty of opportunities for a commissioner to pay a political favor to someone for "future considerations".

When the attorney general for the state makes less than a county attorney there is a problem. The survey is pretty conclusive. If Dayton had proposed a stepped transition (5% raises annually for the next 5 years) I don't think anyone would have noticed and he would have accomplished his goal. For a governor he is rather politically unsophisticated. Sometimes that is refreshing but not in this case.

U of M

So why do we let the U of M get away with paying their lead attorney $285k, considering all of our State tax money that goes to them, part of which pays for their lobbyist to beg for more!

"So why do we let the U of M

"So why do we let the U of M get away with paying their lead attorney $285k, considering all of our State tax money that goes to them, part of which pays for their lobbyist to beg for more!"

The world is full of what appear to be wage or price anomalies, Some are mentioned in the article. There are many more. Did you know legislators get paid less than their office staff? The Commissioner of Education gets paid less than the typical school superintendent? That the ticket price for "Mordetchai" is the same for "50 Shades of Grey"? There are reasons for all these pricing disparities, but not the same reasons.


When the attorney general for the state makes less than a county attorney there is a problem.

Is there? Then why doesn't the attorney general apply for a job as county attorney? The world is full of examples where subordinates make more money than their bosses. Tom Brady makes a heckuva lot more money than Bill Belichek. Lots of traders on Wall Street make vastly more money than their bosses. How are any of these arrangements problematic? Despite these seeming anomalies, many of these entities work well, way too well in the case of Wall Street.

That is the problem

You can't qualified people to apply for the position. School superintendents make more than the head of the MN Department of Education. Many of them would be glad to stay in their current job and not pursue a pay cut with more responsibility.


The politician are paid enough. Arne is right. The University admins are paid WAY to much. $610000 for Pres of a University is terrible.

Two articles, same conclusion

We kind of have a goofy situation here where two different articles discuss the same topic from slightly different angles.

In case, although I respect Gov. Carlson, we have to dismiss his criticism because as Dayton pointed when announced the raises, he was following the recommendations made by a panel that has conducted the very study Carlson is calling for, maybe Carlson thinks that re-doing a study already completed will yield different resutls, whatever. Next.

This leaves us with Bakk-Dayton rift to contemplate. And I think it's time for Bakk to resign as the majority leader of the Senate.

In no particular order of importance here are the reasons for my conclusion:

a) Clearly the majority of democrats in the senate mistakenly believed that Dayton supported Bakk's amendment. I serioiusly doubt that senate democrats would have to voted to provoke a rift like this. One way or another Bakk has to be responsible for that misunderstanding. Dayton didn't go out and convince senate democrats that he supported the amendment so that leaves us with Bakk, who introduced the amendment. This is simply intolerable and it DOES mean that Dayton can't trust Bakk.

b) Bakk is wrong. Instead of provoking this rift (which he surely must have anticipated), he could have swung into Dayton's defense by using the data already collected and presented by the study that has already been done. Instead of calling for more study, he could have helped build a discussion around the existing study. Instead he choose an adversarial path that may jeopardize the entire DFL agenda.

c) Bakk is wrong times two. These raises are necessary and justifiable. Someone here or on the other comment thread has suggested that salary raises for transient commissioners is a bad place to spend political capital. That perspective ignores the fact that we elect people to run the government, and we want them to run the government as best they can, and THAT means attracting and retaining talent. The initial problems with the health exchange website taught Dayton that lesson, and Bakk should understand that. It's not a matter of being loyal to Dayton, it's a matter of running the government effectively and successfully.

d) Bakk is wrong times three. If we have to choose who to follow, a governor who won his re-election in a near landslide, or legislators who lost the house by distancing themselves from the Governors success and agenda... I go with the guy who wins elections. Bakk, and legislators, should be following Dayton's lead, not sabotaging it.

e) I know we've kind of seen this before. I will forever curse Dayton for pushing the Vikings stadium through, but I'm not a single issue voter. On balance Dayton is the best Governor since Arne Carlson. (They both understood the mission of running the government and running it well by the way). I've been told that one reason democratic legislators signed off on the stadium deal was that there were afraid Dayton would make a deal with the republicans. When Dayton says he'll trust the republicans more than his own democrats, he's played that hand before. I don't think he's bluffing, and Dayton's not going anywhere for the next three years.

It was stupid for Bakk to push back on this issue. The smart play would have been to swing behind Dayton, make a strong case for the raises as effective and decisive governance, and move on and produce results. Produce results and criticisms regarding these raises won't have any traction in the next election cycle. Let the republicans get bogged down on it if they want, the more bogged down republicans get the better.

What Bakk has managed to do here is create the impression that Dayton can work more easily with the republicans than he can the democrats. He's damaged not only the Governor's agenda, but his own party's credibility. The roles are now effectively reversed, it's the democrats NOT the republicans who now need to prove they can govern. Bakk has confirmed that voters made the right choice in that last election cycle... not good.

I should clarify

I don't think Bakk should resign from office, just senate majority leader.


Republicans, defenders and enablers of the one percent though they may be, like to demagogue salary issues. Viewed from a lot of very metrics, state commissioners are not paid enough. And that's true of a lot of state employees. For me, at least, it's a question not of the fairness of commissioner salaries, but whether it's worth the expenditure of the political capital it needs to change them. And if it is worth that expenditure, that the that the governor political groundwork that's needed to minimize that damage of the pay raises. That's pretty much the point of the one more survesy that tells us what everyone know, former Gov. Carlson suggests. Personally, I am more concerned with raising teacher salaries than administrator salaries, but hey, nobody ever has or ever will elect me governor.

Wages shmages

We're kind of having related discussions in three different comment threads. Over on the article about the rural-urban divide: we're talking about Bakk's leadership as well, and it ties into our discussion here.

Hiram says: "Republicans, defenders and enablers of the one percent though they may be, like to demagogue salary issues."

In my experience this a bizarre liberal cognitive phenomena wherein liberals talk themselves out of doing stuff they should do out of fear of criticism. Another related cognitive glitch is a form of denial regarding republican opposition. Contemporary republicans (post Gingrich) don't engage in demagogue, they ARE demagogues. Demagogue's demagogue, that's what they do. Basically what Hiram is suggesting here is that democrats shouldn't pursue good governance or policy whenever it will provoke republican criticism. The problem is that republican's will criticize no matter what democrats do, they're NOT going to be reasonable. Democrats forget or don't understand that you can respond to criticism effectively if what your doing makes sense and it a good idea. Of course another problem with Hiram's approach is that it's simply weak leadership.

This brings us back to Bakk. In the previous legislative session Dayton asked for a much larger bonding bill and had a more ambitious transportation agenda. Following the same "fear of demagogue" rationale he used to push back on these wage increases, Bakk pushed back on the size of the bonding bill and scaled it back. Did it work? No. Republicans still demagogue'd about increased government spending AND they made rural/urban transportation disparity claims. Had democratic legislators followed Dayton's lead, they would have put even more money into transportation and been able to neutralize republican disparity claims. Instead, despite attempts to dodge criticism, they got criticized anyways AND they lost the House.

Back in October of last year David Schultze wrote an article wherein he argued that democratic hubris and "over reach" was going to cost them the MN House. I think it's exactly the opposite. Schultze was pulling a "Bakk". When democrats scale back their success in a futile attempt to avoid republican criticism they sabotage their own chances of re-election. Had democrats been MORE aggressive they would have produced eve more dramatic results. Republican's would still criticize, but their criticisms are predictable (republican's complaining about transit spending... wow, didn't see that one coming), and powerful and compelling responses can be deployed. When you scale back your agenda, you scale back your results, and you weaken your position. THAT'S Bakk in a nutshell. And that's a bizarre liberal/democrat cognitive glitch I've seen my whole adult life. The same thing happened when democrats took the public option off the table during the health care debate and refused to use the "nuclear" option to push needed legislation through congress. Almost all of the hoopla surrounding Obamacare would have been avoided if they'd been MORE agressive because we would have had a less complex and more unified health care bill.

I think perhaps

You are falling into my personal liberal pet peeve, the "knowledge is power" trap. Democrats fear Republican demagoguery because generally speaking, it works. You assume that by following the course you lay out, all that will be needed is sufficient, truthful, explanation of the costs and benefits of the approach and miraculously voters, who until that point could barely name their representatives, will suddenly say "hey, that sounds great, I'm gonna vote for those folks." In reality, the vast majority of the voting public will take one look at anything more complex than a lunch menu, completely forget about it in the span of five minutes, and have their opinions swayed by the next hit piece to use fear and folksy wisdom to completely obfuscate the truth of the matter. People don't care about knowledge, and to bank on hoping they do is a fool's errand. I agree that Bakk is virtually worthless at this point to the state party governance outside of securing votes from his district, but to insist that Democrats should "damn the torpedoes" when it comes to defending against what is in essence, a very effective and continuous propaganda machine, is suicidal.


"Democrats fear Republican demagoguery because generally speaking, it works. You assume that by following the course you lay out, all that will be needed is sufficient, truthful, explanation of the costs and benefits of the approach and miraculously voters, who until that point could barely name their representatives, will suddenly say "hey, that sounds great, I'm gonna vote for those folks."

I see your point Matt, but you assume that demagogues can't be counter demagogued. Again, this is fear based rationality. You can't avoid demagogues, sometimes you have to engage. Of course you have to engage with compelling arguments that are simple and to the point. For some reason far to often democrats and liberals assume that simple compelling liberal arguments are impossible, they're not. You don't have to swamp people with data and boring factoids, all you have to do is ask them if want to turn MN into Somalia or Bangladesh? You want your roads and bridges to disintegrate or not? You want your children to get a state of the art education or not? You want an economy that works for everyone or not?

I also understand your point, and your frustration

But again, this assumes rationality on the part of your target audience. I'm not sure if you've read the analysis on the fact vs. belief cognitive dissonance stuff, I've been seeing reference to it all around the interwebs, but in many cases it seems that objective truth prompts a defensive backlash when it comes in conflict with some folks belief system. In short, lies that reinforce beliefs work. While I'd love to say we liberals should just get down in the muck and have at it, the truth is we aren't very good at it, card carrying Democrat or otherwise. Sadly, integrity does have its drawbacks. While triangulation and mealy mouthed position parsing may not be particularly satisfying, it does serve to at least provide a bit of cover, and when one is engaging howitzers with a bread knife, it helps to stay alive long enough do discover a means of disarming the enemy. (Or in the case of the GOP, allowing them time to disarm themselves).

psychobabble to the rescue

Matt, I see what your saying, and you're right in the sense that liberals of the past few decades don't have a good track record of opposition to demagogues. But that's a failure of democratic leadership by and large, not a liberal quality. By and large democrats have failed because they haven't tried. In many cases the problem is that a significant number of liberals and leaders in the DLC actually bought into conservative nonsense about "small government", "free markets", and "private sector" efficiency. This was the difference between liberals and progressives, some have called it "Neo-Liberalism". It was Al Gore, not Newt Gingrich that lead the greatest privatization program in US history (remember his "reinventing government" program?) So yeah, if you fail to oppose your not going to have a good track record of opposition, but that doesn't mean demagoguery is somehow more effective than popular rational evidence based policy.

Liberals used to understand this, they fought and defeated demagogues on several fronts from voting rights to labor rights and education. It's not THAT difficult. If nothing else look at John Stewart and Stephen Colbert, they demolish demagogues on a regular basis in half hour segments. Some liberals are better at it than others, Dayton is better at it than Bakk.

Colbert and Stewart

Are entertainers. They demolish with humor, which is easy when your goal is to entertain. When your goal is governing, you put such things aside. I think you under estimate the culture shift since the nostalgic times you reference, conservatism has been waging full scale war on knowledge for 30+ years, from every corner of society. They did a good job, as your reference to neo-liberalism points out. The disconnect between us I think lies in why we think this came about, did the Al Gores of the world become more conservative because they ARE more conservative, or because they were forced to as a condition of maintaining any hope of relevance in the Reagan 80's. After all, they watched Jimmy Carter get obliterated, and watched the left of the left ebb into near oblivion, where were the "progressives" then? The problem with all of this of course is that while we like to laugh at the discord between the various factions of the right, they're still closer to each other than many factions on the left, and unlike some of the more imperious ultra liberals, have no compunction about compromising ideology to ensure victory.


"conservatism has been waging full scale war on knowledge for 30+ years, from every corner of society. "

Actually, the problem was that some liberals were waging their own little wars against knowledge at the same time. Look at where the anti-vaccine movement came from for instance. We had to two different sides of the same anti-intellectual coin. I like to call this era, starting in the early 80's: "The Great Stupid".

There's no doubt that the DLC thought they were adjusting to political reality, but by the second half of the 90s it was clear that republican initiatives were a bad idea matter who implemented them, and the buy-in only weakened liberal influence and set us up for the Great Recession. Clinton got elected with: "It's the economy stupid" but by the time "W" takes office Americans are convinced that republicans are better at running the economy, how does THAT happen?

One problem is that the "new" democrats that emerged in the 80's had concluded that all the really big issues had been dealt with, all that remained was some tweaking of the system here and there. Republican exploited that by thundering out a series of fear mongering warnings about everything from our public schools to the evil empire. And yeah, that worked. By the early 90's democrats were so devoid of any real initiatives that dullards like Newt Gingrich could actually claim to be leading a "revolution" with mundane tax cuts.

At any rate culture is nothing new, someone is always waging a war on knowledge... so you wage back. Where was the wage back? I was there, and I didn't see it. When Reagan said government was the problem not the solution the liberal response was: "Yeah but..." instead of: "Why do you want to run the government then?" Reagan was not a political genius, and most people forget that his popularity was all but gone by the end of his second term. Reagan won his elections because Carter flopped and Mondale (Minnesotan though he was) was a lame presidential candidate, followed by that guy from MA.

People said Franken was an "entertainer" as well. My point is just because you may not know how to do something, doesn't mean no one does. (I don't mean "you" personally, I'm speaking figuratively) Not to insult anyone but just because one group of people can't imagine how to respond to something effectively doesn't mean that no one knows how to do it. Again, this is a failure of imagination, not liberal DNA. When democrats confront me with their claims of real-politic wisdom; I just ask them why, with all that superior wisdom in the face of alllllll my naivete, they keep losing elections. You see the problem right?

To which I would reply

If you can do it better, step right up! Nice return to the original thread of this two article conversation, don't you think?

By the way...

Turns out that Minn-IT, the state information technology department is going to be taking over the driver's license project from HP. If you think you can IT departments on the cheap, you're in for a shock. They have a saying in Latin American that translates into: "Sometimes cheap is more expensive." If you fail to attract and retain talent your cheap will most likely be more expensive... and you lose elections anyways.

"In my experience this a

"In my experience this a bizarre liberal cognitive phenomena wherein liberals talk themselves out of doing stuff they should do out of fear of criticism"

I am sympathetic to this view in a couple of ways. For one thing, in our public discourse, we seem to have persuaded ourselves that only policies which are perfect or otherwise above criticism, should be implemented. There are a myriad of examples I could cite. In this morning's Wall Street Journal, a doctor objects to electronic medical records, preferring the current system where such records are created by medical assistants with chalk on the backs of shovels. I have no doubt the system the doctor has a problem could be improved, but the fact that something can be improved isn't a convincing reason for abandoning it.

The other thing, DFLer's shrinking from criticism. It does seem to happen a lot and it drives me crazy. How many Almanac shows have I watched where the DFL spokes guy ignores Republican criticism hoping it goes away? The senate office building was one such issue during the last campaign. Republicans want to use administrator salaries in the same way now. The fact is, I would much rather be talking about raising teacher salaries than commissioner salaries. But the governor is the head of the party and I am not, and he chose commissioner salaries to make an issue, and that's something as a party foot soldier I have to live with. Very well, have an argument in place, and be prepared to make it aggressively, in ways that have some chance of putting Republicans, whose own strategy is to work to make government as ineffective as possible while themselves regularly cashing it's checks, back on their heels as much as possible.

Yes but...

There's no law of the universe that limits a democrat to one good idea at a time. You CAN pursue multiple initiatives simultaneously. There's no reason why you can't raise state wages AND teacher wages round about the same time. I'm not saying it's easy, but in some ways it makes a lot more sense from a tactical perspective.

I think Obama and maybe Dayton understand that republicans are one-trick ponies. If you throw multiple initiatives at them in rapid succession they fall apart. They prefer to focus on one issue and bang it to death. When confronted with multiple issues they can't agree on priorities and control the discourse. I think it's pretty obvious that this is going to be Obama's strategy for the rest of his term, and I think it's already working. Bam- immigration reform, bam- normalize Cuban relations, bam- war powers to fight ISIS, bam- living wages, etc. etc. I think Dayton might be thinking along the same lines, and they're both right. Republicans have a lot on their plate and they're not good at juggling. I think if you hit these guys with a tidal wave of liberal initiatives they'll either dig in and shut down the government (which is a lose for them) or they'll disintegrate into factions focused on different single issues. We are decades behind where we should be on sooooo many fronts, there's no shortage of initiatives we should be pursuing, and voters are tired of the stagnation that republican policy delivers.

It is in fact very difficult

It is in fact very difficult to pursue multiple initiatives simultaneously. In our system of government it is difficult to get even one thing done at a time. There is only so much time, so much news space. The legislative session is only so long. In those two minutes on the news when we could be talking about teacher salaries, something that matters, we are talking about hissy fits by politicians, something I can almost guarantee will not reduce the achievement gap.

Rhetorically, attacking on multiple fronts, what I think of as the linguini on the wall approach is very successfully of putting the other side on the defensive. When you get them responding to a whole list of complaints, they lose touch with their priorities, and often become fixated on the least significant and perhaps most embarrassing priority, in this case administrator salaries. One way to get around this technique is to stay focused the message that's most important and effective and drive that home.

The Republican one trick is lower taxes. Although they claim to be the party of ideas, just about all the ideas are nothing more than variations on that theme. Because Republicans harp on it so much, and because we respond to it so little, many Republican dubious assumptions with regard to taxation have become conventional wisdom, that Republicans are the growth party, or that lower taxes are good for business. If you will recall, the last time Republicans were in charge, they nearly destroyed the economy. Yet no one seems to remember that.

Every year

The legislature passes several bills that are signed into law, maybe it's difficult, but they do it.

The one trick

"The Republican one trick is lower taxes."

Yeah, but that's exactly what's sooooo frustrating. THAT one trick is soooo easy to expose yet I've watched for decades as democrats not only fail to expose it, but actually try to borrow the trick on occasion.

Tax cuts are NOT some kind of innate and unassailable political magic bullet, yet democrats treat is so.

For years no voters have actually been saying that they're willing to pay higher taxes, yet taxes were treated like some kind of political Kryptonite by democrats as well as republicans.

Look, everyone understands that you have to spend money to make money and you have to invest in order to grow. This is basic basic basic business and economic reality. The Chinese didn't just wake up one morning with a bigger economy, they've spent billions on energy, housing, transportation, telecommunications. Nor is China some kind of "small government" miracle. The problem is that the neo-liberal economic model the democrats bought into rejects liberal Keynesian economics. We ended up with a bunch of Ayn Rand wanna be's running the economy under the bizarre assumption that taxes are expenditures rather than investments. They actually teach THAT to students in economic classes in this country.

What happens when you stop investing? You contract. That's how republican's always trash the economy. Republican tax cuts and scaled back budgets are the civic equivalent of dialing back investment, the results are predictable, and been repeated at least three times in the last four decades. It's not THAT hard to explain. I think the reason voters are confused about this is because democrats have been confused about it, and that confusion has prevented them from forming a coherent and compelling economic agenda. For decades democrats got elected and then followed the same economic assumptions (i.e. taxes are expenditures, and the private sector is more efficient) albeit on a smaller scale, with somewhat different priorities. In the meantime the majority of population doesn't really see the big economic benefit of having democrats in power. Wages and salaries stagnated under Reagan and stayed that way under Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Clinton was supposed to be an economic wonder boy but by they end of the 90s people were beginning realize that the wealth they thought they were building turned out to be nothing more than debt.

So what we have here is a rift between democrats like Dayton and Obama who kind of get it, and old guard neo-liberal democrats like Bakk who not-so-much get it. Didn't Bakk initially appose a push for minimum wage increases for instance? I mean, voters are complaining that they're being left behind by the recovery and democrats refused to run on the biggest thing they did to extent the recovery down to the middle class. Drives me crazy I tell ya. Meanwhile as often as not EVERYONE agrees that government is irrelevant to the economy?

And, look at our recent history

We defeated both the voter ID and the marriage amendment, they were both long shots for liberals. Public opinion initially supported both of those amendments by pretty wide margins, but we did it. It's not about cognitive mumbo jumbo and facts and belief, it's about compelling arguments. You CAN change a persons mind about stuff.

It's weird, democrats so often seem to assume that no one will change their minds. People change their minds and attitudes on a regular basis, we know that for a fact. Some attitudes are more persistent than others, but these things are not static. And you don't have to convert someone from a conservative to a liberal in order to change their mind about a stadium bill, or a gas tax, or an office building.

"We defeated both the voter

"We defeated both the voter ID and the marriage amendment, they were both long shots for liberals."

But this is an example of a fundamental asymmetry of politics and possibly of life. It's much easier not to do things, and to prevent the doing of things, than it is to get things done. That's why Republicans whose goal is to prevent things from being done, than Democrats are in getting things done.

Here are two, not mutually exclusive, ways to affect election outcomes. The first way is to persuade people to change their minds on issues. The second way is to get out your voters, people who already agree with you and aren't in need of persuasion.I can tell you from a lot of personal experience that getting people to change their minds on deeply held issues is a lot harder and uses up a lot more resources than getting someone who agrees with me to vote.

Amplifying the point,

Amplifying the point, defeating the voter ID and marriage amendments took 18 months and millions of dollars and untold hours. And it was worth it. But why would we invest political capital to fight on behalf of huge commissioner pay raises? It's a stupid fight to pick.

Not hardly

Dude, there is/was no fight. Dayton used the executive power he was granted- done. There's no comparison with the amendment fights. The point is that liberal agenda's are not unpopular.

Of course, his imprudent use

Of course, his imprudent use of that executive power means that he might have it taken away from him, and Democratic candidates are going to have to answer for it in 2016 -- whether they backed it or not.

Not hardly... again

There's nothing "imprudent" about attracting and retaining good talent. As for what democrats answer for, they distanced themselves from Dayton's agenda in the last election cycle and that didn't work out for them very well.

Has Dayton had trouble

Has Dayton had trouble retaining commissioners? Doesn't seem like it.

Referring to it as "imprudent"

is subjective. I doubt it will be an issue with anyone other than political wonks nearly two years from now.

Given there have now been

Given there have now been bipartisan votes in both houses of Legislature to roll them back, it seems there's not much support for it.

Bakk today

Bakk is claiming today that he didn't find out about the raises until he read about it in the paper. If that's true, I can see why it ticked him off a bit, but he still blew it.

What you do is you grab a couple colleagues and go over to Dayton's office and say: "Dude, what the heck? Let's try a little coordination eh?" He'll probably say something like: "I can do coordination but I'm NOT asking for permission to use my executive powers." When he's the popular Governor who just won the state wide election, and your the not-so-popular legislators that's pretty much that whether you like it or not. What you don't do is insert an amendment that blocks executive action. They'll now be arguing about this AGAIN in July rather having moved on to other initiatives. That's not helpful for anyone except republicans.