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A Viking referendum: Would you vote yes for this language?

There’s nothing quite like the rewriting of history and, in this case, the instant rewriting of alleged history.

There’s nothing quite like the rewriting of history and, in this case, the instant rewriting of alleged history.

In a column ostensibly supporting a new stadium for the Vikings, Patrick Reusse, my former colleague at the Star Tribune, wrote mockingly Sunday of how artists in Minnesota will be receiving a windfall because of the passage last week of the “Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.”

The state constitutional amendment, which won overwhelmingly last Tuesday despite much skepticism by most of “the chattering class” of political observers, raised the statewide sales tax to help fund, among other things, outdoors habitat for hunters and anglers, the cleaning of the state’s lakes and ponds, maintenance of parks and trails and support of arts organizations.

Reusse’s main point — I think — was that the football Vikings missed out on joining up with the somewhat odd coalition that formed to pass the amendment.

No reason to think stadium belonged in amendment

Well, duh, lots of issues missed out on that opportunity, but who said linking a Vikings stadium to such an amendment made any sense or that the Vikings even ever pondered inclusion?

They didn’t, according to my sources.

Why?

First of all, Vikings lobbyists and advocates aren’t fools and understood that there was no room or political pragmatism in joining the group. Do you think a $1 billion Vikings stadium effort — with about $700 million of that coming from the public — would have increased votes for a constitutional amendment?

As it was, the pioneers of the amendment idea — the sportsmen with bullets and hooks — were wary enough of the arts being included … until they saw the political power of the statewide arts and cultural organizations.

(For all the sports fans we have in this state, those who cheer for the teams have never delivered politically when it comes to raising taxes for their sports teams. Odd, very odd.)

Indeed, the height of irony is hearing a sports booster yearn for a stadium referendum. That sort of aspiration has long come from anti-stadium foes who want “the will of the people” to make such decisions.

The Twins and their boosters for a ballpark desperately avoided a referendum by the voters of Hennepin County because they were fearful that such an initiative would go down in flames. Reusse would have a great ally in Taxpayers League President Phil Krinkie were he to call for a public vote on funding a Vikings stadium.

It’s the sort of ally Reusse should avoid at all costs.

Reusse also took the opportunity to trash parks and trails and the arts and incorrectly describe how the amendment’s proceeds will be used.

He wrote that his spouse can “paint a nice landscape and has long expressed the desire for a small art studio. The State Arts Board can go ahead and send the check to me here at the office. Ten grand out to cover it . … What we’re going to have here in a couple of years will be the only urban area in the world without a starving artist.”

Not having starving artists is a good thing … although this amendment will not eliminate that class of folks.

Secondly, throwing a check for $10,000 to a no-name, amateur painter is not the mission of the amendment’s benefits. Hundreds of arts organizations from the around the state — hammered by state budget cuts — will need to submit grant requests to the Arts Board and regional arts councils. Once those grass-roots experts analyze the demands, then the Legislature will approve the funding.

Your typical suburban hobbyist can’t expect to be on the state’s dole. 

Trivializing the arts complicates coalition building
This trivialization of the arts is the sort of thing that creates bumper stickers such as “My hockey player can beat up your violin-playing honor student.”

I prefer “My violin-playing honor student will be your washed-up hockey player’s boss some day.”

This whacking of the arts and parks is just the sort of attitude that keeps pro sports lovers from forming responsible coalitions and blinds them to this critical fact: When a new pro sports stadium is built, it generates new revenue that flows directly into the pockets of Mr. Pohlad or Mr. Wilf.

When the arts and parks and outdoors are funded, there is benefit for the related organizations and communities, for the bait-and-tackle shops and motels near Detroit Lakes, to be sure.

But Tyrone Guthrie and Theodore Wirth are dead. They don’t profit from all this. Pro sports team are for-profit. The arts are not. Big difference.

Sports fans and cheerleaders must also ponder the real numbers. Add up the attendance of the Twins (2.3 million fans), Vikings (630,000), Timberwolves (600,000) and Wild (760,000) on an annual basis and it doesn’t come close to the 14 million Minnesotans who attend art shows, concerts and theater statewide.

(Of course, citizens watch their teams on TV and listen on radio, too, adding to the level of interest.)

Still, the most provocative issue Reusse raises is this: Why shouldn’t pro sports rise to the level of a statewide cultural amenity and key quality-of-life element?

I think it can be argued that the Vikings and a new stadium have no place in the state’s Constitution; I’m sorry, but clean water and natural habitat for our wildlife are rights, while cheering for Adrian Peterson is a privilege.

But the team and its need for a competitive facility do fall under a category of beloved statewide amenity and cultural infrastructure.

Profit-making aside, hunting, fishing, clean water and the arts aside, what do most of your relatives from Poughkeepsie know about Minnesota but the Vikings and the Twins? What events have brought our increasingly diverse state together more than key sports victories? On an autumn Sunday afternoon, what brings more Minnesotans together in their living rooms or in spirit than a Vikings game?

Imagine if this question were on a ballot. Imagine if this question was the one that citizens had to face. Imagine that it’s 2013 and the Vikings and the NFL and Reusse and Krinkie DO support a referendum because owner Zygi Wilf wants an excuse to attempt to move the team out of town. A statewide vote will make his decision easier.

How would you vote?

“Shall the State of Minnesota dedicate general fund revenues to protect our state quality of life; to help develop and build public assembly facilities to be used by the state’s youth; to preserve our professional sports teams; and to protect, enhance and provide continuous support and maintenance of the youth, high school, college and professional sports and fitness infrastructure in the state’s 87 counties by increasing the sales and use tax by three-eighths of one percent for the next three years.”

Yes _

No _

I don’t care, but I hate the arts _

It could come to that. But if sports boosters continue to blame everyone else for their inability to rally the citizenry, they won’t have enough friends to get that dream-like referendum passed.

Such boosters risk winning an award: “Turkey of the Year.”