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GOP’s Tom Emmer stepping up as frontman for Minnesota’s anti-government forces

When talking of health care, Rep. Tom Emmer, one of at least nine Republican candidates for governor, starts with some basic, though controversial, premises.

One, “we have the best health care system in the world.”

Two, the marketplace is to be more trusted than government.

Emmer says he is so concerned about the direction of health care in particular, and government in general, that on Monday he again proposed a state constitutional amendment that would “protect the freedom of personal choice in health care.”

Emmer, of Delano, was joined by two Republican colleagues from the Minnesota House, Mark Buesgens of Jordan and Peggy Scott of Andover. (It should be noted that Buesgens is a Republican in title only. In truth, he is almost a pure libertarian and does not bother participating in House Republican caucus meetings.)

Rep. Tom Emmer
Rep. Tom Emmer

Emmer has floated this amendment idea in past years. It’s been greeted with a yawn and a snicker by a DFL-controlled House and almost certainly will get nowhere in the upcoming session, either.

Theoretically, if the amendment ever were to be tacked on to the Minnesota Constitution, it would allow the state to say, “No thanks,” to any federal effort to create a universal health care program or individuals to say, “Nope,” to any state universal system.

Steve Schier, a Carleton College political science professor, believes, by the way, that judges on the federal courts would have a good chuckle before tossing out any effort to use such an amendment.

10th Amendment interest heats up
The announcement by Emmer, Buesgens and Scott dovetails with all the recent political chat about states invoking the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment in the health care debate.

Late last week, Gov. Tim Pawlenty hinted about — then backed off — the idea that Minnesota might use the 10th Amendment to avoid health care reform programs that may come out of Washington.  But Pawlenty is hardly the first pol to suggest using the 10th Amendment to avoid what he believes will be an unpopular federal government program. Throughout the country, there has been a growing chorus of 10-thers, ready to claim that states’ rights can trump federal authority. In Georgia, 10-thers, including the leader of the state Senate, want to use the 10th Amendment to fight off Washington efforts at health care reform. In Texas, 10-thers want to secede from the union. Minnesota’s own U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann is considered a leading 10-ther.

The point is that the Emmer-Buesgens-Scott effort, which once would have seemed a radical right position, may not be so radical anymore.

In fact, from a purely political standpoint, Emmer’s announcement Monday surely will help him separate himself from the pack of nine, all of whom are appealing to the same conservative base.

Emmer, by the way, insists that he’s not re-introducing the amendment for political gain among likely delegates to the Republican Party’s endorsement convention.  He says the timing is simply right because the whole county has been talking about health care.

“Citizens are tuned in to the discussion,” said Emmer. “… This is something that should play well to everyone in the state. It crosses party lines. It’s about individual rights and the rights of individuals to make their own choices.”

But more than that, it’s about a huge distrust of government.

“The market will make available [affordable health insurance] if government gets out of the way,” Emmer said.  “… The federal government tramples the rights of citizens.”

A side note here: I like Emmer. He’s funny, passionate. But I would define his politics as radical right. 

He doesn’t understand my assessment any more than I understand his politics.

Emmer questions government’s role
“Don’t call me a fire-breathing conservative,” he said. “We all want the same things. We all want good schools, we all want clean air and water, we all want good health care. And most of all, we all want a job.  We all want to solve these problems. Take labels aside and have an academic approach to solving problems.”

But, in the next breath, he’s talking about government as the problem.

“Once you shrink government, you free those dollars and creativity will flow.”

This seems like an awfully big free pass for the excesses big businesses have shown. It was, after all, unbridled business that created problems in the environment, banking and health care  that led to so many of the very regulations that Emmer decries. 

But Emmer’s thinking is little different from that of many of the other current Republican candidates for governor.

Where does all this distrust come from?

Charlie Weaver
Charlie Weaver

Charlie Weaver — a former Republican legislator, former candidate for attorney general, adviser to Pawlenty and currently the head of the Minnesota Business Partnership — is contemplating whether he will get into the race.

Though he avoids the word “moderate” in describing himself, he would seem more moderate than the current list of candidates. He believes virtually all candidates from both parties currently are spending all of their time trying to appeal to their bases, which leads to “a lot of far-out rhetoric.”

“I think you have to take everything that a Tom Emmer or an R.T. Rybak says right now with a grain of salt,” said Weaver.

In the end, he believes delegates of both parties will be more interested in “competence” than in the “strident postions.”

Perhaps, that’s wishful thinking on Weaver’s part. He said he must decide in the next few weeks whether to leave his job and get into the race. Clearly, in listening to Weaver, it’s clear he wants to make the leap.  He wants to believe that even he can win his party’s endorsement.

“People want to hear a clear, hopeful message,” said Weaver.

The first test of just what message will play well with likely Republican Party delegates to next summer’s endorsing convention will come at the party’s state convention on Oct. 3, when a straw poll will be inducted.

Weaver does admit that distrust of government is running high.

“I really think a large part of it is the reaction to Katrina,” Weaver said. “It was an incompetent government response to a crisis. The incompetence was at every level — federal, state and local. I think people everywhere were stunned. ‘Really, we can’t even get water to these people trapped in the Dome?’ “

Schier says current distrust levels run back 15 or more years. He’s developed a very professorial but simple formula on how to understand American politics: “The direction of the country is determined by whoever is most pissed off.” 

That, he says, is how George W. Bush defeated Al Gore and how President Obama defeated John McCain.

And right now, the anti-government crowd is very, very angry.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (29)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/15/2009 - 09:58 am.

    You elect people who don’t believe in government to run your government at your own peril. It’s like Al Franken said, Republicans always claim that government doesn’t work, then get into power and they prove it.

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/15/2009 - 10:01 am.

    This story kind of surprised me, because I thought even Democrats would have been reluctant to propose anything as radical. The suggestion that Minnesotans have the right to their choice of health care would seem to me to violated the constitutional prohibition against involuntary servitude with respect to the insurance companies, as well as impinging on their freedom to enter and not enter into contracts. The representative also seems to open himself to the fairly obvious response that the freedom to choose should also include the freedom to choose a public option.

  3. Submitted by Bill Hansen on 09/15/2009 - 10:22 am.

    I’ve worked without a break since I was 19 years old, grown a successful small business, paid my taxes, paid my bills, exercised regularly and taken care of my preventative health. Now, at the age of 56, I carry the best health insurance I can afford, but if my wife and I both became seriously ill, I would be bankrupted. This is not fair or American.

    “Best health care system in the world.” What world does Rep. Emmer live in?

  4. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 09/15/2009 - 10:42 am.

    I have yet to see the story about the Senate vote to fund or better not to fund ACORN yet today. The vote as very close 83-7, bipartisanship at its finest. Thanks Minnpost way to, “cut through the BS”.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/15/2009 - 10:58 am.

    Well as far as the constitutional amendment goes, it’s pure theater. What you would really be doing is making the government responsible for the continued existence of private insurance. The government would be responsible for maintaining not only any government plan, but also private insurance plans to compete with it. How does that work?

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/15/2009 - 11:00 am.

    William, accessing the best medical system in the world may indeed leave one bankrupt….but it would also likely leave you alive and capable of pursuing every available path to reclaiming your wealth.

    Dr. Robert Ouellet, the outgoing president of the Canadian Medical Association admitted during a recent MSNBC television interview, Canadians are not dropping dead in the streets, but it cannot be said that some do not occasionally expire while waiting for their turn to see a doctor.

    As those formerly enthusiastic supporters of Canadian socialized medicine no doubt wish they could tell you; it is true that you cannot collect a debt from the dead, but no one is calling that a viable solution.

  7. Submitted by Bruce Kvam on 09/15/2009 - 11:07 am.

    I don’t get this. Republicans fully supported the federal mandate that you be 21 to drink. Where were they then? Why aren’t they pushing right now for a constitutional amendment to drink at age 18, like it was before the Congress forced it back to 21?

    As I recall, the federal drinking age is enforced on the states by linking highway funding to a 21-year-old drinking age. Don’t the health care bills under consideration have similar provisions? If not, the Republicans should be pushing for the bill to be rewritten that way; it’s certainly more reasonable to go that route than amending dozens of state constitutions.

  8. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/15/2009 - 12:05 pm.

    “Canadians are not dropping dead in the streets, but it cannot be said that some do not occasionally expire while waiting for their turn to see a doctor.”

    I have asked my legislator to propose a law against dying for the next legislative session. She seems favorably inclined towards my proposal, but isn’t convinced about the ultimate effectiveness of such legislation.

  9. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 09/15/2009 - 12:12 pm.

    When you’ve been raised by overly-authoritarian parents, it’s likely that the piece of your personality that allows you to take responsibility for the way your own life is going and the role you, yourself have played in how your life is going (i.e. looking in the mirror for the source of some of your problems), has been knocked down and imprisoned within you (and at the age you were when it got knocked out of you).

    Then, when life gets tough (which it always does for folks who can’t get themselves to take charge of and run their own lives) and demands that you attempt to take charge, out pops that child or adolescent version of yourself, trying to “take charge” in a very immature way, and usually in the midst of a full blown temper tantrum.

    This has been extremely visible at the tea parties – illogical or unreasoning childhood or early adolescent thought patterns and angry behaviors typical of youngsters coming out of adult bodies (people carrying real guns to public events as if they were still children acting tough while playing army or Cowboys and Indians in the old neighborhood).

    But since these folks still can’t bring themselves to take charge of their own lives or take responsibility for their own mistakes, they’re never angry at themselves, no matter how much they’ve messed things up by what they’ve done and not done. They can only be angry at someone else.

    Certain types of pundits, politicians, and religious leaders find such folks very easy to manipulate since those folks are SO anxious to have someone else provide a target at which they can direct their anger. They’re desperate for someone to tell them, “Nothing is your fault!” It’s ____________’s fault.” (name your scapegoat)

    They couldn’t blame Bushco for anything, because he was a lot like them, they voted for him and supported him all the way. They can blame President Obama, however, since they did not vote for him, and many of them have been raised their entire lives with the attitude that people like Obama (or anyone else who isn’t white and conservative) are “what’s wrong with this country.”

    Hence some now can be cynically encouraged to feel that Minnesota, which already has health insurance with a “public option” – MN Comprehensive – needs to be protected from the evil, liberal, Federal Government seeking to do the same thing nationwide.

    If you don’t want your children or grandchildren to turn out this way, just be sure they get plenty of love, even when you have to set limits for them and they (temporarily) hate you for doing so. Do not abuse them psychologically or physically.

    Of course adults with these issues can recover with appropriate help, too, and finally grow up into the people God designed and intended them to be: people who can live interdependently with others, take charge of their own lives, take responsibility for their own mistakes, and understand that we are all woven together into a very big picture and that each of our individual lives depends on keeping that entire tapestry in reasonably good shape.

  10. Submitted by Bob Filipczak on 09/15/2009 - 01:09 pm.

    It’s interesting how many Minnesota politicians are turning into 10thers (Tenthers?). Bachmann, Pawlenty and now Emmer.

    This article ( points out that the 10thers have been around before–usually fighting against civil rights and trying to ban laws against desegregation. Now they use it to fight the civil right of U.S. citizens access to health care.

    Where will they stop?

    So if health care passes and affordable health care becomes available to all U.S. citizens, Emmer’s constitutional ammendment would make sure that Minnesotans would not be able to access that system? How’s that again?

  11. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/15/2009 - 01:21 pm.

    snip//There are four models and three of the four models – and these are the three models that most Westernized countries use, everybody is guaranteed health care. In America we have aspects of all four of the models. The three models where people are guaranteed health care and the fourth model is if you don’t have the money you don’t get the treatment.

    Turns out we have them all right here in the United States. If you’re a Native American or a veteran, you live in “Britain”. They get government health care and government hospitals from government doctors and they never get a bill.

    If you’re an employed person sharing your health insurance premium with your employer, you live in “Germany”. That’s the Bismarck model that was invented in Germany and used in many countries.

    If you’re a senior and you buy Medicare insurance from the government and go to private doctors, you live in Canada. That’s the Canadian model. As a matter of fact, the Canadian health care system is called Medicare, and when Lyndon Johnson provided it for our seniors in 1965 he borrowed both the model and the name from Canada.

    And if you’re one of the tens of millions of Americans who can’t get health insurance, well, you live in Malawi or Madagascar or Mali or something, because if you can pay for health insurance you get it, or maybe you can line up at the free hospital sometime.

    We’ve got them all and that’s really the most important difference. All the other countries have decided that it’s cheaper and fairer to provide one model so that everybody has the same access to the same care at the same price.//snip

    T.R. Reid is a reporter, documentary film correspondent and author

  12. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/15/2009 - 01:25 pm.

    But since these folks still can’t bring themselves to take charge of their own lives or take responsibility for their own mistakes, they’re never angry at themselves, no matter how much they’ve messed things up by what they’ve done and not done.

    They can only be angry at someone else.

    So they elect people to positions of leadership that will take their impotent rage in hand, create legislation to smite the morally unambiguous, the successful, the productive, the wealthy with the heavy hand of a government backed by the ever present threat of the force of arms.

    Thus accommodated, the leftist lies back, sated and secure in the knowledge that somewhere, someone is doing what they cannot do for themselves and their families.

  13. Submitted by Bill Hansen on 09/15/2009 - 02:02 pm.

    It’s unreasonable to expect someone to sacrifice their entire life savings if they get sick. The whole reason for insurance is to protect personal assets by spreading the risk over a large group. If it doesn’t do that, why have insurance at all?

    There is no doubt that Americans want a better health insurance system. The real question is congress controlled by the people or by the insurance industry? I don’t say this sarcastically – I think it’s a real question.

  14. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/15/2009 - 03:00 pm.

    Joe J (#4) See today’s Pioneer Press for an article describing Acorn’s FIGHT BACK against what seem to be phony videos of “Acorn employees” telling poor folks how to get mortgages to set up houses of prostitution. The Census Dept. should be ashamed to have cut its ties with Acorn, which has for decades helped the poor to help themselves and which many members of the far right want to destroy because when poor people vote, they sure as heck don’t vote for Republicans.

    And they sure as heck weren’t guilty of “voter fraud” in 2008. A few employees (10-15) out of well over 10,000 nationwide doing voter registration created phony voter registration form in an effort to make more money from Acorn. Acorn caught the attempts, fired the workers, and notified the cops and election officials. The far right propaganda machine has been spreading the “fraud” lie for almost two years now.

    Tom S (#6) Dr. Oulette does agree that their system has waiting times and says they are working to shorten them Emergency care or care to relieve pain, however, is always provided at once. Canadian citizens overwhelmingly favor their system over ours and have voted the founder of their system “The Greatest Canadian Ever.”

    Greg K (#) I love your insightful posts.

    Please see “Ike’s Other Warning,” by Max Blumenthal (NY Times, 09/03/2009 OpEd), in which Eisenhower wrote a letter warning of extremist movements within the Republican Party and in which he also referred to the ‘authoritarian follower’ personalities Eric Hoffer described in “The True Believer.” This would be persons who seek strong leaders and accept uncritically their every assertion (Bureaucrats between you and your doctor anyone? Death panels? Government takeover?)

    See also Sara Robinson’s August 6 article, “Fascist America: Are We There Yet,” in which she describes our slipping stage-by-stage into fascism as described by historian Robert O. Paxton in his 2004 book, “The Anatomy of Fascism.”

  15. Submitted by Aaron Klemz on 09/15/2009 - 03:04 pm.

    This trope of “the government, backed by the threat of force, taking property from the successful” has gotten a lot of play, but it’s bankrupt. One questioner at the McCollum town hall at Macalester a couple of weeks ago stated (paraphrasing) that only the government can take your property, that only the government can coerce. Well, tell that to the millions of Americans who’ve been forced into bankruptcy by private health care providers who demand your property for their provided services. One could make the argument that it is the court system/government that enforces that, but then again the same defenders of liberty who believe that the government is the only coercive agent that matters are the same who lobbied for more punitive bankruptcy statutes. The reality is that private bureaucracies are at least as pernicious as public ones, that the profit motive leads to both efficiency measures and unjust coverage decisions (maybe they are the same thing), and losing everything to a private company because of a catastrophic illness is awfully coercive.

    I’ve had enough of the psuedo-Freudian psychological motivation posturing on both sides. But I’ve really had it with the notion that health care reform is the rough equivalent of Mugabe expropriating white-owned farms at gunpoint.

  16. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 09/15/2009 - 03:17 pm.

    BV – ACORN update – ACORN Maryland operating illegally because of expired charter. BV can you tell me why the workers in the videos were fired?

  17. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/15/2009 - 03:42 pm.

    Joe J- No, I can’t because the whole thing is still an open issue. Acorn has brought suit against the makers/distributors of the videos, so I imagine there will be extensive coverage of the trial.

    What I can’t believe is that an organization working decade after decade to improve the lives of our poorest, most excluded citizens is suddenly “guilty” of crimes.

  18. Submitted by Rebecca Hoover on 09/15/2009 - 03:49 pm.

    It is so embarrassing when Minnesota politics becomes a side show or circus of sorts. The Tea Party, Emmers and Bachmans seem to be three year olds throwing tantrums because they are being asked to be a bit socially responsible. The kids in my family have tried to get our of their family responsibilities by engaging in similar tantrums.

    If we must have a circus, I wish the circus were more interesting. Childish tantrums are just boring.

    Also, the behavior of some of these folks is so hypocritical or a bit delusional. I know one person who is obese, has diabetes caused by the obesity, listens to Rush Limbaugh rail against health insurance reform, doesn’t work and has Minnesota Comprehensive Coverage because she she cannot get any other type of insurance. Despite all of this, she believes others without insurance are not responsible and that there should be no health insurance reform. I asked her what she will do when her small amount of money is used up and she thinks, despite limited skills and her physical condition, she will easily get a job that includes full insurance coverage.

    These folks are sad.

  19. Submitted by Joe Williams on 09/15/2009 - 04:43 pm.

    Thomas Swift,

    I see a lot of your posts, and they are typically well put, even if I disagree.

    But morally unambiguous? The issue is those that follow a code that puts profit for profit’s sake above service to the customer. There is plenty of moral ambiguity among the successful, and your post has the tone of one who looks down their nose at the have-nots.

    Someone’s rage may be “impotent,” but it is valid, and deserves respect.

  20. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 09/15/2009 - 05:06 pm.


    Some among us can’t even let a simple comment post that comes too close to home lie without being sure we name a scapegoat to prove I’M not to blame…


    I rest my case.

  21. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/15/2009 - 05:41 pm.

    @ #12 You appear to be projecting, Thomas which is always seen as a defense mechanism that occurs when a person’s own unacceptable or threatening feelings are repressed and then attributed to someone else.

    I like my “red” herrings in the smoker. Right along side of the lake trout and cisco’s. Although I prefer cherry wood for the “smoke”.

    I believe that you could find work writing fiction, as non-fiction would require a degree of fact…..

  22. Submitted by Howard Miller on 09/15/2009 - 08:02 pm.

    ” …on Monday he again proposed a state constitutional amendment that would “protect the freedom of personal choice in health care.”‘

    So does that mean Rep. Emmer supports a citizen’s right to choose abortion without government interference?

    That sounds good to me, but is MCCL really ok with that? They’re usually hard on Republicans who stray too far from orthodox anti-abortion policy positions.

  23. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/15/2009 - 09:27 pm.

    Joe, each is meant to be taken separately.

    Not all successful people are morally unambiguous, and not all unambiguous people are successful in business.

    My point was that the left attacks each in their turn, without regard to their virtues.

    And I believe, that if someones argument is impotent, but valid, it will eventually stand on the pedestal of it’s own merits.

    Arguments worthy of merit sometimes require the force of arms to bring them to fruition in the face of opposition; but positions that are impotent on their face and in fact will always require the force of arms not only to establish them, but to maintain them in the face of righteousness.

  24. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/15/2009 - 09:47 pm.

    Bernice re: ACORN.

    In the face of such overwhelming proof, how sad your apologies make me; really how sad.

    They were talking about little children, Bernice. Surely *that* pierces your ideological armor?

  25. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/15/2009 - 10:14 pm.

    Let’s face it, very few people truly use economics as an equal measuring stick for all issues. For those we agree with, we look the other way. For those we disagree with, we turn our brains back on.

    Economics is about the allocation of scarce resources. Let us put it all on the table and discuss it, throwing away labels such as socialism and the 10th amendment which are used to mislead and distort.

  26. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/15/2009 - 11:24 pm.

    But if the “evidence” is falsified, Thomas, is that not a crime against the falsely accused?

  27. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/16/2009 - 11:44 am.

    C’mon people, this is real solution for real people.

  28. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/16/2009 - 12:13 pm.

    Bernice, ACORN has fired all the people involved in the now 4 incidents. They are not disputing the authenticity of the films, they are disputing the filmmaker’s right to have recorded them.

    There is no getting around the fact that an ACORN employee is on film suggesting that teen aged girls smuggled into the US from a foreign country for the purposes of prostitution could be used as “dependents” for tax purposes.

    And yet you still suggest that woman is a victim.

  29. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 09/17/2009 - 03:46 pm.

    But Tom, note that ACORN FIRED the woman in the video.

    Has no other organization ever had rogue employees?

    What Rush, Glenn, Bill, Sean, and the other propagandists with their daily talking points memos from the RNC really hate about ACORN is that it organizes poor people against the fat cats and has been doing so since 1970 (although to hear the right-wing mouthpieces, you’d think it was organized as Obama’s personal mafia).

    Republicans love it when poor people are ignorant, docile, and liable to blame themselves for their misfortunes, because they know that when poor people are well-informed and see the big picture, they turn leftward.

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