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Challenger Tarryl Clark’s congressional conundrum: how to get media attention inside the 6th district

In a backward sort of way, the room full of media people at a media event staged by Tarryl Clark this morning was evidence of one of the problems in her efforts to knock off U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.

The Democrat’s event, in which she “challenged” Bachmann to cut her own salary and office expenses, was held at the Capitol in St. Paul.

Clark’s staff people said that if this event actually had been held in the 6th Congressional District, which cuts across the northern suburbs, none of the major media outlets likely would have attended.

Staffers said that if the event had been held in St. Cloud, the Times newspaper there would have been represented; had it been held in Stillwater, the local paper likely would have had a reporter on the scene.

That means to make a headline in the metro area — where most 6th District residents live — Clark must come to the journalists, not the other way around.

Making headlines not a problem for Bachmann
Bachmann, of course, has no trouble making headlines and no problem drawing journalists to wherever she is. Her public persona is so high that Bachmann has the luxury of being selective about which media she’ll speak with.

Tarryl Clark
Tarryl Clark

The “issue” Clark raised this morning was tied to her latest television commercial (below), which is to be released Thursday. In that commercial, Clark challenges Bachmann to cut her salary by 5 percent during these hard times and also make big cuts in the “taxpayer money” she spends to send literature to constituents.

Clark says she cut her own compensation and office budget as a state senator. The compensation cuts, from what she’s allowed to take in per diem expenses, amounted to about $13,000 since 2008. She said she also reduced mailing and even had staff “bring their own paper cups” to the office.

“Fiscal responsibility is not just about talking,” Clark said. “That budget [Bachmann’s salary and office costs] are the only budget she has control of.”

Clark’s staff had stats — from an article in the Minnesota Independent — showing that Bachmann spent more than $100,000 on franking privileges for mailings in 2009. The article noted that Bachmann was one of the biggest franking spenders in Congress.

Clark had examples of the sort of material Bachmann’s constituents are receiving. They’re glossy, four-color pieces with such headlines as “Congress Woman Michele Bachmann, working hard to create more jobs for Minnesotans.”

It’s important to note that rules around the congressional franking privilege are extremely loose. As long as the mailings don’t ask people to vote for the candidate using the privilege or mention the election date, members of Congress are able to mail — at no cost to their campaign — anything they want.

Clark says those rules should be tightened so that members of Congress can only use franking privileges when directly responding to the concern of a constituent. All other mailings, she said, should be paid for by the campaigns.

“This is the most expensive race in the country,” Clark said. “Surely, she can afford it.”

A call to Bachmann’s campaign for a response was not returned. 

In search of a ‘talker’
The Clark intent in this would seem to be to give voters “a talker” in this campaign. It’s also an another attempt to focus attention on something other than the continuing “Taxin’ Tarryl Clark” ads that Bachmann has been running.

“It’s gotten so frustrating,” said Clark of countering the ads that she says are filled with inaccuracies about not only Clark’s record but Bachmann’s as well.

One of those “Taxin’ Tarryl” ads has drawn raised eyebrows in the media. The ad accuses Clark of voting to raise the state’s sales tax to fund Minnesota’s recent “legacy” constitutional amendment funding outdoor projects, arts and cultural programs. As a legislator, Clark did support having voters decide on the proposed legacy amendment, which included a 3/8 of 1 percent sales tax increase. Voters, including those in the 6th District, overwhelmingly supported the measure.

“I thought the people should decide,” she said this morning of her support for the amendment.

Rep. Michele Bachmann
MinnPost/Raoul Benavides
Rep. Michele Bachmann

But according to a number of witnesses, Bachmann previously had claimed to be a supporter of the amendment, which was supported by hunting and fishing groups that often have supported Bachmann. Her staff now claims she never did support the amendment — and doesn’t to this day.

“More of the same,”said Clark of the seeming contradictions in Bachmann’s legacy stance .

She says that’s why she’s proposed that Bachmann cut her salary and franking costs. It’s simple and direct, she said.

“Congress should lead by example,” Clark said.

Bachmann, it should be noted, is releasing a new ad chastising Clark for casting the deciding vote on the Minnesota Senate floor this year on a budget-balancing piece of legislation that would have raised income taxes on Minnesota’s highest earners.

Clark had not been on the floor when the Senate vote was deadlocked. She entered the chamber minutes after the body had voted, leaving her with the unenviable task of casting her vote with everyone watching. She supported the bill, which quickly was vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Clark said again today that the reason she was late for the vote because of a family matter: She and her husband were on the phone with a doctor, discussing a medical issue involving one of their sons.

“I’m a mom first,” she said.

But she also defended her vote, saying that the Legislature had done the right thing by coming up with a bill that would have balanced the state budget with a combination of program cuts and tax increases.

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 (8)

  1. Submitted by Rosalind Kohls on 09/15/2010 - 03:54 pm.

    It sounds as if the Twin Cities’ journalists are more important to Taxin’ Tarryl than the voters in the 6th District are. Or maybe, Tarryl just can’t draw a crowd. It doesn’t sound good for her campaign either way. Poor Tarryl.

  2. Submitted by Mohammed Ali Bin Shah on 09/15/2010 - 04:15 pm.

    I know how Taryl can make headlines – announce that she is in favor of holding taxes steady, or even announce a proposed cut. That will surely get the press’ attention.

    As for taking less per diem than allowed, big whoop dee do. That is only called doing the right thing. She shouldn’t be crowing about only taking what was needed to cover her ACTUAL expenses.

  3. Submitted by Dave Callaway on 09/16/2010 - 01:31 am.

    Tarryl Clark has been working for all Minnesotans, trying to find equitable ways to balance the state budget. Sure, saving $13,000
    isn’t huge, but, she DID it!

    As for the media, they should be willing to honestly cover the race. Things like fact checking adds from all candidates. When they find errors or discrepancies, go to the candidate and get an explanation, before they leave. If there is none, or they are stonewalled, report it. It’s your job, do it!

    As for Rep. Bachmann, if she put as much energy into bringing some benefit to the Sixth District, as she does getting face time on the tube, then maybe she could be defended. The glossy brochures seem to be designed to blind her constituents, as to her accomplishments(?). Maybe if she just gave up her farm subsidy payments and eased up on the franking, she could help out the nations debt problem.

  4. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 09/15/2010 - 11:54 pm.

    I guess that for some people, it’s not important that their elected representative is a publicity seeking, lying, divisive and bigoted demagogue who has never had a single piece of legislation passed or done a thing for her district in 8 years of being a public official. It’s so much easier looking for the mote in your neighbor’s eye than it is to see the beam in your own.

  5. Submitted by John Olson on 09/16/2010 - 08:24 am.

    Franking and per diem expense debates are nothing new. Challengers gripe about it when they are running against incumbents. Party affiliation is unimportant; it’s insiders versus outsiders.

    When a challenger does get elected, a transformation takes place. The person that was once upon a time outraged by the amounts spent on per diem and franking becomes the target for future elections.

    And they all lived happily ever after. At taxpayer expense.

  6. Submitted by John Armstrong on 09/16/2010 - 08:41 am.

    Another part of the issue is the media doesn’t see the race as being a contest. None of the MN Congressional races are likely to be close. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog at the New York Times has the MN incumbent most likely to lose being Tim Walz in the 1st District and that’s only about a 4 percent chance. A political race that isn’t close doesn’t seem worth spending resources on. (At least to news outlets.)

  7. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 09/16/2010 - 12:10 pm.

    You’d think that with all the government money Bachmann takes in in agricultural subsidies that she could afford to follow Mark Dayton’s example and forego a salary.

  8. Submitted by Kevin Judd on 09/18/2010 - 01:22 pm.

    The problem is that the race is not close. Two years ago, Bachmann had “everything” go against her; a misspeak on national TV shortly before the election that aroused national opposition, drawing national money to her opponent’s languishing campaign. Even with that, the race is not close.

    Let’s be honest, the MN 6th is a gerrymandered district that served as the repository for as many Republican strongholds as possible. The intent was to keep those nasty conservatives from polluting the 5th and other now safely Democratic districts. The redistricting worked, but it does mean that Tarryl Clark has no chance of winning.

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