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Shutdown battle moves to billboards and radio ads to pressure both sides, but are they counterproductive?

The Alliance for a Better Minnesota has unleashed another flurry of radio ads aimed at supporting Gov. Mark Dayton’s position in the great budget debate.

The ads, costing about $50,000 to produce and run, are targeted in the districts of nine Republican state legislators, most of whom were involved in squeaker races in the last election. Not surprisingly, the ads pin the blame for the shutdown on Republicans.

One of those targets, Rep. Rich Murray, R-Albert Lea, believes the radio spots “backfire” in all sorts of ways. More on that later.

Meantime, the Minnesota Majority, a conservative organization, has countered with a handful of billboards. The billboards have slightly different messages, with the same conclusion: This shutdown is Dayton’s fault.

For example, there’s a billboard heading south on I-35 that reads: “Next Rest Area 138 miles, exit 214 Iowa. Thanks a lot Gov. Dayton.”

Minnesota Majority

So far, advocacy campaigns relatively modest
To date at least, these relatively modest campaigns represent the most obvious efforts by groups outside the direct political process to influence the hearts and minds of Minnesotans.

Some in the national media are holding up Minnesota as a microcosm of the national budget debate. The New York Times, for example, recently ended a budget-based editorial with these chilling words: “In Minnesota, there is now a chance to draw a line and say, ‘no further.’ “

But so far, the concerns expressed by such Minnesota political heavyweights as former Gov. Arne Carlson and former Vice President Walter Mondale — that national organizations might start flooding the airways with rhetoric — are not coming to pass.

The closest thing to national money to date seems to be coming in an indirect fashion. The Alliance for a Better Minnesota receives most of its financial support from unions. The public employee unions in the state have contributed the bulk of the money used to fund ad campaigns since the close of the legislative session on May 23. Some of that union money is coming from national union coffers, according to Denise Cardinal, who heads the Alliance.

But it’s likely far less than the “millions of dollars” that Jeff Davis, who heads Minnesota Majority, said in a news release that he believes the “other side” is spending to promote the Dayton position.

Overall, Cardinal does not expect national organizations to get heavily involved in Minnesota’s woes. Instead, she predicts that the national budget debate will be fought out in each state.

“It seems to me that most organizations understand that the battlegrounds are in each of the states,” Cardinal said. “There’s an understanding that the more local you are, the more impact you can have.”

No matter which side you support, getting the message out NOW is critical, Cardinal believes.

Despite the fact that those who follow politics closely understand that this debate goes back to November’s elections, thousands — maybe most — Minnesotans are getting their first taste of the issues that have led to the shutdown, according to Cardinal.

“A lot of regular Minnesotans are paying attention for the first time,” she said. “They’re asking themselves, ‘Why is my state park closed? Why can’t I get this service? Whose fault is it?’ “

In the Albert Lea area, for example, Alliance for a Better Minnesota radio spots point the finger at Murray, a first-term legislator.

In some respects, he’s an understandable target.

Targeted legislator Murray makes his anti-ads case
Murray won his race by a scant 57 votes. (Laughing, he notes that he was named the president of “the Landslide Committee” in the House Republican caucus. That self-deprecating group includes a handful of first-term legislators who eked out wins in November. Included in that group are such representatives as King Banaian, who won his St. Cloud district by 13 votes; Debra Kiel of Crookston, who won her Crookston district by 131 votes; and Carolyn McElfatrick of Deer River, who won a historically DFL district by 409 votes.)

Rep. Rich Murray

Rep. Rich Murray

In addition to having barely won his race, Murray would seem a logical target because, unlike the vast majority of his caucus, he’s shown a streak of independence. He voted against the Republicans’ first budget bill because he thought it cut too deeply into Local Government Aid in his district. He also was one of three Republicans in the House to vote against the bill to put the marriage amendment on the ballot.

But Murray is contemptuous of the radio ads because he said he is the sort of Republican who can be part of the solution.

“They don’t know me,” said Murray of the organization producing the spots.

Murray assumes Alliance for a Better Minnesota doesn’t know, for example, that he has been in touch with the governor’s office a few times since the shutdown began.

“In the last 30 days, I’ve made it my project to go everywhere in the district and listen to people,” Murray said.

He’s reported what he’s heard to the governor’s office.

For the most part, what he’s NOT hearing are the respective talking points of the two parties.

“What I mostly hear is ‘Get it fixed. Solve it,’ ” Murray said. “People aren’t saying, ‘Balance the budget by raising taxes or by making cuts. They’re saying, ‘Get it done.’ “

But there’s a second message, too, according to Murray.

“Government’s too big,” he said. “People are telling me, ‘We have to reform it.’ “

But even in that message, Murray said, there’s a side message. People don’t expect that to be done immediately. They expect that change to be made “over time.”

It’s a point of view that Murray says he shares. He believes the radio spots that are meant to put pressure on him “backfire” because there’s his human reaction. The spots make him angry.

“They back me into a corner,” he said. “They make me work even harder.”

He talked of how a round of targeted spots that came out earlier led to him receiving more than 200 calls at his home. (In the spots, he said, an “800-number” was given to callers. Those who used phoned the 800 number were directed, via a national union organization, to his home number.)

Disgusted as he and family members were by the constancy of the calls, Murray said he’s reached out to as many of the callers as possible explaining that the issues aren’t as simple as the radio ads imply.

Murray says he’d join bipartisan effort for solution
As a rookie legislator, Murray said he understands he doesn’t have great influence. But he also said he’d be willing to work with a bipartisan group of legislators to come up with solution. So far, that group hasn’t emerged.

“We have to find the true meaning of compromise,” he said.

What’s that?

“When both sides get a little of what they want and give up a little of what they want,” he said. “We have to get that done. I’ve had my business [he’s a financial adviser with a 10-person staff] for 20 years. You find a way to get it done.”

Finger-pointing billboards and radio spots, he said, don’t help.

But they’re going to keep coming.

The Alliance will soon be releasing a new series of ads claiming the shutdown is “slamming the brakes” on the economy.

Minnesota Majority, too, is seeking donations to fund more billboards as well as radio and television spots.

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 (14)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 07/08/2011 - 09:34 am.

    Some of these political consultants are little more than con people. They pitch what they have to sell to politicians and interest groups who pay them because they think the consultants make a difference. Very often, they simply don’t. And sometimes they serve their clients very badly, creating far more trouble than they what little value they deliver.

  2. Submitted by Bridget Helwig on 07/08/2011 - 10:23 am.

    Though it will never happen, perhaps Rep. Murray would be interested in sponsoring a bill the next legislative session banning political billboards and radio/television spots. The decrease in unpleasantness in presidential election years alone would be well worth it.

  3. Submitted by Tim Walker on 07/08/2011 - 10:51 am.

    I’ll have more sympathy for Rep. Murray when he puts his views on compromise (“When both sides get a little of what they want and give up a little of what they want”) into action by calling on his GOP leaders to drop their “no new taxes” stance.

    In other words, walk the talk, Rep. Murray.

    Or maybe he could publicly break from the GOP leaders and say that he’s for meeting the Governor half way and will accept a tax increase on the top 2%.

    Somebody’s gotta be the first do it. Otherwise, we’re sunk.

  4. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/08/2011 - 11:04 am.

    There is a certain internal disconnect in Republican rhetoric. On the one hand, government is too big and they want to eliminate services. Okay, that’s been the claim for years. On the other hand, the state is able to provide only the most minimal of services now, and that’s supposed to be a bad thing. Governor Dayton is supposedd to approve a budget that cuts state services because . . . the state is not providing any services now. I would think the small-government crusaders would be proud, and falling all over themselves to claim credit for imposing their vision of Minnesota on all of us. They should be congratulating Governor Dayton for helping them achieve their vision, not snarking about closed resta areas.

    The only possible answer is that “MY” spending is good, while everyone else’s is a waste of money. Core Republican constituencies must be protected, while those who lean DFL–teachers, other public employees, etc.–can be put aside to watch.

  5. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 07/08/2011 - 11:45 am.

    What we need more than anything else is a bill (or constitutional amendment) that cuts of the paychecks to each legislator, the governor, and all constitutional officers if a balanced budget is not enacted by the end or the regular legislative session.

    It’s an outrage that these people are being paid for NOT doing their jobs!!!!

  6. Submitted by Elaine Leach on 07/08/2011 - 11:52 am.

    I strongly disapprove of radio, tv and billboard ads during this period regardless of who pays for them. We have uncalled-for rhetoric during national and state political campaigns. Adding it during the shutdown is a waste of time and money. Let’s bring civility and statesmanship back into popularity to replace the media hype.

  7. Submitted by C.S. Senne on 07/08/2011 - 01:00 pm.

    #4..Great post!

  8. Submitted by Jean Schiebel on 07/08/2011 - 01:32 pm.

    Any Republican that is willing to sit down with Governor Dayton and compromise with him will be off limits for me. But we need real compromise revenue and cuts..we can’t keep throwing the most vulnerable under the bus. The cuts to health and human services will hurt those who need our help the most.The cuts to city’s will only raise property taxes forcing many out of their homes.If Dayton can’t get revenue increases he might as well keep the state on shutdown, because the Republicans only want to protect the wealthy, and they obviously don’t give a **** who is hurt.

  9. Submitted by David Broden on 07/08/2011 - 03:44 pm.

    The discussions across Mn today are about getting the job done and the state functioning again now not weeks or months from now. There is clearly no concensus for no tax increase or what the budget should be–but there is agreement that the state must be functional. Now Mn is viewed by the nation as a dysfunctional state–we all know that this in not what we want or voted for. Addressing the budget is the wrong topic–we need to reach agreement on what services and role the state, local,county, school district etc. should provide and then define the funds to do the job. As we play cut that but not that game–the shell game is simply just moving the bean under the shell with no resolution. Special interests and ideology is driving the show-the show must be driven by elected officals meeting the oath of committment to the state constitution. In addition all of the wisdom of the study groups, foundations etc. is the same people talking to the same people and proposing the same old approaches that have been suggested before. We need new ideas, new participation in the process etc-look at the Carlson-Mondale Commission–members were the same group that has been addressing this issue and talking to themselves–no outstate–no women–no minorities–and yet there was expectation that this would sell> Nonsense-this was viewed as another Elitest study–a new approach is needed. I can see a statewide citizen demonstration emerging is only someone had a bit of time to say –on Day x at time y all the state of Mn will stop working and doing anything for at least 1 hour–until government is restored. Lets go for it to send a message.
    Dave Broden

  10. Submitted by Richard Pecar on 07/08/2011 - 04:47 pm.

    The advertisements and billboards are trivializing the issues, and the legislative process, and thus, they are also trivializing our system of representative government. We are not supposed to be governed by winner-takes-all mentality. That’s why we fight wars, it’s to protect ourselves from living in a winner-takes-all place. Billboards and TV snippets are not how we do debate issues in America or Minnesota. It’s embarrassing.

    To date, every nickel spent by government is the endpoint of a process of legislative deliberation. Hearings were held, proponents and opponents spoke, data was presented by each, and all the data was analyzed by legislative research. legislators spoke and voted their interests, the interests of the voters they represent, and the interests of the state as a whole. At least, that’s how it should work…ideally.

    Now, with the sensitivity of a drugged bull in a china shop, the republicans are goring and stomping anything they don’t like. Not much more to it than that. No hearings, no debate, no gentle talk, no data…da nada.

    In the process, the republicans are throwing more under the bus than the infirm and impaired, the elderly, the developmentally disabled, and other programs worthy of a nation and state as prosperous as ours, they are also throwing the legislative process out the window. The republicans are doing no work, they are just flexing the muscle of the majority.

    That’s embarrassing too.

  11. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 07/08/2011 - 10:29 pm.

    #4. Ditto #7. Great post!

  12. Submitted by Jean Schiebel on 07/08/2011 - 11:45 pm.

    Weekly cost of a state shutdown

    Although the total cost of a state shutdown cannot be calculated until it’s over, some state agencies have provided information on revenue being lost because their doors are closed:

    State Lottery: $8.75 million/week in lost ticket sales

    State Parks: $1 million/week lost

    Tax Revenue: $13 million/week in uncollected tax revenue due to halted audits

    Transportation: $50,000/week in uncollected express highway lane fees

    The cost of closing 100 road projects still unknown

    Unemployment: $8.5 million/week cost

    Health insurance: $4.7 million/week cost for insurance for laid-off workers

    Wages: $23 million/week in wages unpaid to laid-off state workers

    Every day that Republican leaders refuse a compromise offer from Governor Dayton and fail to produce a counter-offer of their own, the price goes up. To encourage an end to this costly, harmful shutdown, please call Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch at 651-296-5981 or e-mail her at

  13. Submitted by Stan Hooper on 07/09/2011 - 12:21 am.

    The question in the headline asks whether the advertising blitz is counterproductive; seems that the reverse question should also be asked and researched; are they productive? My guess is not, but time will establish the real answer.

  14. Submitted by John Hoffman on 07/09/2011 - 04:28 am.

    Ads are way overplayed and annoying. But there is some simple fairness not happening in this economy. If someone pulls down a million bucks a year, they are getting paid in one year what a person who’s average yearly earnings are $33k in a 30 year career. These are the everyday Minnesotans who are taking care of the very young, old, and sick in our State. That’s not easy work. It pisses me off when people think the very wealthy are working harder than these folks. It’s also why I like the show “Undercover Boss” so the CEO gets a chance to do a real days work (often ineptly). I do think true genius innovations have a place for reward in this economy, but the disparity of executive compensation versus the pay of the front line workers has gotten so absurdly out of whack, that the time has come for an honest Governor who ran on this issue and won the race by 9000 or so votes to demand the richest pay more.

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