Dear Political Diary,
The snow has arrived! In short order I must begin sculpting something.
For the first time in several years I've had an idea in mind in advance of the snow, although I've not drawn any models. Too bad that the two foot snow fell short of Duluth by fifty miles. Our six inches will raise the public's expectations but does not yet give me the quantity my idea requires.
Mary Cameron's victory is three weeks past but and so, alas, is my industriousness. My office looks like a recycling center. This does not bode well for the winter and my intent to begin a legislative campaign.
I've already made it clear I don't plan to run for the school board in two years when my term is up and that I've got my eyes on the legislature. This will come as no surprise for the local political junkies. The only question is, "which office?" As the entire state is being redistricted following the 2000 census its unclear what Duluth's new legislative boundaries will be. I've had some private conversations with people who would blanch if I mentioned their names in print. Some are Republicans, some are Democrats, all are pragmatists which is my preferred variety of junky.
On election eve when I announced my nascent plans to KDAL Radio I said I'd largely accomplished my mission on the School Board. The District was solvent, the Administration was stable, and the District was focused on the success of its children. It was true that the excess levy had failed but I felt it was time to move on to St. Paul which was the source of some of our problems if not the hope for our salvation. I wasn't quite that eloquent or, if you please, verbose. I was however, premature in my optimism. The Trade Towers Recession will put a big dent in state revenue. Since the State and Jesse Ventura took over more of the burden for school finance the local school districts are in big trouble. For Duluth it could mean an additional $7 million dollars cut over and above the projected $2.6 million dollars deficit that we already face.
Even if the levy, had it passed, could not have overcome this latest bad news. It would have barely permitted us to continue as we have been but only by closing buildings. Had the levy passed the district would still be facing a $3.6 million debt. These early financial projections suggest that we could fall $9.6 million in debt and even this could be a rosy picture. It assumes an almost ridiculously low wage settlement in our contract negotiations.
It turns out that I didn't solve our problems after all. Whether I make it to St. Paul or not I still have a year to grapple with these uncertainties. I should be cut a lot of slack. Of course, I won't get any. This is why I called FIGHTLINE last night and will call it again Thursday and keep calling it until I'm satisfied that I've neutered Brad Bennett.
Brad is the new chief spokesman for FIGHT. His organization of half a dozen political junkies has assumed the mantle of crusader against "inefficient government and high taxes." Put the word "fight" in front and you get the acronym. The organization has gotten lots of headlines over the last decade but it has only been a vehicle for its politically ambitious spokesmen. Brad's predecessor, Tom Paradice, ran a quixotic and unsuccessful campaign for the Wisconsin legislature after years of bad mouthing Minnesota's elected officials. Although FIGHT has wangled an hour long local talk show it hasn't been enough to propel anyone to elective office.
Since Tom left town in ignominy Brad has taken over the mantle and the microphone. Its been a come down for Brad. He served on the School Board for twelve inglorious years then stepped down to run against the vaunted Willard Munger for the legislature. Brad tried straddling the fence as an Independent but he got nowhere. Being on the Radio gives him a chance to hear himself and gives him an audience of several dozen sycophants. It also gives him an opportunity to lambaste the school board. Since I'm on the Board I take exception to Brad's surly and stupid pronouncements.
Last Tuesday at the School Board meeting I announced that I'd be calling Brad regularly on FIGHTLINE to straighten him out. Yesterday I got my first chance.
Brad is an ex marine with a little shrapnel left in his leg from his tour of Vietnam. Not surprisingly his show began with a heavy dose of bin Ladin bashing a subject not unlike the school board. (We sometimes hide in caves too) After that and some carping about Lake Superior's attack on the Lakewalk he opened up the phonelines. I presume that the reason he spent the first half hour gabbing solo is has so few listeners and gets so few calls.
Brad gave me a cordial introduction and I saluted him with a "semper fi." He asked me what was up so I told him I meant to get an apology from him or an explanation. I read FIGHT's ad: "They (the school board)... have deficit spent in each of the past three budget years." Then I read off the actual audited surpluses for the three preceding years and asked him how a "research" based organization like his could have gotten the facts so wrong.
It sounds simple enough. FIGHT's obviously wrong. Would Brad admit it though? Not hardly. Brad countered that the Board had spent $300,000 of a reserve fund as though that was all the proof he needed that the Board had deficit spent. Our surpluses were irrelevant. Had the audience been comprised of accountants my question would have been greeted with approving nods. Brad however is not an accountant and the conversation grew circular though not acrimonious. Brad segued out of the conversation but I told him I'd be calling back because I had a few more bones to pick with him.
It may be pointless to explain what a deficit is to a man who sat on the Board when the District went into "statutory operating debt" and had the State of Minnesota breathing down its neck till it bailed itself out. Maybe I should ask him to reminisce about the good ole days when I call back on Thursday.