Daily Reformer: Super Bowl of Minnesota politics — Iowa and Senate DFL shakeup

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) speaks during the Democratic presidential primary debate on Dec. 19, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.
Klobuchar in L.A.

Good morning!

Today on the Reformer: 

Programming note: Apologies if you tried to reply to Friday’s email and it got bounced. Try again! 

Before we get to a remarkable weekend in Minnesota politics, a personal share about seeing the annual Cabooze rendition of “The Last Waltz,” which is a re-creation of The Band’s final show in 1976, memorialized in the Scorcese documentary of the same name. The guitarist playing the “Eric Clapton” number was Beckett Olson Moffitt, who is…10 years old. Even better than his guitar shredding was watching his dad being a dad, nervously looking on with a very protective air. Congrats! 

Monday is Iowa caucus day, and The Post’s indefatigable Dave Weigel has a rundown of everyone’s closing argument, which is all about beating Trump. (He notes that Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s stump speech is … 35 minutes. Why?)

We’re even more in the dark than usual about this very fluid race because the best Iowa pollster Ann Selzer quit in the middle when one of the live callers left off Pete Buttigieg’s name when asking about candidate preferences. 

Being a pundit at my peril 

As I told someone Sunday it’s hard to know unless you’re there on the ground, and none of the MSM on the ground will say who is winning cuz the bosses don’t allow it. 

But I have no such constraints! Iowa is about organization, and VP Joe Biden apparently doesn’t have much of one, so expect him to finish worse than his polling. Sen. Bernie Sanders has done this before and his supporters are very enthusiastic and he’s peaking at the right moment. He’ll score at or above polling. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has a lot of good endorsements, which can translate into organization and she has put in the hours. She’ll score better than her polling. The real question is if she can place ahead of either Biden and/or Buttigieg and become the leader of the moderates, or at least an alternative to Biden. This would garner a massive surge in both free media and fundraising. Seems unlikely, but stranger things have happened. Here’s the Star Tribune’s account of her final sprint. Glen Stubbe was along for the ride and if there’s one thing politicos can agree on in Minnesota politics it’s that Stubbe is a wonderful politics photographer. 

Klobuchar got some tough questions from Chris Wallace Sunday on the AP investigation of her prosecution of Myon Burrell, about whose guilt new questions have emerged. Segment is def worth watching.  

Senate DFL shakeup

You must read this smart, sophisticated take from Aaron Brown, who is going to be a regular Reformer contributor and allowed us to republish his analysis of the dethroning of Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and what it means for the Iron Range and organized labor. I’m not going to try to summarize the piece. You should just read it, but he’s on to the history of trades vs industrial unions and what union membership means on the Range anymore. 

The caucus meeting went on for hours. Here’s how a Senate DFL source described the ending: “Short and polite.” 

As for what’s next: “There’s a lot of internal relationship building and building of trust and campaign work.” 

Whenever someone wins a surprising campaign victory I always turn to Robert Redford in The Candidate: “What do we do now?”

Here are two opposing views; I allowed them to be unnamed so they could speak freely. The first is a dour DFL operative. 

“Parties that fight internally generally don’t win. With Trump on the ballot  this year and losing 1st and 8th CDs in 2018, I don’t understand how this is supposed to be a positive message to Greater Minnesota. The suburban DFL just handed (GOP Majority Leader) Paul Gazelka a great message.” 

A different DFL source said it was about Bakk’s leadership style and “a stubborn refusal to acknowledge and work with a changing political scene.” This person added:

“The Senate DFL has been way behind the times. The majority is in the suburbs. Those are the new facts of life, and Bakk didn’t adjust to them. Their campaign is similarly antiquated.”

Does any of it really matter vis-a-vis November? I’m unconvinced. November will be decided by national dynamics and the ability of individual candidates to break through that smog. Obviously Bakk can create havoc if he leaves the caucus and takes members with him. 

 One thing that’s clear: They lost a leader who can manage a legislative session and put together a two-year state budget; has a mastery of inside-the-Capitol maneuvering; is a tough negotiator; knows where all the hidden pots of money are; has a vast network of allies in state government and labor. 

None of which is a comment on Sen. Susan Kent, who obviously has some real chops to take down Bakk. She did not return a call or text from me Sunday. 

Ridin’ that train, high on free fare 

DFL Rep. Brad Tabke, a former Shakopee mayor and a Met Council and transit aficionado, will have a news conference this morning with Rep. Frank Hornstein and Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle at 10:30 to talk about his bill to improve transit safety and especially light rail safety and general quality of ride. 

(Tabke will hate that headline, but I needed a Dead lyric for reader BP.)

The bill would decriminalize fare skipping, which is currently punishable as a misdemeanor with $180 fine and a bad mark on your record even though the train ticket cost $2. (Other misdemeanors include DUI, for instance.) So, instead, Tabke wants fare skippers to pay the equivalent of a parking ticket.

But the bill would also pay for transit “ambassadors,” basically transit officials who aren’t cops but could be on the lookout for fare skipping and loud music and pot smoking etc. and de-escalate and help homeless get services etc. He compared them to the downtown Minneapolis ambassadors. 

I shared with Tabke a recent experience on the train in which a guy with a bluetooth speaker around his neck was playing music that I could hear over my headphones, and he lit up a joint and then harassed some guy standing next to him. I should have done something, but I was a coward that day. Lot of people seem to have these experiences. And as of November, serious crimes on the train were up a whopping 35 percent over 2018, not counting downtown Minneapolis stations, according to this Star Tribune report

“This bill is entirely geared at increasing the safety and experience of using transit, along with fare evasion. We believe fare evasion will go down” if the bill gets implemented, Tabke told me. Similar programs have worked in Seattle and San Francisco, he said. More people patrolling — even if they’re not transit police, per se — means fewer incidents, goes the theory. 

The flip side of the current extreme punishment for fare evasion is that prosecutors have little interest in it, so most of it actually goes unpunished. The parking ticket approach is likely to work better, Tabke said. 

I have mixed feelings about all this. Our first day at the Reformer, we ran a piece that put into context all the fear-mongering Republicans are doing on crime in the runup to 2020. 

But it’s worth pointing out: Crime and derelict behavior on the train hurt people who need transit — people without cars who are trying to get to where they need to go without a hassle. Those Minnesotans and their comfort and safety should come first, it seems to me. 

And another thing: I’m old enough to remember Democrats losing elections over crime. The issue is not to be trifled with, either substantively or politically. Who wants to write an op-ed on this subject!? Hit me up: [email protected] 

Speaking of crime….  

I look forward to Republican senators taking the same view of other criminal justice issues as they have with Trump. Which is this: Surely getting away with it will deter him next time he thinks about trading foreign aid for dirt on his opponents! (Sens. Lamar Alexander and Joni Ernst, in this Times roundup.)

Whatever you do, take care of your shoes (But not those, Governor.)

Gov. Tim Walz, down in Iowa to campaign for Klobuchar, was showing off some goofy slip-on shoes with a Grateful Dead logo. I am a Deadhead but also a lover of fine footwear so I just cannot endorse, Governor.  

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