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Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

November 20, 2017

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Nov. 17

Sen. Al Franken’s behavior on USO tour cannot be excused

Minnesotans were rightly horrified to find yet another of their elected officials, Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken, the latest on a rogues’ list of powerful men who stand credibly accused of sexual misconduct.

Radio host Leeann Tweeden came forward Thursday to accuse Franken of groping and forcibly kissing her when the two were on a 2006 USO Christmas tour in the Middle East. Tweeden said that over her objections, Franken wanted to rehearse a kiss he had written into a skit. “He came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth,” she said. When she rejected him, Franken retaliated with “petty insults” that culminated in a photo taken while she slept aboard a military transport that showed Franken leering into the camera with his hands over her breasts.

In apologizing, Franken said he didn’t recall the rehearsal incident “in the same way,” although he declined to say exactly how he remembered it. He also used an increasingly tired dodge, saying the photo “clearly was intended to be funny but wasn’t.” Let’s be clear: The photo was never intended to be funny. It was a mean attempt to humiliate and denigrate a fellow USO volunteer who had the temerity to reject his advances.

We’ve heard the humor defense before. Franken’s initial Senate run suffered over his history of profane and at times misogynistic humor, which included a 1995 proposed “Saturday Night Live” sketch on the comedic “rape” of CBS reporter Lesley Stahl. In apologizing to the DFL Party convention in 2008, Franken resorted to saying he had come to realize some of his jokes “weren’t funny.” The apologies are wearing thin.

This Editorial Board in recent days called for the resignations of state Sen. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, and state Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, for multiple accusations of ugly sexual misdeeds while in office. Franken, so far, is accused of one incident that occurred before he took office. That does not excuse or mitigate the gravity of his conduct, which was despicable, but the story was still developing as this editorial was being written.

Franken now faces what is sure to be a prolonged Senate Ethics Committee investigation led by Republicans as they try to salvage the candidacy of one Roy Moore, an Alabama Republican who stands credibly accused of sexually assaulting a string of young women, one as young as 14. Franken’s scandal simultaneously provides cover for them and damages his ability to be an effective moral voice for Minnesotans — perhaps too much for him to continue in the Senate.

Minnesota DFL Party Chair Ken Martin commended Tweeden for “courageously coming forward” to share her story and said “we are incredibly disappointed in Senator Franken. ... There is no excuse for his actions, whether they occurred before he was in the U.S. Senate or not.” We share that disappointment.

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Mankato Free Press, Nov. 18

Tax cuts: Don’t bank on big economic growth

As Congress closes in on passing some of the biggest tax cuts in U.S. history, even conservative economists suggest the boost to the economy won’t come at rates politicians are promising.

The huge cut in the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent would mark the biggest decrease in that rate over the last 50 years. The 1986 tax reform act lowered it 12 percentage points from 46 to 34 percent. It was raised back to 35 percent as part of the 1993 Budget Reconciliation Act to help reduce the federal deficit.

When the corporate tax rate was lowered in the 1986 reform, it added only 0.33 percent annually to what the GDP would have been, according to the conservative leaning Tax Foundation. The foundation recently estimated the bill that passed the House would add 0.35 annually to the GDP.

The organization uses a “tax and growth” model that assumes that economic growth will result from most tax cuts. But in a report looking at tax cuts going back to the Kennedy tax cuts of 1962, the group reports the impact of an entire tax cut on GDP has never been more than 0.8 percentage point gain annually.

That growth came during the Reagan tax cuts of 1981. While GDP growth was impacted by almost one percent per year, federal revenue dropped almost 3 percent as a percentage of GDP.

That ballooned the federal deficit and caused the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates.

Some estimates of the current tax cut proposal that passed the House this week are projecting a 4 percent annual growth in GDP from the typical 2.2 percent of the last few years. So that would be a growth rate never before experienced in tax cut history since the 1960s.

We would do well to be skeptical.

While the House proposal also cuts taxes for individuals, most notably doubling the standard deduction, it still imparts most of the benefits on corporations, with the “trickle down” assumption that they will hire, invest and build new factories.

That’s a big assumption to hang our hats on, and skeptics argue corporations will simply use the money to buy back their own stock and increase dividends — benefits that would go to the well off.

But if we want to look at the 1981 tax cuts as a barometer of where we should put most of the tax cut, it should be to individuals — and to individuals who spend more of their money.

The 1981 tax cut reduced individual rates across the board on the lowest earners from about 14 percent to 11 percent. Those reductions, the Tax Foundation argues, contributed to about half of the 0.8 percent increase in the growth rate.

Economists generally agree when lower income consumers get tax breaks, they tend to spend the money, thereby increasing consumer spending, which makes up about 70 percent of the U.S. economy.

Of course, there are those who can make reasonable arguments that tax cuts have virtually no impact on the economy. But if we believe putting more money in someone’s pocket causes them to engage in more spending, we would probably be better off giving it to consumers instead of corporations.

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Post Bulletin, Nov. 15

Creepy, harassing behavior at Capitol is unacceptable

“Just got an anonymous text saying I got busted for staring at you on the House floor ... Haha. I told him it was your fault, of course. Look too damned good. Ha. I must be more gentlemanly when I run for governor.”

It’s too late, Rep. Tony Cornish.

Cornish sent this text message to Rep. Erin Maye Quade, a DFLer from Apple Valley, and it’s one of many examples of inappropriate, sexually oriented texts and behaviors that have been reported at the Minnesota State Capitol and statehouses nationwide.

Cornish, a Republican from Vernon Center, has been accused of sexual harassment and offensive behavior by Maye Quade and by an unnamed female lobbyist, who told the Star Tribune that she was the subject of unwanted advances from Cornish for years. House Speaker Kurt Daudt has suspended Cornish’s chairmanship of the House Public Safety Committee and ordered an HR investigation of the allegations.

Cornish flatly denies his behaviors were harassing or over the line.

And then there’s DFL Sen. Dan Schoen, who Maye Quade alleges has harassed her for months. DFL leaders, including Gov. Mark Dayton, have called for his resignation. He also denies the allegations and says he won’t quit.

According to Capitol insiders, this is a tip-of-the-iceberg moment. The allegations “may be just the beginning,” according to a story by MinnPost’s Briana Bierschbach, the reporter who broke the story last week about Maye Quade’s allegations against Schoen. “There are years of pent-up allegations from people involved in state politics and government that have either gone unreported or unaddressed.”

That latter category — the reported but “unaddressed” incidents — is one that threatens the current and former leadership in St. Paul. When incidents were reported, what happened? Were they addressed and were people warned or disciplined? If not, why not? Already, there’s finger-pointing and deflection by some who may not have taken appropriate action.

Maye Quade and Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn have called on Dayton and legislative leaders to create a bipartisan task force on sexual harassment to look at all facets of the issue at the Capitol and make recommendations on how to address it in a systematic way.

That should be a no-brainer, but the House and Senate have ethics processes in place, and now’s the time for elected officials to use them aggressively, to put an end to the boorish, sexist and dehumanizing behavior that’s gone on for too long.

You wouldn’t think it’s necessary, but annual training for legislators about what harassment is and how it will be addressed also is a no-brainer.

Statehouses in Illinois, Florida, Colorado and Kentucky all have been rocked by allegations over the past month, thanks to courageous women coming forward, and we say it’s about time. Let’s get it all out into the open now, once and for all, so we can call it what it is, address it and get meaningful processes in place.

After the torrent of recent reports about harassing, criminal and just creepy behavior by powerful men, there’s a glimmer of hope that attitudes may be changing. Debbie Walsh, who leads the Center for Women and American Politics at Rutgers University, told The New York Times that there’s a difference in how people are reacting. “I don’t know if all of these men really get it or if now, at least, they know they’d better get it.”

Some never will, and for others, it’s too late. But for women who’ve had to deal with harassment, unwanted advances, inappropriate touching and worse, it’s important that Minnesota lawmakers address this aggressively, with personal commitments to change the culture.

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