Monthly Archives

July 2009

Voter ID

By | Le Sueur County | No Comments

After speaking at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in LeCenter a few days ago, I had a discussion with a woman about voting and voter identification. Our conversation followed an earlier comment by a gentleman who felt the recent MN U.S. Senate race and subsequent recount made us a “national laughingstock.” I respectfully disagreed with the lady and the gentleman.
The United States, throughout its 233 years, has a history of restricting voters. Originally, land owning white males were the only people showing up at the polls on Election Day. Gradually, these restrictions were lifted. No less than 6 constitutional amendments have extended voting rights to women, minorities, 18 year olds, and residents of the District of Columbia. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 put teeth into earlier amendments ensuring eligible citizens could exercise their rights and cast their vote on Election Day.
The woman was emphatic about the need for a photo ID to vote: “Well, you have to show an ID to cash a check or buy a beer; we should require the same for voters.” I disagree. We don’t have a constitutional right to buy beer or cash a check. We do have the right to vote. And not every person has a photo ID. There is no documented wave or trend of individuals voting multiple times, voting as someone else, or voting despite knowing that they are ineligible. Indeed, evidence from the highly scrutinized 2004 gubernatorial election in Washington State actually reveals just the opposite: though voter fraud does happen, it happens approximately 0.0009% of the time. The similarly closely-analyzed 2004 election in Ohio revealed a voter fraud rate of 0.00004%. National Weather Service data shows that Americans are struck and killed by lightning about as often (Brennan Center for Justice).
The recent Franken - Coleman recount demonstrated a deliberate and thorough process that highlighted a few areas of concern. The concerns were minimal, but if addressed, could avoid any problems in future recounts. Legislation passed by the legislature this past session would have strengthened Minnesota’s election system by using state and federal databases to help prevent those who are ineligible from registering or voting before elections take place. Every effort was made during the session to pass a bipartisan election reform bill with non-controversial, common sense reforms to make our good election process better. Those reforms would have strengthened voter registration systems and made it easier to accurately and efficiently count absentee ballots. Governor Pawlenty vetoed the bill.
“I don’t care who you vote for, just as long as you vote.” I actually would say that to people on the phone during my last election campaign. The right to vote is at the core of any democracy. Perhaps I put too much trust in my community, our local election judges, or the person who vouches for their neighbor at the polling site. Even though Minnesota consistently leads the nation in voter turnout we should continue to do whatever we can to encourage even more voter participation, not set up more roadblocks.

Weighing the Vote

By | Economy, Education, Energy, Environment | No Comments

From now until the 2010 election, we will hear the steady drumbeat from the opposition critical of legislators and their work during the 2009 legislative session, specifically dealing with the unprecedented $6.4 budget deficit. I am okay with that. As an elected official, I understand we will be subject to criticism, right or wrong. The people’s freedom to express themselves is essential in a representative democracy.
Freiderich von Schiller once said, “Votes should be weighed, not counted.” As constituents, how do we fairly evaluate a legislative vote? That is a difficult question. First of all, Minnesota has been in the midst of the worst recession in over 60 years. There were no easy votes this past legislative session. And to be certain, no politician campaigns on a platform of deep cuts and tax increases. So what are the options? Perhaps you vote for a Senate plan which included a combination of significant cuts and increased revenue? With compromise in mind, you may cast a vote on a different option because you know the Governor will accept the bill. Sometimes you cast a vote because it is the best bill the House of Representatives can muster. A lot of hard work followed by difficult decisions. Ideally, you cast a vote because you believe it is the best solution to a tough problem and because you believe the outcome is best for the citizens of District 25 and the state of Minnesota.
Voting on the floor of the Senate is one part of being a legislator. I received good advice from a friend recently, a gentle reminder: “Vote your convictions.” Partisanship aside, if your legislator believes we should invest in education, take care of the sick and the poor, clean up our air and water, rebuild our roads and bridges, and work to build an economy that provides good jobs with benefits…that’s the best we can hope for. Hard work. Compromise. Conviction. And if people choose to be critical, that is their right. Criticism is part of our public policy process and I welcome the debate.

The Family Farm

By | Economy, Le Sueur County | No Comments

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet with over nearly 50 people on a family farm south of Montgomery. These family farmers expressed real concerns about staying in business and their ability to make a living as dairy farmers. They are typical of the more than 60,000 dairy farms in the United States that have been cutting costs, selling off their cows, or leaving the dairy business altogether as milk prices plummet while dairy farm operating costs remain uncomfortably high.
Representative Laura Brod, myself, and a representative from Congressman John Kline’s office listened to the concerns of area farmers as they asked what could be done at both federal and state levels. The problem certainly stretches beyond the state borders. Nationwide, milk prices are down more than 50 percent from last summer after hitting all-time highs in 2007 and notching the second highest prices on record in 2008.
Analysts expect milk prices to remain depressed through at least the first half of the year, and prices later this year may only be high enough to cover production costs. Several farmers on hand described the problem in simple terms - too much milk and not enough demand for it. While suggestions ranged from: cutting production to federal or state intervention in milk pricing, all agreed that the issue needs to be addressed and the sooner the better. The family farm is just as important to our economy as the businesses on Main Street or the factory in town. They are all vital to each other’s success.
I intend to dig into this issue and will be listening to our rural community as they offer input and suggestions to addressing a real crisis. Our family farms in Minnesota and across the United States deserve our attention.

Fourth of July Challenge

By | Event | No Comments

During Jimmy Carter’s term in office, the 39th president expressed concerns about the complacency of the American public. Not surprising, considering America was not far removed from the conflict in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal. At the end of his term, the country was experiencing high unemployment, an energy shortage, inflation, and of course the Iran hostage Crisis.
Yesterday, I was asked to recite a patriotic reading as part of the Northfield 4th of July festivities. I chose a passage from Jimmy Carter’s farewell address delivered from the White House January 14, 1981. The President’s speech was delivered with the hope of reawakening American citizens to the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence. He spoke of human rights around the world and our nation’s obligation to serve as a beacon to oppressed people everywhere. He also spoke of our own country’s rights and values. His vision is still so relevant today:
“We live in a time of transition, an uneasy era which is likely to endure for the rest of this century. It will be a period of tensions both within nations and between nations — of competition for scarce resources, of social political and economic stresses and strains. During this period we may be tempted to abandon some of the time-honored principles and commitments which have been proven during the difficult times of past generations.
We must never yield to this temptation. Our American values are not luxuries but necessities — not the salt in our bread but the bread itself. Our common vision of a free and just society is our greatest source of cohesion at home and strength abroad — greater even than the bounty of our material blessings.
Remember these words:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
This vision still grips the imagination of the world. But we know that democracy is always an unfinished creation. Each generation must renew its foundations. Each generation must rediscover the meaning of this hallowed vision in the light of its own modern challenges. For this generation, ours, life is nuclear survival; liberty is human rights; the pursuit of happiness is a planet whose resources are devoted to the physical and spiritual nourishment of its inhabitants.”

As we celebrate this 4th of July weekend, we should all work for the values this nation was founded to secure. That is the citizen Jimmy Carter has become. It is the type of citizen we should all strive to become.

Congratulations, Al Franken

By | Kevin Dahle MN Senate District 20 | No Comments

The thermometer indicated 5 degrees below zero, January 2, 2008. Al Franken and I were out door knocking in Northfield on the eve of my special election. Al is determined. After he knocks, a few seconds later he opens the door and asks, “Is anyone home?” Any signs of annoyance at being interrupted at dinnertime quickly dissipate when constituents realize Al Franken is standing in the foyer. Smiles exchange handshakes as Al and I remind voters to vote the next day. We turn around and head into the cold night air, ready to surprise the next potential voter followed with a thoughtful reminder of the importance of voting.
Fast forward to June of that year. Al, his wife Frannie, and I are patiently waiting in a room just off the main stage of the Rochester Convention Center. No one says a word as Al and I quietly look over our notes. In a few minutes I will introduce Al Franken before he delivers his endorsement speech at the Minnesota State DFL Convention. A different audience for sure, and quite a contrast between the few folks you meet door to door and the several thousand party faithful anxious to send their candidate into the summer long campaign against Republican Norm Coleman.
His hard work has paid off. Yesterday, the Minnesota Supreme Court declared Al Franken the winner of the November 2008 election. He will be sworn in as our next U.S. Senator, sometime next week. The Minnesota DFL Party released a statement yesterday. Part of the statement reads, “Throughout this long process, Minnesotans have seen what kind of Senator Al Franken will be: determined, patient, thoughtful, and ready to work for our state.” That sums up the Al that I know.
Congratulations, Al, from one freshman Senator to the next.