Pardon The Inconvenience, But Recount Isn’t Horner’s Fault

For those who witnessed the 2000 presidential election, recounts are a painful walk down memory lane.

Here we go again.

Democrat Mark Dayton leads Republican Tom Emmer by just about 9,000 votes in the Minnesota gubernatorial election, soit appears the race will be decided by automatic recount. State election rules require an automatic recount for any election decided by less than 0.5 percent of the overall vote. Dayton’s lead is just about 0.43 percent.

In 2008, Minnesota endured a recount between two senatorial candidates — Democrat Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman — who sparred for eight months while the votes were tallied and the results were taken to court. Franken eventually won but the lengthy process was an embarrassment and left Minnesota underrepresented in the U.S. Senate.

This time around, the candidate I voted for, Independent Tom Horner, is catching a fair amount of heat for siphoning votes from Dayton, à la Ralph Nader-from-Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election. There may be a sliver of validity to the argument. If I hadn’t voted Horner, I certainly would’ve voted Dayton. But voting isn’t about convenience or expediency and I didn’t have to choose between Horner or Dayton. I wasn’t about to spurn the candidate I truly wanted to appease Dayton supporters or quicken the vote counting.

Here’s some of the Horner vitriol I’m seeing on Twitter:

  • “Oh goody. Another MN recount. Thanks, Tom Horner! asshole”
  • “Holyfreakincrap the Minnesota Gov. race has entered recount territory. NOOOOO! Damn u Tom Horner. Independence party sucks. Pick a side!”
  • “Frickin 3rd parties!!! From Ross Perot to Tom Horner to Tim Olson & everyone in between, self-serving 3rd parties steal votes from Repubs”
  • “Right now I HATE Tom Horner, well meaning peep as he may be.”

So much for favoring the emergence of a third party, because, as one of the above tweets put it, moderate voters should just “pick a side.”

I say kudos to Tom Horner. Though he pulled just 12 percent of the vote (compared to about 44 percent for both Dayton and Emmer), he commanded respect through nearly 30 debates and represented the Independence Party of Minnesota with class and integrity. I believe Horner’s campaign paired with the feckless back-and-forth between Republicans and Democrats will boost membership and interest in his party over the next few years.

Who knows how long Recount 2010(-2011?) will last. No matter what, though, don’t let impatience turn to blame. Horner had every right to run, as did the four other third-party candidates whose combined 24,000 votes kept Dayton and Emmer within the automatic recount margin.

That’s democracy, folks, and it aint’ always a drive-thru. Even if you voted Dayton or Emmer, you should celebrate the fact there were other options on the ballot. One of the two will still win. If you believe in your candidate and your candidate is worth a damn, it shouldn’t matter if there’s two, three, 15 or 100 names on the ballot. If your candidate loses, that’s really no one’s fault but their own.

Worst Minnesota Storm Ever! (No, Really!)

Today's storm is expected to produce 28-foot waves on Lake Superior. Don't forget your lifejacket.

In the spring of 1995, my family moved into a new house in what was then the westernmost part of Sioux Falls, S.D. My dad — a homebuilder — included an elevated back porch that faced the northwest horizon. From there, we had a perfect view of the summer storms that would bubble up and slowly rumble in to wreak havoc on the city.

It was on that back porch I would obsess over severe weather, giddily awaiting the next hail storm, flash flood or tornado. I would run in and out of the house during severe weather warnings — inside to check the latest Doppler radar image and outside to spot tornadic activity on my own. Twister came out in 1996 and I fantasized being among that bunch of wily storm chasers, zigzagging across Tornado Alley, partly for science but mostly to win Helen Hunt’s affection. Unfortunately, my math and science skills lagged, so I never really stood a chance at being a meteorologist.

My parents still live in the same house, but the view has since been blocked by residential development. Still, the weather geek in me lives on. I think it’s a Midwestern thing. How many arbitrary conversations do we have on a day to day basis regarding, of all things, the weather?

To be fair, we endure some brutal weather in the Upper Midwest. This isn’t news to any of you reading this within the region, but try living in the mundane, entirely redundant Pacific Northwest climate you’ll yearn for days like today.

What’s going on today? Oh, you haven’t heard? Check weather.com:

Unimpressed? Check out this headline from Star Tribune meteorologist Paul Douglas:

That’s right, weather nerds — this is a storm worth talking about. Douglas writes:

Computer models are predicting today’s storm undergoing “bombo-genesis” near Duluth today, with a central pressure as low as 28.3″ by evening. If the computers verify we may very well set a record for Minnesota’s strongest storm (measured via barometric pressure) on record. According to Jesse Ferrell’s blog at Accu-Weather.com Minnesota’s deepest storm on record was 28.47″ near Rochester.

I doubt I’ll be the only one hitting refresh on weather.com later today to watch the barometric pressure drop. (Geek cred!)

It doesn’t take a sociologist to determine why we’re so adamant about idle weather banter. Weather is one of the few things that links strangers living in a common area. In fact, locally, I suspect it’s a point of pride. Sure, we grimace when the high is (-6) degrees, but it’s one of the first things we’ll brag about when anyone asks what Midwestern winters are like.

The forecast for Minneapolis today calls for a high 55 degrees with sustained winds of 35 miles per hour, gusting to 60 miles per hour. An inch of rain is likely. Also likely: I’ll talk to a total stranger about the weather at some point today. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, either.

That’s part of being a Minnesotan.

(Note: If you snap any cool weather-related photos today, send them my way so I can post them here. E-mail them to atmiller14@gmail.com! Include a description if possible.)

Minnesota Elections Do Little to Impress

Minnesota gubernatorial candidates (from left) Democrat Mark Dayton, Republican Tom Emmer and Independent Tom Horner.

I’ve discovered moving from outside the state midway through an election year breeds ignorance. And willful ignorance at that.

This could also be part of my 2008 election hangover. I, like so many young Americans (see: Idealistic), voted for President Barack Obama as if he was a surefire, no-brainer solution to every last problem in our country. I drank the Kool-Aid. All of it. Hope. Yes w can. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Man, I was on board.

I still support President Obama. I’m still a Democrat, I guess. It’s just … this election cycle hasn’t roused my interest and there’s probably more to it than the fact I didn’t arrive in Minnesota until July. Despite having every opportunity to get informed on the candidates in each respective race, I just … haven’t.

For instance, the three Minnesota gubernatorial candidates — Republican Tom Emmer, Democrat Mark Dayton and Independent Tom Horner — have squared off in 20 debates as of last weekend, yet I haven’t had the patience to sit through a single one of’em. I was at the Minnesota State Fair when they took the stage. I tried to listen in, but the crowd was so restless, I felt like I was at a Maury Povich taping. (“Tom Emmer — you are not the father!”)

In the 6th district race for the House of Representatives, somehow-incumbent Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) has been entrenched  in battle with Minnesota State Senator Tarryl Clark. I didn’t know that the first few months, because I thought Clark was running against some dude named Jim:

The clock is winding down for me, young Minnesota voter, to get informed because every vote counts and if I don’t vote, I can’t complain and not voting is plainly un-American and if I’m not with voting, I’m with the terrorists and I pay Minnesota taxes so shouldn’t I take interested in who decides where those taxes are going because, honestly, yes we can. Yes we can? Hope.

If I take interest in the election, it won’t go beyond the city council, the school board or the state senate. Those are the pivotal elections that get lost in the muck of gubernatorial and congressional elections. Those elections take more work to understand. While Bachmann’s off waxing hysteria on FOX News or Dayton, Emmer and Horner spar over a Minnesota Vikings stadium plan, it’s the local leaders who see neighborhoods in peril, schools in limbo and public works in flux. They’re the ones who can call attention to areas in need.

Minnesota’s Texting While Driving Law Lacks Teeth, Consequence

I used to text while driving. Nothing extensive, but if someone texted a short question, I’d look away from the road momentarily to poke at my phone. I carried out longer conversations via text while driving back and forth to Sioux Falls — a stretch I could probably drive with my eyes closed by now.

I changed my ways in Portland, Ore., where texting or even talking on a cell phone while driving was illegal. My Ford Fusion has a built-in Bluetooth feature which allows me to carry on a conversation without ever touching my phone, but as far as texting goes, that’s something I had to learn to quit. I’m glad I did.

AT&T launched a series of public service announcements in March, plainly titled TXTing While Driving. I only recently started seeing them in Minnesota. It’s a smart play by AT&T from a public relations standpoint, but also a poignant message warning about what’s become a national epidemic, especially among teenagers:

(You can see the rest of the spots here.)

I’m not sure whether this is based on a true story or if the female voice is a paid actor, but the message is painfully familiar. After all, anyone who’s texted on the roads knows it’s the simple, little texts like “Where r u” that often take our attention from the road.

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, driving distraction (which includes texting) accounts for about one-quarter of all auto accidents annually, making it the number one cause. I think most Minnesotans — including myself — would be surprised to learn texting while driving has been illegal in Minnesota for over two years. Want to know why you may not have noticed? It’s a petty misdemeanor, but a secondary offense. This means you must be pulled over for a more serious offense (speeding, for instance) and proven guilty of texting while driving. The fine tops out at $300.

That’s not good enough.

For all the two-lane highways in this state, the blizzards, the icy roads, the wildlife crossing, Minnesota lawmakers should make texting while driving a primary offense. The current law is purely symbolic. Well-intentioned, sure, but not enough to scare anyone from doing it. We need something with teeth. Under the current law, no one’s punished until the damage is done. Offenders will have the petty misdemeanor added on after they’ve crossed the median, after they’ve run a stop sign, after they’ve failed to yield, after they’ve caused a head-on collision, after they’ve harmed themselves or someone else.

This isn’t sexy issue like state budgets or tax cuts, but a serious one that affects drivers on a daily basis. Whomever comes out on top of the Minnesota gubernatorial election should make strengthening the texting while driving law a top priority.

The 5 Phases of the Minnesota State Fair

Over 100,000 attend the Minnesota State Fair on weekend days, and each of them asks the same question: "Why did I eat that?"

Today, I get to see what the quintessential Minnesota experience is all about. I’m heading to the Minnesota State Fair this afternoon for work, where I’ll be surrounded by all manner of fried food on sticks, though I’ve been told I cannot eat any of it. Our client is a health-care provider. Apparently grease dripping from my fried-alligator-on-a-stick doesn’t gibe with their public image.

So be it. I’m probably dodging a bullet, because according to my Facebook feed, the average Minnesota State Fair-goer experiences the Great Minnesota Get-Together in the following five phases:

Phase 1 — The Arrival: Holy crap! Look at all of the rides! Is that an omelette on a stick? Either I’m getting blood clots or inducing vertigo! Booyah!

Phase 2 — The Indulgence: This deep-fat-fried ham I’m eating is delicious! So is this stout beer! I can’t feel my legs!

Phase 3 — The Exploration: I don’t remember the Tilt-a-Whirl making me so nauseous! Where are the other adults?!

Phase 4 — The Aftermath: (Overwhelming sadness. Silence. Despair. Slight jaundice.)

Phase 5 — The Empty Pledges: “Hey guys, want to leave the State Fair and never come back again in our lives?”

About 1.8 million attended the Minnesota State Fair last year, as year after year it’s one of the largest state fairs in the country. (Texas holds the crown, but only because it runs twice as long.) I’m generally opposed to huge crowds, sweltering heat, carnies and horny teenagers running amok, but I love Minnesota. This is a celebration of the state’s culture, no matter how folksy and fattening it gets. It’s the last hurrah before the weather turns and we’re trapped indoors for six months. (This justifies the gluttony — mammals must feast before hibernating.)

Today’s more work than play, but I’ll snap some footage for those of you who haven’t been or haven’t even heard of the Minnesota State Fair. (That means you, daily reader from Turkey.) For those who have been, why do you go? What brings you back? What’s the fair’s biggest selling point?