Joe Mansky Recounts Coleman/Franken

Joe Mansky

Joe Mansky

On Friday attendees were treated to a fascinating lunchtime talk by Ramsey County Elections Director Joe Mansky, who discussed Minnesota’s Coleman/Franken Senate election recount.  Joe did yeoman’s work chatting with us in the beautifully restored but acoustically challenging Minnesota State Capitol’s Rathskeller.  After admonishing us to pull our chairs closer, he recounted a story about when he did a lecture in West Virginia, and for the first time in his life watched a room fill from front to back – apparently Minnesotans always fill in starting from the back, leaving the front row seats for sheepish latecomers.  The West Virginian woman that he talked to afterwards said that it came from the Baptist culture there.   In church everyone always wanted to sit as close to God as possible, apparently quite different from Minnesota’s Lutheran roots.

Preparation for a possible recount began in June of 2008, when it became apparent that the Senate race could indeed be close enough to require a recount.  Joe thinks this was the 3rd closest Senate race in American history, and challenged the roomful of librarians to help him find out for sure.  He knew that something remarkable was going on when he got to work at 7:30 a.m. on November 5 to find several satellite television trucks parked out front, with a bunch of people milling around.  The break room Joe had set aside for use by exhausted election judges involved in the recount was quickly taken over by the campaigns, which soon had televisions arranged, coffee set up, and pizza deliveries arriving.  He suggested that the reasons for this massive amount of attention were the fact that this was a national race, Al Franken was a well-known figure, and the 60 vote majority filibuster margin in the Senate was still in play at this point.

Joe stressed that Franken won the election because Minnesota’s law instructs that in an election recount any ballots on which you can determine a voter’s intent should be included – if the recount was conducted under a different state’s guidelines the outcome would likely have been very different.  This meant that some ballots that might have been missed by the optical scanning machines used for counting on election night were included in the recount totals if the voter’s intentions were clear and the ballots weren’t invalidated for some other reason.  Apparently Democrats tend to pick up about 55% to Republicans’ 45% of the votes gained in recounts, which in a normal state race isn’t enough to make a difference in the result. But in an election with 2.9 million votes cast, Franken made up enough ground to swing Coleman’s election night lead to a final winning margin of 312 votes.  In the end, Minnesota’s optical scanners (which allow the independent verification of ballots) were found to be 99.9% accurate, the absentee ballot counting process was found to be 99.5% accurate, and the Secretary of State’s voter database was found to be 99.9% accurate.  There was palpable relief in the state once the race was finally decided after the Canvassing Board’s certification, the subsequent court case, and the MN Supreme Court’s decision on the appeal, but it was very interesting to relive parts of the process with one of the election officials involved. Much appreciated, Joe!

Jess Hopeman

Lobbyists as Information Providers and Information Seekers

… Or, Blackberries Were merely Fruit Ten Years Ago

Phil Griffin, a long-time health care lobbyist,  feels the amendment process has deteriorated, with the propensity for members to add many, many amendments in only slightly different versions.  It’s hard to track and is burdensome to the staff members who help with drafting.  It would be better if bills were more fully processed at the committee level.

TV and the internet have had the effect of connecting his clients all the time.  He held up his Iphone – “my leash,” he noted.  Clients watch the proceedings all the time too, oftentimes sending them into needless panic states.  They don’t understand that sometimes words can be political posturing, or bills and amendments can be introduced that have little chance of passage.

Iris Freeman and Phil Griffin

Iris Freeman and Phil Griffin

Iris Freeman lobbies primarily for nonprofits, on long-term care and Alzheimers policy.  She  commented that even with all of the speed that comes with technology, and the openness of proceedings to the public, that, “Immediacy doesn’t mean we’ve gotten rid of illusion,” and that much of what goes on at the Legislature relies on illusion.

She also said she calls the largely-unpaid lobbying done by nonprofits and academics “applied advocacy.”

“It’s the teacher in me,” Iris said, “I have a handout for you.”  It is a fascinating comparison of  how technology was used during the process of passing a bill in 1980, 1995, and 2009.  For example, snail mail letters were sent to mobilize supporters in the late 70s; email bulletins and a wiki kept supporters in contact this year.

Iris noted that with the speed of technology, there are higher expectations for lobbyists to know everything, all of the time.

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John Tuma

John Tuma is a former legislator who now lobbies on behalf of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership and other clients. He described some of the sophisticated marketing and tracking techniques used by the Minnesota Environmental Partnership to identify supporters of the groups’ issues.  He said that about the time he began lobbying was the end of the mass blast lobbying efforts, times when groups instructed  large groups of their supporters to send a postcard or phone call to legislators, basically form letters.  Groups realize now that legislators are more attuned to the messages that come from their own districts, and from “grass tops,” active community leaders whose opinions will be valued by legislators.

All three panelists stressed that personal relationships are still an important part of successful lobbying.  It is getting people engaged in and excited about what you are doing.  They also agreed that the need for access to information, and libraries, is as strong as ever.

Are legislators smarter with increased immediate access to technology and the web?  John Tuma, noted that it might make them dumber in some cases, if they rely on unverified information on the web.  He said that when he was in the Legislature and was a committee chair, he didn’t make any claims without his committee administrator confirming their accuracy.

Ultimately, are the huge changes brought by technology an improvement?  Even though the pace might be accelerated, Phil had two stories to demonstrate…..  One was that he remembered being in a committee hearing at 4:48 a.m. when a handwritten amendment was passed to a chair and added to a bill.  That amendment put his client out of business.  There is too much transparency for the same thing to happen today.  And second, Phil heard a story from one of his lobbying mentors, John Tracy Anderson.  Senator Anderson was a former minority leader who afterwards lobbied for Blue Cross for many years.  He told Phil the story of  about a tax bill, many years ago, being drafted by a secretary – not a legislative secretary, but one at a railroad office.  When Sen. Tracy asked for a copy of the bill, he was told by the majority leader,  “I’ll send you a copy in the mail, after it’s passed.”

Betsy Haugen/Robbie LaFleur

Traditional Media vs. New Media Coverage of Legislature

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Sarah Janacek

This panel focused on evolving legislative news coverage. Mike Mulcahey, political editor for Minnesota Public Radio, discussed how the model for how people get their news has changed. Few people still sit down with their subscribed-to hard copy of the newspaper and a cup of coffee at the kitchen table to digest the news at the beginning of the day.  Now people get news all day long, all night long, and they expect it to be free. It is particularly unsettling for traditional journalists to realize that in this marketplace, their work has no monetary value. Newspapers have thus far failed to monetize their offerings under the new model – online readership numbers can jump, but that doesn´t necessarily translate to profit for the papers. On the other hand, the rise of the internet has increased the value of news reporting.  Stories are available online after they have been broadcast, which allows people to go back and find stuff they might have missed. As a nonprofit, MPR has been able to escape the need to create shareholder wealth, instead they rely on listeners, corporations, foundations, and to a decreasing extent on taxpayers through government support for their funding. Mike thinks that more sources and more varieties of information provided by the wide range of resources is probably a good thing.

Pat Sweeney is the Communications Director for the Freshwater Society, and previously he was a political reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for many years. He mentioned that there used to be four daily papers in the metro, two morning and two evening from each the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune, and their reporting was intensely competitive. The Pioneer Press also had an image of the capitol dome on their masthead, which is no longer there. Covering the capitol used to be the best thing. Pat also mentioned that the problem is that the papers have always had a flawed business model – they sell newspapers for less than the cost of production, and make their revenues from ads. The opposite is true in Europe, where you might pay a euro for a newspaper, but will find far fewer ads inside. He noted that it is actually Monster.com and CarSoup and Craigslist which are taking away what papers are trying to live on by providing an alternative to the paper´s employment, car sales and classified
sections. In terms of blogs, Pat saw two sides: the negative is that they may not be as proven as traditional sources, but on the other hand, blogs at times can be driving the coverage of stories by traditional news outlets because blogs may have less to fear, and less to lose.

Sarah Janecek is the publisher of Politics in Minnesota, which began as a snail-mail newsletter and has evolved into a weekly electronic report, an online morning news aggregation, and a political directory. PIM was the first in the country to add advertising with political information, and their continuing challenge has been how to monetize their work and flex their delivery as the model of news consumption has changed. She mentioned the necessity to consider what it´s like to live your whole life online, and how to appeal to people who eat, breathe, and sleep the internet – people under a certain age feel that if something isn´t available online, it doesn´t exist. Ultimately she believes that the creator of the content needs to be the seller of the content, and it is the fact that her offerings have been relationship-based that has allowed her to continue to flourish.

Jess Hopeman

The Business Meeting Rounds Out the PDS

IMG_1475A shot of the LRL Staff Section Officers:  Mary Camp (TX), Secretary; Shelley Day (UT), Chair-Elect; Elizabeth Lincoln (MN) Chair; Jackie Curro (MD), Immediate Past Chair.

Are You Feeling Secure?

Shelley Day models the extra security badge

Shelley Day models the extra security badge

Most visitors to the Minnesota State Capitol notice the beauty of Cass Gilbert´s design – the golden horses, the rotunda, the sweeping staircases, and the formal House and Senate chambers.  Legislative librarians visiting from other states have observed something else-the lack of noticeable security.  Most states´ capitol buildings have a much higher level of security; metal detectors and security staff at each entrance, for example.

Our tour of Thomson Reuters headquarters in Eagan, Minnesota, involved a level of security that felt familiar to many of us.  There were no metal detectors but we needed both a name tag and a guest pass.   Our NCSL name badges started to get heavy with two additional badges attached!

But we hadn´t seen anything yet!  Access to Thomson Reuters Data Center within the corporate campus was the most secure facility most of us had ever visited.   Of course, you need badges, but even if you get past one check point you need further clearance to get past others.

In addition to being highly secure, the Data Center had remarkable redundancy.  Data was backed up in multiple ways, energy sources were also backed up.  Rows of batteries, rooms of generators, and multiple 10,000 gallon fuel tanks were impressive.

Elizabeth Lincoln

Cool doors at Thompson-Reuters

Cool doors at Thompson-Reuters

Preserving State Government Digital Information: The NDIIPP Project

DSCN2087Bob Horton, the Minnesota State Archivist, started off the session with a cool new podcast about the NDIIPP Project and the importance of preserving digital legislative information.  It features our Speaker of the House, Margaret Anderson Kelliher.

Do you see the diagram on the board behind Bob?  It made sense to those who were there!

Bob’s slides will be posted on the LRL site, and there is much to read at the project website.  The posted White Papers are well written.  The Government Data Mashups White Paper is well worth reading.

Greetings….

DSCN2074Jim Greenwalt, the Senate IT Director in Minnesota, brought greetings from NCSL Staff Chair Nancy Cyr.  Nancy is traveling a lot these days, while also trying to stay at home in Nebraska for an upcoming special session.  Jim is a former NCSL Staff Chair.  Thanks Jim!