MINNEAPOLIS -- Election Day 2010 has arrived at last across this great nation of ours, and soon we'll know if the pundits and prognosticators were right about the nation rejecting President Obama's version of change and turning Congress over to the Republicans who promise to thwart his policies.
Here in Minnesota I can't get over the thought of how a single sheriff's deputy may have become the deciding factor in the governor's race. And, ironically, the deputy's anti-Dayton message is sponsored in part by the company founded by Dayton's family.
I'm talking about Deputy Dave Schultz of the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, who stars in the "Trick or Treat" ad produced by the political expenditure group known as MN Forward. If you haven't seen it you've been out of the state, because it has virtually blanked the programming schedules.
In the ad Deputy Dave warns that Democrat Mark Dayton's proposed income tax hike on the top five percent of earners in Minnesota is actually hitting middle class couples such as the deputy and his wife, who is a nurse.
"Dayton's new taxes will be a horror show," he declares in the Halloween-theme commercial featuring children having candy stolen from their bags.
"Mark Dayton says we're rich and we should pay higher taxes. He's wrong!"
The deputy/nurse taxpayer combo stems from a theme put forward by Dayton's opponent in the DFL primary. House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher said Dayton's tax plan would affect middle class families making as little as $130,000. Or, as she put it, "a police officer and a teacher."
Kelliher blurred the lines in her foray, because $130,000 was the cut-off for single filers, and that's taxable income not gross earnings. For joint filers, such as Deputy Dave and his nurse wife, the threshold would be $150,000 in taxable income -- or $180,000 in gross pay according to the Dept. of Revenue's tax research director Paul Wilson.
The Deputy's Dough
MN Forward has used faulty and outdated figures in previous cute and cuddly ads, as we reported in October, so I was naturally a bit skeptical about this one with the Halloween theme. In other words, for the ad to be accurate Deputy Dave and his wife would need to fall into that $180,000 range in joint income.
According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, the average police officer makes $55,000, and the average nurse makes $73,000 full-time. That's $128,000, far short of the Dayton plan's threshold.
And yet the same wage report shows the top 10 percent of deputies make an average of $95,000, and the top 10 percent of nurses earn $98,000 per year if they work full-time. Most nurses in this state work part-time.
One published report put Deputy Dave's county salary at $67,000 per year, but then there's the overtime factor to consider when you're talking about deputies and nurses.
Brian McClung, governor Pawlenty's former communications director and the spokesman for MN Forward, would not divulge the actual income of Deputy Dave and his wife. He simply said, "They've got 20 years of experience in their fields and combined make six figures."
Mark Dayton was endorsed in this election by the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, as well as other law enforcement groups. He's also endorsed by the Minnesota Nurses Association. Both groups favor his approach to restoring fiscal integrity to state government.
But this ad, which is still running today on Election Day, isn't about police protection or nursing. It's about getting the middle class to worry about Dayton, without defining what the middle class is or which segment he's trying to lean on for more revenue.
Target Targets a Dayton
MN Forward receives direct cash contributions from corporations, thanks to the Supreme Court's landmark Citizens United decision that says direct corporate donations are to be treated as a form of free speech.
The Target Corporation was among the Minnesota companies that donated to MN Forward. Originally Target was asked to chip in $1 million to the effort to topple Dayton's candidacy, but after a rough patch of bad PR last summer, Target left it at the $150,000 already donated.
Target is the modern corporate descendent of the Dayton's department store chain, from which Mark Dayton derived his own wealth. Dayton, in his pursuit of a public service career, has spent down much of that inheritance by self-funding his previous campaigns.
So, in a classic American twist, the company founded by Dayton's family is working against him. As Deputy Dave reminded viewers, it's not just because taxpayers want to keep more of their own money. These are "job killing" taxes, in other words they'll scare companies away from Minnesota and destroy the entrepreneurial spirit.
We're often told, in fact, that the higher earners Dayton is targeting are the "job creators" -- they're actually small businesses registered as Subchapter S corporations. Owners of these companies, and their investors, are filing business earnings at the personal income tax rate.
The challenge to that notion comes from the tax researcher Wilson, who found only 8.7 percent of the households who fall in Dayton's target range for the higher tax rate derived most of their income from these Subchapter S Corporations and limited liability partnerships in 2009.
Deputy Dave has the constitutional right to appear in an ad, as long as his uniform is not recognizable as a Hennepin County officer. His boss, Sheriff Rich Stanek, is a good friend of Governor Pawlenty and briefly served as his public safety commissioner. Pawlenty's former chief of staff, Charlie Weaver, is part of MN Forward.
Change is a Hard Sell
Neal Gabler wrote a thought provoking op-ed piece for the LA Times last week, picked up locally by the Star Tribune, about why Democrats have such a difficult time getting their ideas passed into law. He said Americans are essentially afraid of change, especially when it comes to domestic policies, and that's how Republicans have become the "default party" in the U.S.
It also explains why the purveyors of fear have such an easy time marketing their messages during campaign season. Fear of taxes, fear of liberals, fear of crime, fear of gays, fear of foreigners, fear of Muslims, fear of science, fear of recession, fear of government, fear of change -- you name it, they're all deep pools of political fuel waiting to be tapped by skillful strategists.
For example, governors in Minnesota do not get the opportunity to sign or veto proposed constitutional amendments. And yet we've seen an entire ad campaign geared to the notion that only Tom Emmer supports your right to vote on gay marriage. It creates the impression that the next governor will be able to make that happen, when in fact he'll have no say.
Of course, when if comes to targeting the rich, it hasn't worked well in American society. For starters, many are optimistic enough to believe they too will someday be wealthy. And, others still, don't want to threaten the "goose that lays the golden eggs" when it comes to job creation.
When Mark Dayton first proposed his tax hike, one veteran Capitol reporter asked him, "Doesn't this plan sort of play into class warfare?"
Dayton quickly replied, "I didn't start the war."
You'll soon be hearing much more about this "war on the rich" as some call it, when the battle royal begins in Washington D.C. over extending the Bush era tax cuts.
Democrats want to extend them for the middle class, but let the pre-Bush era cuts click back on for those who earn more than $250,000 a year. They say it would be irresponsible not to grab that revenue at a time when the federal debt is growing quickly.
To Republicans it's another job-killing tax hike on the very people who have the power to invest in a recovery. Newt Gingrich, on a recent campaign swing for Republican Tom Emmer, said that 50 percent of the people in that $250,000 bracket are small businesses organized as Subchapter S corporations.
Newt should talk to Paul Wilson at the Dept of Revenue. It's much more likely he'll talk to Deputy Dave.
(Copyright 2010 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)