DFL pundit sees lean years ahead for Duluth after Republican waveWy Spano recalled a tongue-in-cheek motto for Duluth that spread around the Minnesota Capitol 20 years ago when the city received a healthy share of state and federal tax money for construction projects, thanks mostly to Democratic politicians. “Come visit Duluth. You paid for it.”
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
Wy Spano recalled a tongue-in-cheek motto for Duluth that spread around the Minnesota Capitol 20 years ago when the city received a healthy share of state and federal tax money for construction projects, thanks mostly to Democratic politicians.
“Come visit Duluth. You paid for it.”
“That probably won’t happen anymore,” Spano said of the Northland’s spot at the top of the list for public projects and the effect of Republican election victories in the Minnesota House and Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.
Spano, longtime lobbyist, DFL pundit, political analyst and now director of the Master in Advocacy and Political Leadership program at UMD, was the keynote speaker at Tuesday’s Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast forum.
He gave his thoughts on why Democrats fared poorly and what that means for a region composed mostly of Democratic voters and Democratic lawmakers now stripped of legislative power.
The impact remains unclear, Spano said, because he’s not convinced Republicans will fall in lock-step behind the political rhetoric that got them elected — namely, fiscal reform and restricting spending on local projects.
“I think Duluth has to hope — that they don’t really mean it,” he said.
For example, Spano wondered, will Republicans vote together against a large bonding bill proposed by apparent DFL Gov.-elect Mark Dayton, even if it includes important projects for their individual districts?
But several programs and projects once aimed at the Northland are doomed, Spano said, including local government aid, the state program that spreads income and sales taxes to property-poor towns like Duluth to reduce local property taxes. If that already reduced local government aid is eliminated, as Spano predicts, Duluth property taxes almost certainly will rise.
Spano also predicted the proposed Northern Lights Express passenger rail service between Duluth and Minneapolis will stall thanks to Republican congressional opposition to mass transit.
“Those probably aren’t going to be done again,” Spano said of passenger rail projects.
David Ross, chamber executive director, said his group will sponsor nearly 600 people converging on the Capitol early in 2011 to ask for statewide support for Northland projects.
“We’re emphasizing jobs — and the funding of projects that will enhance” jobs, Ross said of the region’s lobbying plan.
But Spano said even that pro-jobs strategy may not be enough to overcome the wave of austerity he expects from a Republican-controlled Legislature facing a more than $6 billion shortfall for 2012-13.
“All the games are gone” for lawmakers to shuffle state accounting books, Spano said, and they must now decide to raise taxes or make painful cuts in key programs like education and health care.
Spano blamed the Democrats’ demise in 2010 on the ongoing economic recession and, especially, President Obama’s response. Instead of successfully blaming his predecessor, as Spano said Ronald Reagan did, Obama has capitulated and appeared weak — an easy target for a Republican message that voters should blame government and Democrats for their problems.
Obama was “an absolutely disastrous president for a Democrat” running for office because the president failed to articulate how his programs would help voters.
“He looks like he has a ‘kick me’ sign on him,” Spano said of Obama, whom he blames for U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar’s loss and other Democratic losses in Minnesota, where many Democrat voters stayed home. “Politically, strategically, the guy is a disaster.”