Sunday, October 24, 2010

The 500 hats of Tom Horner

Modern political discourse is not, in the main, given to complexity.  Our gubernatorial race is characterized in bite-size ways by candidates and the media for easy consumption. Mark Dayton wants to tax the rich. Tom Emmer wants to cut spending. Tom Horner? He's a centrist, someone between the other two. Yes, local media sometimes goes into depth about who these candidates are, as human and political beings. But the overwhelming narrative is the simplistic, though not necessarily inaccurate, one described above.

The problem with listening only to narratives is that they lack specifics - what do they mean in practice? Sometimes the most important meaning for any stated policies are the implied effects. In the case of Mark Dayton his campaign's premise - taxing the rich - is more significant, politically, than any implied effect.  Tom Emmer's plan to cut spending is an appeal based in lower taxes, but the implied effect is much larger - a further deterioration of our investment in the common good.

For Tom Horner, who has positioned himself as "between" the other two candidates, the specific impacts of his proposals are less clear. He wants to broaden the application of sales taxes, but he will not say just what will be taxed. As one state analyst said when looking at Horner's vague proposal to lower the state's sales tax rate while expanding its applicability, "it gets real ugly real fast" trying to raise the amounts that the candidate has said he will collect.

That's the kind of obfuscation that comes naturally to Tom Horner, a professional spinner and a former Republican spokesman.  He has been expert at blurring both his past as a Republican partisan and the impacts of his economic proposals. The way he campaigns against Democrat Mark Dayton's plan to tax the rich, and has his own plan to eliminate the state corporate income tax, suggests the wealthy have no need to worry.

Thus trying to predict what Horner would actually do in the governor's mansion one feels a bit like a tarot card reader. The problem is figuring out which Tom Horner you're talking about: There's Tom Horner the former Republican political operator; Tom Horner the avuncular media figure; Tom Horner the proprietor of one of the state's most influential public relations firms; Tom Horner the civic figure who sits on the boards of various non-profits; and now, there's Tom Horner, the candidate for governor.

Horner, like Cyndy Brucato, is a new type of social/political operator, called a flexian, who floats effortlessly between roles at public institutions, and who works in a team fashion with other flexians, called a flex-net, that together comprises what author Janine Wedel calls a "Shadow Elite."  Horner is part of a group of old-line Republicans, partisans who have not been radicalized by the religious right or the conservative doomsday machine.

He is supported by GOPers of yesteryear like Wheelock Whitney, Dave Durneburger, George Pillsbury, Arne Carlson, Doug Kelly, and Al Quie - a veritable "Republicans for Horner choir," in the words of one commentator. Even the head of Hubbard Broadcasting, Stanley Hubbard, gave Horner $2,000 earlier this year. Horner also has the ear of, and inside information from, some of Minnesota's most prominent corporations, including Target, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Twins. He sits on boards of non-profits, and helps to hire their leaders. He teaches journalism at St Thomas and sits on the board of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the U. Horner's influence is enhanced by his more than two decades of appearances on Minnesota radio and TV as a representative of the Republican Party. There might exist Minnesotans connected to as many elites as Tom Horner, but none of them are running for governor.

What are all those connections really like? What does Tom Horner know that most of us don't? When it comes down to it, who or what is Tom Horner really loyal to? These are the kinds of questions that flexians don't want asked. For example, the ultimate goals of public relations and journalism are mutually exclusive. A PR firm tries to get a message out for a paid client, spinning reality in a favorable way. Conversely journalists try to get the story right and not get taken in by spin. What does it say when the head of one of the state's most influential PR firms is intimately involved in the instruction of budding journalists? Local media blithely accept Horner's own descriptions of his roles, but which hat is he really wearing when he appears on TV, on the radio, or in the newspaper? It would take much longer than the length of those media appearances just to acknowledge his conflicts of interest.

After college Horner began his career as a reporter and editor at Sun Newspapers, a suburban Twin Cities chain of weeklies. He left his first media job to be a press secretary for Republican Senate candidate Dave Durenburger in 1978. After Durenburger's victory he joined the new senator's staff as press secretary and later as chief of staff.

Horner returned to Minnesota in the late 1980s and started a public relations business with former Republican state legislator John Himle. Since then his firm has represented top Minnesota corporations and at times even the state itself. Horner has refused to release a list of his firm's clients, but from public documents they include Target, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, pharmaceutical companies, dog and horse tracks, and the Twins and Vikings. His firm represented an association of hospitals in their labor dispute against nurses.

One clear case of Horner's divided loyalties hurting the state happened not long after the I-35 bridge fell into the Mississippi River.  Horner's firm represented FlatIron, a Colorado company, that was bidding to build the replacement bridge. Despite submitting a bid with the highest price - $57 million more than the low bidder - and a longer construction period - FlatIron got the contract. In the release announcing the award the Minnesota Department of Transportation actually cited FlatIron's contract with Himle+Horner as a factor in their winning the contract. Afterwards Horner's firm got a half million dollar contract doing PR for the new bridge. Since when does a bridge need public relations? The Star Tribune cited Himle+Horner's close ties to the Pawlenty administration as a key to FlatIron winning the construction contract. One of the reasons Himle+Horner's PR prowess was wanted by the state DOT is because it promised to help rehabilitate the image of the department itself.

One way Horner could alleviate concerns about his many roles would be for him to release the list of clients he worked for at Himle + Horner, but he has steadfastly refused. Undoubtedly many people know who those clients were - but no one seems to be talking, and local media and political opponents haven't cracked that egg, either. Internet searches for "Tom Horner client list" returns many results, all detailing how the candidate has refused to release such a list.  Local media seem to have accepted Horner's refusals and moved on.

Given Horner's announced positions on issues, and how those stands align with former Himle+Horner clients, there is cause to worry about undue influence. His budget proposal includes increasing taxes on tobacco and alcohol, even though current tax levels more than offset expenses to the state for their use. This position mirrors that of Himle+Horner client Blue Cross Blue Shield, which has run anti-smoking campaigns for many years. Lower rates of smoking would probably lead to lower expenses for the insurance giant.

Horner often invokes a moral justification for making smokers and drinkers pay for the things which comprise the common good. On the other hand, no morals seem to be in play with Horner's advocating for expanding gambling in the state to pay for a new Vikings stadium.

But why should the state encourage the vice of gambling to subsidize a plutocrat owner who doesn't even live in the state? One reason for such a proposal is that it represents a two-fer for Himle+Horner clients - the agency has represented various sorts of gambling interests, including dog and horse racing, and also represents the Vikings in their quest for a new publicly subsidized stadium. Horner's refusal to release a client list takes on more resonance in light of the few stated positions the candidate has taken aligning with the interests of his former clients.

One doesn't have to look very far to see how close personal relationships and allegiances can hurt the institutions that flexians work for. Just last month Karen Himle, the wife of Horner's former business partner, became embroiled in the attempted censorship of a documentary film produced in part by the University of Minnesota. Himle is the vice president for University Relations, the U's top PR person. Her husband John represents the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council, a group heavily invested in the kind of industrial agriculture that the film Troubled Waters indicted in the degradation of watersheds from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

The tale of Himle's backdoor political shenanigans involved in her initial killing of the film, and her dissembling  are still playing out. One thing that is abundantly clear is that opaque personal relationships have played a part in tarnishing the reputations of the University of Minnesota and its president, Robert Bruininks. Another is that flexians like Himle who harm the institutions they work for in pursuit of the interests of their own  narrow, private groups, are rarely held accountable for their actions. Despite her politically motivated, internal attack on academic freedom at the University of Minnesota, Karen Himle still works there, free to do more damage.

Tom Horner's political narrative, repeated in the media, is that he is a centrist positioned between the Democratic and Republican candidates. If centrist is taken to mean old-line Republicans who have strong personal connections to elites in government, business, education, the non-profit sector and media, then yes, Tom Horner is a centrist. Otherwise, he is just a Republican businessman who has the biggest and baddest rolodex in the state.


Craig Westover said...

Nice piece, but don't Dayton and Emmer draw support from the same "flexian" environment? How many DFL operatives have flowed through the Humphrey Institute? How many GOP influencers have think tank connections? The lesson to be learned is that a government of virtually unlimited scope will always be the target of power brokers. The only way to combat that is limit the scope of government power.

James K said...

And you might be credible, Mr. Westover, if your side was ever at all actually interested in limiting the scope of government power. But for at least the last four decades on pretty much any issue your party has said one thing and done the exact opposite. But have no credibility with what you say.

And then even better the few times your party is actually interested in limiting the scope of the does it in the exact manner designed to **** over the most people...especially the middle class and the poor. While simutaneously granting ever more advantages and power and wealth to those who already have way more then they actually need.

You guys complain about "government having too much power" and "unlimited government" but your side has set up a situation where corporations have too much power, the rich have too much power and they can pretty much do as they damn well please.

Tell me, Mr. Westover, if you have such a problem with government being too large and too powerful what does it take for you and your side to be concerned about the same exact thing when it comes to the big corporations and the fantastically rich?  How many people have to be hurt, maimed or dead before you and yours say "enough"?  How much wealth in too few hands does there have to be before it's enough?

How many people have to die to Massey Energy and its ilk before enough is enough?  How many people have to be blown to bits by BP and its ilk before its enough?  How many people have to die through lack of health insurance before its enough?  How many children with cancer or other diseases have to have their treatments stopped because they can't get insurance or because their insurance kicks them off before its enough?  how many people have to go bankrupt through the rapaciousness of the banks or the health care industry or whoever else before its enough? 

The rich had to pay about a 90% tax rate when Eisenhower was President, Mr. Westover.  They pay at best half that now.  When have we cut their taxes enough? 

Despite what you want to pretend..the government is less of a threat then all those big corporations and billionaires your side keeps on kissing the asses of.  Least the government is responsible to the people...those ones your side kisses the asses of don't give a damn about the people.

James K said...

Oh and by the way..there is another way to limit the power of the power brokers.

A rule requiring them to not go back and forth betwen government and private sector work without a significant amount of time passing.  And oh yes...severely limiting monetary contributions.

Of course those things would have to be enforced.

And we both know your side is not at all interested in 1: making sensible rules or 2: enforcing them.  After all..the Republicans have never met a regulation or rule they just didn't love ignoring.

blogspotdog said...

The thing that the Humphrey Institute is best at producing lately under the leadership of former dean John Brandl and Joe Nathan are just poisonous anti-public school types.

blogspotdog said...

Rob did the graphic, too. And a great illustration for the post it is.

Alec Timmerman said...

Well, since you opened up the topic.....
You should read the report State Teacher Policy Yearbook, authored by the National Council on Teacher Quality. This study, adn these folks are the ones who say that labor issues are harming student outcomes. They nobley say we should put our "adult issues" behind us, and work to enact these student centered reforms.

So what states have the highest scores on their criteria of "student centered labor policies"? Glad you asked:-)  The #1 and #2 states for teh most student centered labor policies are..... Florida and Alabama. South Carolina comes in 6th. Minnesota is 40th. The states with the highest scores have the worst student outcomes in the country. Whatever reforms we do, we should make sure they are correlated positively with student outcomes, not negatively. These are the folks that all the reformers want us t listen to.

Also, Craig, democracy cannot exist when private interests become more powerful than the government. A tyrannical government is held in check in a democracy by we the people. A tyrannical private influence can only be held in check by the government of we the people. When you make government small enough to drown in the bath tub, the only reason is so that unchecked capitalists can fill the void without any restrictions.

Thomas Jefferson said he feared bankers more than any standing Army.

<span>I hope we shall . . . crush in [its] birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations." Thomas Jefferson</span>

<span>"When economic power... became concentrated in a few hands, then political power flowed to those possessors and away from the citizens, ultimately resulting in an oligarchy or tyranny." John Adams</span>

<span>As riches increase and accumulate in few hands . . . the tendency of things will be to depart from the republican standard." Alexander Hamilton</span>

Need any more views of the founders Craig? Aren't you a "return to the values of the founders" type of guy? (Not that the founder's views were monolithic, but I know conservatives like simple, universal bumper sticker slogans)

blogspotdog said...

Here's a cartoon (that I saw at Norwegianity) that summarizes Alec's point pretty well.

James K said...

Or can you admit, Craig, that the interests of Big Corporations and the interests of the United States aren't always the same thing? 

Or do you keep on wanting to think that some rich shmuck who fires his employees so he can ship those jobs overseas just so he can earn a bigger paycheck is doing a good thing for the United States?  Just for example.

Because the silence so far from your end is deafening, Mr. Westover

Craig Westover said...

Just a brief note on regulation: There are two types of regulations; one is the proper function of government and one is not.

Government properly should enforce regulations that promote honoring of contracts. That means it should impose regulations that reduce force and fraud and increase transparency of transactions. For example, health insurance companies should be required to spell out exactly what their policies cover at what cost and under what circumstances they can cancel a policy (for example) in plan and understandable language. Companies that violate those regulations should be charged accordingly.

Government has no legitimate authority to regulate the terms of a contract between parties voluntarily creating the contract. For example, government
has no authority to tell health insurance companies what they must cover at what price, nor does it have the authority to tell individuals what (if any) insurance they must purchase. Regulations that dictate the terms of a contract are outside the scope of government.

Republicans believe in the limited authority of the distinction; Democrats believe the latter is the legitimate function of a positive government.

Craig Westover said...

Interesting responses. I don't disagree with the observations about the Republican Party expanding government power. Reading my work, you'll find that I have written much criticism of the Republican Party for expanding government to push programs for Republican constituencies. That said, the point remains: Government has too much power.

The major difference between the Democrats and Republicans, and why I work within the Republican Party, is that irrespective of how dedicated they are to their fundamental principles, Democrats and Republicans have distinct and significant differences. Democrats believe in a positive government that is a force for good; the collective good superceedes individual rights. Republicans believe government has a limited role focused on protection of indivdual rights and that indivuduals pursuing their own self-interest create the greatest good for the greatest number. The country gets in trouble when Democrats follow their principles and when Republicans abandon their preinciples. Republicans have screwed things up when they acted from communitarian (progressive-lite) motivations. This is shame on the Republican Party, but does not invalidate the classical liberal principles that are at the heart of American conservatism.

This is not a new debate. It has been going on since the founding as evidenced in debates between Madison and Hamilton as to the meaning of "general welfare" and Adams and Jefferson in conflict over federal censorship of freedom of speech and the press. The problem is today we have drifted so far from the fundamental question: We no longer debate the proper role of government. We fight for special interests; we champion conflicting specific outcomes rather than generally desirable outcomes.

The comments on my comments are case in point. That the Republican Party has expanded government has no bearing on the credibility of the argument that government is too big. In fact, actions of the Republican Party support the argument that government is too big. The "One Ring" of government power is too tempting for either party to use "just for good." The fundamental problem is a government with too much power.

blogspotdog said...

Let's not taunt, James. As it turns out, Craig Westover did post a couple of comments earlier today, but for some reason I didn't get the usual email advice of them, and they went unapproved all day. My fault.

I think it is also generally not a good idea to infer anything from the silence of another commenter, save perhaps that they are doing something else, like performing CPR on the Pat Anderson campaign.

blogspotdog said...

It always amuses me when the Captain takes it upon himself to decide what it is proper for the government to do and what is not. The Captain has never been paralyzed with self-doubt.

blogspotdog said...

The other thing that amuses me is how easily and cheerfully self-referential Craig is.

Tom said...

I would imagine that Governor Horner would examine all of the bills that come to his desk (none authored by anyone in his party) and either sign them or veto them.  None of his ideas will get placed into law as there will be no one in the Legislature to author them let alone get them through committee.  Perhaps he would end up being a sort of Supreme Court justice, not as a referee, but as someone with life experiences enough to judge the merits of thelegislation placed before him.

G V said...

I tried to share this on Facebook several times.  The thumbnail continually comes up with Westhover's original bullshit comment.  It comes up whether I share with the facebook button, or if i go on facebook and post a link.  What gives?  Does Westhover have some kind of facebook authority?  This really irritates me.  Whoever runs this site tech-wise should deal with this, and only allow a generic thumbnail that does not distort the message of the post!!

G V said...

Mr. Westover has yet to address the question posed to  him by James K:

<span>"Tell me, Mr. Westover, if you have such a problem with government being too large and too powerful what does it take for you and your side to be concerned about the same exact thing when it comes to the big corporations and the fantastically rich?  "</span>

Quit running away from this question and address it, or admit that you are afraid to answer it because you are owned by those corporate interests.  

blogspotdog said...

Facebook has always given me a choice of thumbnails, ones in the sidebar, etc. most of which are not germane to the post, unless there is one in the post itself, and then usually that one is included. After your comment GV, I used the Facebook button to post to Facebook, and the only thumbnail offered was Horner and the Hats. I don't know what is going on, but we have no control over what Facebook decides to permit, or even require, as a thumbnail; sorry.

James K said...

Tell us, Craig, are you going to go to Kyle van Nocker's family and tell him that the health care insurance company had every right to do what they did? 

And exactly who appointed you the expert on what the government can and can't should and shouldn't do?  What god came down and said that your party had the only right way? 

And I'm sure you were objecting to the government telling people they have to buy health insurance when Bob Dole proposed that same exact thing near 20 years ago right?  And tell me..where's your objection over the requirement for car insurance? 

But fine..if you want to think that the government doesn't have that right..that's one less bone thrown at the health insurance companies to placate them.  WHich means the health care reform law will be less in their favor. 

James K said...

And Republicans believe in limited authority?  SInce when?  This is the party that ordered the warantless wiretapping of US citizens.  THis is the party that ordered the torture and violation of international law.  This is the party that told California it couldn't have more stringent auto emissions standards then the feds.  THis is the party that got itself involved in the Terry Schivao debacle.  This is the party that for Bush's 8 years sat there and said any criticism of the PResident and his handling of the office...especially of our two wars was "UnAmerican" and "Treasonous" and all that rubbish.  That to criticize the President was to attack the country and especially the troops. 

No, Craig, the government doesn't have too much power.  WHat exists right now is that the government has too little..or more specificially not enough in the right areas, and that Big Businesses have too much power all around. 

Your party, Craig, whether you want to realize it or not, is replacing the democratic government of the United States with a Big Business Corptocracy.  One of the best Republican presidents of all time knew the dangers of business when it got too big, too rich, too powerful.  And another one of the best Republican presidents of all time spoke against those interests as well.  I am of course referring to Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower.  But since then?  THere hasn't been a Republican president that hasn't been a glorified fake and hasn't been a Republican not interested in selling out the interests of the people to those who already have way too much power. 

Oh and it has every bearing.  It proves that you, just like every other REpublican, is a hypocritical fake when it comes to the argument of "Government has too much power."  Hypocrites and fakes should be trusted why? 

And as for the "One Ring" no..the "One Ring" is those your party is busy kissing the asses of.  Your party so dearly wants to give them everything they want even if it means screwing over the rest of us.  I do like the anaolgy, Craig, but to borrow it..the ring is Big Business, Sauron is the Koch Brothers and their ilk and the Nazgul...well that's your precious party. 

People get hurt, maimed and die because of the entities your party thinks should have power.  And you think the government shouldn't step in?  Lincoln, Eisenhower, Roosevelt would all kick your tail for that belief.  Let me know when you want to bother to be an actual Republican.

James K said...

You speak with such fear of the government, Craig.  Well you forgot that the government of the United States speaks for the people of the United States.  So in reality what you fear, Craig, is the people of the United States.

You can claim you're afraid of an entity, the government in this case, having too much power.  But it's just a farce because you show no concern for the fact that what is happening is that the power of this country..the wealth of this country is being concentrated in even fewer hands.

Let us know when you want to apply what you say are your principles to that fact, Craig.  Until then you're a hypocrite who's stated ideals mean nothing other then selling the country into serfdom. 

James K said...

Answer the question, Craig.  Or can't you.  My question was simple and here I'll quote it for you.  Quit repeating your blather about government being too big.  Surely you can do that right? Or are you a broken record? 

<span>"Tell me, Mr. Westover, if you have such a problem with government being too large and too powerful what does it take for you and your side to be concerned about the same exact thing when it comes to the big corporations and the fantastically rich?  "</span>  
And as I said if the founding fathers wanted a weak central government like you think...they wouldn't have jettisoned the articles of confederation.  Sorry, despite what you think government has the authority to step in when it decides there is a public interest in doing so.  Corporations aren't above the law, Mr. Westover. 

After all..the Preamble to the US Constitution reads:  We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Lets see..establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, and promote the general welfare.  Curious isn't it, Mr. Westover, how your party keeps on pretending that those words don't exist.

Sorry, the founding fathers didn't appoint you and your party the arbiter of what government should do and shouldn't do.  Nor did any god do so.  You are entitled to your opinion, of course, but the rest of us are entitled to tell you that your opinion is wrong.  And sorry, when companies are allowed too much power, when too much wealth is in too few hands..when companies are allowed to screw over the people and the government stands there and does nothing that means that philosophy of yours, Craig, is not only inane and's morally depraved as well. 

The government exists to protect the people, Craig.  That is its overriding and sole reason for existing.  From outside threats, from inside threats.  From those who would attack us with weapons of war...or those who would destroy us because of their massive greed.