Duluth Central Administration Building. Photo credit: Ted Heineken
Duluth Central Administration Building. Photo credit: Ted Heineken

Criticism has reached me that my articles during this campaign have been biased, but I’ve never pretended otherwise. Bias encompasses this election, and the mainstream media’s claim of “objectivity” is debatable. The reporters covering the races have been pretty even-handed, but just look at the editorial page of our local paper of record (which I will do, in a moment.) 

I do not want the DFL-endorsed candidates to win in this year’s school board election. They have dominated the boardroom since Keith Dixon came to town, and have done a terrible job of governing. From what I’ve witnessed, this bunch would have trouble monitoring the finances of a lemonade stand. 
The establishment of Duluth is in denial of reality, because the establishment of Duluth supported some very foolish, ill-considered expenditures. Subsequently, the DFL-endorsed happy-talk candidates are being very heavily promoted by the establishment.
Someone has to provide some balance to the conversation; someone has to be the voice of the opposition. I support the outliers in this election, the four school board candidates who were not endorsed by the DFL, and do so unapologetically. 
For Republican voters, these candidates, spurned by the DFL party machine, are your best choice to attain the fiscal responsibility you’ve yearned for in the boardroom. For the many Bernie Sander supporters in this community, these candidates should evoke some empathy; they, too, are worthy people who were trampled by the old guard Democrats, just like Bernie was. For all the quiet, hardworking, good people in the middle, these candidates are the only independent voices who will speak for you, rather than following a monolithic party machine directive. 

Back to the paper

Last spring, in an article covering the DFL endorsement convention, I praised the Duluth News Tribune for writing an editorial that questioned the involvement of party politics in nonpartisan local elections. “The only part of this article I would deign to question,” I further wrote, “was the paper’s portrayal of itself as a paragon of proper candidate vetting.” 
In its editorial, the Trib pointed out the obvious: “There’s little secret why Duluth-area and Northland candidates seek relations with the DFL: they want to win. And the reality is that many voters--far too many voters--don’t take the time or do the work to consider the candidates, their stands and their records. They rely instead, far to often, on what’s fed to them by whichever party vaguely aligns with their view of the world…”

The paper warned about the downside of “partisan intrusion into nonpartisan local races,” and called for the party machines to “step back from where they don’t appropriately belong.” 
In my article, I wrote: “Nowhere in Duluth does the paper’s warning need to be heeded more than in the boardroom of ISD 709. Our public school district has become too politicized. There are power players who would like to have the election held within the district itself, and just cut the public out completely. The DFL/DFT (democrat/union) coalition has had an iron grip on the district for years, and that grip on power has led to a presumption of privilege. It was completely improper for Rosie Loeffler-Kemp, an intense union activist, to waltz into a Quality Steering Committee meeting (a “labor/management committee” as she described it in her DFL screening questionnaire) and announce herself as the Board’s representative on the committee before she was even formally seated.”

What actually stemmed from all this pontification about politics stepping back from where it doesn’t “appropriately belong”? When the election came around, the paper’s editorial board, like a servile subordinate, endorsed every candidate the DFL political machine endorsed for the school board. 
Another day, another hollow sermon from our mainstream media preacher. 
We need a real change 

We do. We need a change in the boardroom of ISD 709. Just look at the stream of bad headlines that keep pouring out of our drama district. 
The whole concept of a representative republic has not worked to our benefit in the boardroom of ISD 709. What we need in this town is a little more participatory democracy. The first thing required to make participatory democracy function properly is its citizens have to care enough to at least get to the polls and VOTE. Out of 57,626 registered voters, only 7940 (less than 14%) cast a vote in the school board primary. 

Pretty fricking PATHETIC, Duluth. 
We all have busy little lives; we all have a bunch of crap we have to do; we all want to fit some fun stuff in, but anyone in this town who is eligible to vote, and didn’t, should hang his or her head in shame. Look at all the people around the world who are fighting and DYING at this very moment just to be able to exercise the right we were all born to - the right to pick our leaders! 

If you failed to exercise the great gift you have been given as an American citizen during the primary, you can make up for it in the General Election on November 7th. If you fail to vote again, you will continue to get bad government and bad headlines out of public school district 709 - exactly the outcome you deserve for not caring enough to participate at even the most minimal level. 

Low voter participation in these elections favors the DFL political machine and its candidates. I do not believe the machine could win if every eligible voter showed up at the polls. 
I also do not believe a candidate like Rosie Loeffler-Kemp could take her record from the boardroom to the public and win reelection (even with a 14% voter turnout,) without the machine and the kowtowing establishment, such as the News Tribune, behind her. How could Loeffler-Kemp win the popular vote, if the system wasn’t rigged and voter turnout suppressed? Just look at her voting record: she wasted an entire year trying to expel a colleague off the Board; she fought against the sale of Central; she pushed to renew the contract of a Superintendent who’d already tried to run away three times. Her primary constituency has been union bigwigs. 

Politically, since Keith Dixon came to town, the drama in our school district has played out like an Orwellian novel. The DFL party, which has done an extremely poor job of representing the public’s interest, has been heaped with praise, while the dissenters speaking the truth have been painted as villains. 

The most effective propagandist of the twentieth century, Joseph Goebbels, once made a now-famous observation about how to sell a phony narrative to the public: “If you tell a lie big enough (for instance: it’s half free, already paid for) and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Goebbels further observed: “The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

Thank God we don’t live in Nazi Germany. If we did, I wouldn’t be living. My door would have been kicked in long ago and I would have been shot dead. It’s discomfiting to think that the twisted social theories of the Third Reich’s pr guy to any extent at all describe the situation that has existed in Denial Duluth throughout the entire Red Plan and its aftermath.

The bad headlines

The News Tribune and the rest of the establishment painted me and others who opposed the Red Plan as bad citizens who didn’t care about the little children’s future. The reason we opposed the Red Plan was because, right out of the gate, we saw that it was a dumb idea. We did not believe running up a bill of nearly half a billion would “save” $122 million; we did not believe the vacated buildings would sell for big money; we did not believe the huge aquatic centers and all the other over-the-top extravagancies would be a magnet for students; we did not believe getting rid of all the schools in the center of Duluth--a city nearly thirty miles long, with an already existent east-west divide--would create “educational equity.” 

A week or so ago (10/18/17,) the News Tribune reported on a forum sponsored by the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation. Comments from some of the attendees were included in the report. One concerned mother “explained that she moved to Duluth to raise her children because of the city’s size,” but had “come to feel there’s a ‘good side’ and a ‘bad side’ to the city, and (is) troubled by the division.” Another woman said “she’s concerned that the ‘trouble students’ only live on the western side of Duluth, and the division began when the school district closed Central.” 

At what point does it become evident that this town has been listening to the wrong people: the News Tribune and the rest of the stodgy establishment? Just look at what the alternative press was saying, back in 2008:
“Despite a financing plan justified by desegregation efforts, the Red Plan closes the most diverse of the three high schools--Central. However, it does not move those minority students to the largely-white East High School; instead (it shunts) them mostly to Denfeld, which will force many minority and low-income students to attend school much further from home with effectively no improvement in racial diversity…Keith Dixon has touted the Red Plan as a way to make Duluth’s schools more attractive to high-income parents who might be considering a move to Duluth. But current patterns suggest that the Red Plan will do nothing more than attract high-income families to East and (private schools like) Marshall, leaving Denfeld to become the minority and low-income school…” 

This prescient article, entitled, “Why the Red Plan Has People Seeing Red,” was written by reporter Jennifer Martin-Romme of the Zenith News, at the same moment our venerable paper of record was busily promoting all of Dixon’s cockamamie nonsense. 
My intent is not to beat up the News Tribune, but to point out that at this juncture along the road, the sagacity of the paper’s advice should be suspect. The problems the Red Plan would create for our school district, especially in terms of the town’s east-west divide, were evident for anyone looking with clear eyes, from the onset. 
The principal of Denfeld described the inequity between the two ends of the Duluth as “a negative, unintended consequence of the building plan.” It may have been unintended, but this problem was highly predictable. 
Some of us tried to warn the DFL power clique, in control over the boardroom. We told them education is moving into a more competitive era; that this isn’t 1892, the year Old Central was built. Public school districts have be more savvy about the marketplace. They can’t just build whatever they want wherever they want anymore, because families have other options. Districts can’t just draw a line on a map and expect everyone to go where he or she is told, especially if people think their kids are going to get the short end of the stick on the west side of the line.

Instead of going to our western public schools, more and more families turned to home schooling, and/or took advantage of the other growing challenge to brick and mortar schools: online education. Others sought out private and charter schools. Some figured out ways to fake addresses and pulled other stunts to send their kids east. One of my neighbors told me some friends of his recently rented their western Duluth home and bought a house in the east. They plan to live in east Duluth for four years, until their son graduates. 

Then there’s open enrollment. The western part of Duluth is more susceptible to open enrollment because of its proximity to other districts, some of which are sending buses into Duluth to pick up kids. Over Dixon’s six-year tenure, MDE records show that open enrollment more than doubled out of Duluth--from 129 students IN, and 379 Out, his first year, to 88 IN, and 627 OUT, his last. 

The Red Plan was so foolish. We ran up a bill of half a billion, only to make people run. Districts like Wrenshall and Esko are busting at the seams. Some Duluthians are even packing up and moving to other districts. While I was campaigning in the school board primary, I received an email from a Duluth expatriate: “Good to see you are running for the Board. I took a different route. I moved to Esko.” 

This former Duluth resident and taxpayer sent me a link to schooldigger.com, a website that ranks all 441 school districts in Minnesota. Esko was fifth on the list with a five-star rating. Duluth, after running up a bill of half a billion dollars, was 278th, with a two-star rating. “The choice is clear.” The ex-Duluthian added at the bottom of his email. 

 By now, for most Duluthians, the screw-up should also be clear

When I met with the News Tribune’s editorial board, I told them everyone in this divided town wants to put a white hat on one group and black hat on another. I said, “emotions from both sides were running high in this struggle because there was so much at stake and people cared about their community.” I made it clear that I still stood by everything I was standing for, but admitted if I could turn back the hands of time, I’d dial my own actions down a bit. 

I said, “most people have done a few things in their lives they wish we could go back and change, but you can’t. All you can do is own it.” 
I pointed out that I’d forced myself to go into the city council chamber and apologize for any embarrassment my actions had brought upon the city, then asked if they’d seen the same from Rosie Loeffler-Kemp and her DFL allies. Rosie and her fellow crusaders threw a poisonous racism charge out into the community against a colleague, a charge based on a nasty rumor from a party with three levels of hearsay attached to it, a charge proved by their own biased investigator to be completely bogus. I asked the Trib’s board if they’d ever heard Rosie walk the charge back. 
Neither side has been perfect in this saga; but there’s no denying the DFL-endorsed have played a mean game of hardball politics. They stole our vote; they turned off the microphone and worse on citizens; they not only censured fellow Board members, they tried to expel one from the Board and threatened to throw off another--the intelligent and honorable Gary Glass. 
The Duluth News Tribune lectured that the party machines should “step back from where they don’t appropriately belong,” then endorsed all of the machine candidates. The paper sermonized that the town should “jump on the chance for the change that’s needed,” by leaving in place the same party apparatus that got us into the mess. 

Real change in the boardroom can only be achieved by giving the people who’ve had no power all these years majority vote--finally listening to the independent-minded people who’ve been right, the ones speaking the truth. Four school board candidates were not endorsed by the mighty DFL party machine in this election, and I think they should wear that distinction like a badge of honor: Dana Krivogorsky, Harry Welty, Art Johnston and Kurt Kuehn. 

If you want real change, get off your couches and vote for these four people on November 7th.