EXPOSING JOHN KLINE AND THE DEVIOUS TACTICS OF THE MOST "OUT OF WHACK" REPUBLICAN IN THE COUNTRY
-by Coleen Rowley
"Out of Whackness" is the highly appropriate term that the "Swing State Project" has come up with identifying Republican incumbents who should theoretically be extra vulnerable in a general election based on comparisons between their PVI and their voting record. The article describes them as "the wingnuts hiding in moderate districts." Based on that criteria, our Minnesota CD-2 Congressman John Kline is the most out of whack Republican in the country.
This designation will come as no surprise to Kline's constituents. When first elected, Kline positively crowed about representing George Bush's interests rather than those of his district. His previous position as Vice President of the neo-con inspired “Center of the American Experiment” (Minnesota’s own right-wing think tank), apparently cued him to the need to “finish the job” in Iraq. He already shared Bush’s enthusiasm for expanding the list of countries-- most having no connections to 9-11-- that the U.S. should go to war with. And his answer to: The War on Terror: How Will We Know When the War Is Over? was very much in sync with John McCain’s idea-- give it another 100 years.
As Bush's stock declined nationwide, Kline stopped crowing but his voting record remains 90+ percent lockstep with Bush-Cheney and the GOP. Kline is so partisan that in 2006 he told a group of disabled veterans that he wouldn't support a veterans' benefits bill simply because it was written by a Democrat.
A moderate Republican leader in Minnesota such as former Senator Dave Durenberger has even begun to criticize Kline for his misleading partisan stance on the energy crisis that serves only to enrich fossil fuel producers and auto makers.
But after unsuccessfully stumping for Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security in early 2005, Kline realized that he should no longer broadcast his partisanship. So now he does all he can to keep a low profile in the district. In early 2007, a group of Kline's constituents had to make six trips to Kline's office over the course of two months before he agreed to hold a public town-hall meeting. And even then, it's unlikely the town hall would have occurred but for the fact that Kline suffered some bad press for calling the police on his own district residents. When the people of his district came to his office asking him to do his job, his first instinct was to try to intimidate them with a police presence. Only because a committed group of his constituents refused to back down, did that one town hall meeting take place. Since then, Kline has only held 'tele-town hall' meetings on the phone, where he has complete control over who participates.
So how does one so "out of whack" as Kline keep his seat? First, try to never let any hard questions (like this one) be asked. Never furnish any information about issues or positions on a website or otherwise. (Kline's campaign website in 2006 consisted of only a few general paragraphs.) Don’t hold public meetings. Don't debate congressional challengers. (Kline even refused to supply answers to local newspaper voters' guides prior to the 2006 election.) DO take big money from special interests-- Kline obtained over $600,000 from PACs alone before the 2006 election which gave him almost $1.5 million total to use for negative ad campaigns produced by Rove protégées. Paint oneself as a hero. (The positive portion of Kline's ads in his five previous campaigns all revolved around a couple of photos showing him carrying the "nuclear football" for Ronald Reagan.)
And since 2006, the politician's dream come true: conduct lots of "Tele-Town Hall" robo calling into the district at taxpayer expense. The "Tele-Town Hall" developed by Rodney A. Smith, a former Republican national finance director, was pioneered by Kline and a half-dozen other Republicans in the lead-up to the 2006 elections. It worked so well for them that over a hundred Republicans are now employing this manipulative technology. Just like the screening and scripting that goes into Rush Limbaugh's radio show in terms of ability to pre-screen callers, plant questions, conduct push polls and other subtle campaign ploys and, the best part, it's ALL AT TAXPAYER EXPENSE! Tele-town hall robo calling substitutes for real constituent interaction and has become the foremost tool used to keep "out of whack" Republican incumbents in power.
Although they maintain equally right-wing voting records in terms of being Bush enablers, Kline even beats the truly whacky Michele Bachmann by a few spots for "out of whackness." In Bachmann, Kline has found an eager protege: substituting the "Tele-Town" robo calls for public meetings and turning down all public forum opportunities when you can't control the questions. (Last year, for instance the Humphrey Institute was able to host individual question and answer public policy forums with each of the Minnesota congresspersons and senators except for Kline, Bachmann and one other.)
The challenge is quite clear for Democrat Steve Sarvi, who recently was endorsed by Minnesota’s Democratic Farmer Labor Party to run against Kline. Sarvi is a great candidate. Unlike Kline and Bush, he’s reality based, with real experience on the ground in Iraq (as a Minnesota National Guard member) as well as considerable experience in city management in Minnesota. And Kline’s “out of whackness” does make him potentially vulnerable. But Kline still has the big money advantage given to him from corporate interests as well as the unique access, as an incumbent, to the taxpayer-funded robo-calling system that is said to substitute for real town hall meetings. Sarvi will therefore need to get Kline to answer questions in a public way either by debating or through newspaper forums, or via another real Town Hall meeting. In April 2007 Kline actually promised he would hold another public meeting in a few months. But that was over a year ago, and he's not kept his word. He’s probably hoping no one remembers that promise. Kline’s probably hoping voters only remember the ad about him being the hero who carried the nuclear football for Ronald Reagan. He has to hope that he's beat down the dream of democracy in this district via Rodney Smith's little black robo-calling box so that he never has to ever face constitutents' hard questions ever again. If Sarvi wants to send this out of whack Republican back to Texas, he must remind people what real democracy and real electoral representation is supposed to be.