Sunday, November 2, 2014

John Kline's attack on Obermueller over "bird breeding book" is misleading

Minnesota Representative John Kline (R) recently ran an ad attacking his opponent, Mike Obermueller (D), accusing him of wasteful "pork" votes, including "a book about bird breeding." That caught my attention in the political maelstrom of attack ads, because I live in rural Minnesota and I care about birds.   So I decided to find out exactly what this "bird breeding" book was about.

I found the allocation vote in the Journal of the Minnesota House of Representatives, Tuesday, February 16, 2010.  It's in section (c) of bill H.F. 2624 and  reads:

"$372,000 is from the trust fund to continue development of a statewide survey of Minnesota breeding bird distribution and create related publications, including a book and online atlas with distribution maps and breeding status.  Of this appropriation, $211,000 is to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with Audubon Minnesota and $161,000 is to the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota for the Natural Resources Research Institute.  The atlas must be available for downloading on the Internet free of charge."

So this wasn't some little book about how to breed your parakeets.  This is a major ecological study to produce a state-wide resource guide that will be available to the public free of charge.   The project site describes it this way:

"The Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA) is a critical bird conservation project designed to document every species that currently breeds in Minnesota and where in the state each species breeds. Surprisingly, Minnesota is one of only seven states, and the only state along the Mississippi Flyway, that has not developed a breeding bird atlas."

Get that?  We were the only state along the Mississippi Flyway that had not done this kind of survey. And one of only seven states in the whole country lacking such an atlas.  So this was not -- excuse the pun -- a fly by night project.  (For more on the Minnesota Bird Breeding Atlas project, now completed, click here.)

My next question was, how was this project funded?  The "trust fund" referred to in the appropriation cited above is The Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund, established in 1988 by constitutional amendment (with 77% approval) "for the public purpose of protection, conservation, preservation, and enhancement of the state's air, water, land, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources."  So this project is coming from money that is already earmarked for environmental projects.

John Kline's ad ends with saying, "Mike Obermueller:  Wherever you look, it costs you money," followed by the usual "I'm John Kline and I approve this message."  So we know it isn't some PAC claiming this, it's the man himself.  But is it really costing you money?  Where does the money for the Trust Fund come from?  Is it really a waste of taxpayer dollars like the Kline ad claims?

Hardly.   It's funded by the Minnesota State Lottery, not your taxes.  Playing the lottery is completely voluntary.  So if you don't want your money going to help the environment by producing things like the Bird Breeding Atlas, then don't play the lottery.  It's that simple.  Nobody is forcing anybody to pay for this project!  (More on where the Minnesota lottery funds go...)

But beyond the question of the accuracy of the ad is the greater concern: John Kline apparently doesn't care about Minnesota birds or the environment.  He doesn't even care enough to do the simple online research it took for me to write this article before "approving" his ad to air.  Not even after it aired and many others besides me have pointed out the error.  On Minnesota's At Issue program this week, during a discussion between Kline and Obermueller, moderator Tom Hauser asked Kline if he still stands by the ad and he said "yes." (Although I do note that a more recent attack ad about "pork" left out the reference to birds.  Apparently his campaign managers are more savvy than he is.)

The very fact that he would choose this project to ridicule Obermueller is in itself telling. Apparently Kline has no idea how we Minnesotans really feel about the natural resources of our state.  After all, 77% of Minnesotans voted for the Amendment that created the Trust Fund that paid for this and other environmental projects. And he is certainly not aware of the economic impact of birds on our economy. Tourism, travel, and purchases related to birds account for an estimated $400 million to our state economy. Not to mention other outdoor activities not directly related to birds, but where the presence of birds certainly enhances the experience, such as camping, hiking, skiing, boating, etc.  Maybe he has been in Washington so long he has forgotten what most of Minnesota looks like.

Oh, and by the way, John Kline voted for the infamous Alaskan "bridge to nowhere" and also voted to continue funding NASCAR sponsorships -- wasteful things that really did come from taxpayer money. That's a whole lot more pork than a survey of wild birds funded by the lottery.


Karima Bushnell said...

Interesting. Everything you say makes sense, and I'm glad to know about the bird breeding atlas. What a good project! Maybe I will download it sometime.

Minnesota Central said...

Thanks for adding your voice of reason.

The Kline attack ad election politics at its worst ... pure distortion.

Consider that the legislation in question is H.F. 2624 was approved by a bipartisan vote in the House 95 to 36.
Heck, every time I drive into Mankato, I see the billboard reminding me that “Tony Cornish is keeping the Government out of your wallet” … and guess what, Republican Tony Cornish voted for H.F. 2624.
The Minnesota Senate also approved the funding by a vote of 59 to 7 … and Governor Tim Pawlenty signed the bill.
Sorta takes a little steam out of the argument that this was Mike Obermueller leading the charge for wasteful spending.

What is never explained is the origin of H.F. 2624.
The bill was a result of Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources — a commission consisting of bipartisan Members of the House and Senate and citizen members appointed by the House, Senate and Governor (who at that time was Tim Pawlenty).
The Commission evaluates and recommends to the Legislature projects to be funded from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.
This was the citizens recommendations ... not Mike Obermueller spending monies because he likes birds.

Yet this ad accomplished its goal -- re-electing Chairman Kline.
John Kline spent $2,806,110 last election (up over $1 mill) and received 55,809 less votes ... but he won.

Now, let's put that $2,806,110 in context ... that was the amount he spent to get re-elected. Since then he has tweeted about his support for the Clay Hunt veterans suicide legislation ... do you know how much "new" money is authorized for FY2015 ? ZERO. Instead, the bill authorizes that $3 million be redirected from the existing VA program to address suicides. Sadly, that was approved this the result after a Republican rejection last year when a measly $6 million was requested.