A Reading from Eden Prairie

By Michael S. Johnson

 Getting out of Washington, talking to people who are not consumed by politics, and reading local newspapers that either have a different slant on politics or no slant at all, well, is refreshing.

 Today, I’m perusing the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in a sun-drenched room in Eden Prairie that offers a panoramic view of tall trees, mostly maple and oak, and autumn leaves turning colors about two weeks ahead of their brethren along the Potomac.  The sun is so bright, it shines right through the leaves, giving them a translucent glow. But I digress.

It’s Saturday and there are a lot of good stories. 

One is about the National Park Service rejecting a $700 million bridge construction project over the St. Croix River, which flows north-south, just east of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area.  The Park Service has jurisdiction over federal laws governing the river, which was designated a national wild and scenic river in 1972.  The Service was responding to a court ordered re-evaluation of the project, brought on by a Sierra Club suit, the story says.  According to the Park Service, the bridge would have adverse effects and “would fundamentally change” the scenic qualities that existed in 1972.

All across the country, higher priorities, whether economic, environmental, or political, are derailing and delaying improvements to our national infrastructure.  The needs are already overwhelming and they won’t go away.  The longer roads and bridges and rail lines are put off, the higher the cost will eventually be. The bridge project is in the congressional district of Rep. Michele Bachmann.  She will likely have considerable more clout in the next Congress and is not exactly a shy violet. Let’s she what she does with it.

         Still on Page 1, there is a story about a University of Minnesota official who temporarily blocked the airing of a docudrama called Troubled Waters, a controversial film about the harm agriculture does to the Mississippi River and what is referred to as the Gulf of Mexico’s ‘dead zone’.    The film was scheduled to be aired, and did air, on Twin Cities Public Television, over which the University apparently has some control. The U of M official cancelled the broadcast over concerns about its accuracy and objectivity, concluding that it was not a documentary, but a piece of propaganda in the style of Michael Moore films.  But U of M Vice President Karen Himle acknowledged that she didn’t consult with a broad enough group of stakeholders before making the decision, for which she was roundly criticized.  So she reversed herself.

            The film Himle and some of her colleagues concluded was biased propaganda, was funded in part by taxpayers, through public television, but also through what was described as a $349,000 state legislative appropriation. 

Governments, state or federal, in my mind have no business funding films in the first place, not in a recession with 9 percent unemployment.  If we are ever to dig ourselves out of the fiscal quagmire we’ve gotten ourselves into through both Republican and Democratic administrations in both state and federal governments, then we’ve got to return to the basics, defining and then paying for only essential public services, and then ensuring that those services are provided as efficiently as possible. VP Himle was right the first time.

Next I ran across a story about ‘local Somali Imams under attack for taking part in a multi-faith event that showed support for Muslims.’ 

The religious leaders participated in a prayer service with Christians and Jews to show solidarity in the wake of the lunatic who threatened to burn of Korans in Florida.  Now the Somali Muslims are in hot water with others of their faith in what they described as a “manufactured crisis.”   It is baffling that religious intolerance is practiced in the name of religion.  It is to our benefit that Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders in Minneapolis are willing to rise up against it, together.

Then there’s the story about “two Minnesota clergymen who plan to thumb their noses at the federal government on Sunday by endorsing political candidates from their pulpits.” 

The issue is the First Amendment versus the IRS regulations governing non-profit organizations, like churches, which are restricted from engaging in specific political activity, particularly the endorsement or active support for a candidate for Federal office. 

It’s a classic issue, and one that ought to be clarified if we are ever going to truly reform our system of campaign finance.  And it was played out in Hastings and St. Peter last weekend. Good story.  I wonder if the men of the faith went to jail.

There was also an interesting story about a man suing the police for a strip search in public. And there was another about the terrific investigative work of the local power company, which discovered clear evidence that a power outage affecting 19,000 west metro customers was caused by a squirrel.

Local newspapers and local magazines (I’m partial to MSP Magazine, myself) are indispensable purveyors of news and information.  They are fun to read, even if the local news is not your news.   Somehow, I suspect when all of the dust settles around the economics of American news and journalism, local papers and magazines will survive.   There’s still no better way to spend a Saturday morning, regardless of where you are.  And of all the places a person can be, Eden Prairie is pretty cool.

Editors’s Note: Mike Johnson is a former journalist, who worked on the Ford White House staff and served as press secretary and chief of staff to House Republican Leader Bob Michel, prior to entering the private sector. He is co-author of a book, Surviving Congress, a guide for congressional staff.   He is currently a principal with the OB-C Group.

2 thoughts on “A Reading from Eden Prairie

  1. gary johnson

    I was struck by your comment about reading the news that has no slant at all. I consider it a compliment to the Minneapolis StarTribune and to the tradition of local news, be it newspapers, city magazines or television. There is still notjhing better than having hope, dare I say trust, in the notion that the information one is receiving is likely accurate, not ideological positioning ala Fox News or MSNBC, or just plain unprofessional and inaccurate ala Huffington Post, the volunteer journailism digi-news cropping up all over the country, or any number or blogs, tweets or Facebook posts. Viva journalism!

  2. Richard Prince

    Michele Backmann opposes federally funded projects and government spending so you can be sure, staying true to her principles of less government, she will rejecting a $700 million bridge construction project over the St. Croix River, Only stands to reason.

    The issue of churches being activity involved in campaigning for political candidates does not pit the IRS against the Constitution – the IRS is simply trying to abide by the U.S. Constitution and the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment. Hhave you read it? Perhaps you and Christine O’Donnell ought to start a U.S. Constitution book club, although I’m sure it won’t made any difference if you actually read the document and come to appreciate why the Founding Fathers in their brilliance felt it was imperative to keep government out of religion and why it ranked so important that it is Amendment #1 – NUMERO UNO!

    Local news and information bundles will survive only if they change to adapt to the times and changing expectations of their readers. The imagination and creativity to redesign and change to wow and amaze is no different than the first day Burt Cohen bought Mpls magazine and was faced with the prospect of building it into a source of trusted and valuable information. Turst is the operative word here, not ink and pulp from dead trees. Cohen couldn’t have survived if he, and his incredible team, did not have the imagination and tenacity to transform a fledgling and financially suffering monthly that regularly had to beg on bended knee to its lenders to keep it afloat.

    Burt Cohen & team brought to the community a TRUSTED source of reviews, features, and a passion for arts and cultural events that the public wanted and needed. They thought out and devised new strategies to reach the reader and entice the advertiser to engage the Twin Cities in a journey of fulfillment that improved the quality of life here. Now, they will do the same with digital, interactive, and new more personalized forms of partnering with local businesses, arts and cultural institutions. The challenge today is no different than when Burt took over the company. They will survive Saturday mornings and all the other days of the week as well with more relevant and useful information delivered in more diverse and convenient ways than on paper stock.

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