Slouching Toward Bethlehem

As usual, I try to avoid national politics on here; as usual, I can’t resist inserting myself. This cycle has drawn everyone in for more carnage, much in the way we fixate on train wrecks. I’m not much of an idealist, have no qualms for voting for the lesser of two evils; at the same time, I tend to believe apocalyptic thinking of any stripe is overstated, and am more inclined to laugh off ludicrous claims than to fear for the future of the country. But as I’ve let show, this is an instance in which I think the choice is a clear one. Donald Trump must lose.

I’m not opposed to Donald Trump because I think he’ll cause great calamity. The risks might be somewhat higher, but he’s strongly constrained by the inertia of a powerful state. Nor do I fear the content of his provocative language: I’ve never taken the “build the wall” rhetoric seriously, and ultimately, I don’t think minority groups will see their fates be much different under Trump than they would have been under a standard-issue Republican. I’m less afraid of him doubling down on some of his claims than of him getting bored and losing interest in the whole charade.

Frankly, I struggle to see how anyone who’s tracked his behavior over the course of this cycle can have any confidence that he will actually do any of the things he says. While thankful, I also struggle to resist rolling my eyes at anyone who jumped off the bandwagon recently, as if he didn’t exhibit the same patterns of volcanic behavior all along. I see a President Trump as a bumbling clown, nutty but at least capable of reading off a teleprompter from time to time, all at the behest of his handlers, who step in to do damage control when he devolves into another tweetstorm against someone who’s offended him. (How is it that people who claim to oppose political correctness are so often the most thin-skinned?) To date I have little faith in the handlers’ ability to do that, but it’s not totally implausible to imagine Trump as a blustering figurehead and spinmaster-in-chief while a cadre around him implements its policies of choice, thereby avoiding a train wreck. Whatever you think of said policies, this leaves us right back where we started, with a group of political insider technocrats Making America Great Again. So much for the revolution.

Funnily enough, there are things about Trump’s policies (such as they are) that intrigue me. Foreign policy motivates me more than most voters, and I have deep reservations about Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy, which has been pretty reliably wrong over the past 15 years. On diplomacy, I prefer the calculating deal-makers to the liberal hawks, and while I have deep concerns about Vladimir Putin, he’s also a necessary partner in the Middle East and in other spheres, and handling him requires a bit more nuance than displayed in some Democratic Party circles recently. (How strange the world now seems: the Democrats are the hard-liners on Russian autocrats, while the Republicans are cozy with them.) While my takes on trade and economics are nuanced, I appreciate that Trump has prompted some good reflections on the state of the white working class, and an opportunity to have genuine debate about our blind assumptions about the Washington Consensus that have dominated both parties since the end of the Cold War. (I suppose Bernie Sanders gets an assist here, too.) A more polished version of Trump would have at least piqued my interest.

These are just a few of the policy areas where Trump sheds some light before going ten feet overboard. Arguments that immigrants hurt native-born Americans’ economic prospects are basically bunk, and I am glad to see many of the barriers to LGBTQ equality come down. But I’m also capable of putting myself in the shoes of people watching their world change so rapidly and feeling some sympathy. The immigration system does need careful management instead of wishful idealism, and people do need to be vetted some; religious conservatives have a right to worship as they choose, and raise their children in the ways they see fit. I don’t see the Clinton campaign acknowledging this reality. Her campaign makes occasional overtures toward a big-tent coalition, particularly during the Democratic National Convention, but so often appears motivated by a bunker mentality brought on by its candidate’s baggage. It fails to inspire, and the strategy seems to involve checking off boxes with all the interest groups it needs to keep happy.

My objections to Trump have much more to do with the way he has shifted the window for political debate in the United States. Or, rather, the way he’s shattered the window altogether. To be fair, Trump didn’t start this. Most popular media and cable news has been superficial garbage for a long time, and we can blame some of the toxicity on both a Republican Party that has subtly played off racial divisions since Nixon and a Democratic Party that has increasingly come to resemble a scattershot coalition of identity-based interest groups all trying to make a narrow claim at the table. But Trump has accelerated this, and brought it into the open with no apologies. Elements  of the left have sunk to his level, and political discourse, never pleasant, has degraded into self-reinforcing horror show. No figure is more responsible for this than Donald Trump.

We have the politics we deserve, and we can’t say the Greeks didn’t warn us. These are the timeless dangers of democracy, though I hastily add that I still find it the worst choice except for all the others. (I can see the Trump tweet now: “Korrupt Karl hates democracy. Sad!”) These are the consequences of dumbed-down celebrity politics, with messaging aimed at the lowest common denominator. It’s a reduction of elections to a binary choice in which it is somehow our patriotic duty to choose, red team versus blue team, more about winning and losing elections than the tricky work of governance. It needs some inherent dignity to avoid collapsing into an entertainment complex. Trump exemplifies politics as the reality TV show, and his continued presence on the political stage would only set off a downward spiral of degradation. I don’t predict the imminent collapse of American democracy, but each spin down the toilet increases the odds that it won’t quite be the same afterwards.

Trumpism, to the extent that it exists, taps into a Nietzschean energy: the world, instead of three interlocking circles that explain everything, is reduced to winners and losers, with sharp lines between them. Its most fertile intellectual ground is in the dark corners of the internet, where young men, probably around my age, assume ridiculous Latin pseudonyms and peddle their profound ressentiment of those who oppose them. (Oh, the Nietzschean irony.) Trump’s election wouldn’t bring them to power, nor would his defeat silence them. But the whole Trump phenomenon runs the risk of normalizing them, of empowering this narrative of fire and brimstone, of tribe and ideology over common American future.

In a way, I’m sympathetic. I get that urge to rise up in a crusade for greatness through politics. It’s what drove my eighteen-year-old self to Washington. I understand that longing to smash the day-to-day drudgery we inhabit and unleashed a repressed inner soul in all its erotic glory. It’s hard to beat that rush, and that side of human nature never will—and never should—go away. But channeling it in ways that trump up a mediocre establishment as an existential threat endangers American exceptionalism in the best sense of the phrase, this belief in a national project that won’t ever die. Lord knows this project has had its dark patches through history, but through it all, we are all awfully lucky to be here in this day in age. It’s cute to think we’re standing on some precipice of looming demise, and probably empowering to pretend one man can change it, but, alas, real heroism for the vast majority of us probably involves something both much closer to home and much more radical than checking a box on a Tuesday in November.

Some argue it’s a good thing that certain political currents, long suppressed, are now out in the open. I’m skeptical. One often hears Trump supporters say they’re glad he tells it like it is. I hate this phrase as much as I did when I first heard a public figure in Duluth utter it some years ago.  A layer of civilization is necessary for governance within political systems—especially the American one, with all its checks and balances—and there’s a need for consensus instead of silos of self-affirming certainty about what one already believes. No one has a monopoly on truth. Our elites have failed us many times, certainly, but we are blind to how far we have to fall. It’s more than a little disconcerting to witness the sort of political awakening one expects out of dispossessed young men in the Middle East coming out of a middle-aged couple in Youngstown.

And so I turn to Hillary Clinton: embattled, dogged by scandal, uninspiringly wonkish, too far to the left to sweep to a broad mandate, but too ensconced in her establishment cadre to inspire the energy to advance a more progressive agenda. She promises four more years of technocratic plodding, vicious right-wing opposition to anything she proposes, and shady, sheltered practices that, whether justified or not, will continue to court media attention. This only drags Washington further into the muck, perhaps ups the odds of a stronger counter-reaction in two or four years.

I reassure myself in a few ways. One, whatever Clinton’s flaws, they are predictable, and nothing in her political history suggests she will do anything unexpected or drastic. Give me a mediocre status quo over the revolution any day. Two, while she certainly won’t devolve power from Washington, she has neither the charisma nor the political capital to centralize it much more either, and at least pays lip service to bringing everyone to the table instead of saying “I alone can fix it.” Three, while the Republican Party has a very complicated reckoning to come, there is at least some hope that the coming dust-up allows the party to salvage itself in a way that it never could with a floundering President Trump at the top. In the long run, his defeat may do more good for the more sanely-grounded elements of his cause, since they’ll be part of the national conversation, but not tied to an absurd, distracting figure.

I sometimes say my time in Washington jaded me, but I think a more accurate summation my takeaway from four years there was a revelation over the smallness of it all: how much life could go on without worrying about it, and how much the people in charge are stumbling in the dark and guessing, just as we all are. This doesn’t mean that some political rookie can roll in and shake it up, though. It also takes experience, and knowledge of how to play the game to at least move policy, which does still matter enough that we can’t laugh the whole thing off. Only in reality TV shows do Trump-like figures march in and prove effective.

The Yeats poem that gives this post its title, oft-quoted this election cycle among intellectuals lamenting our political fate, claims the best lack conviction. Maybe, instead, the best know that obsessive conviction is misplaced. For my part, it’s time to stop reading FiveThirtyEight, make peace with the Clinton slouch, and get back to work here at home.

A Long and Awkward Good-Bye for Councilor Krause: Duluth City Council Notes, 9/23/13

It was an odd night at City Hall. The crowd was modest in size, there were no citizen speakers, and there were no grave disputes between the Councilors beyond the usual, civil back-and-forth. Yet somehow, it also wound up being the ugliest meeting I’ve seen since I started attending them. It was also the end of an era, so to speak, as Councilor Krause’s resignation was set to take effect after the meeting; indeed, his departure was at the root of the evening’s troubles. The Council’s bloc of fiscal conservatives has now shrunk from three to two, but the frustrations had nothing to do with Councilor Krause’s principled stands, nor the ideology of his successor. In fact, thanks to a heap of Council confusion, he has no successor.

President Boyle began the night by convening a special meeting to appoint Councilor Krause’s replacement, in which Councilor Krause was not allowed to participate. (Councilor Krug was also absent, leaving the Council with seven voting members for the special meeting.) President Boyle announced that the Council had interviewed two candidates, Mr. Zachary Radzak and Mr. Gary Eckenberg, found them both impressive, and invited the Councilors to share their opinions on each.

Councilor Stauber went first, but instead of endorsing one of the two candidates, he shared his serious concerns about the selection process. He was upset there had been no public hearing, that the process was being conducted via resolution (and hence technically open to a veto by Mayor Ness), and thought it was pointless to appoint someone only until the November 5 election. Councilor Gardner defended the process, saying it had worked for past vacancies (including two for Councilor Krause’s 4th District seat in the past four years), and while she agreed there was room for improvement, she said it would have to do for this particular situation. She then endorsed Mr. Eckenberg for the position, as he is a past member of the Council and would be able to hit the ground running.

Next, Councilor Fosle demanded an answer as to when the appointed Councilor’s term would end. City Attorney Gunnar Johnson replied that the Council would sit the person elected in November at the next Council meeting; it was his interpretation that past Councils had violated the City Charter in not doing so. Satisfied, Councilors Hartman, Julsrud, and Larson all told Mr. Radzak he was an impressive candidate, but expressed their support for Mr. Eckenberg.

At that point, Mr. Eckenberg came forward, held a whispered conversation with Atty. Johnson, and then took the stand before the Council. He said he had been under the impression that the person appointed to fill Councilor Krause’s seat would stay on the Council until January, when the Councilor elected to the seat in November would normally take office. A one-month appointment, he said, made zero sense, and would not allow him to do anything of substance. The 4th District could survive for a month without representation. He thus withdrew his name from consideration.

This rather understandably threw off the entire meeting, and Councilor Boyle brought forward yet another confusing point: Councilor Krause’s name will appear on the ballot in November, and if he were to win, the seat would then be his. If that were to happen, the Council would need to go through the re-appointment process yet again. Councilor Fosle asked if the resolution could be amended to allow Mr. Eckenberg to serve until January, but Atty. Johnson said it could not, as that would be a violation of the Charter.

For his part, Councilor Stauber was rather pleased with this development. He agreed that a one-month appointment did no good, and that the Council could simply appoint someone to fill the seat if Councilor Krause were to win. This irked Councilor Gardner, who said there was nothing “simple” about the whole process. She accused Councilor Stauber of selective interpretation of the Charter, which insists that vacancies on the Council must be filled in a timely manner. She implored Mr. Eckenberg to reconsider his position, but Mr. Eckenberg politely declined, saying he had been misled about what he was applying for.

An exasperated Councilor Julsrud apologized to Mr. Eckenberg, and suggested the Council pull the measure and follow Councilor Stauber’s suggestion. Councilor Hartman disagreed, admitting a one-month appointment made “no sense,” but that, due to the Charter, “sometimes we have to do things that make no sense.” The Council, however, chose to make sense. It pulled the resolution, 4-3, with Councilors Fosle, Julsrud, Stauber, and Boyle in support. Councilor Krause’s seat will thus remain open until after the November election.

With this sloppy affair mercifully over, the Council kicked off its actual meeting, in which CAO Montgomery began by presenting Councilor Krause with a plaque thanking him for his service. Councilor Krause in turn thanked him, the Council, the City Hall staff, and the city employees who are on the front lines of resolving city problems. The consent agenda then passed, 8-0. A resolution creating a pedestrian underpass under Haines Road passed, 6-2, with Councilors Fosle and Krause complaining about unnecessary expenditures.

The major topic of debate for the meeting proper was a plan to finance a phase of construction of the cross-city trail. This particular section, extending from Canal Park to 30th Avenue West, would cost $1.3 million, though a chunk of that sum would be paid by federal and DNR grants. Once again, there was some exhausting bureaucratic wrangling, as the ordinance authorizing the bonds to pay for the project and the resolution awarding the contract were in an illogical order on the meeting agenda. Once Atty. Johnson resolved the confusion, debate ensued.

To no one’s great surprise, the Council’s three fiscal conservatives shared their doubts about the plan. Councilor Krause called Duluth a “large city with many cities in it,” whatever other people might try to say, and that the residents of his district appeared not to value the trail as much as the still-shuttered community centers. (This phase of the project is primarily in Councilor Krause’s district.) He and Councilor Stauber questioned the wisdom of incurring more bonding debt when the city had already taken on more debt over the previous year; CAO Montgomery countered by saying the city had reduced its debt since 2007. Councilor Fosle went so far as to challenge the Council’s power to use bonding to fund trails, but both CAO Montgomery and Atty. Johnson refuted his point.

Councilor Hartman pushed CAO Montgomery for more details on the other funding sources, and he replied by saying that roughly 70% of the project would be paid for in grants. The project, he argued, was a good way to leverage the city’s money, as it turned $450,000 worth of money into $1.8 million in trails, whereas using that same $450,000 on streets would only result in $450,000 worth of street improvements. He also noted the value of trails as a tourist attraction, and Councilor Hartman added that commuters using the trail reduced wear and tear on the streets.

Councilor Krause said all of this leveraging was well and good, but in the end it still added to city long-term operating costs, and he therefore could not support it. Councilor Stauber repeated his dissatisfaction, and Councilors Fosle and Gardner both complained about the inadequate map they’d been given of the plans. Mapping issue aside, both measures related to the cross-city trail passed, 5-3; predictably, Councilors Krause, Stauber, and Fosle were the dissenters.

The Council wrapped up its business with the unanimous approval of a zoning reclassification, and a brief but contentious meeting came to an end. In the closing comments, Councilor Hartman pleaded that Atty. Johnson inform the Councilors of changes in interpretation of the City Charter before the meeting if at all possible, as the evening’s developments had left them in a “very awkward position,” and “didn’t look good.” Once again, his closing comments accurately summed up the mood of the meeting, in which dysfunction over Councilor Krause’s seat overwhelmed any substantive achievements later on. It was also an unfortunate end to Councilor Krause’s tenure on the Council; while I have to respect him greatly for his reasoned critiques and attempts to compromise, this entire process was not pretty, and the timing of his departure was poor, to say the least. The eight-member Council will now have to press on without him, and must clearly find a way to streamline its process for appointing replacement Councilors. Duluth deserves something far cleaner than what it got in this meeting.

Gronseth’s Gambit: The School Board Will Let Duluth Vote (Meeting Notes, 8/20/13)

On Tuesday night, I joined a horde of wilting Duluthians in the Board Room. Historic Old Central High School has no air conditioning, and even though the temperature cleared ninety, the room was full of red-faced people. Many of the school board candidates and usual suspects were lurking around, and several hijacked my normal spot by setting up their own video cameras, forcing me to a sideline seat by the media. An MIA Member Cameron apparently fled to the beach, while Member Johnson celebrated the weather with a Hawaiian shirt, and the middle five people on the dais were color-coordinated in light blue shirts. The mood at the start seemed light, with Member Johnston sharing a joke with Superintendent Gronseth, but with a major debate about which levy options to send to voters on the table, the ending was certain to be different.

For once, Member Johnston did not have a beef with the previous meeting’s minutes, and the District moved on to celebrate the installations of educational gardens at a number of schools. After that, it was on to public comments, and the first four speakers were all candidates in the upcoming election. The first was the only real newcomer to Board affairs, at-large candidate Joshua Bixby, a middle-aged, well-polished man with salt-and-pepper hair who looked like he was fresh off a round at the country club. (Surprise! he lives in Congdon Park.) He asked the Board to support a voter-approved levy in order to restore trust, voiced his pleasure with the dialogue at a business committee meeting, and made the sensible suggestion that standing committee meetings be opened to the public, as Board members often have their minds made up by the general board meetings, rendering public comments nothing but a “moment of catharsis.”

Next up was Mr. Loren Martell, who sounded far more coherent than usual and celebrated the Superintendent’s recommendation that the levy appear on the ballot. He took a shot at Student Member Thibault, who was quoted in a recent News-Tribune article as saying the District should impose a levy without a vote, and grumbled about the civics lessons the Board must have taught him. Mr. Harry Welty came forward next, and in a display that can only be described as Harry Welty-ish, attempted to have a dialogue with Superintendent Gronseth involving head signals, was left confused by the Superintendent’s response, and trailed on in support of a vote on the levy. Ms. Marcia Stromgren rehashed her normal litany of complaints, and Mr. Tom Albright, a volunteer pushing for the passage of the levy, thanked the Board for its thoughtfulness.

The Board then breezed through Education and HR Committee business in record time. Sup. Gronseth gave a progress report on construction at Congdon and Myers-Wilkins Elementaries, and said he had shut down his office today after temperatures cleared ninety. Member Johnston, delivering the Education Committee report in Member Cameron’s absence, said the Committee had looked at pictures of blizzards during its meeting to try to keep cool.

When the Business Committee agenda came up, Member Johnston again broke several issues off from the rest of the agenda for separate discussion and vote. First came some funding for online programming for students who are homebound or at the alternative high school; he wanted to make sure the funding had been pre-allocated, which it had, though only as an estimate. Member Westholm pressed District staffers on the possible fuzziness of online education, and asked if there were models for the program; Assistant Sup. Crawford and Unity High School (the alternative school) Assistant Principal Adrian Norman responded by painting a picture of an interactive program tailored to fit each student’s needs that will be carefully watched in its pilot year. Satisfied, the Board approved the Virtual Schools contract and some AmeriCorps funding, 6-0. After that came the usual complaints by Member Johnston over change orders; he groused that they were voting on projects that had already been started or even completed. Member Seliga-Punyko insisted that the Board did indeed approve these projects in April, and asked if Member Johnston would have them tear up the sidewalks and playgrounds now. Member Johnston insisted that he was simply making a point that this “is not the way you do business,” and was the lone vote against the change orders.

After that, it was on to the main event of the evening: the levy plans. The School Board had three options to vote on:

1. A $300 levy imposed by the Board without a vote, which would also lock down $1.1 million in extra state aid.

2. An existing $212 state equity levy for larger districts, which could either be tabled indefinitely (effectively re-approving it), or rejected.

3. Two ballot questions in the November election, the first of which is a $600 levy that would match the current operating levy and also include (as part of the $600) the $212 equity levy, and the second of which would raise the levy another $200. The passage of the first leg would guarantee the $1.1 million in state funding, but its failure would cost Duluth the entire package, aside from the $212 equity fund (assuming it is not rejected).

The imposed levy was up first, and Member Seliga-Punyko took the stand to make a case that summed up her six years of work on the School Board. It was, effectively, an argument for representative democracy, and what she saw as the school board’s right to do whatever it thinks is best for the district, regardless of public opinion. She listed off a number of other bodies (some elected, some not) that can raise taxes without voter input, and asked why school boards are held to a different standard. “Why would you put the district in jeopardy?” she asked, shuddering at the thought of cutting $7 million in funding if the $600 levy were to fail at the ballot box. She envisioned a District in which all arts and athletics are gone, with 50-plus students in every classroom, and insisted that students came first; the issue was “not about the confidence of the voters, but being a responsible governing body.”

Student Member Thibault echoed Member Seliga-Punyko’s comments, while Member Miernicki respectfully disagreed. There was much confusion about the language of the resolution, freeing Chairman Kasper to deliver the line of the night: “we’re muddled in bureaucracy. Imagine that!” Sup. Gronseth told of his meeting with state legislators on Monday, which left him encouraged that lots of people are on the same page, and he said Duluth needs to move past its past issues and have hope and faith that the community will support it. (The words “hope” and “faith” were thrown around so often tonight that I wondered if I had perhaps accidentally wandered into an Obama rally.)

In a moment of rare agreement, Member Johnston thanked the Superintendent for his words, and offered his support for the ballot measure. He said that imposing the levy would jeopardize later motions and increases, and was responsible to students, taxpayers, and District staff over the long-term. He said it was “symbolic” that he and the Superintendent could agree on this. Chair Kasper agreed, admitting it was a big risk that he did not support lightly, but insisting that responsibility had to be given back to the taxpayers. The imposed levy failed, 5-1, with Member Seliga-Punyko the lone vote in favor.

The meeting degenerated from there, as the discussion over the equity levy swiftly became a mess; no one really knew what was going on. Members Johnston and Miernicki misinterpreted Sup. Gronseth’s intent, leading the Superintendent to hastily try to explain it all: the measure is not board-authorized, but state-authorized, and tabling it would accept the funds, not delay a decision. Member Johnston said that accepting this funding would “confuse” voters, make them think the Board was raising taxes, and “was a sure way not to get this money.” Member Seliga-Punyko lashed out, claiming this was “an excuse” to vote ‘no’ designed by people who are trying to bring down the levy,” “including a Board member.” Member Johnston asked that Chair Kasper reprimand her for impugning him, which he did. Member Seliga-Punyko also asked why this was even up for a vote, which Sup. Groseth answered by saying that it was the only way to have a debate about it. The normally quiet Member Wasson did her best to cut through the confusion and get the simple message: this is not a tax increase, and merely a stopgap to guarantee a few dollars if the levy does indeed fail at the ballot box. Over Member Johnston’s “begging,” the Board approved the equity levy, 5-1.

Angered, Member Johnston voiced his displeasure when the Board opened discussion on the 2-part ballot measure levy. He said the $212 equity levy “does nothing for us,” and thought the confusion of a two-part ballot question would only be “another nail in the coffin” for a measure that faces an uphill battle. He tried to peel off the second question so as not to “muddy the water,” but the rest of the Board voted against him. Member Wasson asked Business Services Director Bill Hansen if the explicit line “this is not a tax increase” could be put on the $600 levy, but was disappointed to hear a “no” in response. Member Johnston continued his parliamentary wrangling by announcing his support for the $600 levy despite the fact that he would abstain from the vote to put it on the ballot due to his opposition to the additional $200 question. After the meeting, Member Seliga-Punyko could be overheard doubting his good faith. The measure passed, 5-0.

Next up was a state-funded bond, and although the bond before the Board had nothing to do with the District’s credit rating, Member Johnston rolled out a series of quotes from Moody’s Analytics’ recent decision to downgrade the District to perhaps the lowest rating in the state. His point really was a good one: the bond downgrade is a real issue, and does indeed show that some of Member Johnston’s concerns over the years were well-founded. But when Sup. Gronseth reiterated that the District’s rating had nothing to do with the bond in question, Member Johnston yet again had to get in the last word. There is no such thing as a time and a place for Member Johnston: he must make his own righteousness clear at every turn, an act that is, frankly, the epitome of “muddying the water.” Nothing is made clearer by interjecting on every single point and going off on tangents, no matter how much they may prove him right; even though he usually adds the necessary caveats, discourses such as this one are not the mark of someone genuinely concerned about the District. They are the mark of a man trying to score political points for his platform so that he can tell people he was right. He claims to support the levy, but will claim vindication if it fails; he insists the public is well-informed about Board matters and will see through the confusion, but no one did more to advance the confusion than he did.

By the end of the meeting, the heat of the discussion and the room was driving everyone nuts. When Member Johnston belabored one particular point, a red-faced Member Miernicki threw his head skyward in exasperation. Chair Kasper twice announced there were no more lights lit and moved to a vote when other Members’ lights were quite obviously on; upon being shot down, Member Wasson shook her head and sighed as if to say “to hell with it.” Chair Kasper’s request that Member Johnston clarify a statement led to an obstinate “I said what I said” from Member Johnston. Member Seliga-Punyko’s mumblings were audible from my seat in the audience. Once the Board moved on to less contentious issues involving election judges and such, Member Miernicki began to second measures before they had been read in their entirety. Chair Kasper told the Board he has “four months and nine days” until his term is up, “not that he’s counting.”

In spite of the dysfunction, the winner of the meeting was Sup. Gronseth, who kept his composure as all of his proposals passed. We will have to wait until November to learn how real that victory is. He avoided the easy way out—Member Seliga-Punyko’s path—and has staked his legacy on the $600 levy. If it passes, the District is in decent shape, and he is the man who moved Duluth past the Red Plan rancor and into a new era in which things might actually get done. (The $200 extra levy is a cherry on top, and while I will support it, I don’t have a lot of faith in it.) If it fails, the losses will be catastrophic, and no one’s hands will be clean. Not Member Seliga-Punyko’s: even though she tried to avoid this path, her support of the Board’s past heavy-handed tactics will have come home to roost. Not Member Johnston’s: while he may try to say “I told you so,” his behavior has always prioritized his own purity over any sincere care over the direction of the District, and his endless parliamentary nitpicking did nothing but cloud matters further. And certainly not Sup. Gronseth’s, whose chumminess and leap of faith will appear naïve.

I’m on my knees in prayer already.