Within a week of introducing a bill to cut the state's contribution to public employees' retirement benefit, Mike Parry told constituents at a Town Hall meeting in Owatonna that those who are public employees will be get bigger pensions under his plan.
In GOP bills leave Parry in hot seat, Clare Kennedy of the Owatonna People's Press reports:
This apparent contradiction [see below] ruffled many in the room who were already upset about two other forthcoming proposals: A 6 percent pay cut for public employees and a “shift” in pension plans that would cut 3 percent from the state’s contribution on the fund. The employees would be obliged to make up the difference.
At one point, Parry characterized the pension bill as an increase.
“Why wouldn’t you want an extra 3 percent in your pension for when you retire?” Parry said.
“I’m not getting an extra 3 percent. I’m getting to pay an extra 3 percent because you’re reducing my employer’s contribution to it,” Driskell said. “And you are cutting me, sir. You’re cutting 15 percent of my co-workers, which may well be me, and you’re cutting 6 percent of my salary. You are cutting me. Don’t tell me you’re not. I have a brain.”
And what was the contradiction? Parry criticized Governor Dayton's plan to trim the state's workforce by six percent, while proposals coming from his caucus call for fifteen percent cuts:
Of a spate of bills Republicans have introduced, one of the most contentious is a bill written by Sen. Ted Daley called “15 by 15” which would require a 15 percent reduction of the state’s workforce by 2015. According to the bill itself, appointed commissioners would be compelled to cut their staff by “attrition, a hard hiring freeze, early retirement incentives authorized in this section, restructuring of benefit or pension programs as authorized by other law, furloughs, and layoffs.” . . .
At first, Parry seemed to speak in favor of such cuts. In fact, such a bill is similar to proposals he made during his first campaign in January 2010, when he promised to cut state government 15 percent “across the board.”
“What we’re looking at, because of some of the streamlining and downsizing that will be coming forth, with zero-based budgeting also being looked at, we believe there’s room for the reduction,” Parry said. . . .
As he continued speaking, however, Parry criticized DFL Gov. Mark Dayton for a similar proposal.
“With the new technology and streamlining that we’re looking at bringing forth, as we do in business, this is the right way. I think it’s the right way,” Parry said. “Our governor right now wants to reduce our workforce by 6 percent. He wants to lay them off. I don’t agree with that. I believe that all of us can take a little bit of a reduction and keep everyone employed. Why would I want to put somebody on unemployment?” . . .
So is it the size of government that's the problem, here--or what? Several teachers mentioned that they were already contributing more for their health care; teachers in the Owatonna school districts are paying 11 percent more for their medical insurance premiums over last year. One Town Hall participant had more severe cuts:
“I’m already enduring a 20 percent cut,” said the man, who asked to withhold his name. “Now you’re asking me to take another 6 percent. My question is, if I have to take a 6 percent cut, how is that OK with you when you’re unwilling to tax a single person in the upper echelon which some would call the rich?”
Parry also wobbled in his answer to that question:
In response, Parry promised that he and other Republicans planned to deep six certain tax exemptions as well, to “spread out the pain,” in spite of criticism he would likely face.
“If we do that, the other side is going to say, you’re raising taxes, and they want to beat us up for that,” Parry said. “There are some unbelievable tax exemptions here that we should all be paying. I was just looking at one today and I’ll be highly criticized but I think we should do it — tax on services.”
It's getting pretty complicated there, isn't it? And why is Parry whining about what "the other side is going to say"? One would think he'd be just as concerned about the warning letter sent to legislators by the Republican party chair, failed burrito baron Tony Sutton. Sutton wrote:
"resist any revenue enhancement proposals like raising taxes, raising fees, expanding gambling, expanding the sales tax or any other such schemes that not only violate our principles, but are also bad politics and bad public policy."
Perhaps Parry has nothing to fear--other than having Waseca and his residence being shuffled into a different state senate district--when a newspaper owned by the same chain balances the OPP coverage of an actual town hall meeting with some full-throated, kneepading praise of Parry's "bold and unflinchingly blunt" political work.
Faribault Daily News managing editor Jaci Smith's article, In the Majority, is a masterpiece of its kind. The editor is far more smitten by Parry's personality than the constituents in Owatonna were of his proposals:
Gregarious to the point of boisterous, yet bold and unflinchingly blunt in his political work, this unusual dichotomy of personality has earned the senator some plum assignments in the new GOP majority and has some speculating about his future political ambitions.
Backpedaling must be the new blunt. And then there's this curious description of the special election:
From the beginning, Mike Parry, a businessman from the tiny southern Minnesota town of Waseca, stood apart by the sheer amount of shoe leather he wore out as he campaigned to replace long-time Sen. Dick Day (R-Owatonna). Day resigned his seat mid-term to lead Racino Now, a lobbying interest for slots at the state’s two horse-racing tracks.
“Here’s a guy who, in January 2010, ran in an area where on paper it seemed like a tough district to win,” said Michael Brodkorb, communications director of the Senate Majority Caucus. “He worked incredibly hard.”
Parry held countless town hall meetings, walked the streets and stopped at virtually every home. If you lived in his district, you couldn’t avoid him.
Countless town halls? if by "countless," one means "none," the editor should get an award from the SPJ. But Smith seems to be a graduate of the school of creative nonfiction writers who disdains looking in her paper's own archives. While there were many forums and debates for all three candidates, there's no record of any Town Hall. There was one small business roundtable in Owatonna that might be deemed a town hall, though no one called it that at the time
And a "tough district" for a Republican to win? Senator Dick Day must have been a miracle worker. But perhaps Smith has simply ceded her editorial judgement to the Deputy Chair of the Republican Party of Minnesota:
GOP Communications Director Brodkorb was more effusive.
“I think Senator Parry has tremendous potential,” he said. “If he decides to stay a state senator, he’d do a tremendous job and serve his district well. But he has such a strong work ethic and does such a great job engaging the public, it really presents someone like Senator Parry some opportunities outside his district.”
If the Town Hall in Owatonna is any example of the "great job engaging the public" Parry does, let's hope Brodkorb schedules more of the same.
Or did Brodkorb simply need some promotional material to try to sell Parry's taped podcast radio show to stations outside of the senator's district?
Update: Parry is a sponsor of SF0812, which would reduce salaries of public employees by six percent.