Watching Matt Dean and the House caucus pivot away from their original anti-arts and MPR message on Wednesday (based on a committee hearing and Dean interview on Tuesday) to a lazer-focused tiny library cut on Friday's coverage is fascinating.
On Wednesday, the Strib reported that the bill Dean Urdahl submitted and discussed in committee on Tuesday had to do with making grant programs for the arts and public radio competitive. In GOP targets Legacy funds for MPR, arts, readers learned:
Republicans made an abrupt move with a new bill to end earmarks and require competition for money.
House Republicans are reexamining state funding for some key arts and cultural heritage groups -- a move that may take political aim at Minnesota Public Radio, the Minnesota Zoo and other entities that have gotten special appropriations.
In an unusual move on Tuesday, Rep. Dean Urdahl, who chairs the House Legacy Funding Division panel, introduced a new version of a Legacy amendment funding bill that would remove specific money recommendations for the state's influential public radio network and other cultural organizations and said they would instead compete for grants.
Urdahl, who struggled at times during a hearing to explain the sudden move, said it was partly the suggestion of Republican legislative leaders.
Legislation that Urdahl's panel adopted less than a week ago recommended that Minnesota Public Radio receive $2 million in Legacy money over the next two years, that public television get $7.8 million and that an assortment of minority groups, including the Council on Black Minnesotans, share $1 million.
In the new version, most of the groups that previously were to get specific appropriations would now have to compete for the money.
House Majority Leader Matt Dean said he reminded Urdahl of the "importance of making sure he has [Republican] caucus support" for Legacy funding for arts and cultural heritage projects, an area of spending that Dean acknowledged had rankled some Republicans. "MPR, it's safe to say, has been a concern in the past," said Dean.
Dean also singled out a $45,000 payment of Legacy money that was made last year to science fiction writer Neil Gaiman for a four-hour speaking appearance. Dean said that Gaiman, "who I hate," was a "pencil-necked little weasel who stole $45,000 from the state of Minnesota."
Were either Urdahl or Dean articulating one word about the fund from which Gaiman was paid? Why, no.
But by Friday, the Strib reports the House Republican Caucus has pivoted so that the major changes in the bill are ignored--and the "furor" over the library's payment to Gaiman led to a focused, indeed petty, cut to the total library appropriation.
In Furor keeps building over author's $45,000 speech fee, it's as if Dean's original junior high taunt never hopped out of the Majority Leader's mouth to justify changes to the way in which grants to the arts and radio are distributed. It wasn't about the libraries on Tuesday.
Update: A reader commented that since the fee wasn't $45,000, this reduction makes the Republicans look even more petty. From an interview in the City Pages:
The entire controversy from last year consisted of a Republican blog drawing attention to this speaking gig, using the $45,000, which actually wasn't the true number, but it got picked up.
I received a grand total of $33,600, and I know because I checked this morning. That went to charity. I'd been doing a bunch of library-based events. It was at the end of a week where I'd done a huge pro bono Comic Book Legal Defense fund event, then I'd gone to Indianapolis to receive the Kurt Vonnegut award for literature, and then I was coming home.[end update]
Now the story is simply about $45,000 being cut from the regional libraries--but nothing about the larger change in Legacy appropriations that formed the heart of Wednesday's coverage.
Readers learn now:
The feud between celebrity author Neil Gaiman and House Majority Leader Matt Dean took several bizarre twists Thursday, when lawmakers threatened retaliation against local libraries, Gaiman threatened retaliation against Dean, and the cast of characters expanded to include Snooki from MTV's "Jersey Shore.''
The action started when a House Republican committee chair said he is recommending a $45,000 cut in the Twin Cites' regional library system budget to make up for the state Legacy money it paid last year to Gaiman for a speaking appearance.
Gaiman quickly defended his speaking fees, saying they are comparable to those charged by Snooki, the reality TV star.
Way to cover for the boss, Mr. Urdahl. Funny how that wasn't important enough to bring up Tuesday in the Legacy bill discussion in your committee.
And indeed, there's only a summary about the "concerns" that Republicans had that are leading to bigger changes:
Dean' comments, however, underscored the ongoing concerns of the Republican majority about Legacy money being spent on arts and cultural projects as the Legislature struggles to solve a $5.1 billion budget deficit. The Legacy amendment, passed in 2008 with considerable financial support from arts groups in Minnesota, raised the state sales tax for 25 years to fund outdoors, clean water, parks and trails and arts and cultural heritage projects.
And Urdahl says his concern are leading him to cut a sliver from the regional library funds:
Urdahl, himself an author, said, "I simply subtracted out $45,000 -- just making a point," in explaining why he cut the library system's proposed Legacy budget to $3.45 million. The Legacy funding proposal, including the reduced budget for the regional library system, is being reviewed by legislators.
That wasn't the point Urdahl and Dean made in their respective committee hearing and interview on Tuesday.
So--Bluestem returns to its original point: if Gaiman's fee is all they've got--and it came from a fund in which the basic formula isn't changed--why are grants to public broadcasting and arts board projects to be made competitive?
Why the "fix" on programs for which neither Matt Dean nor Dean Urdahl has been able to offer any evidence--however juvenilely expressed--as to the nature of their "concerns" that is at the core of the major changes offered in Urdal's bill?
What "concerns" and what evidence do the Republicans have that something is amiss in other cultural programs? Or do they simply disagree with the will of the voters who passed the Legacy amendment? Do they have more than a shout out to stereotypes about individual artists to justify changes?
Photo: Majority Leader Rep.Matt Dean. Why the wrinkles?