Despite the fact that "Thaóyate Dúta" or "Wanbdi Upi Dúta" are the sort of names most accurately called "American-sounding" in Southern Minnesota, an out-of-state phonebank has been calling voters in Senate District 22 to ask which of the two candidates has the most "American-sounding name." And then there's the nepotism smear involving one candidate's wife.
Desperate out-of-state calling
In Be wary of political phone calls, Rosemary Krueger Martin writes to the Marshall Independent:
On Sept. 10 I received a call at my home and I just wanted everyone in our region to know what is going on in our area. The caller was male and was difficult to understand. The call began as many political calls begin these days, by conducting a "survey."
The call went bad immediately. "What name seems more American to you?" "Weber?"with a positive voice or "Oberloh?" with a negative tone. The caller then began making statements that "Oberloh was supported by a large liberal group from the metro that was pouring thousands into his campaign" along with many other claims that just sounded false. I have found out by tracing the number from caller ID that the call originated in Ogden, Utah, and very likely outsourced from there. After the phone call, I called Alan Oberloh. Alan was appalled by these lies and distortions. As always, he took the time to answer my questions.
I know that politics can be rough. I know that politicians sometimes distort the truth about their opponent. And I'm not sure who paid for the "survey." But any candidate or party who resorts to lies and negative tactics does not deserve my vote. I hope that all residents of Senate District 22 will tell their candidates that these lies and tactics have no place in southwestern Minnesota.
Alan's campaign is transparent, even though this circumstance was ugly. When I spoke to Alan, he was reassuring and did not make negative statements about his opponent. His response reaffirmed my conviction that he is the right man for us in St. Paul. Alan Oberloh is a proven leader, and doesn't need to resort to negative tactics in order to get elected.
A check with a politically active friend in Southwestern Minnesota confirmed that similar calls had been placed across the district from the same call center in Utah.
Given that both names are rather German-sounding to Bluestem's ears--reflecting the European origins of so many people who settled in Minnesota--the push-poll was either designed to call Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh's patriotism in question, or to dogwhistle to concerns about growing diversity in the area. People whose ancestors lived in Central and South America and Africa are attracted to the jobs at the local hog slaughtering plant and other industries, as well as by the entrepreneurial opportunities created in those newer communities.
Both Bill Weber, the Republican, and Alan Oberloh, the Democrat, were born in the United States. One is the former mayor of Luverne; the latter, the current mayor of Worthington. Perhaps some Republican is hoping the latter is exotic to people in Windom or Pipestone, but Bluestem suspects it's not.
A google search did turn up a news feature about Oberloh from last year in the Worthington Daily Globe, Oberloh: An American Story; Worthington’s mayor inspired by his childhood to give back. It's worth noting that the September 12, 2011 article was published before Doug Magnus, the current senator for the area, announced his retirement in March 2012. It's not as if the piece is new puffery from the town paper to tout the local man in this year's state senate race.
Indeed, the purpose of the article was clear:
Oberloh’s story is, in some ways, the quintessential American tale, and part of the reason why he makes an ideal fit to represent the U.S. in the first installment of the Daily Globe’s “Our Diverse Community” series.
An individual from each of the more than 60 nationalities that comprise Worthington’s Peace Avenue of Flags will be profiled in this newspaper over the course of the next several weeks. Profiles will appear daily through Friday of this week, then on Tuesdays in subsequent weeks.
And what is that story? Oberloh's great-grandparents emigrated from Germany, eventually settling in Fulda, where they helped found a church. Oberloh's parents married and moved to Worthington, then bought a house in Reading as their family grew. The Globe reports:
Oberloh also grew up in a home that he described as far from wealthy.
“We lived in a house that by today’s standards would be condemned,” he said. “There were seven kids, my mother and father both worked, and I think the house — I only think they paid $7,000 for it when we moved there in 1959. They did whatever they could to provide for us kids, but we never went on a trip when I was a kid. Our trip was every third year, going to St. Paul to an aunt and uncle’s for Christmas.”
The mayor graduated from high school at 17, already enrolled in the auto-body program at the vo-tech in Jackson. Upon graduating he took a number of jobs, married, moved with his work until he was able to open his own shop. He told the Globe:
“I was kind of a gypsy in those years, maybe,” he joked. “I’ve lived in 11 homes in Worthington.
“The first place I lived coming to Worthington was a trailer in Sungold Heights Trailer Court — that would have been the fall of ’75,” he added.
Oberloh would work for eight years at John’s Body Shop in Worthington. In 1983, he opened his own business, and he has continued to own and operate Quality Auto Body.
“I opened my business on the same exact day my daughter was born.” Oberloh said. “Believe me, that’s not how it was planned.”
Obelroh’s business moved to its current location along Oxford Street in either 1998 or 1999, he said. Another major change would come a few years later, when cancer claimed wife Joan in June 2002. . . .
No wonder whomever wrote the questions for the "survey" phone bank in Utah had to pick on his last name. There's not much else.
Apparently, the "survey" designers have turned to flights of fancy. PIM reported in Country strong: DFLers like prospects in SD22:
In a sign that the district is seen as competitive, DFLers in the area report receiving push-polling calls from an outfit based in Utah. One question suggests that Oberloh’s wife, who is an assistant city clerk in Worthington, got her position through nepotism. Such push-polling calls have been reported in other key swing districts across the state in recent weeks. Weber says his campaign has nothing to do with the effort and it’s unclear who’s behind it.
Like attacks on Oberloh's name, this is pathetic stuff. According to a source in the district, Oberloh's wife has worked for the city for over 20 years:
As Alan says, "do the math". They have been married 8 years. When they first started dating they sought out legal opinions. Both of them wanted to avoid any impropriety.
Other Oberloh supporters have written to local papers objecting to the calls. In Oberloh a ‘proven independent voice’, Gary Hoffman tells the editors of the Marshall Independent:
I have known Alan Oberloh (candidate for Senate District 22) for many years. I know him as an honest and hardworking hands-on owner of a successful auto body shop. I know him as a family man who helped raise great kids. And, I know him as a mayor who stands up for his community and Greater Minnesota.
Special interests are spending big dollars to tell us who to vote for. To sway us they are spreading misinformation and some outright lies about Alan. I happen to have received one of the calls. Don't listen to them. Talk to people who know Alan. They will tell you that Alan Oberloh will be an independent voice in the state senate. As mayor he has listened to the people of Worthington. Alan stood up for us against special interests while serving as president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. . . .
Patrick Bastian, the current mayor of Luverne, wrote the Worthington Daily Globe, in Stop the smear, support Oberloh:
Working alongside Mayor Alan Oberloh of Worthington as a fellow mayor, I know firsthand that he has been an honorable and effective leader, fighting to keep property taxes down and bring economic growth to our region. That’s why I’m disgusted that out-of-state special interests are calling voters and smearing the good reputation of Mayor Oberloh and his family.
Mayor Oberloh’s opponents should stop the lies immediately. This sort of dirty campaigning has no place here — we want honest conversations about the issues that matter. Folks should be casting their vote based on the candidate who can best help create private jobs in our area, grow our rural economy and hold property taxes down. In that regard, you won’t find a finer candidate than Alan Oberloh.
Mayor Oberloh is an honest, straightforward and independent leader who has worked with people from all political parties and perspectives. He will not be part of the gridlock that shut state government down and left us with big property tax increases and a big state budget deficit. Just like he has for Worthington, Alan Oberloh will go to St. Paul to get the job done and create new opportunities for growth.
Don’t let shameful lies from outside special interests influence our local election. For the good of our region, I am supporting Mayor Alan Oberloh for State Senate, and I encourage you to do the same.
Why the need to rip on the Worthington mayor's rep?
Self-evident. Both parties had courted Oberloh to run for the House, he told voters at a fundraiser in Pipestone, the Star reported last week:
He told those in attendance that he’d been asked during his second year as mayor to run for the Minnesota House by both DFLers and Republicans, but declined at the time due to his mayoral commitments and the fact that he had recently lost his first wife to cancer and had two children in college.
When asked by DFLers, including Gov. Mark Dayton, earlier this year to run for the State Senate on the DFL ticket, he accepted, but warned them that he would not toe the party line.
Oberloh, who endorsed Tom Horner in 2010, seems as good as his word; a Nexis searched revealed a lot of involvement on behalf of cities across the state as well as Worthington, but little political party involvement; Weber, on the other hand, has been highly engaged with the Rock County Republican BPOU.
The calls appear to be paid by independent expenditures, and we won't know who's paying for the calls until close to the election, if then.
The witless arrogance of being Bill Weber
So what's Bill Weber's reaction? Read his remarkable letter for yourself. He denies involvement in or authorization of the calls (probably true) but can't stop there.
Instead, Weber launches a blistering attack on Oberloh's supporters for daring to even bring up the attacks, calling the letters a distraction:
In recent days, I have been truly disappointed to see that my opponent and his supporters have resorted to age-old political tactics of trying to focus attention away from the very serious and important issues we face. They accuse me of personal attacks on him and his wife. I have never done such, nor authorized any type of personal attack on the Worthington mayor, his wife who serves as Worthington city clerk, or any other member of his family.
In upcoming days, as in the past months, I continue my pledge to focus on the serious issues — the need to grow our economy, increase jobs, expand our tax base and reform our tax codes. By accomplishing this, as well as lifting burdensome regulations, our economy can truly prosper. With a stronger economy and more jobs, we can provide increased revenue for education, transportation and human services, rather than simply raise tax rates on those who remain.
It is wrong for any candidate or supporter to try to shift attention away from what is truly needed in state government. This is a disservice to the citizens of this district, and I trust the voters see it for what it is. With everyone working in concert, we can solve our problems. Together we can, and together we will, make Minnesota better!
In short: ST*U about the calls my supporters make on my behalf that draw away from the issues facing our district, then let me mention his wife's job while claiming that Oberloh doesn't talk about issues but lets his supporters draw attention to those calls.
It's too bad Weber didn't model his letter after that written by fellow Republican Phil Hansen up SD4 about an attack mailer sent out by the MNGOP:
Recently a political flyer was mailed out to selected Minnesota Senate District 4 voters by the Republican Party attacking my opponent. It was sent without my knowledge and I do not agree with the tactic of the piece. I do not condone a strategy of attacking my opponent in this way. My campaign has been built on a positive message of job creation, fiscal accountability, and restoring statesmanship to our Senate. In the future, I would suggest the party take the money from these types of mailings and donate to their favorite charity. It would be money better spent.
Substitute "special interests" for "party" and Weber might have looked good.
Nope, Weber couldn't quit. It's a remarkable bit of arrogance and stupidty, since any fifth grader can enlist google to discover that Oberloh has been out talking about the issues, often with Weber in the room. Weber can't plead ignorance, and Bluestem hasn't seen any evidence that he's hard of hearing.
Consider the headlines about the forums and panels both men have been on, or will be on. The Worthington Globe reports in Candidate forums planned in area:
A Senate District 22 candidate forum is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at Windom Community Center, 1750 Cottonwood Lake Drive, Windom.
Invited to participate are Senate District 22 candidates Alan Oberloh and Bill Weber. Moderator will be Tom Riordan.
Additionally, the Maple Lawn Senor Care campus will host an election forum to discuss the issue of senior care with Minnesota Legislature candidates from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at Mapleview Estates, 700 Maple Lane, Fulda.
Weber and Oberloh, along with District 22A candidates Eugene Short and Rep. Joe Schomacker and District 22B candidates Rep. Rod Hamilton and Cheryl Avenel-Navara, have all been invited to participate.
In late September, the Globe posted footage of both men above the article, Candidates participate in education forum (with video).
The Marshall Independent reported on yet another issue area forum in Candidates stress teamwork, funding needs for Minnesota transportation. And in the Pipestone Star article about the recent Oberloh event, Oberloh visits with local voters, there's this:
Much of what Oberloh said during the gathering had to do with three main points — balancing the budget by means beyond cutting funding, strengthening the state’s education system and workforce, and using tax incentives and state funds that are already available to bring new businesses into the vacant buildings in the cities of southwestern Minnesota.
Oberloh does bring up an objection some voters have to his candidacy:
Oberloh said some people he’s met on the campaign trail have told him they couldn’t vote for him because of his long gray beard to which he says, “If you think that is going to make a difference in how someone legislates, then you’ve got the wrong person.”
Could that ZZ-Top styling beard find its way to the legislature? To judge by the phone calls, someone supporting Bill Weber worries about it. Tthe Republican analyst at Politics.mn has listed the contest as "On Deck to Watch" despite the MinnPost's Interactive: Who will control the 2013 Minnesota Legislature? assigning the district a +16R.
Why the buzz? The Star Tribune reported in 2010:
Politicians from either end of the political spectrum have a shot here. It's socially conservative -- folks in Rock County are less likely to buy a lottery ticket than anyone else in the state. But it's also fertile terrain for prairie populism. Even Democratic-Farmer-Laborers sometimes win elections here.
And then there's that beard.
Photos: Alan Oberloh, campaign website (top); Oberloh, Worthington Globe (middle); Bill Weber, Worthington Globe (bottom).