Saturday, February 22, 2014

Taking Care of Business

A couple of interesting articles appeared recently in Twin Cities Business (TCB).

The first is “The Business of Tom Barnard,” about the radio titan’s move into podcasting.  Of note is that Barnard claims his formerly lucrative career as a commercial voice over talent was largely ended over his being identified as a “right winger”:
Though morning radio has done right by Barnard, it has complicated his personal and business life in ways he hadn’t anticipated. Ways that cost him income, friends and community esteem. Most of it is rooted in his decision, after 9/11, to move his radio show into the realm of politics. 
“It’s probably my biggest regret,” he says. “It was a terrible mistake. Did anyone know Johnny Carson’s politics?”
The way Barnard recalls it, in the passionate times after the 9/11 attacks, as it became clear to colleagues that Tom had strong feelings about the geopolitical situation, he was encouraged to air those feelings on his show.  He recalls longtime program director Dave Hamilton (who did not respond to TCBrequests for an interview) and producer Bryce Crousore pushing him to take the show ideological. The request was not inconsistent with Barnard’s history.
“Tom was brutally honest,” says Steinmetz. “He would take on the establishment, the rich and powerful, he gave a backdoor look into the seamier sides of the music and radio industries.”
… The ratings went up, but at a cost. The notoriety cost Barnard his broad popularity and his lucrative voiceover business. “The things I said and stands I took went on Wikipedia, they went national. Advertisers don’t want to be associated with anything controversial. No one wanted to work with me,” Barnard reveals. 
… It also cost Barnard his reputation as a moderate—which is how he thinks of himself. “I became the local left’s bad guy; still am.” 
… What opportunities remained were snuffed out as Barnard became known for political outbursts. “No one wanted to work with me then,” he says. “I lost Home Depot over that.”

Barnard is more of a populist than a right winger.  On topics like immigration, crime, and taxes he often voiced opinions that happened to be unpopular with certain cultural elites (politicians, journalists, academics, special interest organizers), but which were popular with the people.  Generally, political partisans on the left cannot abide open discussion of these issues, lest the voters connect the dots on who is really representing their interests.  So even though Barnard openly espouses support of liberal social positions like gay marriage and his atheism, he’s a right winger that needs to be silenced.  He was untouchable on the radio, based on his popularity with the people (i.e., ratings), but that apparently didn't prevent him from ending up on a black list for his other show biz related pursuits.

Don Shelby is another Twin Cities media titan, an institution for his decades of reporting and news reading on WCCO-TV.  Despite his reputation for being one of the biggest liberals in Twin Cities media, he apparently never suffered any black listing or other ill effects.  He now cohosts a sports oriented podcast with Barnard.

Barnard grew up on the North Side of Minneapolis, one of seven kids, raised largely by a working-class mom married to a man who suffered from schizophrenia. Despite Barnard’s current association with right-wing politics, “Tom came out of a liberal democratic household,” says Shelby. “I gave him the NBC-Esquire political typology test and he tested left of center.  “Yet friends have disavowed him, people have moved away from him,” Shelby continues.

Shelby’s perspective seems to be that it isn’t so much a tragedy Barnard was black listed or shunned in the first place, it’s that he was blacklisted for illegitimate reasons; Barnard’s not really a Republican, he’s left of center.

Twin Cities Business also ran a cover article entitled “Whose Legacy Is It?” on the consequences of the Minnesota Legacy Amendment.

The article reminds us that this dedicated, special tax added in 2008 transferred $300 million from the people to the state just last year, and is estimated to cost taxpayers a staggering $7.5 billion over its 25-year lifespan.  A revelation to me was who the top private recipient of funds from this tax is:

A generation ago, Pheasants Forever was but a dream of a young newspaper outdoors columnist named Dennis Anderson, who launched the organization to rally outdoorsmen to protect bird habitat from encroaching urbanization and agricultural use. Today, it’s a formidable entity with $43 million in annual revenue and 125,000 members (27,000 of them in Minnesota) in 600 chapters in the United States and Canada. Nearly half of its revenue comes from government sources.
Of late, the White Bear Lake-based nonprofit has taken on a more decisive role—buying hundreds of acres of land each year to keep it perpetually out of the hands of developers and agribusiness. Enabling it to do so is more than $45 million generated through taxes, dollars appropriated each year through Minnesota’s Legacy Amendment since its passage in 2008. In fact, Pheasants Forever receives more Legacy support than any other nonprofit program.
Why, and how, pheasant habitat protection has become the biggest private purpose of an amendment designed to sustain the state’s legacy helps illustrate significant questions and concerns about how the $7.5 billion it is raising is being managed. And it raises the question: Whose legacy will taxpayers really end up supporting?

Ultimately Pheasants Forever donates this land to the DNR or US Fish & Wildlife Service, so at least public dollars aren’t being spent to enable private gain.  But, this use of public dollars, and the shell game of converting it into more public land, has consequences:

Land purchases have become a source of ongoing tension in much of northern Minnesota, where large public holdings limit development and depress property tax revenue. State government owns at least 17 percent of land in Minnesota (some estimates place it as high as 25 percent), ranking fourth among states in total acreage, according to the Department of Natural Resources. Now it is bringing more land under public ownership thanks to Legacy acquisitions. Under the Outdoor Heritage Council’s 25-year plan, as many as 1.5 million acres could be publicly acquired (for all types of preservation and restoration purposes) with Legacy dollars if the fund’s current trajectory is maintained. This translates into about 2,300 square miles, or nearly four-fifths the acreage of the seven-county metro area.

The TCB article includes further details on the other questionable priorities for this Legacy Amendent slush fund.  None of this is a surprise to anyone who was paying attention when this ballot amendment was offered to the voters in 2008, but it’s nice to see at least one mainstream media publication in town hasn’t forgotten about it.