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Meeting with Bill Frenzel
8301 Creekside Circle
#920, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, November 11,
Verne C. Johnson, chair;
Chuck Clay, Jim
Hetland, Jim Olson (by phone), John Sampson (by phone), Clarence
Shallbetter, Paul Gilje, and Bill Frenzel, guest
Presentation by Bill Frenzel--Frenzel
served eight years in the Minnesota House and 20 years as a U.S.
Since 1991 he's been a scholar with the Brookings Institution. He holds
several positions in international trade and on tax and spending issues.
Verne read a summary of Frenzel's positions as listed in a biography found
on the Internet.
Verne thanked Frenzel
for his point-by-point response earlier this week to our position paper.
Verne said that all core participants in the caucus have received copies
of Frenzel's response.
In his comments and
in discussion with the Caucus, Frenzel made the following points:
1. His review of materials--Frenzel
said he has read our position paper on the status of America's democracy
and has read the summaries of our sessions with our six previous resource
persons. He said that some of what we consider to be serious he believes
are not that bad and some other concerns are worse than we indicate.
2. Bigger problems for moderates in political
parties today--Moderates always had difficulty in parties but
today polarization has increased so that the parties today are effectively
administered by their core constituencies on the right and the left.
Thus, those groups drive the caucuses and the primary. Consequently, it
becomes very difficult for a moderate candidate to make much progress.
Until the mid-1980s, moderates had some chance, but not now. Frenzel
recalled his role as one of three incorporators of a Colin Powell for
President committee. Powell withdrew for family concerns but it would
have been a real struggle for a moderate. Today there's a possibility
that someone like John McCain could get the nod.
said he doesn't know if people are turned off to political participation
because of the parties' exclusiveness. Voter turnout is the best way to
measure any degree of public apathy, and he believes that voter turnout is
cyclical. One problem today is that if parents won't vote, the kids
aren't likely to vote either.
3. Political campaigns today have degenerated--Frenzel
is a Virginia
resident now, where a campaign for governor just wrapped up with an
expense of about $50 million. Until last Monday night he hadn't
seen any ads where candidates said anything about themselves or what they
stand for. Frenzel voted for a former Republican who ran as an
Independent and got 2 percent of the vote. The two top candidates' ads
simply were efforts to reveal bad things about the other candidate.
4. Changes in how campaigns are conducted--In
the old days there were lots of volunteers participating. Their
participation had a "purifyng" effect, because they campaign
leaders knew that campaign workers didn't want to participate only in
negative campaigning. Today far fewer volunteers are participating.
Women are working; kids aren't interested. So you hire people to run your
campaigns. They come into the state and can insult the other side all
they want. Regrettably, negative campaigning works. Years ago he recalls
that negative ads didn't work well.
5. Are problems serious?--Verne
interrupted Frenzel to inquire whether the problems with our democracy are
serious or not. Frenzel said he goes to the Capitol maybe two times a
month. It's a poisonous atmosphere. Everyone is saying bad things about
the other side. He recalls that members of Congress and their families
used to get together across party lines at retreats. That doesn't happen
now. All they can think about is the bad people on the other side.
6. Financial status of the country is Frenzel's
No. 1 issue--Frenzel said he agrees with John Gunyou that the
biggest crisis is financial. He said that the financial problem has a
life of its own; he doesn't see that it's related to the problems with the
democracy that we have been discussing. He doesn't know when the elected
officials ran a respectable fiscal ship in Washington. The deficit
disappeared under Clinton, but he got lucky. He's not only alarmed
with the fiscal situation in
he's terrified. He said that federal spending as a percent of gross
domestic product is about 20-21 percent now, and it will be growing to the
high 20s, just by entitlements. He's a big supporter of a balanced budget
amendment and a line item veto for the President.
emulate the Democrats by spending in order to get elected and then let
someone else--our progeny--pay for it.
7. Changes in election laws--He's
seen our interest in instant runoff voting, but he doesn't like such
gimmicks. His experiences as a congressman were that gimmicks often
produce unintended consequences that were worse than the reform they
intended to accomplish. Verne mentioned the example cited to us by Tim
Penny that in a three-way race the voters who support the third candidate
don't want to waste their votes on the loser, so they pick one of the
other two. With instant runoff voting, people could still support their
third candidate by indicating their first and second choices. Frenzel
repeated his comment that such a change is a gimmick. Moreover, he thinks
it would be confusing to voters.
8. Requiring changes in ground rules for
political parties--Paul asked
whether laws governing political parties might be changed, since the
parties are privileged to be able to have their candidates on the ballot.
Frenzel said that elected officials won't change a law that would hurt
their own party. He said he now regrets voting for party designation in
the Minnesota Legislature. He'd like to take that vote back.
9. Make term limits the first change--Frenzel
repeated his advocacy of term limits, something on the order of allowing
about 18-20 years. He also mentioned the caucus rules in Congress that
limit the chair of a committee to three terms. A certain chair of
Appropriations never would have been dislodged without that rule.
10. Changes in campaign finance--Frenzel
doesn't like limitations on expenditures because they invariably hurt the
challengers. He supports full disclosure as suggested by
Penny. He'd require full disclosure for contributors to 527 committees.
Such contributors now can give unlimited amounts anonymously. He would
not get rid of political action committees (PACs). He favors modifying
the rules relating to PACs so that the expenses of running the PACs come
out of the contribution of the members.
media treat campaign finance as a horse race, simply obtaining the list of
contributions and reporting how much each candidate has raised.
somewhat attracted by the idea of restricting contributions to the
district where the contributor lives, but you'd immediately encounter
problems with minorities who would contend that they couldn't raise
sufficient funds in poor districts.
obvious by the low percentage of voters who exercise the check-off option
on federal and state tax forms (around 2 percent) that the public is put
off by the system.
mentioned that a Governor's race in New Jersey produced something like $80
million to $90 million in expenditures. He wishes limits could be placed
on the upper end.
11. Changes in elections--Frenzel
said he believes the primary elections should occur earlier in
should have a primary election for President. He favors regional
primaries around the country, not a single date.
He said he
would support handing over redistricting to a commission.
12. The bigger role played by the federal
government today--Verne noted a tendency today for everything
to be the responsibility of the federal government. A high percentage of
the population is dependent upon the federal government for something. Is
there a significant issue for the future of our democracy one of
realigning the responsibilities of our federal, state and local
governments? Frenzel replied that he recalls that Brandl mentioned
that. Today, he said, lobbyists--and that includes the representatives of
the care groups--want the power in
They don't want to be lobbying 50 states. It makes it easier to work with
only one place to go.
13. Effectiveness of being in the minority in
out of power, but an individual can be bolder, he said. He does not
support increasing subpoena power for the minority. Congress isn't good
at legislating, but it is 10 times worse at investigating.
14. Increasing role of the caucuses--Frenzel
has been bothered by this since 1974, with the caucuses calling for closed
roll calls and less debate. He still supports the filibuster in the
Senate with its 60-vote requirement to shut off.
15. More civility needed--He
wishes that our Senators and Representatives didn't attack each other
personally and that they would argue civilly. He wishes for a little more
comity. He recalled that when he first came to Congress his closest
friends were one Republican and two Democrats.
16. Senate is as polarized as the House--Even
without being gerrymandered, he believes the Senate today is as polarized
as the House. A few people work together, for example the Republican and
Democratic members of the "pork" committees, appropriations and
17. Put Sabo on the list--Frenzel
suggested that Congressman Martin Sabo be included. He has been on both
the majority and minority. He is just as good a legislator in both
recalled the very warm relationship he has had with Frenzel for some 50
years. He said it was very good that we could be together again. He
thanked Frenzel for his being willing to take time with us.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting
years of leadership in politics and business.
A working group meets face-to-face to
provide leadership. They are Verne C. Johnson, chair; Lee
Canning, Charles Clay, Bill Frenzel,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland,
John Mooty, Jim Olson, Wayne Popham and John Rollwagen.
Click Here to
see a biographical statement of each.