Sunday, May 27, 2007

Soldier-Possible DFL Congressional Candidate Steve Sarvi Interview

Listen to the podcast here. Runs 10:27
Just as it takes courage to jump out of a plane or serve in Iraq, it takes courage to leap into politics. Steve Sarvi has done both and has been mentioned as a possible DFL candidate to face Congressman John Kline (R- MN02) in 2008. Steve has been in the Army for nearly 20 years and is on track to be part of the longest deployed Minnesota National Guard unit in Iraq. He's been there since March of 2006 and is hoping to return home in late July or early August. He's also the former Mayor of Watertown, MN.

Inside Minnesota Politics has an exclusive audio interview with Steve you can listen to here. Since he's on active duty in Iraq, he really can't talk much about running for office, but we did get to talk about how he's helping local governments get started in Iraq and how the City of Victoria, Minnesota (his employer) has been very supportive of him and his family while he's been in Iraq.

On his website, Steve describes his political leanings.
"Simply put, I am a Democrat. That my ideas and values spread from center to left of center, speaks to the strength of the Party. I appreciate the willingness of Democrats to embrace the things that bind us together, rather than focus on that which sets us apart".

Here are some text excerpts from the interview. The entire interview is in the podcast audio.

Why are you in the military? Why do you take this type of dangerous work to do?
Steve Sarvi: I've been in the military since I was 17, other than a break in service when I got off of active duty. I felt like I needed to give something to my country at a young age and found I was good at it. I guess I've really never had that question asked of me... why do you do it? I guess someone needs to do it. I'm good at it. I'm good at working with my soldiers and I get a lot of satisfaction for the work that I do. It certainly is not an easy thing to do, obviously, to volunteer for something like this. To say good bye to my family, my friends, to work... and have to come over to an environment like this. But I don't think I could have looked my soldiers in the eye and watched them go off and stayed behind. That's just not the kind of person I am.

What are you doing in Iraq?

Steve Sarvi: I'm what's called a Civil Military Affairs Officer. And what we're doing is helping the local Iraqis with reconstruction projects. My main focus is in rural villages ...they're in some very bad shape as you can imagine. Infrastructure wise they're in need of just about everything. So what we do is we go into these areas and we do an assessment. We meet the people. Find out what their needs are. And then we work through with the local leaders either the Sheik or the village Mayor. And we work through with them the process of doing projects for them. But what we really want them to do is learn how to do it themselves. So it's a real mentorship process to get the locals to figure out ways to identify projects that are needed and then go to their own government and get approval.

What the military does then is come in with funding for smaller level projects. So we're able to provide the funding while they end up doing all the heavy lifting and getting approvals through their government.

It sounds like you're helping people learn how to run a local government.
Steve Sarvi: Yes, to a certain extent. It's different than the work I was doing in Kosovo, where I was actually working and helping to mentor a small village government. Here the local governments are almost non-existent. So we're not really doing much as far as that goes with setting up a government and talking through process and procedures. It's much more "we need a school in this village" so how do we engage the minister of education. How do we insure that we're going to have teachers come here. How do we get the approvals through them.

And then as we provide the funding we like to use the local workers because unemployment is so very high. We like to hire locals to actually build the facilities that go into their own villages.

As you can imagine it's a very complex environment. There's inter-tribal conflicts. There's conflicts between individuals. You've got construction workers. You've got contractors who are all basically tottering on the edge and they need jobs and it's a life or death matter to them. So there's a lot of emotion. There's a lot of pent up demand. This is four plus years since the invasion. They thought their lives were going to improve immediately. So there's a lot of expectations we have to knock down as well.

It's a growing process. They get infrastructure needs identified and some taken care of. And on our side we gain security by becoming friends to them, in some sense. And they look out for us. It's working out well in the areas we operate in.

How has your work in local government helped you out with the work you do now in the Army?
Steve Sarvi: It seems like I gravitate towards these positions. Same with in Kosovo. I'm an infantry soldier. And as a platoon Sergeant, my job is to train my soldiers for combat. And I did that at Camp Shelby when we were going through training and for the first three months that we were here. But we quickly learned that we needed to do civil-military projects even in the remote areas. My battalion reached out to me because of my background in the city government. I've been a city administrator for the City of Lanesburo, City Administrator in Watertown and currently in Victoria. And plus six years as the Mayor of the City of Watertown. So a lot of the issues, as far as infrastructure goes, a lot of those things apply. Learning how to engage people, talk to them, figure out what their needs are, work around issues... interpersonnel issues. A lot of those skills I think directly reflect on how we do it.

Plus of course we got to bid projects. The bidding process, as you can imagine it's a far different environment than what you have to deal with in the United States. But I understand the basics of it from the work that I do in the US and I've learned an awful lot being over here about the way that they work.

You gravitate towards these positions no matter where you are in life. And for some reason whether it was in Kosovo or here, I just end up doing these types of projects. Maybe it's my strong suit. And I get to see a different side of the war than most people get to see.

What kind of support have you received from home to get through these months, these years that add up when you're overseas?
Steve Sarvi: I'll tell you, without a family, without friends, I can't imagine getting through this. So my wife, my kids have been just wonderful about it. It's difficult of course, but they understand what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. And they've been fully supportive. My family has been completely supportive. Work (City of Victoria) has been just marvelous. The City of Victoria has time and again been called to be true patriots. What they've been doing is maintaining my current salary and I just give them my guard pay. So I'm not losing any money by being over here. And that's a huge financial burden for many soldiers that come on active duty from the guard. The end up taking quite a large pay cut. But the City of Victoria in my case, and many employers in Minnesota are doing the same thing, and it's very encouraging for us. Without that support system, you take your eye off of what you're doing over here. You're worried about what's going on at home. You have to stay focus obviously when you're here.

We wish you the safest travel from Iraq back to the United States.
Steve Sarvi: Thank you. And I hope everyone pauses for a moment on Memorial Day and thinks of the soldiers that we've lost not only in this war, but in other wars.

Photos courtesy of

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Wardlow votes against health care for kids because "it was passing anyway"

As reported here earlier, Rep. Lynn Wardlow (Repubican 38B-Eagan) was captured on tape voting against the Health and Human Services bill after his fellow Republican House Minority Leader Marty Seifert told him "Vote No Wardlow". The vote came in the last hours of the legislative session.

Rep. Wardlow tells Inside Minnesota Politics that when this all happened, he was answering email on a computer and hadn't been paying attention during a "bunch of different votes that pertained to procedure" that preceded the final vote.

"He was not telling me how to vote". Rep. Wardlow said the House Minority Leader was just reminding him that he had agreed earlier to vote against the bill.

Asked why he voted against providing health care to more than 30,000 children, Rep. Wardlow said "the bill was passing anyway" and his vote was a protest vote because the bill was too costly. Rep. Wardlow says he supports health care for kids.

It's not strange that Rep. Wardlow would vote against something he says he supports because it contains something House Minority Leader Marty Seifert opposes (increased spending). Why?? Because Rep. Wardlow consistently puts the Republican agenda ahead of his own personal principles such as health care for kids.

He's also not above taking partisan potshots at the State Senator who has been pushing for the health care for kids. He said bill author Sen. Linda Berglin was "less than honorable" in how she got the bill passed.

Rep Wardlow gets his marching orders

Rep. Lynn Wardlow may push the voting button, but listen to this video and you'll hear House Minority Leader Marty Seifert telling him what to do and when during the last hours of the legislative session.

It could be that Rep. Wardlow (Republican-38B-Eagan) was inattentive and didn't realize he hadn't voted. I've contacted Rep. Wardlow for his side of the story and haven't heard back from him yet.

For the moment, let's give Rep. Wardlow the benefit of the doubt and say he was just asleep at the switch. If this is just a case of being inattentive, I can only hope he knew what he was voting against.

The vote was on the Health and Human Services bill. As you can see from the tally board, Rep. Wardlow voted no... which was a vote against health insurance for more than 30,000 kids, a vote against critical funding for nursing homes and mental health programs as well as a vote against important reforms to lower skyrocketing costs for the 93% of Minnesotans who already have health insurance.

Why would someone be against health care coverage for kids? If Rep. Wardlow calls me back (and I hope he does, since I'm a consituent in his district) I'll ask him that. But it sure appears that he voted no because he was told to do so. If that's the case, perhaps Marty Seifert is really my State Representative. I don't remember him being on the 38B ballot last November, but perhaps just like Rep. Wardlow I wasn't paying attention when I voted.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Radio K funding intact, Pawlenty veto still possible

Funding for University of Minnesota student-run Radio K and several other independent public radio stations is still in the budget bills being voted on tonight in the legislature. This weekend a lobbyist for the stations (known as the AMPERS network) said Governor Tim Pawlenty was insisting the funding be dropped from the spending bills. Lawmakers resisted the Governor's pressure and the State Government Finance bill moved out of committee this morning with $500,000 in equipment grants and $350,000 in community service grants for the 13 AMPERS stations.

The funding is still not a slam-dunk. The legislature drew up the final spending bill without Governor Pawlenty's complete agreement and the funding could be subject to a line item veto.

AMPERS is comprised of nearly all of the non-commercial radio stations that are not owned by Minnesota Public Radio. Those stations are KAXE-FM (Grand Rapids), KBEM-FM (Twin Cities), KFAI-FM (Twin Cities), KMOJ-FM (Twin Cities), KMSU-FM and KMSK-FM (Mankato/Austin), KQAL-FM (Winona), KSRQ-FM (Thief River Falls), KUMD-FM (Duluth), KUMM-FM (Morris), KUOM-AM & FM (Radio K) (Twin Cities), KVSC-FM (St. Cloud), and WTIP-FM (Grand Marais)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Radio K on Pawlenty's budget chopping block

Radio K, the student-run radio station at the University of Minnesota has apparently become a bargaining chip in the final days of budget negotiations between Governor Tim Pawlenty and the legislature. According to a Radio K staff member, Governor Pawlenty has demanded the legislature cut $11 Million in funding for public radio.

That will certainly hurt all public radio stations in Minnesota, but the independent non-commercial radio stations that are not affiliated with Minnesota Public Radio could feel the pich the worst. Those stations known as the AMPERS network are KAXE-FM (Grand Rapids), KBEM-FM (Twin Cities), KFAI-FM (Twin Cities), KMOJ-FM (Twin Cities), KMSU-FM and KMSK-FM (Mankato/Austin), KQAL-FM (Winona), KSRQ-FM (Thief River Falls), KUMD-FM (Duluth), KUMM-FM (Morris), KUOM-AM & FM (Radio K) (Twin Cities), KVSC-FM (St. Cloud), and WTIP-FM (Grand Marais).

This isn't the first time the Governor has targeted AMPERS for budget cuts. In Pawlenty's 2003 budget he proposed cutting funding by 15%. In 2000, Governor Jesse Ventura proposed cutting Public Radio funding by more than $600,000.

UPDATE -- Monday
The State Government Finance bill was finalized in the wee hours of the morning. So far, none of the AMPERS money was cut. AMPERS stations are in line for $500,000 in equipment grants and an increase of $126,000 to its community service grants to bring them to $350,000 per year.

Public TV digital conversion grants got cut by $3,100,000 and MPR digital conversion grants got cut by $1,000,000.

However, Radio K's funding could still be a victim of a line item veto from Governor Pawlenty.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Spiderman 3-Action Thriller And Political Morality Play

Do what's right. You always have a choice. It may sound simple, but it isn't always easy. That's the closing thought in Spiderman 3 which I had the good luck to see a preview tonight at the Minnesota Zoo's Imax theater.

If Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and President George Bush watch this movie, they may identify deeply with Spidey. Power can be addictive. In the short term it's a lot easier to say "my way or the highway" than to wrestle with the real problem which may be your view of the world. But in the long term, using power just because you can (such as invading a country or vetoing bills) can come back and haunt you (such as thousands dieing in a war, a state's infrastructure and quality of life crumbling away).

Don't get me wrong, Spiderman 3 is a great action flick and I highly recommend it, even to those who aren't into the action genre. (I put myself in that group) But like all good science fiction, there's an underlying morality play that reflects the current times. For example, stoking rage to achieve a result that ultimately hurts the people you've enraged.

Right wing talk show hosts such as Jason Lewis are good at that. A few weeks ago, Lewis had a decent sized crowed of enraged people show up at the State Capitol to protest taxes. The protest started with an invocation, not for peace or love of fellow man, but with the purpose of stirring anger and hate against elected leaders who had the audacity to ask people to pay taxes. The irony of doing this at a facility paid for by tax payers was probably lost on most of this crowd. The fact that very few of them (if any) would pay more income tax under the proposed DFL tax fairness package and that all of them benefit from the services those taxes pay for is just as lost. Because of a deep hatred stoked by a third party, they seek to kill what helps them most.

In the movie, hate consumes Spiderman and he doesn't do what is right. Instead he does what is expedient and it comes back to haunt him where it hurts most. In the end, Spidey understands that seeking revenge is short-sighted, that adhering to a code that is more about yourself than helping others ultimately does nothing to help you or others.

Tim and George, when you grab that bag of popcorn and nestle in to that comfy theater seat, if you feel a pang of guilt watching this movie --that's the real you trying to get out. The part that does care about the truth. The part that does want to leave this world and Minnesota a better place than you found it. Toss off the darkness of policies that hurt others just to support the hubris of your false pride.

For once, do what is right instead of just what is right wing. It's not easy, but you always have a choice.