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MN’s Party of Fiscal Responsibility in Financial Ruin

Plus investigating Joan Gabel, exploring the Spruce Tree Center, and everybody's sick in today's Flyover news roundup.

5:10 PM CST on December 8, 2023

Facebook: MNGOP|

Uh, can you guys afford that elephant costume next year?

Welcome back to The Flyover, your daily digest of what local media outlets and Twitter-ers are gabbing about.

GOP in Disarray!

We all know that the Minnesota Republican Party has… issues. Today at the Minnesota Reformer, Deena Winter offers some examples of how deep those issues run. The party was recently down to just $53 in cash, with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, and when former party chair Jennifer Carnahan was ousted, on account of her her proximity to a sex trafficking scandal and accusations of creating a toxic work environment, the party had to pay her severance with a maxed-out line of credit.

On top of that, party regulars are trying a "fringe" influx of, to quote an unnamed source, “bat(expletive) crazy people” (batfuck?) whose whole belief system can be summed up in a single word—Trump. Former Senate majority leader Amy Koch, now a GOP lobbyist, says that many current elected Republicans don’t represent their districts and they’re saying wackadoodle things.” This Saturday, one such group, Rebuild the MNGOP, will attend the GOP State Central Committee in the hopes of replacing party leaders. Given Trump’s popularity (which is the best thing the state GOP has going for it in 2024) you have to wonder when the "reasonable" Republicans will be the real fringe here. 

Divisive Landmark Building Made of Bathroom Tile

That's just one of several intriguing takeaways from Bill Lindeke's latest from MinnPost. You heard that right: St. Paul's Spruce Tree Center, the building built in the "pixelated brutalism" style 35 years ago at Snelling & University, is actually tiled with the same stuff you'd use for a bathroom remodel. "They were imported from Germany and embedded in matrices fitted into concrete panels, adorning the exterior," Lindeke writes of the tiles. "The building managers keep a stockpile on hand in case of damage."

Local biz tycoon Marie Slawik dreamt up the concept, one that's meant to summon her love for literal spruce trees. At first, the development was positioned to become an indoor mall akin to the ol' Calhoun Square across the river in Uptown, but its retail tenants, including a flagship Applebee's, dwindled away over the years; today, the blocky green structure mostly houses office space. “It never really succeeded,” admits longtime manager Michael Koch. But it's our failed architectural oddity, damnit, reasons Lindeke: "I don’t find the building particularly problematic or beautiful, but at least it’s interesting." In an age of painfully bland McDonaldses, that ain't nothin'.

U’s Conflict of Interest Snafu Could Lead to Conflict of Interest Panel with a Conflict of Interest

When then-University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel asked the Board of Regents if she could join the Securian Financial's board of directors around this time last year, they approved her pitch 9 to 3. Never mind that the U paid Securian about $4.6 million annually for employee life insurance, or that Gabel was already making over $1 million from the school. The decision did not go over well with the public. Lawmakers called it an egregious conflict of interest, while students, staff, and community members were upset that Gabel was making bank as tuition soared, athletic programs were cut, and workers were denied raises. The whole mess concluded with Gabel leaving for a gig in Pittsburgh. 

Now the U's Board of Regents is looking to create an independent panel that would review potential presidential conflicts. According to Liz Navratil at the Star Tribune, the plan presented would create a panel of “two regents, a compliance officer, faculty senate leader and community representative.” Critics, including interim U of M President Jeff Ettinger (who, as a former Hormel CEO, has his own conflicts of interest) have argued that no one on the panel should be in a position that answers to the president—and compliance officers do. Yet the U's current Institutional Conflict Review Panel gave Gabel joining Securian the green light, so the status quo could certainly be improved.

Are You Sick?

If you're anything like half of Racket's four-person staff, the answer is yes. But if we look ever-so-unscientifically deeper, over to the anecdotal accounts from yahoos on Reddit, we find that loads of Twin Citians are catching whatever's going around. Never-ending colds, crushing fatigue, splitting headaches—residents are in rough shape! And COVID, at least based on the number of negative tests we and the Redditors are experiencing, doesn't seem to be the culprit. In any case: Crack a TGIF beer if conditions allow, and stay healthy out there.

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