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John Nephew

Maplewood City Council Policy & Politics


Bob Hill Breaks His Word

Last week I got a letter from Bob Hill of Mahtomedi -- the same Bob Hill who hosted this year's Independence Party caucuses at his home -- announcing that he will run in the DFL primary for House District 43A. He had sought endorsement from the local DFL party, but lost it to Peter Fischer. He also told the endorsing convention that he would abide by their decision.

Since he's announced his intent to break that promise, I wanted to take some time to explain why Bob Hill has persuaded me that he is not fit for office.

Soon after the convention, Mr. Hill sent an open letter to Peter Fischer, copying it to all of the HD43A delegates. In it, Mr. Hill warned that he "cannot in good conscience" stay out of the campaign due to various "concerns" and "grave doubts" that were brought to him by "various delegates." Reading his letter, I concluded that he was looking desperately for any rumor or misperception that could be twisted into an excuse to break his promise to respect the endorsement.

I wanted to highlight this particular passsage from Mr. Hill's early April letter, as it relates specifically to city council politics in Maplewood:

Third, several of the delegates have informed me that in 2011 you were the campaign manager to someone who “operates a non-union construction/re-modeling business.” In light of the “Right to Work” controversy that is now infecting our politics at the state capitol, how do you explain your support for a political candidate/elected official who refuses to become a “signatory” to the construction trades union agreement protecting living wage jobs in the construction industry? Perhaps most importantly---at least for people like me---how are you going to become a champion for unionized labor at the legislature when your political record as recently as 2011 indicates just the opposite to be the case?

In 2011, there were two council seats open. None of the candidates for those seats in the primary or general election was in the construction/remodeling business. Peter Fischer supported the two DFL-endorsed candidates (Marv Koppen and me), neither of whom is in the construction or remodeling business. Peter was not anyone's campaign manager that year. In terms of doing the most basic homework before climbing out on a limb of political attack, Mr. Hill fails miserably. (One wonders what he means by his claim to have "taken the time to painstakingly verify the information I have received" -- perhaps he doesn't know how to use Google?)

The attack that Mr. Hill is attempting to regurgitate is of course one that was leveled against Mayor Will Rossbach by the supporters of Rossbach's 2009 opponent, Diana Longrie. Had Mr. Hill actually looked into it, he might have learned that not only was Rossbach endorsed by the local DFL in 2009 (making it less than a surprise that the local DFL Senate District Chair -- Peter Fischer -- would be supporting him), he also was endorsed pretty much across the board by labor, including the Carpenters and the Building Trades.

He might also have learned that Rossbach earned labor's support time and again by his actions in office. Rossbach stood up for the labor rights of city employees, who suffered illegal retaliation for exercising those rights during Longrie's tenure as Mayor. Longrie's 2007 budget, which Rossbach opposed, demoted all of the city's department heads by creating new managerial positions above them. It actually stated, "This reorganization is required for accountable management of all city departments given the action by department heads to vote to form a labor bargaining group in October 2006." In other words, they were all demoted in retaliation for exercising their labor rights.

What's more, during those dark days of anti-labor forces controlling city hall, Peter Fischer was himself working to bring change. Besides speaking out in public against the anti-labor agenda of the Longrie regime, and supporting Will for re-election, Peter helped recruit me to run in 2007 and served as my campaign manager. With my election to the council, the balance of power changed and, among other things, we restored a healthy labor-management situation in city hall.

So in summary -- Mr. Hill claims to be gravely concerned that Peter Fischer, who at the time was chair of the local DFL, actively worked to get the DFL-endorsed, labor-endorsed candidate elected as Mayor of Maplewood. That doesn't make a lot of sense as Hill's justification of breaking his word and challenging the DFL-endorsed candidate, unless he's not really a supporter of the DFL or Labor.

To me, as someone involved in the Maplewood political scene for a few years, Hill's attacks on Fischer show that he has eagerly swallowed the kool-aid of the anti-DFL faction that has infiltrated our local DFL party. These are the folks who have been running their "operation chaos" in recent elections -- with Diana Longrie's primary challenges to Leon Lillie and Betty McCollum. As I noted in an entry back in February 2010, Longrie was still listed as an officer of the local Republican party unit when she filed to run as a Democrat against Lillie in 2008.

Speaking of which, while Mr. Hill describes himself as "a life-long Democrat" in that same April letter, according to the White Bear Press (1/31/12), "The nearest Independence Party caucuses are at the residenceof Bob Johnson-Hill, 450 Emerald Lane, Mahtomedi (contact:bob@roberthilllaw.com)..." It's a little odd for "a life-long Democrat" to be the contact person and host for another party's caucuses, isn't it?

I have no problem with people changing parties. Parties and individuals can change and evolve, and people should certainly seek out and work with those who share their political vision. But I think candidates should be forthcoming about how and why they changed, if they are seeking a party's endorsement. Mr. Hill provided no such explanation, as far as I know -- he presented himself as "a life-long Democrat," repeatedly invoking the memory of Paul Wellstone and well-known Wellstone slogans. For someone who caucused with a different party until he found himself in a newly drawn DFL-leaning legislative district without an incumbent, this now seems deeply cynical and deceptive.

The bogus attacks on Fischer, which boil down to "you're not a real DFLer," are all the more disingenuous in light of Hill's own chameleon history.

And just for a cherry on top: While we were fighting for labor rights on the ground in Maplewood in 2007, Bob Hill, running for Congress at the same time, was quoted saying, "I'm not beholden to teachers' unions, the AFL-CIO or other unions" (per MN Campaign Report, 7/31/07). In other words, when wooing the voters of the conservative 6th District, he went out of his way to distance himself from organized labor. Now he's in a district that is more labor friendly, and he's concerned that we need a "champion for unionized labor" in the legislature.

Given all this, I don't know what Bob Hill's true political views are, or if he even has any. I do know that I don't trust him, and I certainly won't be voting for him.


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