Voter Games

CP'S voter sign-up "scandal": Conspiracy? Friends having a laugh? What's the difference?


In the first message, Kaiser's assistant Shaun Denham writes to Strom, "David, Kent asked me to send you the citations on providing things of value for voter registration. 42 USC1973 Let me know if you have any other questions."

Five minutes later, Strom writes back: "I don't see any reference to providing things of value being prohibited. Could you show me? DS."

Anti-tax agitator David Strom said his complaint amounted to "having a little fun at City Pages' expense"
Courtesy of the Star Tribune
Anti-tax agitator David Strom said his complaint amounted to "having a little fun at City Pages' expense"

Denham replies: "It is under subchapter c," which he goes on to quote.

Besides conflicting with the claims of both Strom and Kaiser about how the matter first came to the attention of the secretary of state's office, the e-mail exchange may leave some other questions as well.

Could it possibly matter, for instance, from a legal or political standpoint whether it was Strom or Kaiser who raised the subject first? Yes. The same section of the federal code that Strom accused City Pages of "probably" violating has this to say as well: "No person, whether acting under color of law or otherwise, shall...intimidate, threaten, or coerce, or attempt to intimidate, threaten, or coerce any person for urging or aiding any person to vote or attempt to vote." More plainly put, it is illegal to try to bully people into ceasing their lawful efforts to register people to vote. Statutes such as this seem rarely to be enforced, but the law remains the law.

Contacted about the seeming discrepancy in their memories, Strom and Kaiser both said they had forgotten speaking to each other about the matter before the press release was issued--even though their talk had occurred less than a week earlier, and had provided Strom with the statutory language that he subsequently quoted in his media alert.

In a cover note attached to the e-mail exchange, Kaiser wrote to reporter Paul Demko, "I had forgotten about a phone call that David Strom originally had made to inquire about the law--I passed along that inquiry to my assistant, Shaun Denham, and you can see the e-mail correspondence relevant to answering that inquiry."

Strom likewise told City Pages that he initiated the contact with the SoS's office, though his memory seemed less certain than Kaiser's: "I have to tell you this was a one-off thing for me. I think I called over there [the secretary of state's office] to confirm the law, because obviously I'm not a lawyer. I read the thing and it looked to me like there was a problem there. I called over, and said what's the law? I forget whether it was he [Kaiser] or someone else there that sent me something....

"I called him to get his advice on it, because after all he works for the secretary of state. At the end of the day, I don't know all the ins and outs of this stuff. He was a pretty natural guy to go to." But when reporter Mike Mosedale reminded Strom that he initially claimed the secretary of state's office must have learned of his complaint from the press release, he answered this way: "I might have called him up. He sure heard about it. I don't remember the specifics of it, to be perfectly blunt. This has not been the most significant moment in my life."


Now perhaps that is entirely true. Strom has his own reasons to spite City Pages. The public profile of Strom and the Taxpayers League grew when the local bus strike began last spring. On the third day of the stoppage, he was quoted thus in the Star Tribune: "Transit just isn't that important to the smooth functioning of the Twin Cities transportation system. That's the obvious conclusion to be drawn from the lack of chaos engendered by the bus-system strike.... The bus strike shows decisively that proponents of transit are simply not telling the truth when they say that transit ridership reduces congestion. It simply doesn't."

I quoted those words when City Pages published a package about the bus strike in early April, and pointed out that behind the straw man Strom knocked down--who says the main issue concerning mass transit is whether it makes the commute any faster for people in cars?--there lay the implication that anyone who could not get in a car and drive to work during the strike did not matter enough to discuss. (Strom claimed to favor a plan whereby the county would cash in the transit budget and buy used cars for poor people, but anyone who deems that a serious policy proposal, including Strom, is nuts.)

Strom called me. The conversation started out civil, even friendly. He came to his point succinctly: My conclusion amounted to climbing inside his head and purporting to know what he thought. I explained that while I was confident he didn't think in those terms privately (because hardly anyone does; a veneer is required), I still believed that what I wrote was a fair reading of the values reflected in his public statements, whether he cared to look at it that way or not.

Strom went to flashpoint very quickly. Began screaming. You are not in my head! You do not know what I think! Nope, I agreed. You are a fucking liar! Am not, I said. I told him to write a letter lodging his objection. We would publish it. That was not nearly good enough. You are not in my head! he repeated. Our colloquy went on this way for two or three more rounds. When I was sure I had the gist of what he was saying--specifically, the second or third time he called me a fucking liar--I hung up on him. I had not convinced him that my interpretation was legitimate from any angle of repose, but he had convinced me that inside his head was no place to be. A while later, one staff writer (no, not me) had the idea to name Strom local villain of the year in our Best-of issue.

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