A sorry excuse for grassroots

Few things are more disheartening than a well-time rally for a righteous cause against a notorious villain on a beautiful day...that turns out to be a big dud.

The righteous cause is affordable health care. More than 46 million Americans (over 15% of the total population) are without health insurance. Two and half years ago, Governor Tim Pawlenty convened an 18-person task force known as the Minnesota Citizens Forum on Health Care Costs, chaired by former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger. They conducted a statewide survey that revealed a whopping 91 percent of Minnesotans believe health care should be made available to all citizens, with 80 percent supporting a tax increase to make it happen. A majority of those surveyed, 56 percent, supported a "single-payer" health care system operated by the government.

The notorious villain is United Health Group Co. CEO William McGuire, whose ability to cash in literally hundreds of millions of dollars worth of company stock options in recent years finally became too much for folks to stomach. This week, the California Public Employees Retirement System, which owns stock in United Health, announced it would refuse to vote for four members of the company's board of directors who approved the exorbitant stock option plan. Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch also protested the huge payments.

The timing was propitious because United ironically chose "Cover the Uninsured Week" to hold its annual shareholders meeting at its Minnetonka headquarters on Bren Road this morning, under the first sunny skies this area has seen in nearly a week.

As for the protest rally, called by the Minnesota Univeral Health Care Coalition and convened at the edge of United's property about 50 yards away from the headquarters, well, about 50 people showed up, about half of them either members of the media or Green Party candidates running for office. They sang songs with clever health-care related lyrics based on the melody of "God Bless America," passed a camera bag in lieu of a hat to raise money for themselves, and railed about the huge contrast between the millions of dollars United Health execs get paid and the millions of people who are uninsured. But to say they were preaching to the choir is to besmirch the size--and the racial diversity--of most choirs.

It is hard to chide folks who work hard for a just cause. But despite all the talk about "grassroots" this morning, this was an embarrassing turnout. And if it is a harbinger of the health of the Green Party, I'd say that the organization is in need of a shakeup, or at least more cajoling of family and friends to help pad the house on what should be a signature issue for both the party and many many Minnesotans who have been getting knee-capped at the Capitol on an annual basis since 2003.