Political satirist Bill Maher brought his “Real Time” panel presentation to Northfield on Tuesday evening in an attempt to “Flip A District.”
Guests on Maher’s panel included Ana Marie Cox, a political columnist for The Guardian; Matt Taibbi, author of “The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap”; mayor of Minneapolis Betsy Hodges; Katie Keifer, author of “Let Me Be Clear: Barack Obama’s War on Millennials”; University of Minnesota professor Steve Sviggum; and John Rouleau, executive director of the Minnesota Jobs Coalition.
Maher’s visit to Northfield is part of his “Flip A District” campaign to unseat Congressman John Kline in this November’s election.
Anti-Kline demonstrators arrived early in the afternoon Tuesday on the corner in front of The Grand Event Center. The signs they held drew attention to the Congressman’s voting record, as well as his perceived absenteeism from connecting with his constituents.
Around 5:50 p.m, Maher and the panelists unassumingly made their way in from the side entrance to The Grand. Maher acknowledged the cheering crowds by waving quickly before disappearing backstage. The panel itself got underway at the scheduled 6 p.m start time.
The four talking points during the hour were John Kline’s voting record on the issues of the environment, women’s equality, student loan debt and workers rights.
Throughout the evening, Maher played to the liberal leaning audience. He opened early with this statement: “Kline votes with Republicans 98 percent of the time. I didn’t know that Minnesota had joined the Confederacy.”
More than once, after he read through bullet points of John Kline’s voting record, Maher asked hypothetically, “Does that represent Minnesota’s 2nd?” The crowd adamantly responded with “No!” Toward the end of the event, Maher paused for a moment to directly address the conservatives on the panel by saying, “It’s not really fair for you that the audience is against you.”
On the conservative side, Steve Sviggum and Katie Keifer did a majority of the talking, often allowing themselves to become worked up when getting their points across. Their conservative counterpart, John Rouleau, remained quiet for a bulk of the evening, only really speaking up at the beginning of the program, and later on at the end when the question of “where is John Kline” was asked.
On the liberal side of the panel, writer Matt Taibbi and Minneapolis mayor Betsy Hodges both spoke in a level-headed manner. It was writer Ana Marie Cox that rounded out the liberal side. She was the other panelist that wanted to make sure her voice was heard above the right-leaning side.
The two issues that became the source of the most contention among the panelists on stage was the environment—specifically climate change; and student debt and for profit colleges, or “diploma mills” as Taibbi referred to them as during the discussion.
It was during the discussion on education when Mayor Hodges received a large round of applause from the crowd after she said, “the Republican American dream is to live poor and die young,” indicating that the access to education is the number one determinant of life expectancy in this country. Taibbi added that the real issue is what college costs.
It was toward the end of the presentation when the question of “where is John Kline” was asked. Maher received a standing ovation from the audience of around 220 people when he said, “Kline’s strategy to win is just to hide. It’s insulting to voters.” During this portion, Rouleau spoke up, saying that the Congressman has “always been accessible” and stated that the “Star Tribune found him,” referencing a profile on Kline that appeared online on Tuesday.
Throughout all of the talking points and panelists shouting over one another to make their beliefs heard, Maher tried to keep things light. He often joked at the expense of the conservative panelists much to the delight of the crowd. Sitting closest to Sviggum on stage, the two developed a friendly rapport even though they shared opposing views. It was Sviggum also who was John Kline’s biggest supporter throughout the night, who at one point stated, “You cannot go against John Kline on this issue,” during the discussion of education and student debt.
Area resident Katherine Braaten said that she thought the event was enlightening for people who “were not aware of what John Kline has not done.”
One of the things that Kline has drawn criticism for is receiving campaign contributions from for-profit colleges.
“I think people who support or who take money from places like the University of Phoenix, I think things like that are deplorable,” Braaten stated.
Braaten also said that she thought “there were a few more things that could have been addressed.”
Heather and Daris Larenz echoed that sentiment. After the program had ended, they indicated they would have liked to have heard more from the liberal side of the panel, and that some of the topics could have been discussed for a little longer.
“It’s political entertainment,” Northfield attorney David Hvistendahl reflected after the crowd had dispersed from The Grand.