At long last, the National Rifle Association might finally be recognized as a toxic force in America.
On Sunday morning, independent journalist (and open records stalwart) Tony Webster was driving on I-94 in St. Paul when he spotted something out of the corner of his eye. Webster wanted a closer look.
Someone unafraid of heights and a trespsassing arrest had tagged a billboard in the Dayton's Bluff neighborhood, near Indian Mounds Regional Park, with some pointed political commentary. (Webster notes the tag is a replica of similar grafiiti that appeared in Kentucky last week.)
"I took the next exit to grab some photos," Webster says, "because I figured there's no way it sticks around long."
The sentiment behind it might, at least for some on the left.
Consider the case of DFL U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, whose southern Minnesota district is one of few realtively conservative seats held by a Democrat. Now, Walz wants to be governor of Minnesota, and early indications suggest he's a frontrunner in the DFL field.
But no Democrat's winning a DFL nomination -- let alone a statewide election -- without turnout from liberals in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and the suburbs. And many of those people don't trust Walz, especially on guns.
Walz has regularly received campaign donations and favorable ratings from the NRA -- he has recently re-gifted the amount of those donations to charity -- and, though not a dues-paying member, has expressed support for the gun rights organization's mission. The NRA, in turn, has praised Walz for his support of its priorities; as late as 2016, that meant opposing bans on assault rifles or high-capacity magazines, both of which have been used in mass shootings.
Since the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, earlier this month, Walz has reversed his position on assault rifles. And in a Star Tribune op-ed published over the weekend, he tried defending the rest of his gun positions: He's in favor of universal background checks, protective orders prohibiting gun ownership for individuals believed to pose a threat, and publicly funded research into gun violence, among other ideas.
As for the NRA, Walz says he's been "diametrically opposed" to the organization on a variety of issues, and calls it the "biggest obstacle to passing the most basic measures to prevent gun violence." Walz says his campaign won't accept donations from the NRA, and predicted the outfit would spend "millions" to defeat him.
And yet. Walz stops short of truly distancing himself from the gun group, writing -- twice -- that he's in favor of "common-sense solutions" that "the majority" of the NRA's members are on board with.
Will that be enough to mollify activists enraged at one lobbying organization's stranglehold on the politics of violent death in America? Is Walz walking a careful enough line to win over a plurality of voters in a DFL primary?
One thing can be said with confidence: He'll need to do more than this op-ed to win over whoever did this to that billboard.
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