While most of my assumptions about the state of Minnesota are based upon a single weekend trip to Minneapolis and the entire Replacements discography, I have been largely led to believe that Minnesotans are known the world over for being nice. And not just any old standard of niceness: "Minnesota Nice." So I was pretty surprised that there was a Minnesota lawmaker who kept track of persons he "hated," and that one of those persons was the relatively mild-mannered and exceedingly kind comic-book author Neil Gaiman.
All of this came to light during a larger debate on the future of state cultural funds. Republicans in the state House of Representatives have taken aim at reforming what is known as the Legacy Fund. Established by an amendment to the state constitution, Minnesota committed "3/8 of one percent of the state’s sales tax" to funding various initiatives, including a clean water fund and a set-aside for the state's parks and trails.
An "arts and cultural heritage fund" receives 19.75 percent of this three-eighths of 1 percent of the sales tax. This teensy sliver of money is the type of thing that routinely attracts "deficit peacocks" to make a big display of plumage. And "arts funding" is the sort of thing that typically attracts GOP grandstanding. House Republicans want to "remove specific money recommendations for the state's influential public radio network and other cultural organizations and said they would instead compete for grants."
Legislation that [Rep. Dean] Urdahl's [House Legacy Funding Division] panel adopted less than a week ago recommended that Minnesota Public Radio receive $2 million in Legacy money over the next two years, that public television get $7.8 million and that an assortment of minority groups, including the Council on Black Minnesotans, share $1 million.
In the new version, most of the groups that previously were to get specific appropriations would now have to compete for the money.
Okay, so, how did Neil Gaiman get mixed up in all of this?
House Majority Leader Matt Dean said he reminded Urdahl of the "importance of making sure he has [Republican] caucus support" for Legacy funding for arts and cultural heritage projects, an area of spending that Dean acknowledged had rankled some Republicans. "MPR, it's safe to say, has been a concern in the past," said Dean.
Dean also singled out a $45,000 payment of Legacy money that was made last year to science fiction writer Neil Gaiman for a four-hour speaking appearance. Dean said that Gaiman, "who I hate," was a "pencil-necked little weasel who stole $45,000 from the state of Minnesota."
Dean's strong words -- I'm guessing "pencil-necked weasel" is a pretty hard-core insult in Washington County -- refer back to an ancient kerfuffle, and when Dean says that Gaiman "stole" $45,000, what he is actually referring to is that time Gaiman was paid a speaking fee by people who asked him to come speak and told him that they would pay him. This is a matter that Gaiman attempted to resolve on his blog, way back in May of 2010.
The short version is this: Neil Gaiman is a very popular writer, who's always being sought as a speaker. He maintains a robust schedule of speaking engagements, often making appearances for free, and for charity. But he's in such high demand that he hired an agency to deal with all the requests, and to discourage the deluge, he sets his fee very high: "So if you want to pay me to come in and talk, it’s expensive."
Here's what happened when he was asked to appear in Stillwater Minnesota:
So. I was asked if I’d come and talk at Stillwater, and be paid $40,000. I said, “That’s an awful lot of money for a little library.”
“It’s not from the library. It’s from the Legacy Fund, a Minnesota tax allocation that allows the library to pay market rates to bring authors to suburban libraries who otherwise wouldn’t be able to bring them in. They have to use the money now as it won’t roll over to next year and expires next month.”
Well, that seemed fairly simple. They’d already booked a number of other authors. They had the money sitting there and were happy to pay me my rack rate. Either they gave the money to me or it went away – it couldn’t be used for anything else. And, most importantly, the dates worked. Another week and I would have had to say no, as I would have been away writing. But I got in from Chicago that morning. I said yes.
I figure money like that, sort of out-of-the-blue windfall money, is best used for Good Deeds, so I let a couple of small and needy charities (one doing social work, the other library/book based) know that I would be passing the money on to them, after agents had taken their commission, and did not think twice about it.
Gaiman did what he could to explain what had happened back then, but obviously, the event left an awfully negative impression on Matt Dean. And now, reporters are ringing up Gaiman again, and he's having to relitigate the matter. But he's doing so very wittily!
I like "pencil-necked weasel". It has "pencil" in it. Pencils are good things. You can draw or write things with pencils. I think it's what you call someone when you're worried that using a long word like "intellectual" may have too many syllables. It's not something that people who have serious, important things to say call other people.
I don't like being called a thief. I'm pretty sure that I know what thieves are and do. In this case, Matt Dean's claiming that I "stole $45,000 from the state of Minnesota". (I'm not sure where the $45K number comes from. I just checked: I actually received $33, 600 from the Minnesota Library System for a talk that was then broadcast and is still up ...)
I do not know whether this man is calling me "a thief" because:
A) I charged more than he's comfortable with for a talk, or
B) People happily pay me a lot of money to come and give talks, or
C) He thinks I gave the talk wearing a stripy sweater to an audience of people who were there at gunpoint and afterwards took their wallets, or
D) He's against the principles of the Free Market, and feels that governments should regulate how much people are paid to talk in public.
But for whatever reason, it seems kind of weird, and is a lie.
Gaiman sums up by referring to Dean's outburst as "bullying schoolyard nonsense." Hilariously, someone very close to Dean agrees with Gaiman -- Dean's mother:
"My mom is staying with us right now because my wife's out of town," Dean said. "She was very angry this morning and always taught me not to be a name caller. And I shouldn't have done it, and I apologize."
And so, everything I've heard about Minnesota is thus confirmed.
PREVIOUSLY, on the HUFFINGTON POST:
Will Weaver: Neil Gaiman Dust-Up Raises Questions About Authors and Speaking Fees