Sen. Hann criticizes archbishop for endorsing “socialist fiction”

Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, is criticizing Saint Paul and Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt for calling on Gov. Mark Dayton and the GOP-controlled Legislature to “not rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to those living in poverty.”

In a letter to Dayton, Nienstedt said “increasing the depth and breadth of poverty is bad fiscal policy and bad economic policy.”

Dayton and GOP legislative leaders are at an impasse over the best way to craft a two year budget. Dayton wants to raise income taxes on Minnesota’s top earners to erase part of a $5 billion projected budget deficit. Republicans say the deficit can be erased without a tax increase.

In a letter dated June 10, Hann took offense with Nienstedt’s letter (Hann’s letter and Nienstedt’s full letters are below).

“I was extremely disappointed to learn you endorse the socialist fiction that it is a moral necessity to take the property of the “wealthy” under the assumption that those resources are better used by politicians and bureaucrats than by the individuals who earn them. You speak of hopes the governor will create justice by adopting a budget that “does not rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services.” Although not said explicitly, I take your statement to mean the proposed legislative budget does that.”

Hann goes on to defend the GOP budget plan as being the largest in the state’s history and he writes that it spends more on K-12 education and health and human services programs than the current two year budget.

“I take offense at the description the legislative budget proposal as, “increasing the depth and breadth of poverty.” For you to do so in akin to me suggesting the Church favors abortion and same sex marriage because you support a governor who has made these issues a central part of his “moral” calculus.”

“Certainly we need to be charitable to the neediest among us. Are government programs charitable? Is a pathway to human dignity found in creating dependence on government and suggesting to people that their lives would be better but for the “greedy rich” not being willing to pay their fair share?”

Hann concluded his letter by quoting Catholic theologian R.R. Reno who said, “A Christian who hopes to follow the teachings of Jesus needs to reckon with a singular fact about American poverty: Its deepest and most debilitating deficits are moral, not financial: the most serious deprivations are cultural not economic.”

“It would seem to me the Church has a large task in correcting the moral deficits of our citizens,” Hann wrote. “Telling people they have the moral claim on someone else’s property is wrong and certainly doesn’t help in that work. What the Legislature has tried to do is what you, and every individual and organization in the state tries to do: Do the best we can with what we have.”

Hann has not returned a call to MPR News to talk more about his letter.

Update: Hann, who is not Catholic, told MPR News that he stands by his letter.

“They do many many good things,” Hann said. “They have taken a position on the marriage issue (the Catholic Church supports a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage) and I support that. They have taken a position on abortion, which I think is right, and I support that but on the issue of the morality of imposing higher taxes to allow government to spend money, I think they have that wrong. I felt an obligation to point that out…

Hann said he has not spoken with the archbishop about his letter but said he is willing to talk with him or anyone else on his staff.

Here’s Hann’s full letter:

57779569 Hann Nienstedt Response 1

Here’s Nienstedt’s letter:


  • Jim Shapiro

    The message of republicans is in essence, “Get mine, keep mine”, while the message of Jesus Christ is indisputably “I am my brothers’ keeper”. Little surprise then that there would be a conflict in economic policy prescription.

  • It’s hard to support the notion that someone who earns millions of dollars a year actually contributes exponentially more to society than poor people who have not had the same opportunities, or who have been beset by misfortunes in life. Everyone should be given the chance to get back on their feet and try hard. It should be a shared task of government, religion, the well-to-do … Republican ideologues are so anti-government, however, that they sound worse than leftist anarchists! Social services are one of the things that makes this state so great compared to places like New York and California (both of which I’ve seen up close) … the Republicans really ought to step off and stop their attacks on the budget.

  • Jordan

    “It’s easier for a camel to pass through the head of a needle than a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God”

    Mark 10:25

    I guess the teachings of Jesus were lost on this particular priest.

  • Erik Farseth

    Many of these so-called conservatives would have never had the opportunity to make their fortunes were it not for Federally-funded infrastructure (including telecommunications networks, the Federal highway system, and the Internet), and Federally-funded housing policies that made suburban living possible in the first place… to say nothing of state-subsidized freeways, public schools, state colleges and universities, and state and Federal subsidies for private businesses. The G.I. Bill and Social Security helped to lift our grandparents’ generation out of poverty, and created a solid Middle Class whose descendants have benefited from their inherited wealth. Now –having benefited from government programs that made suburban living possible– their descendants like to think that they are all “self-made men”, and the rest of society be damned!

  • Jordan

    Edit: Senator, not priest*

  • Charles Austinson

    Does anyone stop to consider if these social programs, presumably designed to lift people out of poverty, actually exacerbate the problem?

  • Jim Shapiro

    Charles – a valid point. But then should we not clean the bathwater rather than throw out the babies?

  • I agree with all of the previous comments. In addition, we moral progressives should be talking about one other important reason to raise taxes on the wealthy: THEY PAY A LOWER PERCENTAGE OF THEIR INCOME IN TAXES THAN THE MIDDLE CLASS AND THE POOR. Simply arguing for justice would mean raising taxes on the wealthy.

  • Linda

    How sad! I wonder how many of the citizens of Eden Prairie are happy with Mr. Hann. I agree with the Archbishop. I will work very hard this coming election to remove the likes of Mr. Hann. I support Govenor Dayton completely and call on the legistlators to change their tune or wait another 40 years to be in the majority.

  • Oops. Don’t agree with Charles Austinson. Is receiving health care through MinnesotaCare making some problem worse?

  • Yeah, let’s cut programs for the sick and poor. Oh, and we need more prisons. Surely the two issues aren’t connected.

    It’s time for Republicans and their supporters to wake up and realize that there’s no such thing as an “individual”, no such thing as a “self-made man”. We are all affected by the society we live in, for good and for bad. By showing such disdain for the most vulnerable of our society, they show disdain for society as a whole.

  • Steve


    I didn’t agree with what Anthony D. Weiner (D – NY) did and he resigned, because his actions were against just a few but were very wrong.

    What Hann is saying is so far beyond anything Anthony D. Weiner (D – NY) did that I can’t believe people are not calling for his recall from office. Hann’s action are just as wrong as Anthony D. Weiner (D – NY) but they effect so many more.

    No wonder Hann doesn’t care if funding to schools are cut. He didn’t learn anything there or in whatever Church he goes to …if any!

    What Kool-Aid did he drink?

    Is he related to Sara P. who didn’t learn American history at school either.

    Man oh man when did Darwin stop thinning the heard of the weak and weak minded??

    I really wonder is there any hope for the state that Hubert Horatio Humphrey helped define NOW to this HANN in a ruling postion!

    It was Israel Bissel that rode from Boston to rally the colonists “to arms, to arms” to fight back a intimidation of the colonists by a political party…

    These are the words of Samuel Adams, colonist rebel, Father of the American Revolution, and devout man of God:

    If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands that feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.

    …. I hear the news….and that comes to mind is the story… “Something Wicked comes this way”…. Well it seems to be Hann.



    P.S. Any recall petitions going around for Hann yet??

  • Charles Austinson

    I have to comment on Susan’s comment regarding the rich paying a lower percentage of their income to the state in total taxes (state and local taxes). I hear this argument all the time and it is completely disingenuous.

    Yes, it’s true. Is that shocking? It shouldn’t be. And here’s why. Bear with me, this requires a little math.

    The study includes “total tax”, which includes local taxes, which includes property taxes. What an individual pays in “total tax” to the state largely depends on his consumer behavior, namely, how large a house does he buy and the property taxes on that home.

    Property taxes are fixed, i.e., the percentage remains the same whether your residence is a $100,000 condo or a $10,000,000 home. Both owners are going to pay the same “rate” in property taxes; not the same amount, but the same rate.

    A taxpayer’s “total tax” will fluctuate based on how greatly the taxpayer maximizes his housing dollar.


    Two individuals. A makes $100,000/year, B makes $10,000,000/year (think pro athlete).

    A and B both live in a city which charges 1% for a property tax rate.

    A maximizes his housing dollar and purchases a $300,000 house (not outrageous considering the income level). 1% property tax on $300,000 is $3,000.

    But note, $3,000 is 3% of his $100,000 income. So A has paid an extra 3% of his income to the state and local governments in the form of property taxes.

    B does not maximize his housing dollar but chooses to purchase a “modest” $1million home. His property tax is then 1% on $1,000,000, or $10,000.

    But again, note, $10,000 on a $10,000,000 income is only 0.1% of his income.

    Let’s say A pays a state income tax rate of 6%. Add on the additional 3% in property tax, and A is paying a total of 9% to the state in taxes.

    Let’s say B pays a state income tax rate of 8% (because he’s rich and should pay a higher rate). But his property taxes only add on 0.1% for a total of 8.01% to the state.

    As you can see, the argument that the rich are somehow “cheating the tax system” is completely false. The total tax one pays is largely based on consumer behavior.

  • mike

    It make one wonder why we even have history books. You would think we would learn from old times in Europe and around the world when kings, lords, and other royaly controlled everything and the peasants worked for a few measly scraps. Does anyone remember how those times turned out according to history? Charles Dickens even had the same attitude quoted in the Christmas Carol, from Ebeneezer Scrooge “Are there no workhouses? Are there no prisons? If the GOP has their way there won’t even be those.

  • Steve


    Great math or should I say smoke and mirror. What does this have to do with human services being cut? So you want more mental wards shut down so they can mow your lawn?

    Good luck with that.



  • dreww

    Unlike your hypothetical rich person most of us can not find decent housing and pay only 0.1% of our income in real estate taxes. If we could, then, yes, there would be the consumer choice you imply. I make $50k a year and I certainly couldn’t find a place (other than crashing on some ones couch) to live where property taxes are only $500 a year.

  • dreww

    The Senator omited the facts. The top 1% do pay 20% of tax in this state. I don’t dispute this. However, their share of income is certainly greater than 20% and their portion of assets is even greater.

  • Jordan


    The problem with your math is *most* people don’t make 10,000,000. Most people don’t even make 100,000.

    The average Minnesota income is about 30,000.

    The question doesn’t come down to who pays what percentage, but who can afford it. Taking the pressure off the rich for the money they’re not spending is no way to structure a democratic economic policy.

    The majority of the population doesn’t make 100,000 because they don’t want to, it’s because that economic model simple can’t exist. However, you can come closer to that economic model by improving the middle class.

  • James Anderson

    One of the more interesting, earlier examples of the hardness of heart exhibited by Hann occurred In mid-19th century England. The “Christian Evangelicals” (in this case read right wing Calvinists) opposed the Corn Laws which would feed the poor (with American corn) in a time of famine, because:

    The poor are poor entirely because of their individual moral failings (no handicaps, disabilities, misfortune, supression of labor,cartels or corporate oligarchy here! No classes or pervasive systemic powers, just individuals). Conversely the rich are rich becasue they are the elect (“effectively called” – see the Puritans) of a Calvinist God. This God inflicts suffering on the poor as instruction so they will learn to be morally upright. So to help them would be against God’s will!

    In the end the argument by Hann (who would in the words of Amos: “sell the poor for a pair of shoes’) is essentially the same.

  • Representative Hahn is not responding as a devout Christian. I certainly think he is entitled to his opinion about how little moral obligation the rich have to feed the hungry, care for the sick, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless and give to the poor. Jesus, however, did drive the money changers out of the temple and chastised the rich for their greed. He asked his apostles to give up their worldly ways and follow him. In regard to those whose moral behavior led them to believe they could cast stones at a woman who had sinned, he said “Let those among you who is without sin cast the first stone.”

    Apparently Representative Hahn is without sin and is willing to cast stones at the Archbishop for making a moral argument about how we spend tax dollars. If we continue to shelter the rich from taxes on their second residences while refusing to provide tax support for the homeless, we will not be following Jesus; we will not be following Buddha, Mohammed, or any of the great Rabbis of Judaism. On this matter, the Archbishop is following the teachings of all the great religious traditions.

    Representative Hahn is following a radical political orthodoxy that is medieval in origin and that calls all efforts to create a just society as radical socialism.

    Read the archbishop’s letter again, Representative, and consider whether or not you really have the moral chops to argue with someone who is reminding you of what the “Sermon on the Mount” and the golden rule require of us all.

  • Charles (Not Austinson)


    Your formula doesn’t include sales tax- the most regressive tax we have- and other “fees”. You make an argument based on only some of the truth, ignoring the parts that don’t support your theory. I could make the same type of argument disproving your point using ONLY sales tax data and ignoring income and property taxes. So, ultimately you’re saying nothing.

  • Ralph Crammedin

    Let them eat cake!

  • cas

    Hann is my senator and I am totally disgusted and ashamed of his actions. BTW- he also represent a part of Minnetonka, where I live. (That’s another problem because there is a pretty wide cultural gulf between Minnetonka and materialistic Eden Prairie)

    This is just the latest harsh attack by Mr Hann who also believes in school vouchers, medical vouchers, union busting and a boatload of other nutty things.

    In five short months, the GOP senate has proven that it is an unworthy steward of the core interests of the state. All indications are that they will receive their rewards for this failure in 2014

  • Kyle

    Hann says that we should not be re-distributing wealth, as that is socialism, but isn’t the argument about the issue that the wealthy pay a smaller percentage of their income in income tax? I really wanted Cathy Wurzer to ask Hann that question this morning….

    And I agree with Erik that the people who have benefited from federal programs with no “merit” or “hard work” would never look at it as charity.

  • cas

    Hann loves to trot out that old red herring about the rich paying , in aggregate, the majority of tax in MN.

    Well, duh! All that’s saying is that they are earning WAY more than normal folks – good for them

    However, from a tax fairness standpoint, the ONLY dependent measure that matters is “tax liability as a percentage of income” – by this measure , the top 2% have been getting away with murder since the 1998 tax cuts, and they and Mr Hann know it- which is why they choose to use other, irrelevant measures.

    Finally, economists who have studied the question have concluded that had the pre 1998 tax rates in MN stayed in place, we would have averted not only the present crisis but also the one in 2006 and 2002.

    Mull on that one…

  • cas

    Another theme of this session has been talk of spending that is”unsustainable”- there is a school of thought that says that tax cuts are a form of spending. If you take that line, it is pretty easy to see that the 1998 tax cuts are also *unsustainable*- they have have created a permanent structural imbalance in state finances.

  • cas

    “The total tax one pays is largely based on consumer behavior.”

    Again, totally irrelevant. The issue is how much do you pay AS A PERCENTAGE OF INCOME, not how much total tax you pay- and the issue is income tax, not property tax. Income tax has always been indexed based on ability to pay – even Mr Pawlenty’s woefully lacking proposal recognizes this.

  • Robyn

    Senator Hann is an embarrassment to the fine citizens he represents. He needs to pull out his history books to realize that Minnesota does not need to go back to pre-1930s policies in order to thrive. He is erasing decades of progress in favor of his cronies with wealth. I side with the Archbishop on this issue. It’s time for the richest amongst us to put up or shut up. If they truly will leave the state then so long, and take Senator Hann and his regressive policies with you. I hear the deep South might be more open to your policies.

  • Joe

    The issue boils down to the question, “Does one citizen have a moral right to take the property of another who he deems to be “rich””, Yes or No?

  • ctd

    Hann may disagree with the Archbishop’s conclusions, but unless he is a Catholic and knowledgeable about Catholic social teaching, he has no business criticizing the Archbishop’s expression of that teaching.

  • cas

    *The issue boils down to the question, “Does one citizen have a moral right to take the property of another who he deems to be “rich””, Yes or No?*

    Not really – the question is that some people are not willing to fully pay their bills. Your tax liability is a bill, the same as any other bill. Don’t make a pompous moral argument out of it. Utility and phone rates go up all the time- taxes are simply bills

  • cas

    Btw- South Carolina, which Michelle Bachmann calls a “utopia” includes the 8th most dangerous city in the US – Spartanburg:

  • I think that they both stepped over the line and it wasn’t as big a deal as everyone is making it out to be.

  • Terry

    I suspect the Tea Party & the GOP consider Jesus as a socialist because blesses the Poor

    May God help us! Our nation and our state of Minnesota will go to Hell.

  • Senator Hann needs to read the prophets and realize the the ‘debilitating moral deficit’ that he speaks of, belongs not to the poor, but to those who do NOT “strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49)

  • When it comes to activities at the capital, Archbishop Nienstedt represents another constituency working to gain the ear of government. He’s appealing to the government on behalf of the human services that he represents to ensure that their state dollars aren’t taken away. No problem it’s politics. However, when the Archbishop writes his appeal to a democratic governor, ignores a republican held congress, and adds comments like “spending reductions, program delivery reform and increased revenue should all be on the table” he begins to walk, talk, and act like a Democrat.

    However, Senator Hann isn’t clean as the proverbial bishop’s robe either. In his response to the Archbishop he reacted as any politician would react to a letter favoring the other side of the political aisle. He went over the top and started spouting off platitudes about “socialist fiction” and “moral claims on someone else’s property.” However, whatever the normal political banter that occurs at the capital between Senators and Representatives, he should never treat any citizenry the way that he treated the Archbishop, regardless of how much he deserved it.

    They both stepped over the line and got what they deserved. We should just recognize the situation and not make this out to be something bigger than it is: two clashing agendas in the world of politics. For me, it reaffirms my belief in the separation of church and state.

  • Stephen

    To Sen. Hann’s critics:

    I expected a more thoughtful and intellectual criticism than this embarrassing display of emotional diatribes. Please consider the following points.

    1) If you think the GOP is cutting spending you need to ACTUALLY READ THE BUDGET. The budget for this year is LARGER than the previous budget. Case closed, it’s a fact. The State will spend more on Health & Human Services and Education than they did in the bast two years. The increase in those two areas alone is $1.3 BILLION dollars more.

    2) Sen. Hann did not ONCE say that we should abandon the poor. Quite the contrary, he said we have a DUTY TO HELP THEM. However, it’s not necessarily the Government’s duty, it’s the people’s duty to take care of the poor. They need to make the decision to help on their own, not have the government force you to do it. Hann said that it’s wrong for the Church to demand that the Government take property from one group of people and give it to another. Isn’t it the duty of the Church to convince people to willingly and freely give up their wealth? The Archbishop is morally wrong when he argues it’s better for a government to take it forcefully. The truth is that it’s better for people to freely give on their own, without being forced to do it.

    3) The overall point is that the Government forcefully taking “rich people’s” money is not charity. There’s no moral decision being made in this setting, no ethical behavior taking place. If someone tells you to give to the poor or go to jail, and you give to the poor, is that charity? No! It’s simply protecting yourself from a threat! You didn’t make a moral choice, you made a selfish choice to save yourself. The only way we can have TRUE CHARITY is if we persuade people to give ON THEIR OWN VOLITION, to make the ethical and socially just decision.

  • Stephen

    P.S. Isn’t there anyone who believes in the concept of seperating Church and State? Most of the posts here seem to argue it’s the State’s job to execute what’s written in the Scriptures. Is that true? Should the Goverment then do whatever Scripture says? Or is there some things that should be left to the Church, and not carried out by the Government?

    Simply quoting Scripture and saying, “there that proves it, the Government should take property from one group of people and give it to another” is a fallacy. I could quote endless lines of Scripture that the Government has no business doing.

  • James Hamilton

    Senator Hann obviously subscribes to the myth of the completely self-made man or woman. Individual talent and effort are not to be ignored, but neither are the conditions which allow one to achieve financial success. If we are truly to pay our own way, then those who benefit most greatly must be prepared to pay most heavily. Taxes are the public’s commission on the individual successes it makes possible.