Author of 'liberal' blog may lean left, but he aims to be right
By Charley Shaw, Legal Ledger Staff Writer
December 3, 2007
Don't get Kurt Schiebel wrong. The St. Paul blogger known as Flash who writes the Centrisity blog is admittedly left of the political center.
He identifies himself as a Democrat; he's supporting New Mexico Gov. Bill Rich-ardson's bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. And Schiebel's liberal stance runs in the family: his mother, Jean, served as one of 10 U.S. Electoral College "electors" in Minnesota for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry for the 2004 election.
But Schiebel, 47, often takes heat from fellow liberals in the blogosphere on a host of issues ranging from Minnesota's smoking ban to welfare policy to the war in Iraq.
"I guess the small 'l' libertarian has come out of me. I think I recognize that government doesn't necessarily dictate everything we do in our lives. But they do have a role to play," Schiebel says.
Schiebel's penchant for intra-party controversy was evident on Nov. 20 when his Centrisity blog linked to a news article about a captured al-Qaeda leader in Iraq who reportedly joined the insurgent group because of financial incentives rather than a devotion to ideology.
Schiebel wrote that if Iraqis are joining the insurgency, especially for financial and not religious reasons, that's an impediment to the U.S. winning the war in Iraq – a war that, contrary to what most liberal bloggers advocate, Schiebel believes the U.S. has to and can win.
"We need a new leader who is serious about winning this war, and I don't think we can wait 14 months to get it. But at this rate, the stagnation will continue and we will have to redefine victory just to save face," Schiebel wrote.
"This mess continues to be mismanaged," Schiebel continued, "and the few of us left supporting this war is becoming fewer yet." (Schiebel's blog is at centrisity.blogspot.com).
Schiebel's criticism of President Bush coupled with his hope to secure victory in Iraq was received like heresy by his fellow bloggers on the left. Charley Underwood, who writes at the liberal Minnesota Blue (www.mnblue.com), quickly joined the fray at Centrisity.
"Flash, you and I have a long history of disagreement about this war. You continue to be concerned about 'mismanagement,' while I find the entire war morally wrong and flawed in its basic conception. I celebrate that our disagreement has been polite and respectful, with none of the name-calling and dismissiveness that has often been typical of these discussions," Underwood wrote.
Fellow bloggers echo Underwood's sentiment that Schiebel is controversial but not confrontational.
Mitch Berg, a conservative who writes at Shot in the Dark (www.shotinthedark.info), has known Schiebel for more than 15 years. They used to baby-sit each other's children, and Berg introduced Schiebel to blogging more than five years ago.
"He gets flak from both sides. I think he might be one of the last of the Kennedy Democrats out there," Berg says, referring to the foreign policy of former President John F. Kennedy.
Schiebel celebrated Centrisity's fifth anniversary on Nov. 19.
When he first started writing the blog, readers informed Schiebel that he was spelling the word "Centricity" wrong. So Schiebel put his own definition of Centrisity at the top of his blog: "Being right, even tho you lean Left."
A computer technician for the St. Paul public schools, Schiebel typically gets up at about 5:30 a.m. and reads the papers. He then writes and saves his work. En route to work, Schiebel takes time to think over his writing and then, after reflection, dispatches his posts into cyberspace.
He doesn't usually blog during weekday evenings or on the weekends, when he makes his family life his priority.
"I call myself a blue-collar blogger. ... I'm not like other bloggers where that is their social life," Schiebel says.
He lives in the Midway area of St. Paul with his second wife, Andrea. He has raised four boys, one biological and three step-sons. The two youngest boys are in high school, one recently graduated and the oldest is in the Marines stationed in Florida.
Schiebel was born in St. Peter and raised in Brooklyn Center. He received a bachelor's degree in finance from St. Cloud State University in 1985. He wanted to be a stock broker, but stock market declines in the late 1980s convinced him to move in a different direction.
Growing up in Brooklyn Center, Schiebel was exposed early to politics, especially DFL politics.
He used to cut former state legislator and U.S. Congressman Bill Luther's grass in the 1970s. He interned for Brooklyn Center DFLers Luther and Bob Ellingson at the state Capitol.
His mom, who's long been active in DFL politics, is his political role model.
"Mom's involvement showed me that you could make a difference without having to be an elected official," Schiebel says.
His father, an accountant, was a Republican. The senior Schiebel served as a campaign treasurer for former House Speaker Phil Carruthers, a Democrat formerly from Brooklyn Center.
Schiebel has other interests besides politics. In particular, he enjoys marching in drum and bugle corps. He started in 1978 by learning to play the two-valved soprano trumpet. He has marched most often with the Minnesota Brass, but in 2005 Schiebel marched with the Govenairs from St. Peter, the drum corps in which his father marched in the 1950s and 1960s and his grandfather in the 1920s. Due to the demands of family life, however, Schiebel stopped marching in 2006.
Blogging fills up Schiebel's free time now. And while he credits Berg's influence in turning him on to blogging, he doesn't give his conservative friend any leeway when writing about politics.
"We don't get along online but we get along off line," Schiebel says.
Through blogging, Schiebel has interviewed big-name politicians like Gov. Richardson of New Mexico and gotten to cover major political events.
In October, Schiebel and two other bloggers spent an hour interviewing U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
Schiebel sees bloggers gaining more recognition aside mainstream political journalists. He now consistently gets media credentials and Internet connections that enable him to blog at political events. Three years ago, this didn't always happen.
"The new media is starting to become a part of the respected media. There was a time two or three years ago where we were not part of the respected media," Schiebel says. "What's really going to be interesting is what happens next year at the Republican National Convention (in St. Paul)."
Schiebel counts the debates he's had with people from diverse political perspectives as the benefit of his five years wrangling in the Minnesota political blogosphere.
"The neatest thing is all the people I've met from both sides of the aisle. ... Regardless of how brash they can be or how sensible they can be, they're all the same in the sense that they want what's best for our country and our state and our world. The difference is how they get there."