Had a tough problem but apparently have gotten it beat for now, wanted to note my solution here for others in Internet Explorer 7 limbo. It seems the Starter Kit positioning/floats for #main and #logo make IE7 unhappy.
I had trouble with the Zen 6.x-2.x-dev starter kit - all the different divs inside #main kept drifting to the upper-left corner.
The solution was: comment out #main "position: relative" in layout.css. Clearing the "float: left" for #logo in pages.css also helped get the divs inside #main to align properly.
Finally to jam the $footer_message down to the bottom I inserted a BR clear="all" around line 222 of page.tpl.php. Thanks for all the work, it was fine in other browsers!