Question for Dayton and Johnson? Email it in

Minnesotans who cannot talk to governor candidates in person may suggest questions that they could answer at an Oct. 8 debate.

Forum News Service is accepting emails at debate@forumcomm.com from people who have questions for Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton or Republican challenger Jeff Johnson. They will be considered for a debate the news service is sponsoring in Moorhead.

Questions also will be accepted during the debate as news service personnel will monitor hashtag #mngov on Twitter. Also, those attending the debate may submit written questions that night.

While much of the Moorhead event will center on greater Minnesota-specific matters, broader issues also are expected to be discussed, so questions may be on any topic.

The 90-minute debate is planned at 7 p.m. in Hansen Theatre on the Minnesota State University Moorhead campus. It is free and open to the public.

The debate will be televised live on WDAY’Z Xtra channel in northwestern Minnesota (channel 6.3 over the air on WDAY and 8.3 on WDAZ) and streamed live on Forum Communications Co. websites statewide. Minnesota Public Radio plans to rebroadcast it at noon the following day.

The news service, part of Forum Communications, provides Upper Midwest news to company newspapers and other clients.

The Moorhead debate is open to any governor candidate with at least 10 percent support in an established independent poll. Johnson and Dayton are the only two who have reached that mark.

The debate is the second of five in the governor’s race. The first is 7 p.m. Wednesday in Rochester. It is to be broadcast live statewide on public television stations.

Also, the first of three U.S. Senate debates between Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Republican Mike McFadden is 8 a.m. Wednesday in Duluth, sponsored by the Duluth News Tribune and Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. It will be live on www.duluthnewstribune.com and Duluth’s My9 television.

McFadden, Franken mine for greater Minnesota votes

McFadden and Franken

By Don Davis

The most-discussed greater Minnesota issue in the race between U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Mike McFadden, by far, is whether to allow a nickel-copper mine to open in northeastern Minnesota.

Democrat Franken and Republican McFadden break along predictable party philosophies on that issue as their Senate race heads toward the Nov. 4 election. Their stances on mining pretty much explain their thoughts on many other issues.

McFadden and other Republicans have tried to make PolyMet Mining’s eight-year-long environmental review process an issue in this election. While Republicans say permits that generally come only after environmental impacts are reviewed should be issued immediately, Franken agrees with other Democrats that the reviews need to wrap up before the controversial mine should open.

“It is the federal government’s role to regulate, but we just are not real good at it,” McFadden said, delivering as proof PolyMet’s time under the government microscope.

“What I would do immediately upon election would send letters to the (Environmental Protection Agency and other federal departments) and tell them to stand down and let Minnesota take the lead on this,” he added.

Franken, on the other hand, calls for what he calls “balance.”

The incumbent said that reviews need to follow state and federal laws with an eye toward protecting the environment.

Copper-nickel mining could be an economic boon, Franken has said, but similar mines elsewhere have caused considerable environmental damage. He said that PolyMet officials are satisfied with following the process and are not asking for permits before environmental studies are done.

Franken is seeking his second six-year term in the Senate. He beat then-Sen. Norm Coleman by 312 votes in an election decided after eight months of recount and court actions.

McFadden took a leave from his business to launch his first public campaign for the office that pays $174,000 annually.

Both are Twin Cities suburban residents who have spent time learning greater Minnesota issues.

Forum News Service interviewed both about greater Minnesota subjects, including the much-discussed need to improve high-speed Internet, also known as broadband, in rural Minnesota. Broadband advocates say rural Minnesotans and businesses are at a disadvantage to their big-city cousins because so much depends on connectivity today.

McFadden initially had little to say about broadband, but when the interview continued three days later he said that “broadband is critical infrastructure” and Washington needs to play a role in serving rural residents.

He said he did not like the government providing Internet service, citing a Lake County effort that he said competed with local companies. Instead, he said, the government should provide private companies incentives such as tax breaks or subsidies to allow better Internet service.

Franken, meanwhile, said that more federal broadband money is needed so local governments may establish improved service. He said the added money can be found without raising taxes, suggesting that Washington could end tax breaks given to oil and gas companies to help fund Internet needs.

The senator complained that some local Internet providers want to stop government involvement, which he compared to major cable television and Internet providers such as Comcast growing and reducing competition.

Both candidates brought up railroad congestion as a significant issue.

Farmers and agri-businesses frequently complain that North Dakota oil is tying up the rails so much that they cannot deliver items such as fertilizer to farmers and cannot deliver crops to markets.

“I have been all over the Surface Transportation Board, making sure they got out to Minnesota number of times,” Franken said.

Rail backlogs have cost farmers at least $100 million, the senator said, but new rules could help reduce the backlog.

McFadden ties railroads to one of his favorite subjects on the campaign trail: pipelines.

“We have got to get pipelines passed,” he said about how railroads would be freed up for other uses. “That is the root cause.”

In the short term, McFadden said he wants federal regulators to better enforce current laws and to make sure federal and state officials are working together. But the only long-term solution, he said, is to build pipelines.

On other issues:

– Franken said the estate tax, which many farmers and small business owners don’t like, “is at about the right level now.” McFadden said that the entire tax system needs to be overhauled and would not talk about individual taxes like that placed on estates.

– McFadden agreed with Franken’s work to help get Minnesotans trained to take jobs that manufacturers find hard to fill.

– They agreed that the Environmental Protection Agency has gone too far in putting most bodies of water under federal regulations, which limits what farmers and others can do. Franken said he is working to ease the rule while McFadden said the incumbent already has voted against a bill banning the new EPA plan.

– McFadden said renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel are mature industries and the federal government needs to do little more for them other than the Environmental Protection Agency should set rules and stick to them. Franken agreed that the EPA is a problem, but said he also is working to increase the use of ethanol.

– Franken said that the federal government puts “Draconian” financial mandates on the post office, which threatens Saturday mail delivery and could lead to closures of some facilities. “Saturday deliveries are important,” he said about rural Minnesota. “They get chickens. They get direct medicine. They get their newspapers.”

– McFadden’s post office fix is to make its operations more transparent to the public. “It is important that we retain that service while at the same time looking at making the post office more cost effective.”

Political Chatter: Campaigns deliver urgent messages

By Don Davis

It is breathless time for political campaigns.

In what reminds one of an old-time messenger trying to catch his breath when delivering urgent news, the campaigns fit in as much drama as possible during this time of a campaign. The term “breaking” is used in many an email subject line, followed by a comment in all capital letters that seems to indicate the sky is falling.

Take, for instance, an email from Gov. Mark Dayton’s campaign seeking money from supporters.

With bright yellow highlighting in the background, the solicitation begins, and the last sentence underlined and in blue type: “BREAKING FINANCE UPDATE: Tea Party opponent Jeff Johnson is outraising Governor Mark Dayton! Four years of progress is at risk: Give now to save our progress with Mark Dayton!”

In the exact same format, Executive Director Corey Day of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party declares: “ACTION NEEDED: MPR reports the Minnesota Business Partnership – which includes CEOs from the state’s biggest corporations – is laser-focused on helping Republicans take control of the Minnesota House. Give right now to defend our DFL majorities, and your gift will be MATCHED dollar-for-dollar!”

Carl Kuhl of Republican Mike McFadden’s U.S. Senate campaign was a bit less dramatic: “Senator Al Franken is getting a lot of help from Washington D.C. friends like Senator Harry Reid and Senator Elizabeth Warren. In fact, it was just announced Elizabeth Warren’s Super PAC is raising money and creating a ‘firewall’ to protect her friend Al Franken. Because of this D.C. money help, Senator Franken is beating us in fundraising, but we’re closing the gap and need your help to finish this month strong.”

Like so many of the donation-seeking emails, Kuhl begs supporters to “act before it is too late.”

A closer look at Dayton’s situation leaves the Democratic governor  looking in better shape than his campaign’s email may indicate.

While Dayton emphasized that Johnson outraised Dayton in the last campaign finance reporting period, the incumbent governor still has more money than the Republican. And while a recent poll gave Dayton a 12-point lead, the fundraising letter emphasized the 20 percent of voters who apparently have not decided between Johnson and Dayton.

“With so much at stake – 162,000 new jobs, a higher minimum wage and affordable college tuition – we CANNOT fall behind now,” the Dayton email breathlessly declared. “We have to fight back.”

‘Keep off trigger’

The Minnesota Gun Owners Political Action Committee says it wants to keep Minnesotans safe by paying for gun training classes for U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan.

A picture of the Democrat who serves northeast and east-central Minnesota attracted lots of social media attention because he had a finger on the trigger of a gun.

“The basic rules of firearms safety, taught to students as young as 12 in … hunter safety classes, state clearly that one’s finger should be kept off the trigger until ready to shoot,” committee Executive Director Bryan Strawser said. “Mr. Nolan’s actions are unsafe and dangerous.”

Strawser’s committee offered to pay for firearms training for Nolan at Mills Fleet Farm indoor shooting range in Baxter. Of course, Nolan’s Republican opponent in his re-election campaign is Fleet Farm official Stewart Mills.

Who gets the credit?

It is election season and every politician’s comment is closely scrutinized.

A case in point is something re-election candidate Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, said about the Lewis and Clark project that is to bring southwestern Minnesota water.

“The area’s Republican legislators gave it lip service,” Dayton said. “We gave it $72 million.”

Dayton should not be surprised the “the area’s Republican legislators” did not take kindly to the comment.

“Gov. Mark Dayton’s comments today on the Lewis and Clark project don’t hold water,” Sen. Bill Weber of Luverne and Rep. Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake said in a joint statement. “It’s outrageous he is taking credit for this project when the opposite is true.

“Everyone agreed the Lewis and Clark water project was worthy of funding, but Gov. Dayton and the Democrats repeatedly used the project as leverage to get Republicans to agree to more borrowing for wasteful projects.”

Weber and Hamilton accuse Dayton of playing “political games with basic human needs like having sufficient potable water in our communities.”

GOP lawmakers were working on their colleagues at the end of the spring’s legislative session as Lewis and Clark became the major hang-up to adjourning for the year. At one point, a weary but happy Hamilton sat at his back-row House seat, relieved that House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, had just agreed to a solution those in the southwest could live with.

Tuition freeze promoted

Minnesota House Democrats have traveled the state in recent days promoting their plan to freeze college tuition until 2017.

President Eric Kaler of the University of Minnesota praised the effort, a rare comment by someone in his position about a political initiative.

“We’re pleased that leaders and members of the Minnesota House DFL support that goal and vision and we look forward to working with all members, the Senate and the governor to achieve that goal,” Kaler said.

But Kaler’s comment came with a warning: “If we do not get sufficient funding to support this freeze, the Board of Regents is prepared to raise tuition, as needed, to fill the gap.”

Looking heavenward

Well-known national political pundit Stuart Rothenberg wrote in Politico that U.S. Sen. Al Franken has a pretty good chance to be re-elected in Minnesota.

Republican challenger Mike McFadden probably needs “divine intervention to have any chance of winning,” Rothenberg wrote.

Dayton seeks rail data

Gov. Mark Dayton has asked about 300 communities near railroads that carry oil trains to tell him how increased train traffic and oil going through their towns affect budgets and quality of life.

At five meetings about railroad oil safety, with a sixth planned for Duluth, local leaders have told Dayton stories of long trains being parked in their communities for hours and that their public safety workers are not prepared if there is an oil train derailment.

“In my meetings with local leaders across the state this summer, it became clear that increased traffic on our railways is having real and costly impacts on Minnesota communities,” Dayton said. “This survey will help identify those challenges, and provide a roadmap for the state to address these problems in the 2015 legislative session.”

Broadband grants ready

Minnesota officials are accepting applications for grants to expand high-speed Internet in areas that lack speed.

The service, also known as broadband, is especially lacking in rural Minnesota, where officials say it puts them at a disadvantage to those in cities.

The Legislature and governor approved spending $20 million on broadband grants earlier this year, with up to $5 per grant.

Direct farmer payments out, new safety net in

Vilsack, Peterson

By Don Davis

Complex is about to replace controversial in federal farm policy.

The much-maligned practice of the federal government paying farmers, whether they needed it or not, is going away. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stopped in St. Paul on Thursday to announce its replacement: two online programs designed to provide farmers money when prices or revenues drop.

“Farming is one of the riskiest businesses in the world,” Vilsack said. “These new programs help ensure that risk can be effectively managed so families don’t lose farms that have been passed down through generations because of events beyond their control.”

Added U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson: “This safety net actually is tied to risk and what happens on the farm.” Unlike in the past, there will be no direct payments to farmers regardless of their need.

Vilsack was surrounded by Minnesota’s two U.S. senators and two House members, all Democrats, and announced the programs: Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage. Farmers must pick between the programs by next spring.

The event was held on the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus, with farm smells in the air and cows mooing nearby. University personnel helped design online tools that will help farmers sign up for the programs.

The tools become active Monday at usda.gov, but Vilsack said farmers have months to decide what works best for them.

Peterson, who represents western Minnesota, said that some farmers will do better, some worse, than under the controversial direct payments. He and Vilsack said the advantage of the new programs will be their ability to save family farms.

Peterson, the top House Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, said farmers need to look carefully to see which program will help them most over the next five years, the length of time for which farmers must sign up. With land and crop input costs high, alongside low prices, “I’m worried,” he added about farmers.

Nearly all of the country’s 350,000 commercial farmers will use the new programs.

The congressman said he is not worried that the new online service will encounter problems like the Obamacare health insurance marketplace did last year. Vilsack said he hopes the online service works, and tried to sooth farmers by saying it was developed by the university community, not government.

“These tools are easy to use,” Vilsack promised.

The Agriculture Department website will give farmers “as much information as we can so they can make an informed decision between these programs,” the secretary said.

Vilsack said meetings will be held across Minnesota soon to introduce the new programs to agribusiness professionals and, after harvest, more than 60 meetings are planned for farmers.

Crop insurance will continue under the new farm bill, covering things such as crop losses due to weather. However, the programs Vilsack highlighted Thursday are new.

Price loss coverage will send farmers payments if a crop’s national price is below a “reference price” previously set. Payments will vary by crop.

Agriculture risk coverage, on the other hand, will be paid based on an individual’s or a county’s crop prices.

“There are no uniform right decisions,” U.S. Sen. Al Franken said. “This is specific for each farmer.”

Klobuchar does not want attorney general job

Klobuchar

By Don Davis

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had not yet announced his resignation Thursday when U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s name came up as a possible replacement, although she quashed such speculation hours later.

“I intend to continue my work for the people of Minnesota as their senator,” Klobuchar said. “We have a lot of work ahead in Congress in the next year and I want to be there to do it.”

Klobuchar’s name was mentioned in many media accounts of Holder’s pending resignation, including by Bloomberg News and USA Today before she made it clear that she wants to remain a senator. She was first elected in 2006 and after her re-election two years ago has four years left in her term.

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, a Democrat who serves southern Minnesota, said that Klobuchar was the first name he heard from Washington circles.

“I think she would be fabulous attorney general,” he said, adding that he could see her getting unanimous Senate support in a confirmation vote.

However, he added, he would prefer Klobuchar remain “as my senior senator.”

For years, national observers have mentioned Klobuchar as a potential presidential candidate or a Supreme Court justice nominee. Her name occasionally also has been floated as an attorney general possibility.

Klobuchar had nothing but good things to say about Holder.

“Attorney General Holder has been a steady leader at the helm of the Justice Department during a time of significant challenge and change,” she said. “I have worked with him on a range of important issues, including reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and confirming a new U.S. attorney for Minnesota.”

Minnesota Republican Chairman Keith Downey got the information from a reporter and said that Holder’s move is good news.

“Eric Holder vacating the office of attorney general is a good thing for the country,” Downey said, adding that Holder is the most partisan person ever to hold that post.

He said “anybody but Holder” would be a better choice.

Holder, 63, was the nation’s first black attorney general and has made civil rights a cornerstone of his time in office. He did not say why he is leaving, but promised to stay on board until a successor is confirmed.

Political Chatter: Klobuchar report shows propane costs

By Don Davis

It was cold last winter, really cold.

Propane was in short supply last winter, really short. And the fuel was expensive, really expensive.

The 10 percent of Minnesotans who heat with propane — as well as farmers, businesses and others that use it — felt the crunch to the tune of $70 million more they had to pay than a year before.

Others in the Midwest, where propane is most used, also felt the financial pain. Michigan residents’ bills went up $71 million, Iowans’ $64 million, Wisconsinites’ $44 million, North Dakotans’ $32 million and South Dakotans’ $17 million.

The figures come from a report U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., released in her capacity as vice chairwoman of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee.

“My report confirms what so many Minnesota families and businesses felt firsthand last winter: The propane shortage had significant financial consequences,” Klobuchar said. “Minnesotans rely heavily on propane to keep warm during the brutally cold winter months. That’s why I worked with Sen. John Thune (of South Dakota) to pass bipartisan legislation to help address future shortages, and I will continue to work to make sure this vital energy source is readily available for consumers.”

Last winter’s propane shortage was brought on by a variety of factors. Users noticed a price that in some cases quadrupled.

Minnesota officials are optimistic that such a shortage and price spike will not happen this winter, but a task force that has met several times since spring is making preparations, just in case.

On the federal level, Klobuchar and her colleagues passed legislation to give governors more authority during a propane emergency and required the Energy Information Administration to provide early warnings if it appears propane could be in short supply.

Another Klobuchar bill streamlines transportation to communities affected by a shortage.

Kline vs. Maher

Residents of the 2nd Congressional District, on the south edge of the Twin Cities and further south, may have thought Mike Obermueller was U.S. Rep. John Kline’s election opponent.

Maybe not so much. His real opponent may be well-known comedian and late-night television host Bill Maher.

Kline was the “winner” of Maher’s “Flip a District” contest because he blames Kline, chairman of the House education committee, for high student loan debt.

“We want to highlight student loan debt as being an incentive for students, who often do not vote in the midterms, to register and vote,” HBO “Real Time” executive producer Scott Carter told Politico.

Maher is expected to turn up in Kline’s district a couple of times, but Cater said he will not campaign for Obermueller.

The Washington Post questions Maher’s battle against Kline since national election handicappers give Obermueller little chance to win (although he has played up the Maher decision). National Democrats are not targeting Kline for defeat, the Post pointed out, and two years ago when he was a target he still received 54 percent of the vote.

“As promised, Maher is turning his liberal guns on our districts and using his TV megaphone and million-dollar war chest to defeat me in November,” Kline wrote in an email to supporters.

Minnesota helps tree probe

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture helped crack a case of why trees were dying.

The department first began hearing about mysterious tree deaths in 2011 and tied them to Imprelis herbicide. In the years since, Minnesota and other states worked with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which just fined herbicide maker DuPont $1.8 million because Imprelis was not properly labeled and the company did not tell federal officials about potential problems.

“The MDA laboratory played a critical national role in developing methods to test for Imprelis in samples collected from yards and landscapes,” the Agriculture Department’s Joe Zachmann said. “MDA investigations provided EPA with a significant amount of data showing the damage Imprelis had caused to trees throughout the Midwest.”

Cases of tree damage and death from Imprelis were widespread in the Midwest, especially Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

3 debates planned

The subject line in an email from Minnesota’s Republican U.S. Senate candidate read: “More false attacks — and still no debates.”

But Mike McFadden’s email to supporters was sent after he and U.S. Sen. Al Franken had agreed to a trio of debates. McFadden wants at least three more debates, but as most challengers, he at least has accepted what the incumbent will give him.

The campaigns agreed to debates:

– 8-9 a.m. Oct. 1 at a Duluth News Tribune-Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce event.

– 10-11 a.m. Oct. 26 on WCCO-TV in Minneapolis.

– 7-8 p.m. Nov. 2 on Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul.

A McFadden spokeswoman said her candidate wants more greater Minnesota debates. A Franken spokeswoman said the three debates, plus an early-August Farmfest forum, is about the same as normal in Minnesota U.S. Senate races.

Minnesota early voting starts

By Don Davis

It almost is time to vote.

Minnesotans may start voting Friday. The early voting is not only for people who will be away from home on election day, but anyone can vote early under a new state law. Old law required an excuse such as being out of one’s voting precinct on election day.

Campaigns are pushing the early voting as a way to lock in their supporters.

Take U.S. Sen. Al Franken, for instance. The Democrat sent an email to supporters saying that he wants their promise to vote.

“I need your vote…” he wrote, reminding supporters that he only won by 312 votes in his initial campaign. “And if I had the votes of a few hundred of your friends and family, that’d be great, too. But right now, I need to know that you’re with me.”

Voters who cast ballots early are voters campaigns do not need to keep wooing Minnesotans. Campaigns want to lock in their votes before something happens that could sway Minnesotans. And, given Minnesota’s weather, a snowy election day could scare away voters, so campaigns would prefer those ballots already were cast.

Since this is the first year for early voting, which still officially is called “absentee voting,” no one knows how it will affect the election. The best guess among politicos is that younger populations will embrace the new concept, while older rural voters would rather go the traditional route and visit polling places Nov. 4.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s office reports that Minnesotans may vote by mail, in person at local elections offices or have a person deliver the ballot. Military and overseas voters use a different process.

For many, the easiest way to vote will be to stop by the local elections office (such as county auditor’s office) and cast a ballot. It likely would be much like going to a polling place, but without long lines. Votes are accepted during regular business hours; state law also requires elections offices to be open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the Saturday before an election and until 5 p.m. the day before the election.

For others, going to the secretary of state’s Website and requesting an absentee ballot application will be the pick, with the ballot being sent to the voter via mail. People who have not registered to vote still may vote absentee because a registration form will be sent with the ballot.

A ballot mailed to voters may be returned by mail, delivered in person to the office that sent the ballot or someone else may return the ballot by 3 p.m. election day. A voter may not hand deliver his or her own absentee ballot on election day.

More information on absentee voting, as well as other election facts, is at mnvotes.org.

Johnson: Dayton shows ‘breathtaking incompetence’

By Don Davis

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s challenger raised the temperature of the campaign Tuesday by saying the governor showed “breathtaking incompetence” in establishing the state-run health insurance marketplace and an abrupt about-face on a controversial sex offender issue.

Republican candidate Jeff Johnson’s comments were by far the harshest of the campaign and signaled the race was getting serious.

Johnson’s statement followed an announcement that the insurance company insuring more than 24,000 Minnesotans who bought health policies through the web-based MNsure marketplace no longer will participate. The challenger said that means they have to go through a problem-filled enrollment process with another insurance company later this year.

Also Tuesday, news came that the Dayton administration suddenly dropped its consideration of releasing a sex offender who has admitted molesting at least 60 women.

“I have joked throughout the campaign that as a Norwegian Lutheran from northern Minnesota, I don’t get all that worked up or all that emotional about things, but the past 24 hours and this governor have practically put me over the edge,” Johnson told reporters during a hastily called late-afternoon news conference. “I believe that the Minnesotans who are being hurt by the breathtaking incompetence of Gov. Dayton ought to be mad as hell right now and they ought not to put up with it anymore.”

Johnson has avoided such tough remarks, even in front of fellow Republicans. He often has said he is different from some in his party in that he will not be harsh. He said his Tuesday comments do not mark a departure from that, but they certainly were different from campaign stops he made as recently as Monday.

Johnson said that on the campaign trail he seldom has discussed his feeling that Dayton is incompetent, but said in answer to a question that it likely will be more prominent in his campaign as the Nov. 4 election nears.

Dayton flew back from a Washington, D.C., campaign fund-raising trip Tuesday afternoon and had little to say about Johnson.

The Democratic governor’s official office released a statement about MNsure attributed to Dayton: “A year ago, PreferredOne chose to offer its coverage at rates well below other plans on MNsure, and gained significant market share from doing so.”

PreferredOne said Tuesday that it was dropping out because of the rates and administrative problems with MNsure.

Johnson alleged that Dayton pressured PreferredOne to offer artificially low rates.

“Of course, administration officials encouraged insurers on MNsure to provide the lowest rates possible to the people of Minnesota,” Dayton campaign spokesman Jeremy Drucker said. “However, the companies were solely responsible for the rates they decided to offer.”

The other issue that Johnson addressed was the abrupt switch in the administration position about Thomas Duvall, 58, who on Tuesday was to begin a four-day hearing that may have led to his release from the state sex offender program. That hearing was canceled late Monday after the Dayton administration decided not to pursue his release, influencing Duvall to withdraw his request to be let out.

Johnson said he agreed with Dayton that Duvall should remain in treatment, but added that Dayton should not have forced Duvall’s victims to wait a year for the decision.

“After putting countless victims of one of the worst sex offenders we have seen in the state through hell for nearly a year by suggesting that he would be willing to let this guy out, the governor last night at the 11th hour…” changed his mind, Johnson said. “This matter was mismanaged.”

The governor’s office referred comment on the Duvall case to Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, who released a statement: “I review these cases carefully, taking into consideration criminal history, the evaluation of our clinical staff and the review of numerous independent experts. In the case of Thomas Duvall, I changed my position based on new information and recently issued expert reports.”

Political chatter: Ag wins water vote

By Don Davis

A little known federal issue that has farmers riled came out of the U.S. House with a vote friendly to agriculture.

The House voted 262-152 last week to forbid the federal Environmental Protection Agency putting nearly all water in the country under its control. Farmers fear a proposed change in the Clean Water Act would give the EPA control of every body of water from puddles on up.

There is little chance that the Democratic Senate will follow the Republican House’s lead.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who represents western Minnesota, was one of 35 Democrats to vote against the EPA rule.

He said the proposal would create “more confusion and is bad for agriculture. … The EPA does not seem to understand the real world effects these regulations will have on farmers across the country.”

Minnesota’s House delegation split on the issue.

Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat representing the eastern Twin Cities, voted opposite Peterson.

“Once again Republicans are taking aim at the environment and clean water by unnecessarily intervening in a critical rule-making process,” McCollum said. “Preserving the health of America’s wetlands and streams is essential to Minnesota, a state with more than 10,000 lakes and over 69,000 miles of river. The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers need to continue moving forward, in consultation with key stakeholders, and develop a sound definition that protects the health of a precious natural resource: America’s waters.”

Farm groups sided with Peterson.

“The U.S. House of Representatives stood with farmers and ranchers … to tell the Environmental Protection Agency they cannot and do not have control over all waters,” President Kevin Paap of the Minnesota Farm Bureau said. “We sincerely thank Minnesota Reps. “(Tim) Walz, (John) Kline, (Erik) Paulsen, (Michele) Bachmann and Peterson for voting in support of the final bill.”

Walz and Peterson were the only two Minnesota Democrats to support the measure.

Paap said the vote was not the end of the battle. “Until they withdraw their proposed rule, we must continue to send comments to the public docket sharing our story to the EPA on how constricting these regulations would be on our ability to farm, perform normal land improvement activities and continue conservation efforts.”

The Farm Bureau has been out front in fighting the EPA on the issue, running a “ditch the rule” campaign.

Mills gets more attention

If national media attention illustrates a candidate’s viability, Stewart Mills is in very good shape.

Hardly a week goes by when the first-time Republican candidate in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District is not featured in a story from outside Minnesota. One of the latest is the National Journal, which called him “the most interesting candidate of the year.”

“Minnesota is a state known for electing its share of unconventional candidates,” Josh Kraushaar wrote in his Brainerd-datelined story. “It voted for Jesse Ventura, a professional wrestler, as its governor. Comedian Al Franken, who once wrote a book joking about running for president, is now the state’s junior U.S. senator. Paul Wellstone parlayed his job as a rumpled college professor into a progressive icon in the Senate.”

It did not take long for Kraushaar to focus on the same things as other national reporters:  Mills’ long hair and his resemblance to actor Brad Pitt.

“He’s one of the few congressional candidates who has been attacked for hitting a beer bong…” the story says.

Kraushaar calls Brainerd a small town (its population is nearly 14,000) and incorrectly labels Mills’ company as a “sporting goods shop” (the chain of stores sells a variety of items ranging from farm equipment to kitchen utensils, and does sell sporting goods).

Mills is trying to kick Democrat Rick Nolan out of the House.

Nolan is in his first term back in the House, serving the northeast and east-central Minnesota district, after earlier serving during the Vietnam war era. He gets much less media attention than Mills in a race that is attracting outside funding by the bucketful.

Horner for Johnson

Tom Horner returned to his Republican roots to endorse GOP governor candidate Jeff Johnson.

Horner was the Independence Party candidate four years ago, getting 12 percent of the vote as Democrat Mark Dayton narrowly beat Republican Tom Emmer. For years before that, he worked with Republicans.

Horner went after Dayton for not knowing specifics of items in bills such as one funding the Vikings stadium.

Johnson “will get it right the first time,” Horner said.

Horner said that Independence candidate Hannah Nicollet did not seek his endorsement. He said since she could not raise the $37,000 needed to obtain state campaign funding that she “won’t have a voice” in the governor’s race, leaving Dayton and Johnson in the spotlight.

Homes lead in propane

As Minnesota leaders try to prevent a propane shortage, with accompanying price increase, like what hit the state last winter, they primarily are trying to protect homeowners.

The state propane industry reports that in 2010, the latest year for which figures are available, 206 million of the 341 million gallons of the fuel used in Minnesota heated homes. Another 78 million gallons went to agriculture uses, things such as drying grain and heating livestock facilities. The rest was used by businesses, industries and for engine fuel.

Minnesota propane outlook improves, but officials will monitor

Dayton

By Don Davis

The propane outlook for this winter is brighter than a year ago, when shortages nearly quadrupled the heating fuel’s price, but state officials urge poor Minnesotans to apply now for heating assistance if they think they will not be able to fill their tanks.

“The situation is very encouraging,” Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday after meeting with about 50 people involved in the propane industry in St. Paul, with another 20 joining by telephone.

Still, he added: “We’re not out of the woods. Nobody is complacent.”

With more than 200,000 Minnesotans, mostly in rural areas, depending on propane to heat their homes, Dayton called in users, transportation officials, suppliers, marketers and others involved in the propane industry to assess the situation.

Many at the meeting said that more propane storage and Minnesotans buying more of the heating fuel in the summer instead of waiting for cold weather have helped ease concerns.

Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said a Kansas facility that supplies much of Minnesota’s propane increased storage 15 percent. Storage also has been built in Minnesota and North Dakota.

However, the bad news is that the permanent shutdown of a propane pipeline at the end of the past heating season is forcing more of the gas onto rails, which already are so congested with North Dakota crude oil that farmers complain they cannot get good service from area railroads.

Dayton lately has complained that the BNSF and Canadian Pacific railway companies have put a priority on crude at the expense of commodities such as fertilizer that farmers need and hauling grain to market. After Tuesday’s meeting, Dayton said he thought railroads can handle added propane shipments, even though “there is no question that the railroad system is very seriously over extended.”

The state and the industry are better prepared to monitor the propane transportation situation this year, Dayton added.

The governor promised to put pressure on the railroads, if needed, “once the situation is real.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that Midwest propane supplies are 1.9 million barrels higher than a year ago, but still 1.6 million barrels below the five-year average.

Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap called the meeting “a perfect example” of how to avoid a problem “before the government steps in and makes it worse.”

“We are in a better position if it happens again,” Executive Director Steve Olson of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association said, recalling last year’s problems.

Besides being the coldest winter in nearly 30 years, crops harvested last fall were wetter than normal, requiring more propane to fuel grain dryers. There also were difficulties getting propane to Minnesota.

Rothman suggested that people who think they may not be able to afford propane this year should fill out heating assistance applications right away so money can be sent as soon as the federal government makes it available. Information is available at (800) 657-3710.

Dayton said that his administration is urging federal officials to release the money soon.

In addition to heating rural homes and drying grain, propane is used by a variety of businesses and poultry producers and other farmers to heat facilities.

Earlier this year, the Propane Education and Research Council reported that the country had more propane than ever, but it was not where it was needed.

“We’ve never had it in the right place at the right time,” Paap said.

Updated: Special session not expected for flood disaster

By Don Davis

Minnesota leaders say they can avoid a pricey special legislative session and still provide local governments money as they recover from early-summer floods.

A new $3 million state disaster fund may be enough to reimburse local governments until legislators return to work Jan. 6, but Gov. Mark Dayton said his administration will continue to monitor the situation and could convene the Legislature if government leaders say they are running short of money.

A memorandum sent Tuesday from the state finance commissioner and emergency management director laid out the situation.

The total state and local government damage from floods across the state is pegged at $40.8 million for local government facilities, with the federal government due to pay 75 percent. That leaves $10.2 million for the state to pay, and the $3 million disaster fund should be enough to get by for now, Commissioner Jim Schowalter and Director Kris Eide said.

In an interview, Schowalter said local governments are not losing out on money by waiting until next year. However, he added, the Legislature may need to act soon after it convenes in order to keep money flowing.

If a special session is called before Nov. 4, it would come during a busy campaign season for Dayton and most House members.

“We will continue to monitor this situation and stay in touch with the administration, local officials and legislators in both parties to ensure communities affected by summer storms are receiving the aid they need before the 2015 session begins,” House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said. “And next session, we will give full consideration to remaining requests.”

Federal transportation officials already have sent millions of dollars to the state for road repairs. Dayton said that if that money runs out, “I would talk with (legislative) leaders about a special session.”

The Obama administration ruled that 37 of the state’s 87 counties and three tribal governments sustained enough damage to receive federal aid. The administration denied help to Morrison and Dakota counties.

To qualify for federal help, a county needed to show it incurred at least $3.50 per resident in damages.

Federal funds are only for governments to recover costs for flood fighting; they do not help private citizens and businesses that were damaged in flooding that began June 11 and in some cases extended into July.

Federal officials decided that damage in Morrison County did not occur during the disaster period. County officials say damage was $206,000 and under a new law the state would pay $155,600 of it if federal officials do not provide money.

Dakota County, meanwhile, sustained $1.7 million in public infrastructure cost, which federal authorities said they would not pay. The state and county are appealing that decision. If the federal government does pay, the state’s Dakota County cost would be $427,000; if federal officials continue to reject the request, the state portion would be $1.28 million.

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Counties receiving federal funds are Beltrami, Blue Earth, Brown, Carver, Chippewa, Dodge, Faribault, Freeborn, Hennepin, Jackson, Koochiching, Lac Qui Parle, Lake of the Woods, Le Sueur, Lyon, Marshall, Martin, McLeod, Murray, Nicollet, Nobles, Pipestone, Redwood, Ramsey, Renville, Rice, Rock, Roseau, Scott, Sibley, Steele, Todd, Wadena, Waseca, Watonwan, Wright and Yellow Medicine. Tribal governments getting the money are Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Prairie Island Indian Community and Red Lake Band of Chippewa.

Dayton, Johnson agree to debates

Dayton, Johnson

Minnesota’s two major candidates for governor will debate five times before the Nov. 4 election, including a Forum News Service event in Moorhead.

Campaigns for Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican challenger Jeff Johnson have been going back and forth about debates since shortly after Johnson won the Aug. 12 primary election. They reached agreement on the debates Friday.

Johnson originally sought more than a dozen debates, but Dayton said he would participate in six, after being in about 30 when he ran for governor four years ago. The campaigns could only agree on five 2014 debates.

Three of the debates will be in greater Minnesota, with two in the Twin Cities.

The Johnson campaign was upset that Dayton would not take part in two debates sponsored by Twin Cities television stations.

“Mark Dayton turned these two televised debates down because he and his handlers are afraid of what Minnesotans will quickly realize when they see Dayton and Jeff sitting next to each other debating the issues on live television: That Jeff Johnson will be a far better governor,” Johnson adviser Gregg Peppin said.

Dayton has said that he does not see a need for more than six debates. Presidential candidates take part in only half that many, he said.

The Forum News Service event is scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 8 in Minnesota State University Moorhead’s Hansen Theatre.

“With readers throughout Minnesota, Forum News Service is uniquely positioned to host a debate of this caliber,” news service Director Mary Jo Hotzler said. “It’s a great opportunity for our communities to hear directly from the candidates and to interact with them, and for our media organizations to do the same.”

Forum News Service covers state and regional news for media throughout the Upper Midwest. It is part of Forum Communications Co., based in Fargo, N.D., which owns about three dozen newspapers as well as broadcast stations and printing operations.

The news service’s event will be a 90-minute debate, with news service political and government reporter Don Davis moderating and WDAY television anchor Dana Mogck hosting and asking questions provided by audience members. Questions also will be accepted before Oct. 8 by emailing debate@forumcomm.com.

The news service will offer an invitation to appear in the debate to any candidate who obtains at least 10 percent support in an independent and established poll a week before the debate.

WDAY in Fargo, N.D., and WDAZ in Grand Forks, N.D., will televise it, and it will be streamed live on Forum Communications websites. The debate will focus on greater Minnesota issues, but other major topics also may be discussed.

Besides agreeing to debates Friday, the campaigns learned that the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Leadership Fund endorsed Johnson.

“We believe Jeff Johnson is the candidate who best represents the Minnesota Chamber’s pro-business, pro-jobs agenda,” said Bill Blazar, interim president of the Minnesota Chamber. “His commitment to making sure we have a competitive state economy will mean better opportunities and a better quality of life for all Minnesotans.”

Blazar was critical of Dayton for raising taxes on the richest Minnesotans and enacting more regulations.

The governor debate series will open Oct. 1 in Rochester with a 3:30 p.m. event sponsored by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, Post Bulletin of Rochester and the local chamber of commerce.

The Duluth News Tribune and the area’s chamber will sponsor an 8 a.m. Oct. 14 debate, with Fox 9 holding a 9 a.m. one on Oct. 19 in St. Paul. Twin Cities Public Television will air a 7 p.m. debate on Oct. 31.

Forum News Service and other groups also invited the two major U.S. Senate candidates to a debate, but Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken rejected most. Instead, he proposed three debates: Oct. 14 in a debate sponsored by the Duluth News Tribune and chamber, a date not yet set on WCCO television in Minneapolis and Nov. 2 on Minnesota Public Radio.

A spokesman for Republican Senate challenger Mike McFadden said his campaign is not confirming any of the events until Franken’s staff talks about more debates.