Lawmakers prepare for short, focused special session

Minnesota legislators head back to St. Paul Monday to approve spending disaster-relief funds in what is supposed a neat, clean afternoon affair where lawmakers hear the proposal, vote for it and go home.

At least that is what Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he and legislative leaders want and expect. Some legislators promise to bring up other bills, but they may have little chance since any item other than disaster funds would need massive support even to be debated.

Pawlenty on Thursday said he would call a special session to begin at 1 p.m. Monday. He wants it to last less than a day, but once lawmakers return to session, he has no control over when they leave. He could, however, veto any bills they pass.

Legislators will consider a nearly $80 million disaster bill, with most going to flood relief and $6.6 million to tornado aid in the Wadena area.

Lawmakers plan to begin committee hearings on the disaster spending at 8 a.m. Monday.

Pawlenty’s special session call followed by hours President Barack Obama declaring 21 southern Minnesota counties a federal disaster area after rains of up to 10 inches fell late last month, causing extensive flooding. Obama’s declaration means that debris removal and public facility repair will be funded with 75 percent federal funds.

“We thank the federal government for providing assistance that will help Minnesota communities in their rebuilding efforts, and we look forward to their decision on help for individuals who were affected by flooding last month,” Pawlenty said. “While we’re hopeful that the decision on individual assistance will be made soon, the state will not delay in its response.”

Pawlenty on Thursday sent the Small Business Administration a letter asking that it make low-interest loans available to individuals, businesses and non-profit groups that sustained flood damages. Other federal aid to individuals probably will not be available, he said, because “it is largely formula driven” and the formula did not show there was enough need.

There is a flap about whether two Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers should bring up a bill Monday to make it tougher for school kids to bully others. That did not go over well with those in flooded areas.

“I am extremely disappointed that House and Senate Democrats are trying to satisfy their insatiable appetite to create more government mandates during a special session,” said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Wabasha, whose district includes three communities hit hard by September flooding. “Flood relief is desperately needed in southern Minnesota.”

Pawlenty said existing laws make bullying illegal and if lawmakers want changes, they could bring them up in the regular session in January. Pawlenty said he thinks the session will be limited to disaster relief and he hopes to sign the appropriations bill into law Monday evening.

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, both DFL-Minneapolis, released a statement saying they doubted anything other than disaster relief would pass: “Although there are many important issues that confront our state, we would anticipate that unless an issue has very broad bipartisan support in both the Senate and House, it is unlikely it would be considered on Monday. We anticipate the flood and tornado disaster relief will have such broad support it will be passed on Monday.”

The governor, a probable 2012 presidential candidate, said he wanted to hold the session today, but legislative leaders did not agree. He also said he was open to one on Saturday, and again was rejected by lawmakers. Pawlenty plans to campaign in New Hampshire Saturday, but told reporters he will be in Minnesota whenever needed.

The special session will deal with the state costs for the flood and the state portion of $35 million in damage from a series of June 17 tornadoes.

Wadena was included in the state disaster bill after Pawlenty originally said community leaders told him they could wait until the regular legislative session in January for aid. But, he added, as long the Legislature was considering disaster assistance, it made sense to include Wadena’s needs now.

“All their facilities will be rebuilt,” Pawlenty said of Wadena, which lost a community center that included an ice rink, the high school, an outdoor pool and other public facilities.

Most state disaster money bound for flooded area

Minnesota legislators will consider spending nearly $80 million on flood and tornado relief when they gather Monday in a special session.

The state flood aid would be funded by $32.5 million in cash, $26 million in borrowed money, $10 million from a transportation fund and $5 million from a highway fund. Blue Earth, Cottonwood, Dodge, Faribault, Freeborn, Goodhue, Jackson, Lincoln, Lyon, Martin, Mower, Murray, Olmsted, Pipestone, Rice, Rock, Steele, Wabasha, Waseca, Watonwan and Winona counties are eligible for federal flood aid.

Blue Earth, Brown, Houston, Kittson, Nicollet, Sibley, Faribault, Freeborn, Olmsted, Otter Tail, Polk, Steele and Wadena counties are eligible for $6.6 million tornado aid. Of that, $5.2 million would be in cash and the rest in money the state borrows.

Policymakers say numbers, which have changed several times in recent days, still could be tweaked before the session.

Besides recovery aid, the bill to be considered Monday provides funds to help local governments keep local aid intact and delays property tax deadlines for some businesses and farmers affected by floods.

Provisions in the disaster bill include:

– $15 million for damaged state and local roads and bridges.

– $14 million to reduce future flooding by cleaning up public waterways, repairing river gauges and the repair or relocation of the Oronoco dam.

– $12 million to cover items federal spending does not.

– $10 million in grants to local organizations, including businesses.

– $10 million to acquire easements on marginal lands in the disaster area to protect soil and water quality and to support fish and wildlife habitat.

– $4 million in loans for homeowners unable to repair or rebuild their homes due to flood damage expenses that exceed private insurance and federal assistance.

– $4 million for farmers affected by floods.

– $3 million to help communities with erosion and sediment control.

– $523,000 for school districts that lost funding or incurred increased transportation costs due to disasters.

– $500,000 for low-interest loans and grants to finance infrastructure that might otherwise be unaffordable to communities.

– $250,000 for clean-up of historical buildings.

– $5.2 million for the non-federal cost share for eligible expenses from the June tornadoes.

– $750,000 to update Wadena’s existing pre-design and design plans for public facilities.

– $693,000 for school districts with uninsured losses to buildings and equipment in the tornadoes.

Matthew Johnson to lead Appeals Court

Johnson

A three-year veteran of the Minnesota Appeals Court will be its new leader.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Thursday appointed South Dakota native Matthew Johnson as chief judge. He will replace Edward Toussaint, who has been chief appeals judge 15 of the 27 years the court has existed. The appointment is for a three-year term.

Pawlenty appointed Johnson to the court three years ago.

Johnson, 47, was raised in Sioux Falls, S.D., and worked as a law clerk in Iowa, but most of his adult life has been in Minnesota. He worked for a Minneapolis law firm before joining the Appeals Court.

The 19-judge Appeals Court handles cases appealed from most state courts.

Candidate notebook: Horner plans for late voter changes

Answering a question

Tom Horner has his election victory formula figured out: Many people have not made up their minds about the three major governor candidates and the support of his two main opponents, Republican Tom Emmer and Democrat Mark Dayton, is so soft that voters will move to him late in the campaign.

That only can happen, he added, because Emmer and Dayton are far to the political right and left.

In most Minnesota governor races, candidates tend to take politically moderate stands, but Horner said that is not the case this year, opening the door for the moderate ground he stakes out. If all three major candidates look like moderates, he added, voters may find no reason to vote for an Independence Party candidate.

Horner sees Emmer, in particular, falling late in the campaign. “Rep. Emmer simply is not a candidate who is going to take a lot of independent and Democratic support.”

His theory is that once Emmer support dwindles, Democrats soft on Dayton will realize they no longer need to worry about the GOP candidate and will consider Horner as a legitimate alternative.

“I’m pretty well positioned,” he said, “and the environment is shaping up pretty well.”

In a way, Horner added, this year’s governor race is like the 2000 U.S. Senate race in which Dayton beat incumbent Rod Grams, thanks to a late coalescing of support behind Dayton.

No support?

Horner disputes political observers’ opinions that he will struggle to pass bills with no Independence Party support in the Legislature.

“I think that is the only way we will get things done,” Horner said.

Democrats and Republicans are so divided that they cannot work together, he said.

To make up for lack of party support, Horner said that he will go over the heads of lawmakers and talk to the public. Once he has the public on his side, Horner said, legislators will follow.

Family helps

Kevin Horner, 24, works full time on his father’s campaign.

Often, he staffs the candidate’s trips.

His daughter worked for the campaign in the summer, before returning to college. And his oldest son also has lent a hand.

Horner’s wife, Libby, is campaign chairwomen.

Debates, debates

With more than 30 debates possible before the Nov. 2 election, it is a good thing that Horner “enjoys the give and take.”

Dayton and Emmer have been very critical of Horner since early on in the campaign, proving they fear his vote-attracting ability. “They don’t know quite how to place me.”

“More times than not, I think I am the one who sets the tone,” he said.

Lots of choices

Not being a member of one of the two big parties, Horner said, he has more options when it comes time to pick a Cabinet and other advisors.

“I get to pick from 5 million people,” he said.

The last governor not a Republican or Democrat, Jesse Ventura, was praised widely for picking the best Cabinet in memory.

Still a reporter?

Horner recently sat in on a briefing led by Wayne Brandt, who represents the state’s forest and timber industries.

It sounded a lot like a reporter interviewing a news source as Horner scribbled notes.

Not surprising. He was a reporter, then an editor, for a half-dozen years after college.

Such briefings help, Horner said. “It makes me more attuned to the issues.”

Politics different

Horner has watched politics for years and has an opinion about what has changed:

“It has become much more adversarial, much more focused on finding that ‘gotcha’ moment.”

Taking notes like reporter

Pawlenty schedules flood, tornado special session for Monday

Minnesota legislators will meet Monday to appropriate money to help flood and tornado victims.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced early today that he will call the special legislative session, which he wants to last no more than one day, to begin at 1 p.m. Monday. His announcement follows a late Wednesday Washington action in which President Barack Obama declared 21 southern Minnesota counties a federal disaster area.

Obama’s declaration means that debris removal and public facility repair will be funded with 75 percent federal funds. But there was no announcement about whether individuals would be eligible for federal relief.

“We thank the federal government for providing assistance that will help Minnesota communities in their rebuilding efforts, and we look forward to their decision on help for individuals who were affected by flooding last month,” Pawlenty said. “While we’re hopeful that the decision on individual assistance will be made soon, the state will not delay in its response.”

Pawlenty said it still is possible federal funds will be available for homeowners and renters affected by last month’s floods.

A preliminary damage estimate was set at $64.1 million, but the governor’s office said that is expected to rise as more damage reports come in.

The special session will deal with the state costs for the flood and the $35 million in damage from a series of July 17 tornadoes.

The state aid would be funded by $32.5 million in cash, $26.7 million in borrowed money, $10 million from a transportation fund and $5 million from a highway fund, the governor’s office said this morning. That falls slightly below the $80 million that lawmakers said would be in the bill.

While most of the state money would go to help flood victims, Sen. Dan Skogen, DFL-Hewitt, said $6.6 million would help the Wadena area recover from the June tornado.

Southern Minnesotans have waited for word that they will receive federal aid for floods that were especially serious in the southeast.

“Our local officials, first responders, citizens and volunteers have done tremendous work responding to these devastating floods,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn, said. “I have seen first-hand the widespread damage that these southern Minnesota communities have endured and with this assistance, these communities can begin working to rebuild. This is a good beginning, and I will continue to work with state and federal officials for additional assistance.”

Graig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Blue Earth, Cottonwood, Dodge, Faribault, Freeborn, Goodhue, Jackson, Lincoln, Lyon, Martin, Mower, Murray, Olmsted, Pipestone, Rice, Rock, Steele, Wabasha, Waseca, Watonwan and Winona counties are eligible for federal aid.

Money also will be available for preventing future floods statewide, Fugate said.

Lawrence Sommers, who will coordinate Minnesota flood recovery, said more counties could be added to the disaster area.

Public facilities such as roads and buildings damaged by floods will be repaired or replaced by 75 percent federal funding, with the state providing the remaining 25 percent.

Staffs from the governor’s office and top legislators negotiated a bill to be considered by lawmakers, and Pawlenty and legislative leaders agreed to the basics this week.

The governor insists that that bill is the only one to be considered by the special session, although some legislators are proposing other items. One being promoted is a bill to fight bullying in school.

Wadena was included in the bill after policymakers originally said they only wanted flood relief discussed.

“When the governor announced that a special session would be held to aid the September flood victims, I requested that disaster relief also be provided to Wadena,” Sen. Dan Skogen, DFL-Hewitt, said. “Our region was devastated by the tornado, losing homes, businesses, community facilities and our high school. I’m very pleased that legislative leaders and the governor agreed to help us recover.”

Wadena money would include $5.2 million to match federal disaster relief. Another $693,000 would be given to the school district to help with additional transportation costs caused by the tornado.

Also, $750,000 would be appropriated to plan for a new community center to replace facilities the tornado destroyed. It would be near or connected to a new high school.

Skogen initially sought $20.5 million for the community center.

The governor’s office reports that provisions in the bill to be considered Monday include:

– $15 million for damaged state and local roads and bridges.

– $14 million to reduce future flooding by cleaning up public waterways, repairing river gauges and the repair or relocation of the Oronoco dam.

– $12 million to cover items federal spending does not.

– $10 million for the Minnesota Investment Fund for grants to local organizatioins, including businesses.

– $10 million to acquire easements from landowners on marginal lands in the disaster area to protect soil and water quality and to support fish and wildlife habitat.

– $4 million loans for homeowners unable to repair or rebuild their homes due to flood damage expenses that exceed private insurance and federal assistance.

– $4 million for farmers affected by floods.

– $3 million to help communities with erosion and sediment control.

– $523,000 for school districts that lost per-pupil funding or incurred increased transportation costs.

– $500,000 for low-interest loans and grants to finance infrastructure that might otherwise be unaffordable to communities.

– $250,000 for clean-up of historical buildings.

– $5.2 million for the non-federal cost share for eligible expenses from the June tornadoes in Blue Earth, Brown, Houston, Kittson, Nicollet, Sibley, Faribault, Freeborn, Olmsted, Otter Tail, Polk, Steele and Wadena counties.

– $750,000 to update Wadena’s existing pre-design and design plans for public facilities.

– $693,000 for school districts with uninsured losses to buildings and equipment in the tornadoes.

Governor’s race a recent Horner development

Debating education

Tom Horner is not one of those candidates who always dreamed about being governor.

In fact, he gave the prospect little or no thought until 14 months ago. That was when he was at a social gathering, common for the then-public relations executive, and came upon Independence Party Chairman Jack Uldrich.

In that August 2009 chance meeting, Horner made small talk by asking Uldrich how the party’s search was going for a 2010 governor candidate. The chairman said it was not going so well, and asked if Horner would be interested.

A few weeks later, the two met and Horner’s long-shot campaign for governor began.

With one exception, Jesse Ventura, even big-name third-party candidates can’t crack the two-party system in Minnesota governor’s races. Just ask Tim Penny, a popular former congressmen who finished third in 2002.

But don’t tell Horner he cannot win. He said 2010 is the perfect time for a middle-of-the-road candidate, as he portrays himself. That is, he says, because Republican Tom Emmer is too far right politically and Democrat Mark Dayton is way left, leaving him the logical candidate for a majority of Minnesotans who consider themselves in the political middle.

Even if Horner is correct, however, no third-party movement has the manpower or money the two big parties can throw into campaigns.

To beat Dayton and Emmer, Horner has spent almost his every waking hour in recent months trying to do the difficult or, to many, the impossible.

Horner has done better than many observers expected, but still needs late-campaign movement by voters accustomed to voting for Democrats or Republicans, or not voting at all.

The Independence man who would be governor was raised in Minneapolis and lives in Edina, graduated from St. Thomas University and was long-time public relations executive, who gave up his business to run for governor.

Horner worked for candidate and then U.S. Sen. David Durenberger, rising to chief of staff before heading back to Minnesota and a public relations career. Right out of college, Horner was a reporter, then editor, at a suburban Twin Cities newspaper group.

For years, Horner has worked behind the scenes for Republican campaigns and delivered the GOP side of the story on Minnesota Public Radio and other media venues.

This is his first run for office, which features a four-year term, but Horner said he is well versed in politics.

“I knew exactly what I was getting into,” he said during a day in Duluth and Hermantown.

The Horner campaign does not feel like other major party-efforts. While Emmer and Dayton have the advantage of being able to call on thousands of party faithful to host events, plant signs or just turn out at rallies, the Independence Party has no such broad infrastructure.

Long-time Republican Kelly Herstad drove Horner around while he was in Duluth, after single-handedly setting up a series of events in the area. But while his two rivals could expect rallies of dozen people — or much bigger — on a moment’s notice, Horner made do with small gatherings, such as meeting with three men about forestry and lumber issues in a downtown Duluth office, talking to a small private breakfast group and hitting a variety of media outlets.

While he has aired television commercials, produced signs and handed out buttons, Horner faces a budget smaller than his two main rivals. He said he relies more on word of mouth to tell voters about him.

In one way, Horner picked one of the best years to run outside the two big parties.

“Typically, Minnesota candidates run to the middle,” said Horner, running for an office that pays $120,303 annually.

But Dayton and Emmer show little indication of moderating their political views.

Horner is parading out a line of Democrats and Republicans who like his middle-of-the-road approach. He also is producing supporters from a variety of background, from rural experts to leaders of the state’s largest cities.

Former North Dakota Gov. Allen Olson, a Minnesotan since 1986, said he thinks Horner would do well for rural Minnesota. Olson said he can say that, coming from “one of the most rural sates in the country.”

One of Minnesota’s best-known rural advocates, Jack Geller of the University of Minnesota Crookston, made Horner the first candidate he ever has endorsed. Since Democrats and Republicans got Minnesota into a fiscal problem, they may not be the best ones to get the state out of its mess, the former Grand Forks, N.D., City Council member said.

On the other side of the political coin, Horner gained backing from people like strong Democratic-Farmer-Laborite Joan Niemiec, who served on the Minneapolis City Council for a decade.

“It takes someone with intelligence, courage and the ability to work with people all along the political spectrum to lead in this difficult time we face now,” Niemiec said.

 

Tom Horner

Independence Party

Age: 60

Home: Edina.

Political experience: No elective experience. Press secretary and chief of staff for U.S. Sen. David Durenberger.

Other background: 20 years in public relations.

Education: Benilde St. Margaret’s High School. St. Thomas University.

Family: Wife, Libby. Three children.

Announcing endorsements

 

Heading to a plane

 

Sharing a laugh

 

Pausing by Moorhead sign

 

Talking to Hermantown Rotary

Making an announcement

 

Making a point