Political Notebook: Politicians Learn How To Deal With Humor (joke, Joke, Joke)

By Don Davis

Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura was the king of deadpanning, a trait that got him in trouble more than once.

He often would deliver lines, giving no indication he was joking. After some comments were taken wrong, he learned to end non-serious comments with his deep-throated: “Joke, joke, joke.”

In this world of social media, current Gov. Mark Dayton may have learned about the need to make sure jokes are taken the right way.

Writing on Facebook, Dayton said he was improving from last month’s back surgery, and planned to deliver his Tuesday budget proposal as planned. “If not, I’ll invoke the obscure clause in the Minnesota Constitution, which allows me a one-time, two-month extension.”

There was no indication on his Facebook page that anyone caught his joke. An example of the responses: “Wishing you a speedy recovery, but take time to get back. Everyone knows that you work harder than just about anyone when you’re on the job.”

About an hour later, Dayton posted a second comment, saying the first one was an attempt at humor.

Dayton’s predecessor, Tim Pawlenty, was well known for joking when he was House majority leader, but his levity drained away in the governor’s office, especially as he eyed a vice presidential or presidential bid.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken is the Minnesota politician most associated with humor, going into politics with “Saturday Night Live” and other comedy stints on his resume.

Franken went out of his way to downplay comedy during his initial campaign and in his first years in office. But some of his comedic spark has returned.

Then there is U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. She comes from a lawyer background and was not known as a funny woman. Now, however, she is well known as one of the funniest U.S. senators.

Klobuchar, just elected to a second term, often is asked to speak around the country and she usually sprinkles in jokes. Her crowning comedic achievement, so far, may be her invitation to be the Democratic speaker at this spring’s Gridiron Club dinner, an event for Washington’s media and political elite that features a mixture of tough humor and skits.

Budget the biggie

Minnesota’s political establishment has but one thing in mind next week: See what Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget plan looks like on Tuesday.

When House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, was asked Friday what else was happening, he said the budget release pretty much is it. “The governor’s budget, I think, is going to dominate things.”

Dayton, who has not worked in the Capitol since back surgery late last month, plans to release his proposal Tuesday morning. His office says it will include not only how to spend money, but will unveil his complete tax reform package.

It will not include proposals for funding public works projects, which probably will come no earlier than March.

Once the budget lands in legislators’ laps, committees will begin digging in. However, Thissen said, no budget decisions are expected until after a Feb. 28 report provides an update on how the economy and other factors are affecting state revenue and spending.

“This is going to be a starting point,” Thissen said about Tuesday.

The Minnesota Business Partnership says Minnesota needs to be careful.

“Current revenue and spending trends are unsustainable,” said Doug Baker, Ecolab chairman and chairman of the partnership’s Fiscal Policy committee. “Unless we honestly address the factors that are driving state budget growth, we won’t be able to make smart investments that Minnesota needs to grow jobs and improve our competitive advantage. Tax increases offer only temporary relief because the major government spending areas grow faster than Minnesota’s economy.”

Dayton is expected to suggest increasing taxes on the rich as a key part of his tax plan.

DNR cracks down

Stories about the Department of Natural Resources getting tough generally are about Minnesotans violating a law or rule, but this time DNR officials say they are cracking down on one of their own.

A former employee, who the DNR did not identify, is accused of accessing 5,000 Minnesota driver’s licenses without authorization. No criminal charges have been filed.

The DNR has permission to get information from licenses in some instances, but the department reports the person accused had no reason to look at the licenses.

Upon the DNR’s request, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension conducted an investigation into the access of data maintained by Department of Public Safety Driver and Vehicle Services.

The DNR mailed letters to about 5,000 people telling them that their information was viewed by someone not authorized. Several of the letters were sent to journalists.

There was no evidence the data was sold, the DNR reported.

“The DNR will not tolerate unauthorized access of private data.” DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said. “The agency is implementing additional employee training and looking into ways to monitor access to the data to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

A sunny report

The Minnesota Commerce Department says solar electric power installations nearly tripled in capacity last year.

“Solar is gaining a bigger role in Minnesota’s clean energy economy,” Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said.

One of the biggest reasons for the increase was a single installation, at the Ikea store in Bloomington. Commerce reports 299 solar installations were active in the state.

High deer count

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources personnel will take to the air through March to count whitetail deer in northwestern, central and southeastern Minnesota.

“Good wildlife management decisions are based on good science,” said Lou Cornicelli, the DNR’s wildlife research manager. “These survey flights collect some of baseline data we need to make those decisions.”

DNR pilots will fly helicopters at about 200 feet during the day.

Elk surveys using both an airplane and helicopter are planned for the Kittson County and Grygla elk ranges in northwestern Minnesota.