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About Don Davis

Forum News Service Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers that serve the state.

Election notebook: GOP to remove photo of abuse victim

By Don Davis

The Minnesota Republican Party on Thursday agreed to remove a photograph of a young abuse victim from a television commercial accusing Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton of making it easier to mistreat children.

“The ad is currently being revised and an edited version will begin airing as soon as possible,” the party said in a statement when a controversy arose over the commercial featuring the case of 4-year-old Eric Dean, whose stepmother is serving time after being convicted in his death.

The GOP decision came after the boy’s grandmother, Yvonne Dean of Starbuck, asked Republican Chairman Keith Downey to remove references to the boy’s case from the ad.

The Pope County boy died in 2013 after several reports about abuse.

The Republican television spot showed a story and photo of the boy from the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune. The ad said about the governor that it is “downright horrifying that he signed a law making it more difficult to investigate maltreatment cases. … It is time to stop the incompetence. Stop Mark Dayton.”

After aides said Dayton would talk about the Dean case and other issues at a midday Thursday event, he avoided the media by leaving the back way. He earlier had said that supporters of the law did not think it would make abuse cases more difficult to investigate.

The Democratic governor’s opponent, Republican Jeff Johnson, supported Downey’s decision to remake the commercial.

“My heart goes out to Eric’s family as they grieve his loss,” Johnson said. “This little boy’s picture should never have been used in an ad.”

The GOP statement said information in the ad was true, but after talking to the grandmother, “Downey apologized for not contacting her before the ad was produced. We will honor her request and will redact the Star Tribune’s picture of Eric Dean from their article as it appears in the ad.”

Anti-DFL ads begin

The Republican-leaning Minnesota Jobs Coalition is running cable television commercials against Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party incumbents in eight state House districts.

In those against rural legislators, the ads say the targeted incumbents “voted with big city liberals to bring Obamacare to Minnesota.” Many commercials indicate the Democrats voted for “a new $90 million luxury office building” for senators.

The coalition is working to elect a Republican House majority after Democrats have controlled the House, Senate and governor’s office the past two years.

“One-party DFL control of state government has been a disaster for Minnesota families and businesses,” said Ben Golnik, chairman of the Minnesota Jobs Coalition Legislative Fund.

Democrats targeted in the ads are Reps. Roger Erickson of Baudette, John Ward of Baxter, Jay McNamar of Elbow Lake, Andrew Falk of Murdock, Melissa Hortman of Brooklyn Park, Barb Yarusso of Shoreview, Jason Isaacson of Shoreview and Will Morgan of Burnsville.

Independence ad coming

The big political parties and outside groups are spending millions of dollars on hard-hitting, often negative, televisions commercials.

The Independence Party’s attorney general candidate, Brandan Borgos, on Thursday said he was thrilled with a low-budget spot to be on the Internet next week, a commercial featuring dancers and “a positive message.”

Borgos said he expects to spend $20,000 on the Internet-only ad, and hopes it will go viral to boost his candidacy.

Michelle Obama Minneapolis remarks

Here is what first lady Michelle Obama told more than 2,000 Minnesotans at a Minneapolis high school Tuesday, as provided by the White House:

MRS. OBAMA:  Wow, this is a great crowd!  Are you all fired up?  (Applause.)  Let me just say I am very honored to be –

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  I love you, Michelle!

MRS. OBAMA:  I love you all.  I love you guys.  (Applause.)  But I’ve heard some incredible things about this school, Patrick Henry.  (Applause.)  And let me just say to the principal, to the teachers, the administrators, the students, the parents — congratulations on taking care of our next generation.  Thank you all so much.  Congratulations.  (Applause.)

But I am thrilled to join you all today to support your outstanding Senator and Governor, our friends Al Franken and Mark Dayton.  (Applause.)  Now, I’m here because, as you all know, no one is working harder and no one is doing more to help families here in Minnesota than Al Franken and Mark Dayton.  (Applause.)

From day one in the Senate, Al has made it clear that he has no patience for Washington gridlock or partisanship.  And time and again, he has reached across party lines to get things done for folks here in Minnesota.  (Applause.)

Because of Al, insurance companies now have to spend at least 80 percent of your premiums on your health care.  (Applause.)  And if they don’t do that, you get a rebate.  Because of Al, we have a farm bill that will help create jobs and boost rural communities across this state.  (Applause.)  And during his time in the Senate, Al has worked tirelessly to hold Wall Street accountable and crack down on unsafe drug manufacturers, make sure kids get the mental health care they need in our schools.  He’s done so much — and he’s funny.  You don’t get the two together a lot.  (Laughter.)

Now, as for your Governor, I think we can all agree that his record as Governor speaks for itself.  (Applause.)  During his time in office, Mark turned a $6 billion deficit into a $1.2 billion surplus.  (Applause.)  He helped create more than 170,000 jobs here in Minnesota.  He also cut middle-class taxes.  He raised the minimum wage.  He established universal, all-day kindergarten.  (Applause.)  This Governor has made historic investments in your schools, and he provided the largest college financial aid increase in a generation.  (Applause.)

Mark did all of this in just one term in office.  So just imagine, just dream about all that he’s going to do with a second term, another four years.

So, Minnesota, if you all want a Senator and a Governor who will build good schools for our kids, create good jobs for families, and keep Minnesota on the path to prosperity for decades to come, then you need to reelect Al Franken and Mark Dayton.  You’ve got to get it done, Minnesota.  (Applause.)  That’s why we’re here.  You’ve got to do it.

And I know we can do this.  But before I dive way in, I also want to recognize some other outstanding Minnesota leaders we have here today.  We have Representative Keith Ellison, who’s here — I see him.  (Applause.)  We’ve got the next Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota, Tina Smith.  (Applause.)  We have your Mayor, Betsy Hodges, who is here.  (Applause.)  They’re over there — there she is.  So I’m thrilled you all could be here today.

But most of all, I want to thank all of you.  Now, I know in this crowd that we have so many friends here.  We got folks who were with us from way back in the beginning, back when we were campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire, we were talking about hope and change, and getting fired up and ready to go.  (Applause.)  Many of you were there for that, and so many of you were there when Barack first took office and he got a good look at the mess he’d been handed, and wondered what on Earth he had gotten himself into.

Now, I’m going to take you back, because sometimes we forget how bad things were.  And I also know there are young people here who weren’t even born back then.

But back when Barack first took office, this country was in full-blown crisis mode.  Things were bad.  Our economy was literally on the brink of collapse.  Wall Street banks were folding — do you hear — folding.  We were losing 800,000 jobs every month.  Folks on the TV, all the talking heads — (laughter) — were worried about whether we were headed for another Great Depression — and that was a real possibility.  Things were bad.  And this is what Barack walked into on day one as President.  This is what he inherited.

Now, I want you to think about how things look today, less than six years later.  Because by almost every economic measure, we are better off today than when Barack Obama took office.  (Applause.)  And while, yes, I love my husband and I am proud of my husband, I’m going to give you some facts.  I’m not going to talk from emotion about why things are better, because I have facts.

Our businesses have created more than 10 million new jobs since 2010.  This is the longest uninterrupted run of private sector job growth in our nation’s history.  (Applause.)  The unemployment rate has dropped from a peak of 10 percent back in 2009 to 5.9 percent today.  (Applause.)

Barack cut taxes for tens of millions of working families across this country.  And last year, the number of children living in poverty decreased by 1.4 million.  This is the largest drop since 1966.  (Applause.)  Our high school graduation rate is at a record high.  More of our young people are graduating from college than ever before.  You all, keep that up.  Keep it up.  (Applause.)  And because of the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans finally got health insurance.  (Applause.)

I could go on and on, but think about how different our country looks to children growing up today.  Think about how our kids take for granted that a black person or a woman — or anyone — can be President of the United States of America.  (Applause.)  Our kids take for granted that their President will end hurtful policies like “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and speak out for equality for every American.  (Applause.)

So while we still have plenty of work to do, we are not done.  It ain’t fixed.  But we have truly made so much of that change we were talking about.

But what I want you all to remember is that all that didn’t happen because we elected Barack Obama.  It happened because we also elected outstanding leaders in states across this country — leaders like Al and Mark who stand up for our jobs, who stand up for our kids’ education; leaders who fight to raise the minimum wage, to get women equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)

So let’s be very clear:  If we want to finish what we all started together, then we need to reelect Al Franken as your Senator and Mark Dayton as your Governor.  We have to do this, Minnesota.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to do this.

And we know this won’t be easy.  We know that there is too much money in politics.  Special interests have way too much influence.  But remember, they had plenty of money and influence back in 2008 and 2012, and we still won those elections.  (Applause.)  You want to know why we won?  We won those elections because we showed up and we voted.  We showed up and we voted.

And at the end of the day, the folks running those special interest groups, the folks who poured millions of dollars into those elections — get this — they just have one vote, and so do all of us.  And ultimately, the only thing that counts are those votes.  That’s what decides elections in the United States of America, and that’s why Barack Obama is President right now.  (Applause.)  He is President because a whole bunch of folks who never voted before showed up to vote in 2008 and 2012.  (Applause.)

And people were shocked when Barack won.  They were shocked, because they were counting on folks like us to stay home.  But we proved them wrong.  Barack won because record numbers of women and minorities and young people showed up to vote.  (Applause.)  You all did this.  You did this.

But here’s where we still have work to do — because, see, when the midterms came along, too many of our people just tuned out.  And that’s what folks on the other side are counting on this year, because they know that when we stay home, they win.  So they’re assuming that we won’t care.  They’re hoping that we won’t be organized.  They’re praying we won’t be energized.  And only we can prove them wrong.

And make no mistake about it, this race, as Al mentioned, is going to be tight.  We know that races like this can be won or lost by just a few thousand, and, in Al’s case, a few hundred votes.

We all remember how close Al’s race was back in 2008.  He mentioned that — a few hundred votes.  And just think back to Mark’s race in 2010.  Mark won that race by about 8,800 votes.  Now, that is just two votes per precinct.  I mean, think about that.  If you break that number down across precincts, as Al pointed out, that’s two people.  Two people made the decision in every precinct.

And that’s the thing I want people to understand, because if there is anybody here — especially our young people — who think that voting doesn’t matter — two votes.  And we all know two people who didn’t vote.  We all know two people in our lives who don’t plan on voting this time around.  But I know that every single one of us knows those two people, and we can get them out to vote for Al and Mark in this election.  We can do that.

If you look around this room, this room alone can sway this election.  (Applause.)  So just picture that.  Own that reality.  There is no need to feel powerless when elections can be won or lost in an entire room.

So let’s be clear:  This is on us.  This is on us.  We cannot wait for anyone else to do this for us.  If we want to keep on making change here in Minnesota, then we need to take responsibility and work to make it happen.  (Applause.)

You see, this is the thing we know — that the real problem isn’t that people don’t care.  People care.  People care deeply about what’s happening in their communities.  People care deeply about injustice and equality, care deeply about giving kids opportunities that we never dreamed of ourselves.  People care.

But the fact is that folks are busy, and they’re juggling so much — the demands of their jobs, the needs of their families.  And sometimes people just aren’t informed about the issues at stake.  Sometimes they just don’t know how to make their voices heard on Election Day.

So we can’t assume that people don’t care.  It’s up to us to help educate them.  It’s up to us to make sure they know how to cast their votes in this election, and why it’s important.  It’s up to us to get out and to vote ourselves.  (Applause.)

Our first responsibility is us owning our own role in this, and that starts with voting early.  Vote early.  Vote now.  Vote early in person, through the mail, absentee ballot.  If you vote by mail, be sure to send your ballot in early so that it arrives by November 4th.

So don’t procrastinate.  Don’t leave here and go do something else.  Get this done.  Check this off your list.  And you can vote early in person at your county elections office from now until Election Day, November 4th.

And I really hope that you all get this done.  Because the thing is, if you vote early, that just gives you more time to get other people to vote.  (Applause.)  So get yourself — check yourself off the list.  That’s really one of the important messages that I have for you today.

If you all are here at all, yes, I’m happy you’re here to see me.  But you know what I need from you?  I need you to vote!  (Applause.)  I need you to vote early, and I need you to get everyone you know to vote with you.  Bring your two people.  And if you know two people, you know 10 people.  Bring your friends, your family, that knuckleheaded nephew sitting on the couch — shake him.  (Laughter.)  Bring the folks from your church, whatever it takes.  Don’t leave anyone behind.  This is important.

And I also want to emphasize, like Al did, we need you to sign up to volunteer.  We really do.  (Applause.)  It’s just two more weeks, and the calls and the knocking on the doors for Al and Mark, that’s going to make the difference.

Now, I’m going to repeat — I know Al went through the number, but I’m going to say it out of my lips, too.  You can text DFL to the number 97779.  All right, you all took your phones out.  You did that — you got that, right?  (Laughter.)  I’m not going to hammer that in.

But what we are all saying is that — don’t underestimate the importance of volunteering and using that number to connect to the campaign so that you can get involved and roll up your sleeves.  It’s just two weeks.

Or you can just find one of the organizers here today.  There are people here today — there they are.  (Applause.)  You can sign up to volunteer right now.  Don’t leave here without investing a couple of hours.  And, as Al said, it is good cardio.  (Laughter.)

So don’t wait another minute.  I want you to get started.  Because if — we just have two weeks.  And we need you all to be as passionate and as hungry for this election as you were back in 2008 and 2012.  In fact, we need you to be even more passionate and even more hungry, because these midterm races will be even harder and even closer than that presidential race — but they’re just as important.  They are just as important.

Because the stakes this year simply could not be higher.  Because if we don’t elect leaders like Al and Mark who will put our families first instead of fighting for special interests, then we know exactly what will happen.  We will see more folks interfering in women’s private decisions about our health care.  (Applause.)  We’ll see more opposition to immigration reform, to raising the minimum wage for hard-working folks.

So I want to be clear:  If you think people who work 40 or 50 hours a week shouldn’t have to live in poverty in the wealthiest nation on the planet; if you don’t want women’s bosses making decisions about our birth control; if you think women should get equal pay for equal work; if you want our kids to have quality preschool, to have the college education they need to fulfill every last bit of their boundless promise — then you need to step up.  Two more weeks — step up.  Get everyone you know to vote for Al and Mark.

That’s what’s at stake in these elections — the kind of country we want to leave for our kids and our grandkids.  Because let’s be real — this is all about them.  We need to stand up for our kids, because they’re counting on us.  And we all know these kids.  These are our kids.  (Applause.)  They’re in every community in this country, and I meet them all the time.

There’s a young man named Lawrence Lawson, who I met earlier this year, working with me on my education initiative.  Lawrence’s father died when he was eight years old.  Then at the age of nine, Lawrence suffered a major seizure, and this young man had to learn to read and walk and speak again.  Then at the age of 12, his mother passed away, and Lawrence was passed from his aunt in Atlanta to his sister in Baltimore.

But no matter where he was, Lawrence took care of his business.  Lawrence did his best in school.  He joined the marching band, interned at Johns Hopkins Hospital.  He graduated as the valedictorian of his high school class, this young man.  (Applause.)

And I can tell the story of millions of Lawrences, because as I travel across the country I meet them every day.  The kids who wake up early and take the long route to school to avoid the gangs — we know those kids.  Those are our kids.  (Applause.)  Kids who juggle afterschool jobs to support their families, stay up late to get their homework done — these are our kids.  We know them.  Kids who don’t speak a word of English, whose parents don’t speak a word of English, but they’re fighting every day to realize their dream of a better life.  (Applause.)

What we have to understand is these kids have every reason to give up, but they are so hungry to succeed — do you hear me?  They are desperate to lift themselves up.  (Applause.)  And that is why we’re here today.  We’re here because those kids never give up, and neither can we.  That’s what keeps me and Barack going every day.

So between now and November, we need to be energized for them.  We need to be hungry for them.  We need to be inspired for them.  And we need to pour everything we have into this election so that they can have the opportunities they need to build the futures they deserve.

And if we all do that — just look around at the power in this room.  If we all keep stepping up and bringing others along with us, then I know, I am confident that we can keep making that change we believe in.  I know we can reelect Al Franken as your Senator.  I know that we can reelect Mark Dayton as your Governor.  And together, we can build a future worthy of our kids.  (Applause.)

Thank you all.  God bless.  (Applause.)

Election notebook: Voters may track absentee ballots online

By Don Davis

Minnesotans taking advantage of the state’s new early voting can keep track of their ballots online.

A voter can visit mnvotes.org to see when a ballot was sent out, when it was received and if it was accepted. If a voter cannot find evidence a ballot was mailed, the local election office should be contacted, the secretary of state’s office suggests.

This is the first year Minnesotans may cast a ballot early without offering an excuse such as they will be out of town on election day.

“Both parties are pushing hard on the early voting,” state Republican Chairman Keith Downey said.

The issue was front and center at a Tuesday Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party rally with a sign on first lady Michelle Obama’s podium in a Minneapolis school. Obama has been encouraging college students, especially, to vote early.

Downey said that even though early voting totals are higher than past absentee ballot numbers, it is impossible to tell if they are additional voters or just voters who otherwise would go to the polls Nov. 4.

By Tuesday, 135,000 Minnesotans had requested early ballots, the secretary of state’s office reported. Of those, nearly 55,500 had been returned and accepted by election officials. In the presidential election year of 2012, nearly 71,000 ballots had been accepted by about the same date and 2010 had more than 23,000 accepted. Voters generally turn out in far larger numbers when the president is on the ballot.

Early ballots, still officially known as absentee ballots, must be returned to local election offices by Nov. 4.

Voters may request ballots via mnvotes.org or by contacting local election offices.

They also may vote early in person at local offices, which in most counties is the auditor’s office. Election offices will be open the Saturday before the election, Nov. 1, and until 5 p.m. the day before the election.

People not registered to vote may cast early ballots if they register at the same time.

Franken leads by 15

A KSTP-SurveyUSA poll shows Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken leading Republican challenger Mike McFadden 53 percent to 38 percent.

The rest of the voters were either undecided or support another candidate.

Two weeks ago, Franken held an 18-point lead in the same poll.

The survey showed Franken had support from 90 percent of his fellow Democrats, while 84 percent of Republicans backed first-time candidate McFadden.

First secretary ad

Democratic state Rep. Steve Simon on Tuesday launched the first television commercial in the secretary of state’s race.

Simon, running against Republican Dan Severson for the job being vacated by Mark Ritchie, promotes his sponsorship of bills that became laws to allow Minnesotans to vote early and to register to vote online.

“When I wrote the ‘no excuses’ absentee voting law, I wanted to remove barriers to eligible voters like the disabled, the sick or just plain busy folks, so they could cast their vote from their own kitchen table,” Simon said. “I also wrote the online voter registration to insure that all eligible voters, especially those serving overseas, would have their ballots counted.”

Minnesota sets up Ebola hotline

Minnesotans with questions about Ebola can call a newly established hotline.

The state Health Department on Tuesday established a hotline at (651) 201-3920 or (800) 657-3903.

“Minnesota’s best defense against Ebola is access to reliable information and resources,” Gov. Mark Dayton said. “This hotline will provide Minnesotans a reliable point of contact for any questions or concerns they have about this disease.”

The line will be staffed during regular business hours, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. A translation service for people who do not speak English is available.

Election notebook: Michelle Obama leads big names to Minnesota

Michelle Obama with kids at White House.

By Don Davis

Some of the country’s biggest Democratic names plan Minnesota visits this week to help their candidates with two weeks until election day.

While the party’s biggest name, President Barack Obama, is not scheduled to be here, his wife is. So is his former secretary of state, potential presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. And his vice president and other possible presidential hopeful, Joe Biden, plans to be in northeastern Minnesota.

Republicans have not announced any VIP visitors in the next-to-last full week of the 2014 campaign season, although New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a possible presidential candidate, campaigned for GOP candidates last week.

Also, former President Bill Clinton earlier this month attracted 2,700 to a Minneapolis rally. U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Jon Tester of Montana appeared with U.S. Sen. Al Franken during the weekend.

First lady Michelle Obama is to rally Democrats this afternoon at Patrick Henry High School in North Minneapolis. She is coming to campaign for Franken and Gov. Mark Dayton’s re-election campaigns. She is expected to speak after 3:30 p.m.

The get-out-the-vote rally is free, but tickets were needed for people to attend.

Biden will visit the Iron Range and Duluth Thursday. He also visited the area days before the 2012 election.

The vice president is to be in Hibbing to stump for Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who the latest poll shows trailing Republican challenger Stewart Mills.

Biden also will be in Duluth for an event on domestic violence issues on Thursday

Also Thursday, Hillary Clinton has added an afternoon rally to her previously planned fundraiser for Dayton.

Clinton, a former U.S. senator, will be featured at a rally planned for Macalester College’s Leonard Center Fieldhouse. Tickets are free and available at the DFL Website.

The Clinton fundraiser for Dayton will be early Thursday evening at the St. Paul RiverCentre, with tickets available for up to $2,500 each. Co-hosting the event with Clinton will be Franken and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

“We are excited to have Secretary Clinton back in Minnesota to support Sen. Franken, Gov. Dayton and the DFL ticket,” Chairman Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party said. “There’s a lot of work to do over the next two weeks and Minnesotans are energized to help get out of the vote, volunteer, knock on doors and talk to voters about what’s at stake this election.”

Ag coalition pushes issues

Members of a coalition of Minnesota-based farm and food organizations is touring Minnesota and informing voters in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 4 election about farming and food production issues.

The group, known as A Greater Minnesota, asks voters to support candidates that have signed a pledge that encourages support of farms of all sizes, “environmental stewardship, caring for farm animals, sensible food labeling and food safety.” Sixty-five candidates have signed on.

“Concerns regarding the safety and methods of how our food is produced have increased dramatically in recent years, which is ironic because the care, safety and protected environment of our farm animals has never been better,” said Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and Chicken and Egg Association of Minnesota. “Crops, today, are producing higher yields, nourishing more people, all while using less water, fuel and other chemicals.”

Executive Director David Preisler of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association said farm groups are under pressure “from extreme activists and the views of the majority are not being heard. Our state government needs to be a stronger partner and supporter of Minnesota farmers and ag-related companies if we want to protect and grow this industry.”

Dayton up by 10

A just-released poll shows Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton with a 10-point lead over Republican challenger Jeff Johnson.

The KSTP-SurveyUSA poll reported that half of the likely voters surveyed said they would vote for Dayton, with 40 percent backing Johnson. The rest support another candidate or have not decided.

The poll also shows Republican challenger Stewart Mills leads Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan 47 percent to 39 percent in their northeast and east-central Minnesota district.

Nolan beat Republican Chip Cravaack two years ago, which was just two years after Cravaack upset long-time U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar.

The 8th Congressional District used to be dependably Democratic, but changes such as the district being extended south into GOP territory has made it more of a swing district.

Different strokes for different governor candidates

Mark Dayton and Jeff Johnson see the world differently.

Very differently.

Democratic Gov. Dayton wants the minimum wage to rise as planned because “I believe in the old-fashioned notion that work should pay” for the necessities of life.

His Republican challenger, Johnson, prefers to focus on what he calls “the maximum wage” to improve all Minnesotans’ pay.

Dayton says more money is needed to improve transportation, which officials say needs a $12 billion injection to keep roads and bridges in good shape.

Johnson, on the other hand, feels roads and bridges should take priority in state spending, replacing other programs that could be cut or eliminated.

Dayton would allow the proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline to continue to work its way through the process at the state Public Utilities Commission.

Johnson claims that Dayton appointees to the board are holding up pipeline approval on behalf of environmentalists, and he would push it through.

Those and other issues illustrated differences between the two major Minnesota governor candidates during an hour-long debate sponsored by the Duluth News Tribune and Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.

The third debate involving the two produced no new revelations, but as Johnson said afterwards it may have made the “differences more stark.”

It was the first debate without Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet. The two previous ones included her, and organizers of the two final debates have not invited her.

Johnson and Dayton often looked at, and scolded, each other during the early-morning debate.

When talking about a Vikings football stadium that costs more than $1 billion, half funded by tax money, Johnson explained the situation that was similar to other issues: “This is another example of how we are going to differ as much as we can possibly differ”

On the stadium, Johnson said taxpayers should not have paid for it, citing a new New Jersey stadium construction project that involved no government funds. “This whole deal has been a disaster.”

Dayton, a champion for the facility, rebutted Johnson: “Tell 7,500 who are working to build the project that this is a disaster.”

The first-term governor said the professional football team would be in Los Angeles or another city if Minnesota had not built a stadium to replace the Metrodome. The new facility, to be done in less than two years, is going up on the former Metrodome site. Dayton said it is bringing new vigor to a formerly run down part of downtown Minneapolis.

On the minimum wage, Dayton said that more than 300,000 Minnesotans will benefit directly as it rises to $9.50 an hour in the next two years, and others’ wages also will rise.

“If you want to build a middle class, you have to give people a chance to earn that money through the workplace,” Dayton said.

But Johnson, who said that he would do more to help the middle class than Dayton, said that Minnesotans do not want minimum wage jobs.

The Republican brought up a talking point he often uses, that half of the state’s workforce is underemployed and a minimum wage increase would not help them. Johnson often promotes help for businesses, so they can create better jobs.

“You want to lower the minimum wage and want to lower taxes on the super wealthy,” Dayton told Johnson.

Much of the answer to the road and bridge funding deficit, Johnson said, is to move them up to the top of the state priority list. In an earlier interview, Johnson said that means some programs could lose money.

Johnson said that too much transportation money is being spent on sidewalks, bicycle paths and other items other than roads and bridges. He suggested that in addition to changing priorities, he would borrow more money.

Dayton said that transportation borrowing already is at its upper limit and much transportation spending already goes to repaying previous loans.

The Democratic incumbent said the situation requires new revenue, but was not clear about how he would raise it. At a Forum News Service debate last week, he said he would propose a sales tax on gasoline, but the next day backed away a bit from the idea. In Duluth, he said that remains a possibility, but said attitudes like Johnson’s  that more money is not needed could kill the concept in the Legislature.

Both candidates professed support of the Sandpiper pipeline, which is proposed to go across northern Minnesota. And both said it eventually could ease railroad congestion.

Johnson accused Dayton and his three PUC appointees of stalling the pipeline, with plans to kill it after the Nov. 4 election. Dayton said that pipeline construction needs to be fully studied for environmental impacts before it is built.

The two also differed on MNsure, the state web-based health insurance sales program.

MNsure got off to a rocky start last year, but Dayton said it is improving and offers the country’s lowest cost insurance. But, he said, some oppose it for political purposes.

“People who oppose the Affordable Care Act want to go back to Darwinian survival of the richest,” he said to Johnson.

“It has been an unmitigated disaster since Day 1,” Johnson told Dayton, then pledged to seek federal permission to make some changes in MNsure so innovations could be incorporated. He did not say what innovations he backs.

Minnesota leaders seek federal rail help

By Don Davis

Minnesota’s leaders want federal help to ease railroad delays.

U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday sent a letter to the head of the Surface Transportation Board saying that rail delays are hurting many parts of the economy.

“As we watch winter come to the state of Minnesota, we have become increasingly alarmed by the service failures of several railroads that serve critical industries in our state,” the three Democrats wrote to board Chairman Daniel Elliott.

And Tuesday, Dayton holds what is expected to be the last of a series of rail safety and rail congestion summits. It will be 10 a.m. at Kirby Ballroom, University of Minnesota Duluth. It begins an hour after he is to end an election forum with Republican governor candidate Jeff Johnson.

Following the rail meeting, Dayton is to meet with Minnesota Power officials.

The state’s power companies are among those complaining that overloaded rails are slowing service. Rail congestion is causing power plants to run low on coal.

“We are hearing daily from captive shippers across the agricultural, mining and energy sectors who cannot move products to market or transshipment locations; cannot secure delivery of enough coal to run power plants; and are forced to find extremely uneconomic alternatives, which ultimately lead to higher costs and poorer outcomes for businesses and end-use consumers,” the officials’ letter said.

They claim that railroads “have not provided even minimally adequate levels of rail service.”

The Surface Transportation Board oversees freight railroads and the official wrote that power companies are restricting use of coal-fired power plants to conserve coal stockpiles.

The three say that the situation appears to be getting worse.

Railroad officials recently told state legislators that service is improving and will get better in coming years as they expand their rail networks and make other infrastructure changes.

An Amtrak official at the legislative hearing blamed rail delays on hours-long waits its passengers must endure.

Passenger and freight trains share the rails. The Amtrak official said freights, especially those carrying oil, get priority, but railroad officials denied that.

Farmers already have sustained more than $100 million in losses due to rail congestion, which Dayton blames mostly on greatly increase use of rails to transport western North Dakota crude oil.

Farmers say they have a difficult time getting fertilizer and other crop inputs, and worry that crops they are harves ting will not get to market on time.

Independence candidate unhappy not being in debate


By Don Davis

The Independence Party candidate for Minnesota governor complains that a Tuesday forum breaks with tradition by leaving her out.

Hannah Nicollet told reporters Monday that Independence governor candidates have been included in past forums sponsored by the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce and the Duluth News Tribune.

She also said that recent polls have shown voters want “a third-party option.”

Chamber President David Ross said that the sponsors began organizing the event right after the August primary election. They reached an agreement with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican Jeff Johnson campaigns.

“We proceeded with that and have adhered to that and very recently came the request from the Nicollet campaign to be involved in this,” Ross said. “To do that would be to break this hard-fought arrangement and we wanted to honor the original commitments. … To change that in the 11th hour would be a disservice to our agreement.”

Ross said that the Nicollet campaign was notified of the decision Friday. Nicollet said she does not understand why she was left out.

Nicollet has been in the low single digits in all but one independent poll. A Forum News Service debate last week included her with Dayton and Johnson after an obscure poll was discovered that gave her 11 percent support, one point more than required to take part in the Moorhead event.

All three candidates were included in a Rochester debate. Two other debates also have not invited Nicollet, but she said that “we are still in discussions.”

Nicollet said she plans to be in Duluth Tuesday for broadcast interviews, but does not plan to attend the newspaper-chamber event.

Duluth’s My9 television plans to broadcast the forum live, as will 100.5 FM radio in the Duluth area. The Duluth News Tribune will make the forum video available on its Website Tuesday morning, while Minnesota Public Radio’s news stations plan to replay the hour-long forum’s audio at noon.

The public seating at the event already is full.

Governor campaign notebook: Ag property tax cut not likely

By Don Davis

Minnesota farmers should not expect their property taxes to fall right away regardless of who is elected governor.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican challenger Jeff Johnson have no plans for immediate change as farmland taxes continue to rise when other property taxes have fallen or risen at slower rates.

Johnson said that he hopes to dust off a bipartisan property tax report compiled two years ago and see if anything in it would help.

“I don’t know what the change is, to be honest with you,” Johnson said.

Dayton said that property taxes are not the best way to raise money to fund local governments, but they are the best method available. He does not plan to propose any specific ag tax changes.

Property taxes are based on land value, and since farmland prices have been soaring recently property taxes also are rising.

“I say it is the most unfair tax,” Dayton said about property taxes.

Dayton said that his plans to change sales taxes, including adding some to business-to-business transitions, were “roundly trashed,” and he does not plan to bring them up again as a way to reduce property taxes.

“For the foreseeable future, we have a surplus and I am not going to raise anybody’s taxes for anything,” he said.

Johnson cautioned Minnesotans to be patient: “I think it will take a couple of years to come up with a plan to reform taxes. It is not just cutting them.”

Forum News Service discussed farm taxes and many other greater Minnesota issues with the candidates during campaign swings they made in rural areas.

 Transportation spending

Neither of the two candidates said they plan to suggest a tax increase to fund what they agree are major unmet transportation needs.

But those comments came before Wednesday night, when Dayton suggested support for a gasoline sales tax.

“We are going to have to raise revenues and we are going to have to prevent the continued deterioration of our highway system,” Dayton said before the Wednesday night debate.

The state needs $6 billion to stop highway deterioration and congestion, a figure that does not even include adding new roads, Dayton said.

“There is no free lunch,” he added. “We don’t have an effective way to fund it … anywhere in the country right now.”

Johnson’s answer to transportation problems is to make roads and bridges a top state priority and take money from other areas for them.

“We all rely on roads and bridges more than anything else,” he said, so transportation spending on transit, sidewalks and other programs should be whittled back.

Johnson said he would support more state borrowing for roads and bridges, but Dayton said the state already borrows as much money for such uses as is allowed.

Biofuel differences

Dayton said government has a role in developing industries such as ethanol and biodiesel, fuels produced with Minnesota grains, while Johnson prefers to keep government out of private business.

However, Johnson said, since state government gave the industries a boost and required that the fuels be used, he does not want to end the mandate right away.

“I never have been a strong supporter of state mandates or state subsidies … because I think the private market does the best job of creating the energy market,” Johnson said. “But I also fully recognize how tremendously individuals and business people have relied on that mandate.”

Johnson also said he would not use the bully pulpit as governor to promote the use of higher amounts of ethanol blended into gasoline. Republican Tim Pawlenty frequently preached ethanol when he was governor.

“I think consumer can make the best choice of what makes sense for them,” Johnson said.

Increasing the percentage of ethanol in gasoline is “not realistic or fair” this this point, he said.

Dayton said that the state’s long-running mandate that gasoline contain 10 percent ethanol, usually made from corn, is “one of the principle reasons that the industry has been able to establish itself in spite of the fierce opposition of the oil industry.”

He also supports biodiesel, a soybean-based fuel added to diesel. The state has a role in helping with “transitional costs” with higher blends of the soybean fuel, he said.

With ethanol, “one of the basic laws of thermo dynamics is anytime you convert from one form of energy to another there is efficiency quotient and you lose energy,” the governor said. That means it does not produce as much energy as pure gasoline, he added, which is reflected in lower prices for ethanol than gasoline.

Governor candidates get more specific in varied Moorhead debate

Forum News Service Minnesota governor candidate debate

By Adrian Glass-Moore

Candidates for Minnesota governor were forced to be specific at their second debate Wednesday on the campus of Minnesota State University Moorhead, a shift in a campaign that has been noted for staying vague.

Republican challenger Jeff Johnson pledged to hire an outside auditor to review state programs, give more power to parents of students in failing schools and speed up permitting processes.

Incumbent Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said he would focus on funding for badly needed transportation improvements across the state by proposing a sales tax on gas, increasing funding for special education and lobbying for a child care tax credit in the state Legislature.

The gas tax was a point of disagreement between the two major party candidates and Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet, who said she would “possibly” support a gas increase but stressed the need for bonds.

For his part, Johnson dismissed the idea of raising taxes as “wrong.”

“I do believe that we should start bonding for roads,” he said.

The debate covered everything from the proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline to marijuana legalization, and fielded questions from social media.

Johnson took every chance to distinguish himself from Dayton by drawing attention to what he called their vastly different leadership styles and backgrounds.

Citing his upbringing in greater Minnesota, Johnson said he would be a better advocate for more rural communities.

“I think this is a fundamental difference between Governor Dayton and me,” Johnson said. “The fact that my roots are here, that my family is here, actually gives me an appreciation of greater Minnesota.”

Johnson was born in Detroit Lakes and attended Concordia College in Moorhead.

But the incumbent Democrat defended his record, saying that 38 percent of funding from recent bonding bills went outside of the Twin Cities.

“Being from greater Minnesota doesn’t automatically mean you’re for greater Minnesota,” the governor said.

The two disagreed on the state of the economy and job prospects for Minnesotans in response to a question from Anne Blackhurst, president of MSUM.

Blackhurst asked what the state could do better to encourage graduating students to find jobs in the state.

After Dayton cited low unemployment figures in the state, Johnson accused him of painting a rosy picture of the state’s economy and failing to acknowledge an underemployment problem.

“I truly think that you are out of touch,” Johnson said. “I am so tired of being told that everything is perfect.”

Johnson wasn’t the only one leveling criticism. Dayton said his challenger failed to support education when he was in the Legislature, a claim Johnson denied.

Nicollet stood out among the candidates for her support of recreational marijuana legalization and abolishing the corporate income tax.

The governor stuck to emphasizing his first term’s accomplishments.

“I started running for governor in 2009 because I saw the state headed in the wrong direction,” he said. Citing a projected budget surplus thanks to his “balanced approach,” the governor said, “We’re on a sound fiscal platform now.”

The debate, moderated by Don Davis of the Forum News Service, was the second of five. The next debate will be in Duluth on Oct. 14.

Where to watch #mngov debate

Here are Forum Communications Co. Websites carrying tonight’s Forum News Service Minnesota governor debate live:


WDAY’Z Xtra channels in northwestern Minnesota (channel 6.3 over the air on WDAY and 8.3 on WDAZ) also will carry debate live.

Forum Communications’ newspaper sites will have a debate video recording available Thursday afternoon. Minnesota Public Radio will rebroadcast most of the debate at noon Thursday.

Minnesota governor candidates debate tonight

Minnesota’s three major-party governor candidates go on stage tonight to answer greater Minnesota and general state government questions.

Voters may attend the 7 p.m. event at Hansen Theatre on the Minnesota State University Moorhead campus. The 90-minute debate sponsored by Forum News Service will be shown live on Forum Communications Co. Websites serving Minnesota (go to www.forumcomm.com to find one) and aired live on WDAY’Z Xtra channels in northwestern Minnesota (channel 6.3 over the air on WDAY and 8.3 on WDAZ).

A recorded video of the debate will be available on Forum Communications newspaper Websites Thursday afternoon and Minnesota Public Radio will air a shortened version at noon Thursday.

The debate will include Republican Jeff Johnson, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Hannah Nicollet of the Independence Party.

Questions, to be asked by Dana Mogck of WDAY and Don Davis of Forum News Service, will include some emailed in advance as well as those picked up from Twitter during the debate from people using hashtag #mngov.