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

Election notebook: DFL, GOP trade jabs over late-campaign mailings

GOP mailing

DFL mailings

By Don Davis

It is the time of a campaign when things get a little rough, as shown Thursday when Minnesota Democrats and Republicans criticized each other for mailing inaccurate and inappropriate literature in state House races.

Democrats, led by House Speaker Paul Thissen, complained that the Republican Party sent out mailings critical of a drunken driving bill that even most Republicans supported. GOP Chairman Keith Downey countered by pointing out that Democrats mailed literature in poor taste, including one with a photo of “a clenched fist in front of a cowering child.”

Mailings in the days before an election often bring complaints, in part because that is when the most aggressive literature is unveiled. Two years ago, for instance, then-House Speaker Kurt Zellers complained about Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party mailings, much like Thissen did Thursday.

“They are trying to influence voters against candidates who vote for these bipartisan bills,” Thissen said.

Thissen brought Jon Cummings, founder of Minnesotans for Safe Driving, to a St. Paul news conference Thursday to attack the GOP mailings.

“To use this for political gain, just so wrong,” said Cummings, who added that he has not been active in partisan politics.

Cummings, attorney Bob Speeter, Thissen and Rep. Dan Schoen, D-St. Paul Park, said the bill Republicans are using in the literature allows drivers convicted of multiple drunken driving offenses to get behind the wheel sooner than before, but they must be sober enough to engage an ignition interlock system designed to be unusable by someone who had too much to drink.

Speeter said that prevents more drunken drivers from getting behind the wheel than an old law that revoked driver’s licenses. He said that studies show those whose licenses had been revoked drive anyway.

“Minnesota Democrats have to use these tactics because their ideas don’t work,” Downey said in a statement.

A GOP statement added: “Absent from the discussion so far is the sensational imagery and disgusting content of recent Democrat mailings depicting a candidate holding a weapon and breaking into a home, a clenched fist in front of a cowering child and a person sharpening a straight razor.”

Democrats said their House members who have been subject of GOP mailings, all in competitive districts, include Reps. Joe Radinovich of Crosby, Mary Sawatzky of Willmar, Jay McNamar of Elbow Lake, Sandra Masin of Eagan, Will Morgan of Burnsville, Zachary Dorholt of St. Cloud and Yvonne Selcer of Minnetonka.

This tops it all

The cap of a tough and tumble U.S. Senate campaign is a dispute about, well, caps.

Democratic Sen. Al Franken’s campaign against Republican Mike McFadden Thursday emailed a news release headlined: “McFadden campaign gear MADE IN CHINA.”

The release was accompanied by three photos, including two showing a tag proclaiming that the cap, indeed, was made in China.

Franken’s release, which said his campaign gear is made by union members in the United States, said that McFadden’s campaign T-shirts worn at the Republican state convention were made in Nicaragua.

“The fact that McFadden outsources his campaign gear to workers in China and Nicaragua shouldn’t be surprising given his profits-over-people philosophy,” the Franken release said. “McFadden also supports tax breaks for companies that ship American jobs overseas to places like China and he would prefer to build the Keystone XL Pipeline with Chinese steel — not American-made steel — if it were cheaper. Chinese steel would undercut an American industry that supports thousands of jobs in Minnesota.”

McFadden campaign spokesman Tom Erickson presented a photograph taken at the campaign’s cap vendor warehouse. It was on top of Thursday’s USA Today, showing that the Giants won the World Series. A tag showed the cap was American made.

Erickson said that if any caps came from China, “we are truly sorry. However, it’s looking more and more likely that Al Franken concocted this story to turn attention away from his 97 percent voting record with President Obama.”

8th race gets tighter

Nationally prominent political observer Stu Rothenberg has joined the list of people saying Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District race is too tight to call.

He had termed the race “tossup-tilts Democratic,” but on Thursday changed the label to “pure tossup.”

The 8th is the district that covers all of northeastern Minnesota and much of the north-central and east-central parts of the state. First-time Republican candidate Stewart Mills, of the family that owns Mills Fleet Farm, is giving U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan all he can ask for in the race.

Overall, Rothenberg said, U.S. House Republicans are expected to expand their control of the chamber in Tuesday’s election.

Early voting popular

More than 125,000 Minnesotans have voted early this year, the first time they did not have to give an excuse such as they would be out of town on election day.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s office reported that the number is a 61 percent increase compared to the number of absentee ballots cast four years ago in a comparable election. However, the 2012 election, which featured a presidential contest, attracted nearly 184,000 ballots at this time in the campaign.

Last week was a busy time to vote, with nearly 56,000 ballots cast.

Ritchie said local elections officials can process the ballots now, and the votes will be folded into precinct tallies election night.

Democrats’ goal: Get members to vote

Democrats rally

By Don Davis

Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party leaders are on a 30-city pre-election tour with one overriding goal: Get party members to the polls Tuesday.

“When we show up, we win,” Democratic Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges told dozens of party loyalists gathered on a chilly Wednesday morning.

After the rally, featuring 14 speakers, DFL leaders boarded a bus to begin their tour that will last through election eve.

There is a serious concern among Democrats that their members will not show up Tuesday, handing some tight races to Republicans.

While Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Sen. Al Franken held slim leads in recent polls, Republicans say they are closing the gap in the top two races.

Dayton’s race against Jeff Johnson and Franken’s contest with Mike McFadden have got much of the publicity this year, but just as important is which party controls the state House, where millions of dollars have seen spent to influence a dozen to two dozen tight races.

There is what appears to be a toss-up race in the 8th Congressional District in northeast and east-central Minnesota, where Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan is trying to hold off GOP upstart Stewart Mills. And western Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District features the tightest race Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson has faced in years, with Republican state Sen. Torrey Westrom nipping at his heels.

All of these contests will be decided by people who show up Tuesday.

“There always is a falloff in a non-presidential election,” Dayton said about voter turnout. “It usually affects more DFL voters than Republicans. … We will see who turns out because it all depends on who does turn out.” Franken remembers his 312-vote victory after the 2008 election, following months of recounts and legal wrangling.

Even with polls showing him in the lead this year, he said that he is running like he is behind.

Dayton “won by a large, large margin as far as I’m concerned,” Franken said about the governor’s 8,800-vote 2010 victory.

The governor said that he vetoed 57 bills when Republicans controlled the Legislature in his first two years in office.

Democrats would not have wanted them to become law, he said, adding that Minnesotans like progress they have seen with him in office, supported by a Democratic-controlled Legislature.

While key Democrats are on the bus, Republicans are scattered around the state.

On Wednesday, Johnson’s schedule included meeting voters at a Twin Cities transit station and stops in New Ulm, Fairmont and Worthington. McFadden, meanwhile, spent part of his day in Duluth.

Republicans launched a pre-election campaign against Dayton called “Stop the incompetence. Stop Mark Dayton.” On Wednesday, they alleged that Dayton is “unaware what’s in his bills,” including Vikings stadium seat licenses and farm implement repair taxes.

Dayton, however, told reporters Wednesday that Republicans are “nitpicking” and missing the overall picture of him taking a budget deficit and turning it into a surplus.

“I don’t expect them to have anything good to say about me,” Dayton said. “That is the way politics have become these days. You slash, you trash.” .


Election notebook: Dayton says he was not part of MNsure rates


By Don Davis

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says he was not involved in a request for an insurance company to lower its rates.

Dayton said that it would not have been appropriate for him to be part of Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman’s request last year to PreferredOne to lower rates for 2014 health insurance policies it offered on the state-run MNsure Website.

After Rothman asked for the decrease, the insurer did lower rates. Now, PreferredOne says it will not offer policies on MNsure next year, citing lack of profit last year.

Republicans have tried to turn the instance into a campaign issue, saying that Dayton forced PreferredOne into lowering rates.

“I was not privy to the conversations … and I’m not supposed to be,” Dayton said Wednesday in response to a reporter’s question.

The Democratic governor added that the commissioner “cannot force anyone to lower rates.”

“I did not talk with Commissioner Rothman,” Dayton said when reporters pressed him if he knew about the request.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, has requested Dayton administration correspondence related to PreferredOne insurance rates under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

“We now know without a shadow of a doubt the Department of Commerce pressured health insurers to offer premiums that were unsustainable, forcing PreferredOne to leave the marketplace and leading to massive cost increases and fewer healthcare options for Minnesotans,” Benson said. “All signs point to the Dayton administration participating in calculated rate manipulation to gain political points, not caring about the harm done to consumers, and then trying to cover it up by misleading Minnesotans about the significant increases in their insurance premiums next year.”

Also, Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, requested that the Senate Commerce Committee look into the situation.

“The Commerce Committee should investigate whether the Department of Commerce’s role in setting health insurance rates was politically motivated,” Gazelka said.

PreferredOne offered the lowest-cost premiums in MNsure’s first year, but as enrollments open soon for its second year most Minnesotans buying private insurance through the site will pay higher rates.

Two debates left

Each of Minnesota’s top two races in Tuesday’s election has one debate left.

Next up will be a Friday night governor candidates’ debate between Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican challenger Jeff Johnson on Twin Cities Public Television’s “Almanac.” It is to begin at 7 p.m. with co-hosts Cathy Wurzer and Eric Eskola and will air live on TPT2 in the Twin Cities and be rerun several times during the weekend on all public television stations serving Minnesota.

While the TPT debate will not have an audience, Minnesotans may attend a Minnesota Public Radio U.S. Senate candidate debate at 7 p.m. Sunday.

The traditional final debate of the season will be in downtown St. Paul’s Fitzgerald Theater between Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Republican Mike McFadden. It will air live on MPR stations across the state.

Dayton may not be available to meet trick-or-treaters invited to his home Friday night. Even without the governor, they will be able to visit Dayton’s official residence at 1006 Summit Ave. in St. Paul from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Treats will include a variety of goodies, ranging from Salted Nut Rolls to toothbrushes.

Early voting still open

Minnesotans still may cast ballots early.

Absentee ballots for the first time are available to anyone, not just who are ill or expect to be out of town on Election Day.

State law requires county election offices (as well as those in cities that coordinate elections) to accept absentee ballots through Friday during normal business hours. On Saturday, they must be open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and open until 5 p.m. Monday.

Republicans count on election to gain voice in House


By Charley Shaw

Republicans have been shut out of power in the Minnesota state Capitol for two years, and in next week’s elections are seeking to regain some of their lost clout by winning back control of the state House.

All 134 seats in the currently Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party-controlled House will be on Tuesday’s ballot, while the similarly DFL-dominated state Senate isn’t up for election until 2016. If DFL incumbent Gov. Mark Dayton, who leads Republican rival Jeff Johnson in polls and fundraising, wins next week, then the outcome in House races would be all the more crucial for Republicans’ ability to influence state policy for the next two years.

“For the last year-and-a half,” University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs said, “folks in the business community and Republican circles were very clear that they had to break up the DFL monopoly and that their best option for doing that was to win the House.”

House Republicans need a net gain of seven seats to win back the majority they held for two years, until the 2012 election.

Control of the House has swung like a pendulum in recent elections. Republicans in 2010 swept into power in the midst of that year’s national wave of GOP victories. DFLers in 2012 won back the majority and established control of both the Legislature and governor’s office for the first time since 1990.

The outcome of this year’s House and governor’s races will set the stage for the 2015 legislative session that convenes Jan. 6. Lawmakers will have as their main item of business passing a budget for the next two years. Legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle have also signaled that transportation funding needs to be addressed, among other issues.

After winning several close elections in greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities suburbs in 2012, DFLers this year have several tough seats to defend in their bid to keep control of the House.

There are nine House DFLers who represent districts where GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney won in 2012, giving Republicans hope.

Hamline University political science professor David Schultz noted that expected lower voter turnout this year compared to the 2012 presidential election poses another challenge for DFLers.

“They’re defending a lot of, let’s say, marginal seats in a year when they are not going to have the pull of a presidential election and a popular president to drive turnout,” Schultz said.

House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, noted that turnout will be a key factor in determining whether his caucus retains the majority.

“There are a lot of races that are very close,” Thissen said. “It really is going to depend on who is going to show up on Election Day.”

While on the campaign trail, Thissen has highlighted DFL accomplishments in education. “Our education investments are clearly the top thing we’re talking about: All-day kindergarten, college tuition freeze and early childhood education investments.”

Among accomplishments related to Greater Minnesota, Thissen cited property tax relief and reducing the funding disparities between Greater Minnesota and Twin Cities-area school districts.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, however, disputed the numbers cited by DFLers that indicate improvements on property taxes and regional equity in school funding. He also criticized the health insurance exchange called MNSure among other policies supported by DFLers.

“Everything the Democrats have done from MNSure to unionizing daycares to increasing taxes has taken money out of the pockets and budgets of Minnesota families,” Daudt said.

Given another two years in the majority, Thissen said, transportation will be a major issue on the House’s agenda. “It’s going to be transportation that’s going to be the premier issue coming next year. It’s going to be roads and bridges, but also transit, and particularly transit in Greater Minnesota, which Republicans seem to want to entirely ignore.”

Daudt also said transportation will be a big issue if his side wins control of the House. Additionally, he said Republicans would try to improve the state’s business climate.

“We see every day that great Minnesota companies, while they aren’t leaving the state of Minnesota, when they grow, they grow in another state because our climate isn’t competitive,” Daudt said.

Whoever wins control of the House next Tuesday, it won’t have come cheap. In addition to spending by individual candidates’ campaigns, finance reports released Tuesday show independent groups have already poured $6.8 million into House contests.

Minnesota Ebola plan less restrictive


By Don Davis

Minnesota officials will allow people coming from countries affected by Ebola more freedom than controversial rules enacted by some states.

The Minnesota rules require quarantines for people who have exposed while treating Ebola patients, even if they themselves do not show symptoms of the often-deadly virus, but others will be mostly free to move around the state. Those showing Ebola symptoms would be hospitalized.

Minnesota health officials Monday began to monitor one person who recently returned from West Africa. State officials received reports of nearly 30 people, mostly from Hennepin County, who have come from affected areas in the past week, and monitoring may expand to include some of them.

Some states have imposed tighter measures, such as quarantining all medical workers returning to the United States from the West African countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where nearly 5,000 have died in an Ebola outbreak.

Four people have been diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, with just one now being treated.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger and other state health leaders Monday announced they will contact people returning from countries with an Ebola problem, then monitor them for three weeks, the incubation period of the virus. While the monitoring will be voluntary, Ehlinger said that he has the power to quarantine people for public safety reasons if they do not cooperate.

The governor said the plan is science based and should protect Minnesotans.

“We’re doing the worrying for the state of Minnesota,” Ehlinger said, joining Dayton in saying that Ebola is not easy to transmit so Minnesotans who have not been to the three specific African countries should be safe.

Director Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota’s Center of Infectious Disease Research and Policy said Minnesota is one of the states most prepared to battle Ebola if it shows up here.

However, unlike some threats, Osterholm added, Ebola will not go away quickly. “This is the crisis, potentially, of the year.”

The Minnesota plan relies on lists of people who have traveled to the three affected countries sent from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kris Ehresmann of the Health Department said the department will “interview the individuals; we will obtain information on their experiences while in Africa.”

A plan worked out over the weekend by a team of Minnesota-based experts requires the Health Department to monitor people who have provided health care in an affected country and others who have been in one of the countries, both those who have been known to be exposed to Ebola and those who have not been.

Ehresmann, director of the department’s Infection Disease, Epidemiology, Prevention and Control Division, said 30 to 40 people in the department are working full time on Ebola, with dozens of others in other state agencies also involved. Three Health Department workers are assigned full time to monitor people returning from West Africa, and Ehlinger said more will be assigned as needed.

Those being monitored will be forbidden from using use public transportation for trips longer than three hours and those with known Ebola exposure will not be able to use any public transit or attend mass gatherings.

Anyone who has treated an Ebola patient and has been exposed will be quarantined in his or her home.

All travelers coming from the three countries will be required to keep a log of all activities and close contacts for 21 days.

Ehlinger said his department’s Ebola team will make specific decisions on a case-by-case basis.

The commissioner said that monitoring will begin as a voluntary action, with the citizen taking his or her own temperature and reporting health conditions to the department twice a day. If any Ebola symptoms are shown, the person will be directed to a treatment center.

Minnesota announces Ebola plan


By Don Davis

Minnesota officials say they are prepared to monitor people coming from West Africa countries facing an Ebola crisis.

Health officials today were in the process of beginning to monitor one person who recently returned from West Africa. They have received reports of nearly 30 who have come from there in the past week, and monitoring may expand to include more people.

Gov. Mark Dayton, Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger and other state health leaders today announced they will contact people returning from countries with an Ebola problem, then monitor them for three weeks. While the monitoring will be voluntary, Ehlinger said that he has the power quarantine prople for public safety reasons if they do not cooperate.

The governor said the plan is science based and should protect Minnesotans.

“We’re doing the worrying for the state of Minnesota,” Ehlinger said, joining Dayton in saying that Ebola is not easy to transmit so Minnesotans who have not been to a few specific African countries should be safe.

Health-care workers who treat Ebola patients are the most likely to get the often-fatal disease, experts say.

A plan worked out over the weekend by a team of Minnesota-based experts requires the Health Department to monitor people who have provided health care in an affected country, others who have been in one of the countries and people who were in contact with a known Ebola patient.

Kris Ehresmann of the Health Department said 30 to 40 people in the department are working full time on Ebola, with dozens of others in other state agencies also involved. Three Health Department workers are assigned full time to monitor anyone returning from a West African country, and Ehlinger said more will be assigned as needed.

The commissioner said that monitoring will begin as a voluntary action, with the citizen taking his or her own temperature and reporting to the department twice a day. If any Ebola symptoms are shown, the person will be directed to a treatment center.

Political Chatter: Cheesy or not, candidates have reasons to run

By Don Davis

Voters sometimes think candidates for top offices run because of greed or desire for power.

But there are easier ways to make money and most people who serve in government come away with a feeling that few elected officials really have much power.

So in a recent governor candidates’ debate, Forum News Service asked why they wanted to be governor, with so many other career options available.

“This is going to sound really cheesy,” Republican candidate Jeff Johnson replied, “but I truly believe a governor can really change things for the better in this state. And I saw it when I was in the Legislature. … One person who is very focused, who is very passionate about a few important things can actually make the place better for everyday middle class Minnesotans who are being forgotten right now.”

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said he agreed with Johnson, and added: “I have devoted my career to public service, which is about making this state, this nation and world better place, especially for generations to come. … I became governor because I think there really is a chance here in Minnesota to make things really happen for the better.”

House races funded

Groups from outside of Minnesota continue to pour funds into the state’s two most interesting races.

The 7th and 8th congressional districts, serving the western and northern parts of the state, are getting money to buy television commercials.

The National Journal reports: “Democrats are continuing to spend heavily to defend vulnerable incumbents, adding another seven figures in air time to five media markets that cover six Democratic-held districts.”

In Minnesota’s 8th, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan will benefit from $740,000 for more ads from Tuesday through election day in his race against Republican Stewart Mills.

In the 7th, the Democratic committee will run $294,000 worth of commercials on behalf of U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who is being challenged by Republican state Sen. Torrey Westrom.

Johnson: Dayton lied on rates

Republican governor candidate Jeff Johnson says Gov. Mark Dayton lied about MNsure health insurance rates.

With the departure of the insurer that offered the lowest rates, Johnson claims, rates will rise far more than Dayton says.

“Last month, when PreferredOne announced that it was pulling out of MNsure, I questioned the role the Dayton administration played in setting PreferredOne’s rates and said something seemed fishy,” Johnson said.

PreferredOne dropped out of MNsure for next year, saying its rates were too low to maintain. About 60 percent of Minnesotans who use MNsure to buy private health insurance are on PreferredOne.

Last month, Johnson charged that Dayton convinced the insurer to offer artificially low rates. Now, a Minneapolis-based Star Tribune investigation shows that the Commerce Department, part of the Dayton administration, asked PreferredOne to “please consider reducing the general rate level of your filing,”

Dayton repeatedly has said that he had nothing to do with PreferredOne’s rates. He said that rates were left up to insurers.

Where is it?

Minnesota state workers should not be surprised if people wander into their offices expecting someone else to be there.

A trip to Google Maps online showed many things in the wrong place in the state Capitol complex.

The Minnesota Senate information office, for instance, is shown in the grassy mall in front of the Capitol. It normally is in the Capitol building, but many such offices are elsewhere during the building’s reconstruction (just not on the lawn).

Google thinks Minnesota workers’ compensation offices also are on the grass, conveniently located feet from a bus stop. They actually are quite a few blocks away, and in a building not on the grass.

Brightview Pressure Washing is shown in the middle of a parking lot, instead of across town. And the state military affairs building is labeled “American Legion.”

The takeaway from a scan of Google Maps is to double-check before heading to a Capitol-area office.

DFL plans road trip

Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party leaders and candidates hit the road Wednesday for a six-day trip designed to encourage Democrats to vote in the Nov. 4 election.

The agenda includes Wednesday stops in St. Paul, Mankato, Albert Lea, Rochester and Winona. The next day, the crew will be in Hopkins, Northfield, Eagan, Oakdale and St. Paul. On Halloween, Willmar, Morris and Moorhead are on the agenda.

The tour’s Nov. 1 stops are in Bemidji, Leech Lake, Grand Rapids, Virginia and Duluth. On Nov. 2, the Democrats plan stop in Brainerd and St. Cloud. The final day, Nov. 3, is to include swings through Little Canada, Edina, Minneapolis and St. Paul.

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.