Twist on fair politics: GOP vs. GOP

Guards stop MacDonald

Political challengers proposed debating incumbents. Incumbents pared down the challengers’ lists. The governor sat motionless as two buckets of ice were dumped on him.

It was a typical opening day at Minnesota’s Great (Political) Get-Together, except, that is, that the State Fair also featured Republican officials banning their endorsed Supreme Court candidate from the party’s fair booth.

Michelle MacDonald tried twice to get into the booth, between a radio station remote studio and the 99-year-old Ye Old mill ride. She had announced her plans to campaign at the fair booth each day of the fair, but two volunteer security guards greeted her and tried to keep her out. Elected party officials, including Chairman Keith Downey, were not there.

While she eventually was allowed in twice, it was just to look briefly, not to campaign.

MacDonald said Downey told her of the decision by party officials Wednesday to ban her, but she said those officials have a duty to either support their endorsed candidates or resign from party leadership.

The ban came a month before MacDonald faces a trial on a drunken driving charge and after being ticketed this month on a charge of violating her limited driver’s license.

Michael Brodkorb of politics.mn, a former GOP official, reported that one Republican Executive Council member said the panel would “fully support” MacDonald being arrested if she attempts to enter the Republican Party booth.

She was not arrested Thursday, although law enforcement officers were nearby.

MacDonald told Forum News Service that she plans to return to the booth each day.

Republicans meeting in Rochester this spring overwhelmingly endorsed MacDonald to challenge Justice David Lillehaug, who Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton appointed to the high court.

Sen. Scott Newman of Hutchinson, who Republicans nominated for attorney general, announced Thursday that he will support Lillehaug instead of MacDonald.

Longtime politics-at-the-fair observers said they never have seen anything like the MacDonald incident.

More traditional fair politics was plentiful, especially debates about debates.

Republican challengers to Dayton and U.S. Sen. Al Franken released lists of debates they proposed, while the incumbents sliced them down to a size they prefer.

Dayton offered six debates, and said he was not inclined to take part in any more:

– Oct. 1 in Rochester in front of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.

– The week of Oct. 6 in Moorhead in a debate that Forum News Service will sponsor.

– Oct. 14 in Duluth for an event by the Duluth News Tribune and the area Chamber of Commerce.

– The week of Oct. 20 in the Twin Cities, sponsored by a group that has not been selected.

– Oct. 31 on Twin Cities Public Television’s “Almanac.”

– Nov. 2 on Minnesota Public Radio.

While Republican candidate Jeff Johnson offered a 13-debate list, it appeared he likely would accept the Dayton offer while continuing to ask for more.

The same was true of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden, who offered six debates, while Franken said he would only take part in three:

– Oct. 14 in a debate sponsored by the Duluth News Tribune and Chamber of Commerce.

– An unknown date on WCCO television in Minneapolis.

– Nov. 2 on MPR.

Franken and McFadden were on the same stage earlier this month at a Farmfest forum in southwestern Minnesota.

McFadden spokesman Tom Erickson said his candidate is disappointed that Franken will not take part in more debates, especially one Forum News Service offered to host in Moorhead. Franken said the three debates are the same number as in the Minnesota Senate race two years ago.

The coolest part of the day, for Dayton at least, came after the governor engaged in a radio interview. A producer dumped two buckets of ice water on Dayton as part of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which has taken the country by storm in raising nearly $42 million for the illness, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Dayton took the ice after Minnesota Twins owner Jim Pohlad “nominated” him. Anyone who rejects the nomination of someone else is supposed to contribute to ALS research, but even though he was dumped on, Dayton said he will contribute anyway.

The governor nominated Franken to get ice dumped on him.

Dayton doused

Johnson

Franken

McFadden

Analysis: Sharp contrasts separate Johnson and Dayton

Johnson, Dayton

Johnson, Dayton

Jeff Johnson was 8 years old when Mark Dayton got involved in government, working for then-U.S. Sen. Walter Mondale.

Since then, Dayton has traveled the state for 39 years, getting to know issues that most Minnesotans may not even realize exist. He did that as state economic development commissioner, state auditor, U.S. senator and governor, as well as in unsuccessful campaigns for Senate and governor.

Since then, Johnson finished growing up in Detroit Lakes, graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead, earned a law degree, spent time in Chicago, worked for Cargill, served in the state House, unsuccessfully ran for attorney general and served time as the only Republican on the Hennepin County board.

Dayton is 67, Johnson 47. Dayton is liberal, Johnson conservative. Dayton came from money, Johnson didn’t. Nearly every Minnesotan knows Dayton, not so much for Johnson.

Other than both being nice guys, the two are worlds apart. Minnesotans will have a stark choice when they vote Nov. 4 (or earlier, thanks to a new early-voting law).

Long-time Republican activist Ben Golnik, now Minnesota Jobs Coalition chairman, issued a primary election-night statement Tuesday after Johnson turned back three other major GOP candidates for governor: “Tonight’s results set up the clearest choice for Minnesotans in a generation: Jeff Johnson offers a new pro-growth direction for our state while Mark Dayton represents the discredited policies of the past.”

Unless four years is a generation, that may be a bit of an exaggeration. In 2010, Dayton faced Republican Tom Emmer, who differs relatively little from Johnson when it comes to policy beliefs. However, Emmer had much more of an edge to him (which since has tempered).

This year’s race will be a rerun of liberal vs. conservative, a theme Minnesotans should know well.

Both sides seem to expect a close race in a state that has featured several of them in recent years.

However, GOP activist and blogger Michael Brodkorb warned Republicans after the primary: “GOP had low turnout at precinct caucuses, a state convention that wasn’t full and now more DFLers voted in the primary. Big warning signs.”

Republican Chairman Keith Downey did not act concerned about the low primary turnout, even though GOP voters generally are more faithful in showing up at the polls than Democrats, which was not the case Tuesday.

Neither side was happy with the primary turnout of less than 10 percent of eligible voters (“It is really too bad,” DFL Chairman Ken Martin said) but those numbers do not necessarily predict a low general election participation.

While Martin tried to portray low GOP turnout as a sign there was not much excitement for the party’s candidates, the returns show Johnson received solid statewide support. Figures compiled by David Sturrock, chairman of the Southwest Minnesota State University political science department, indicate that more suburban voters than expected turned out Tuesday to support fellow suburbanite Johnson.

Johnson earned especially strong support in northwestern Minnesota, where he and his wife grew up, and the southeast. The primary could indicate those will be some of the most competitive regions since in 2010, Dayton also got lots of votes in those areas, as well as the normally DFL-dominated northeast.

Sturrock reported that the three rural Minnesota congressional districts, across the northern, western and southern parts of the state, showed the best turnout, with an average of 27,000 Republican voters. In an election where rural voters were expected to dominate, suburban districts came close behind, with 24,700 on average, and urban districts trailed with 13,500.

In the Nov. 4 election, Dayton can be expected to do well in the Minneapolis and St. Paul urban cores, but Johnson’s time on the Hennepin County board could help him in the suburbs. Greater Minnesota could be a swing area, as usual, with Johnson promoting his Detroit Lakes upbringing and his farmer running mate Bill Kuisle, while Dayton reminds voters that he has been around all of the state a long time.

Political Chatter: Politicians fake news sites

Some political organizations are setting up websites that look like they are run by news organizations, but instead of objective news they deliver heavy doses of partisan propaganda.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is one such group, and it is targeting U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who has represented western Minnesota for two dozen years, and U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who serves northeastern and east-central Minnesota.

The sites — called “Moorhead Update” and “Duluth Update” — are at www.electionupdate2014.com/mn07update70 and www.electionupdate2014.com/mn08update70.

The anti-Peterson site leads with the headline “Collin Peterson: 20 Years in Washington on the taxpayer’s dime” while the site against Nolan proclaims “Nolan’s commitment to 2nd amendment questioned.” Neither headline links to a real news story.

The National Journal first reported on the 20-plus anti-Democratic candidate sites, which only at the very bottom, in small print, reveal: “Paid for by the National Republican Congressional Committee and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.”

“This is a new and effective way to disseminate information to voters who are interested in learning the truth about these Democratic candidates,” Andrea Bozek of the GOP group told National Journal.

“We believe this is the most effective way to present information to leave a lasting impact on voters,” Bozek said.

The Politico Website opined that “the tactic is legal, if ethically sketchy.”

Earlier this year, the Republican committee launched collinpeterson2014.com. Under a big headline “Collin Peterson for Congress,” came: “Washington is broken, and Collin Peterson is part of the problem.” It was an effort to raise money.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did not like the tactic,  saying that “after coming under fire earlier this year for tricking voters into donating money against their will, it comes as no surprise that the NRCC is looking for yet another deceptive scheme to distract voters from their flawed priorities and record low approval rating.”

McFadden backs tax? No

First Mike McFadden said he could accept Chinese steel in an oil pipeline construction project, then a week later he said he could support a higher federal fuel tax.

The Republican has been campaigning for U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Al Franken for more than a year, but still has some rough corners to smooth.

Mark Sommerhauser of the St. Cloud Times was one of a handful of reporters who covered McFadden’s transportation tax comments:

“Responding to a Times reporter’s question after a campaign event Wednesday at the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce, he said he’d consider supporting an increase in the federal fuel tax to resolve a looming shortfall in federal transportation funds.

“Moments later, McFadden reversed course, saying he doesn’t support increasing the fuel tax. He later told the Times he misspoke in his initial remarks.”

A Republican misspeaking about a tax increase is a tough mistake. So is the comment about accepting Chinese steel in a state where taconite, which can be turned into steel, is a major resource.

The steel comment has gained traction on the Iron Range, where McFadden and other Republicans have worked to get support in the normally Democratic area. Saying something that could be perceived as anti-American steel could hurt.

McFadden’s initial comments to the Times about being open to increasing the federal fuel tax to bolster the Highway Trust Fund also included his feeling that such an increase only could be acceptable if there also was a tax decrease involved.

After talking to an aide, he told reporters: “I just want to reiterate that I will not support raising the gas tax.”

June primary discussed

Tuesday’s low primary election turnout could produce new debate about moving the primary to June, when some think more people would vote.

About 10 percent of eligible Minnesota voters cast ballots Tuesday. The latest count shows there were fewer than 400,000 voters, compared to more than 3 million for a good general election.

Republican Chairman Keith Downey and DFL Chairman Ken Martin have discussed the possibility of moving the primary up to June. It used to be in September and the last couple of elections has been in August because many in politics felt that September to early November was too little time to wage a general election campaign.

Many people are on vacation and most are not paying attention to politics before the State Fair in late August. Martin said more might pay attention in June.

But many lawmakers running for re-election do not like June because it comes close on the heels of their legislative session that usually ends in mid- to late-May. That gives them little time to campaign and raise money.

A big difference

One political wag noted after the primary election that Matt Entenza spent nearly $700,000 in his race for state auditor while Jack Shepard spent little, if anything, on his run for U.S. Senate.

They got about the same percentage of votes in their races.

The big difference? While Entenza spent the last few weeks traveling the state spending money freely, Shepard was in Italy, where he lives to avoid Minnesota warrants for his arrest on arson-related charges.

Big money, big problem?

Chairman Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party warned Republican Mike McFadden that rich people who partially self-finance campaigns may not be successful.

Martin pointed out that Matt Entenza paid for much of the expense of his state auditor’s race, and lost. Republican Scott Honour did the same for his governor campaign, with the same result.

McFadden is a wealthy businessman and is expected to dump some of his own money into his challenge to U.S. Sen. Al Franken.

Honour and Entenza “tried to buy the election,” Martin said.

What the chairman did not say was that Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton financed much of his own campaign four years ago, and won.

Governor race could be ‘Minnesota nice’

Dayton, Johnson

By Bill Salisbury, St. Paul Pioneer Press, and and Don Davis, Forum News Service

Election campaigns often do not follow the “Minnesota nice” philosophy, but political insiders wonder if that might be different this year after Jeff Johnson won the Republican nomination to run against Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

Johnson, the GOP-endorsed candidate who defeated three rivals in Tuesday’s primary election, will try to deny Dayton a second term. But he will, probably, do it nicely with a smile on his face.

The Hennepin County commissioner and former legislator from Plymouth is an affable guy who shuns angry attacks on political opponents. That description also fits Dayton.

Asked at a news conference if he’s too nice to win, Johnson replied, “Overall, I think I am a nice guy.”

That probably is a good thing, he said.

“Some people assume Republicans are kind of nasty,” Johnson said. “We are not. But being able to show that to people is important.”

He quickly added, however, that “I’m going to contrast where I stand with Mark Dayton” and said he will point out where he thinks the governor’s policies are wrong.

The contrast won’t be hard to draw. Johnson is as staunchly conservative as Dayton is liberal. But their personalities are comparably civil.

The GOP primary was a relatively low-key contest, in part because of the tone Johnson set and since the party’s convention endorsed him, he widely was seen as the frontrunner.

Johnson has a history of trying to bring factions together, the most notable coming at the 2012 Republican state convention in St. Cloud. Ron Paul supporters dominated the convention, pushing traditional Republican activists to the side.

That is when Johnson, then the Republican national committeeman, went in front of the convention as peacemaker.

Johnson, a Detroit Lakes native, called tension in the convention “the elephant in the room.”

“You know, it is not new, it is OK,” he said of the tension. “It’s not new, but it is real.”

Johnson told Paul supporters that they must realize that traditional Republicans “have been sitting in your seats for 20 years.”

“The chatter is” that Paul backers do not care about the party, Johnson said, and would not support GOP candidates.

“Make sure that doesn’t happen,” Johnson advised. “If we are all part of the Republican Party, then we all need to vote for Republicans.”

“Ron Paul haters,” Johnson said, “my advice to you is: Get over it.”

Johnson’s speech eased tensions.

Dayton has become a harsh critic of many things Republican as he nears the end of his four-year term, a feeling mostly fueled by tough battles with Republicans over the 2011 budget and a resulting state government shutdown. Still, Dayton often is seen with Republicans, and does not lump everyone with those he fought three years ago.

In his first news conference as governor, Dayton took the unheard-of step of inviting opponents to the microphone to rebut his comments.

Dozens of people opposed to his plan of getting the state more deeply involved in the federal Medicaid program jammed into the governor’s reception room.

“It is the people’s room,” Dayton said. “This is where democracy occurs.”

He asked three protesters to rebut things he and other supporters said about the need to expand Medicaid. That somewhat quieted the protesters.

And while Dayton did not make it a practice of allowing opponents to speak at his events, even his opponents call him a nice guy.

His 2010 Republican opponent, rough-around-the-edges Tom Emmer, and Dayton met in about 30 debates. They showed sharp policy differences, but both said they came away from the campaign liking each other.

If the 2014 candidates sound too sweet for your political tastes, don’t worry. The contest will not be all sugar and no spice.

Johnson joked that he expects Democrats to accuse him of “drowning kittens in the river for the fun of it.”

State DFL Chairman Ken Martin did not do that, but called Johnson a “proud member of the Tea Party” who favors tax cuts for the wealthy and government service cuts for everyone else.

Martin said Johnson “wants to take us back to the days when people were kicked off their health insurance because of pre-existing conditions … balancing budget with gimmicks … shutdowns and borrowed money from our school districts.”

Shortly after Martin took his shots, a spokeswoman for the Republican Governors Association fired off a news release accusing Dayton of embracing “every component of Obamacare,” wasting millions on Minnesota’s health exchange, raising taxes and forcing a government shutdown.

The DFL governor, he said, has been an “abysmal failure,” spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said.

The exchange suggested political parties and outside groups likely will play “bad cops” to the candidates’ “good cops.”

The St. Paul Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.

Johnson wins 4-way GOP governor race

Johnson

By Don Davis

A Republican who grew up in greater Minnesota and now is a Hennepin County commissioner won the governor nomination Tuesday in his party’s primary election.

Jeff Johnson told supporters after winning that he has a tough race ahead of him because Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton will be a good opponent.

“I have a vision for a state where politicians understand that people work really hard for their paychecks, and politicians spend their money as carefully and wisely as if it were coming out of their own pockets,” Johnson said in his victory speech in Plymouth.

He said the fall election is the third step in his campaign, after winning the party endorsement and the primary.

“Now it is time we finished the job,” he said about the general election campaign.

Unofficial returns late Tuesday showed Johnson with 30 percent of the vote with 84 percent of the precincts reporting. Kurt Zellers was second with 24 percent. Scott Honour and Marty Seifert were virtually tied for third with 21 percent.

Seifert told about 40 supporters gathered in Mankato that he congratulates Johnson.

“We want to lend him our full and unconditional support as we work to defeat Mark Dayton. All along that’s what our goal has been to make positive change in the state of Minnesota,” Seifert said.

Honour also pledged to support Johnson: “We must now unite as a party to ensure that our state achieves its full potential, rather than settle for mediocrity and business as usual.”

The four GOP governor candidates plan a news conference together this morning to show Republican unity.

Dayton said he called Johnson to congratulate him Tuesday night.

“I look forward to engaging in a constructive discussion about the issues important to Minnesotans over the next 12 weeks,” Dayton said.

Johnson, 47, is a lawyer, Detroit Lakes native and former state representative. He lost a 2006 race for state attorney general.

He and the other three major candidates engaged in a few debates near the end of the campaign, and while some sparks flew, they generally reserved their criticism for Dayton.

Little-known candidate Merrill Anderson also was on the GOP governor ballot and received little support.

The other statewide race to earn the public’s attention was for state auditor, where incumbent Rebecca Otto beat longtime Minnesota politician Matt Entenza.

Entenza livened up a usually boring auditor’s contest by filing election paperwork 15 minutes before the deadline in June.

He conceded Tuesday night and said he endorses Otto in the general election.

“We had obviously hoped for a better result, but a dramatically low turnout made it difficult to overcome the advantages of an incumbent candidate,” Entenza said.

Otto touted honors she has received as auditor and said Entenza was promising to change policy when the auditor is only supposed to check the books of local governments.

The two ran television commercials, a rarity for an auditor primary.

Dayton faced token primary opposition from perennial candidates Leslie Davis and Bill Dahn.

Democratic-endorsed secretary of state candidate Steve Simon held a solid lead over two frequent candidates who did little campaigning, Dick Franson and Gregg Iverson. Unknowns David Singleton and Bob Helland were close Tuesday night in the Independence Party race.

For attorney general, Republican-endorsed state Sen. Scott Newman beat perennial candidate Sharon Anderson.

State Reps. Phyllis Kahn, D-Minneapolis, and Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, defeated challengers in the two state House highlighted races.

—-

Republican governor

Republican (84 percent of 4,016 precincts reporting): Scott Honour, 34,425 (21 percent); Jeff Johnson, 47,745 (30 percent); Marty Seifert, 34,108 (21 percent); Kurt Zellers, 39,088 (24 percent)

DFL state auditor

Democratic (77 percent of 4,016 precincts reporting): Matt Entenza, 29,212 (18 percent); Rebecca Otto, 129,237 (82 percent)

Joseph Ryan Denton contributed to this story.

McFadden wins GOP Senate nod

By Don Davis

Well-financed Mike McFadden won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Tuesday’s Minnesota primary election, and is set to face U.S. Sen. Al Franken in the Nov. 4 election.

The secretary of state’s office reported that McFadden had 73 percent of the vote with more than half of the precincts counted.

After being declared the winner, McFadden said that Minnesotans are frustrated with the federal government.

“Minnesotans feel like President Obama and Sen. Franken have done nothing but take our country in the wrong direction,” McFadden said. “This campaign isn’t just about Republicans or Democrats, it’s about deciding which direction we want to take our country.”

McFadden, who called himself a problem solver, is a Sunfish Lake businessman who raised $1.1 million in the three months leading up to the election. However, Franken raised about three times that. As of June 30, Franken had $5 million in the bank while McFadden reported $2 million.

A Franken-McFadden match-up has drawn national attention, especially since Franken won by only 312 votes in the 2008 election against then-Sen. Norm Coleman. Franken said last week that because of the 2008 election, which required months of a recount and a court case, every section of the state is important.

In his first political run, McFadden, 49, surprised many Republicans by winning the party’s endorsement at its May convention.

He and Franken will show the two sides of the political spectrum in the fall campaign. McFadden is conservative and wants to see less government involvement in Americans’ lives. Franken generally votes with fellow Democrats, and holds mostly liberal views.

Finishing second in the GOP contest with about 15 percent was state Rep. Jim Abeler of Anoka, who brought 16 years of state House experience to the race but had little money. Three other Republican candidates — David Carlson of Woodbury, Patrick Munro of Princeton and Ole Savior of Minneapolis — were not factors.

Sandra Henningsgard, an unknown candidate, challenged Franken but found little support.

In the Independence Party, Tom Books, Steve Carlson, Jack Shepard, Kevin Terrell and Stephen Williams competed in a tight race for Senate.

There also were three competitive U.S. House races:

– In the 1st Congressional District, across southern Minnesota, Republican Jim Hagedorn update party-endorsed Aaron Miller 58 percent to 42 percent. Hagedorn will face Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz.

– In the 2nd Congressional District, just south of the Twin Cities, Democrat Mike Obermueller beat Michael Roberts to run against Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline, the highest-ranking Minnesota congressman as chairman of the House education and labor committee. Kline defeated Obermueller by carrying 54 percent of the vote two years ago.

– In the 6th Congressional District, north of the Twin Cities, Tom Emmer dominated Rhonda Sivarajah for the Republican nomination to run for the seat left open by U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann’s retirement.

Challengers want to link Franken with Obama

Obama cutout follows Franken

By Don Davis

REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. — Republicans want to link U.S. Sen. Al Franken with President Barack Obama, who is not popular among many farmers.

College Republicans have begun making that point by carrying an Obama cutout at Franken appearances, starting Wednesday at southwest Minnesota’s Farmfest agriculture event.

It was not clear how effective the attempt would be as farmers greeted Franken warmly. One, for instance, pointed to the Obama photo and said that he has to go. But when asked about Franken, the reply was that he was doing fine.

Likely Franken opponent Republican Mike McFadden used a Farmfest candidate forum to emphasize the tie: “Sen. Franken has voted with the president 97 percent of the time.”

Franken, McFadden and state Rep. Jim Abeler, another Republican Senate candidate, spent considerable time at the forum talking about the time they have spent on the farm, even though they live in the Twin Cities.

The incumbent went in front of hundreds of farmers and rattled off work he has done during five years in office on their behalf, while his challengers countered that they could do better.

“I know how hard you have worked,” Franken told the Farmfest audience. “My job is to work just as hard for you.”

McFadden said after the forum that he was successful at getting his point across that “I care.” And, he added, he agrees with farmers who “want a government that is less intrusive.”

The Farmfest U.S. Senate forum produced no surprises in the first time Franken and McFadden met on stage. The forum also included Abeler, who is far back in fundraising but said he believes he has a chance to upend heavily funded McFadden in Tuesday’s Republican primary election.

Also in the GOP primary is David Carlson, who has made little noise in the campaign. The forum also included the Independence Party’s Kevin Terrell.

The challengers generally emphasized the need for a government that orders citizens around less, and accused Franken of being one who likes government control.

“I am afraid government is going to mess it up,” McFadden said of farm programs.

Added Abeler: “I fear for the plight of greater Minnesota.” He said a multitude of problems are on the horizon, from finding workers to health care issues to grocery stores “being further and further away.”

Abeler and McFadden said they want to be on the Senate Agriculture Committee. McFadden criticized Franken for not sitting on the committee that deals with issues important to rural Minnesota.

At every opportunity, Franken recited his work on farm issues, including on a farm bill that set federal agriculture programs for the next five years.

The Environmental Protection Agency was a favorite target, with candidates knowing farmers do not like many of that federal agency’s requirements. At the top of candidates’ and farmers’ minds is a federal rule that defines many waters as “navigable” and places restrictions on their use.

Abeler said some streams the rule defines as navigable could not carry a canoe 10 feet.

Franken said he supports farmers and is fighting the rule.

McFadden and Franken differed in degrees when they spoke about energy.

Franken said he supports diverse energy sources, and since Minnesota does not have fossil fuel he concentrates on crop-based fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel.

McFadden, on the other hand, said the country needs “all forms of energy” and more pipelines to move some forms of energy such as oil and natural gas.

Franken said that on a key pipeline vote, for the Keystone XL, he supported making it out of U.S. steel (which would help Minnesota’s Iron Range) and require all the oil it carries to be sold in this country.

McFadden said he would support the Keystone even if steel came from China, as long as the Chinese government did not subsidize it.

Carlson positioned himself as an independent Republican, saying voters “do not want to trade one 97 percent for another 97 percent,” indicating that McFadden would vote the Republican line most of the time.

Terrell said that as an independent, he would hold a key Senate vote if the body is equally divided next year as he expects.

Franken, McFadden, Abeler

U.S. House candidates agree, but disagree

Peterson, Westrom

By Don Davis

REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. — U.S. House candidates knew what to say to Minnesota farmers during a Wednesday forum, but disagreed about who would be best to deliver the message to Congress.

In a nearly 90-minute forum at the annual Farmfest agriculture event, few differences surfaced in the western and southern districts that cover most of Minnesota’s farm country. Incumbent Democrats U.S. Reps. Collin Peterson and Tim Walz repeatedly talked about their records of helping farmers, even working with Republicans. Challengers relied on their feeling that it is time for a change.

After the forum, State Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, said that Peterson’s 24 years in office is enough.

“Are you satisfied with how Washington is working,” Westrom asked after the forum, linking many of the problems to Peterson and his fellow Democrats. Earlier, he told the crowd that “I think Washington needs a change.”

Peterson, however, told hundreds of farmers that he works with Democrats and Republicans to help farmers. He told of how when he started in the House 24 years ago, he was 29th in seniority on the Agriculture Committee. He has been the top-ranking Democrat for the past decade.

“If everybody operated like the ag committee, we wouldn’t have the problems we have in the country,” Peterson said.

Walz, like Peterson, talked about working with all sides to support farmers.

Along with him were two Republicans competing in Tuesday’s primary election for the right to run against him in the Nov. 4 election: Aaron Miller and Jim Hagedorn. Their district spans southern Minnesota.

Walz said that he works with all sides because to farmers, at least, partisan “bickering and rhetoric don’t matter. Results matter.”

He said politicians can work together even if they don’t agree.

Miller emphasized the need to increase global trade for Minnesota farm products. He promised to be “a tireless advocate” for free trade agreements that could open markets.

He also said that health and tax laws are great farmer concerns.

Hagedorn said that he has worked on federal legislation and understands how things operate. He said that big laws such as new federal health care policies that Walz supported are major issues. “I think it is hurting farmers and driving up costs,” he said of the law known as Obamacare.

Also on the forum stage were two challengers of U.S. Sen. John Kline. Paula Overby of the Independence Party and Democrat Mike Obermueller pointed out that Kline was not at the forum.

GOP governor candidates court voters at Farmfest

Seifert, Zellers, Johnson

By Don Davis

REDWOOD FALLS, Minn. — Four Republican candidates for Minnesota governor struggled to point out differences among themselves to more than 1,000 farmers and agribusiness workers at a Farmfest forum Tuesday, but had no problem criticizing Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton for skipping the event.

Marty Seifert repeatedly reminded the audience attending the traditional candidate forum that “I grew up a couple miles down the road” and he is “the only rural candidate.” He got the most applause from the crowd.

Kurt Zellers played up growing up on a farm, relating to farmers when he talked about barley chaff getting inside his shirt on hot August days. He did not mention that he grew up in North Dakota.

Jeff Johnson said he would be best to help rural Minnesota because with his current Hennepin County commissioner position and growing up in Detroit Lakes, he has respect from both sides.

Honour

Scott Honour claimed no rural roots, but said lower taxes like he wants to see in Minnesota would help farmers in the audience, those who sell to them and all Minnesotans.

The four agreed that Dayton should have attended the event. As it was, he became the second incumbent governor to skip the forum in the 24 years it has been held. But the Minnesota Farmers Union announced at about the same time the GOP candidates were debating that it endorsed Dayton.

Also on the forum panel was Hannah Nicollet, the Independence Party’s endorsed candidate.

Without Dayton, the crowd watched to see how the four Republicans handled questions from farm leaders. For the most part, they put away feisty performances they have shown in a couple of recent debates.

Also, the other three did not pick on Johnson, as has happened in the past week. Johnson has the Republican Party’s endorsement and benefits it brings, such as databases of potential primary voters.

The primary that will decide the Republican nominee is Tuesday, with predictions of low turnout. Most of the candidates say that rural Minnesota will be a key factor in who wins.

The Republicans agreed that state government intrudes too much into Minnesotans’ lives, but came at it from slightly different directions.

Johnson said those in state government tend to “regulate and punish. That seems to be what everyone in these agencies thinks is their job.” He promised to improve the “attitude and culture” so state workers become helpers, not punishers.

Seifert said: “People are increasingly becoming servants of the government when government is supposed to serve the people.”  He said rural Minnesotans, in particular, are “being micromanaged out of business.”

Honour’s answer to government overreach was to “get the scale of government back under control.” He frequently mentioned the need for lower taxes, including eliminating the estate tax that many farmers say prevents them from leaving their farms to their children.

Zellers said he would make government more responsive by appointing good people to Cabinet and other positions. The agriculture commissioner, for instance, “should be an advocate for agriculture,” Zellers said.

Nicollet

One of the questions asked of the candidates was how they would deal with railroad car shortages farmer and agribusinesses face as oil transportation has taken priority.

Zellers said the light rail in the Twin Cities “has sucked the air out of the building,” sending too much money to the passenger rail instead of roads and bridges that Republicans favor.

Honour said that using pipelines to move oil would free rail capacity for ag needs.

Seifert agreed that more pipelines are needed, but also emphasized the need to spend more money on roads.

Johnson said nearly all transportation money should be spent on roads and bridges.

Nicollet often fit in with the GOP candidates, saying that too much money and power go to the Metropolitan Council, a Twin Cities government body appointed by the governor. “They’ve been spending boatloads of money we don’t have,” she said.

The Farmers Union’s endorsement of Dayton was no surprise since the organization leans Democratic, while the Farm Bureau leans Republican.

Farmers Union President Doug Peterson said the Dayton administration has “a fierce commitment to Minnesota’s rural communities, farmers and our state’s farming tradition.” He said that with improved roads, encouraging conservation and other things Dayton has done, the governor “has a good record to run on.”

Republican governor candidates split on greater Minnesota issues

By Don Davis

Minnesota’s major Republican governor candidates have sounded a lot like four peas in a pod, showing few policy differences.

Zellers

However, when asked about how they would deal with areas of the state outside the Twin Cities, some splits begin to surface.

Those questions especially show a stark difference between Orono businessman Scott Honour, a first-time candidate, and three veteran politicians. Honour stands alone in insisting that greater Minnesota should get no special treatment, saying his policies would help all Minnesotans.

The other three — Jeff Johnson, Kurt Zellers and Marty Seifert — vary on how much, and what, should be done differently in greater Minnesota, the part of

Seifert

the state outside the Twin Cities urban and suburban areas.

Honour admitted that even he thinks greater Minnesota deserves special attention in road funding and that some property-poor communities should continue to receive Local Government Aid.

“Even my Republican competitors fall into the trap of going along with the status quo,” Honour said about those seeking the $123,912-a-year job. “What will help this state across the board is to get government out of the business of trying to pick winners and losers. It is not any good at that.”

A series of Forum News Service interviews with the four major GOP candidates competing in an Aug. 12 primary election produced some differences among them, but they agreed that winning greater Minnesota is critical to a primary victory and the Nov. 4 general election against Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

There is a widespread feeling in political circles that whoever wins rural Minnesota wins the primary.

Honour

The rural “L” of western and southern Minnesota, long considered a key to a politician’s chances, is expanding to look like a different letter. It could be a “C,” including the Iron Range.

“I would put it more as a G …” Zellers said, looking at a map and verbally tracing a letter that begins in the northeast, goes down the west, across the south and back west to the St. Cloud area. “I would never exclude any place on the Iron Range in this election, particularly due to the copper-mining issue.”

Whatever the letter, most of the candidates said they spend about half of their campaign time outside the Twin Cities, visiting newspapers, radio stations and other venues, as well as marching in parades.

Greater Minnesota is so important to the candidates that two who live in the suburbs, Zellers and Johnson, picked rural running mates to balance their tickets even though they bring their own rural and small-town roots to the race. Seifert trumpets his life-long rural residency.

Candidates say they do not know who will vote Aug. 12 since it is rare for Republicans to

Johnson

have a competitive primary. But rural voters generally show better primary turnout than those in the suburbs and urban areas.

That prompts the candidates to emphasize greater Minnesota issues.

“One size fits all doesn’t fit all the time in government,” Johnson said, adding that urban, suburban and greater Minnesota needs differ.

“It is really important for the next governor to be really focused, almost hyper focused, on greater Minnesota,” Zellers declared.

The biggest difference among the four candidates is how much they would target programs at greater Minnesota. The most stark example may be in how they would deal with biofuels such as corn-based ethanol and soybean-based biodiesel. In recent years, ethanol has fueled a boom in corn production.

Seifert, a Marshall resident and former state representative, said the state has created thousands of jobs and the state should not change the requirement that gasoline include 10 percent ethanol.

“I see this as the status quo for now,” he said, not jumping on a bandwagon to increase ethanol percentages.

For diesel, Seifert said, he can understand concerns about biodiesel gumming up fuel filters in cold weather. “Biodiesel mandates are not going to go up if I’m governor.”

Zellers, raised on a North Dakota farm and now a Maple Grove resident, said he wants to look into increasing the ethanol mandate to 15 percent, but needs more information before fully supporting it. At minimum, he said, he wants to keep existing mandates in place.

Johnson, who grew up in Detroit Lakes and lives in Plymouth, said he favors eliminating mandates from state law, including those affecting biofuels.

However, he added, he has been around government enough to know that the mandates cannot be eliminated right away.

“Government has created somewhat of a dependency,” Johnson said, adding that eliminating biofuel mandates is not a priority and that he would like to phase them out.

There is none of that waiting for Honour.

“I would try to push away from mandates as quickly as possible,” Honour said. “My view is that the less government is trying to influence a free market, the better.”

While many Minnesota politicians and government agencies trumpet the fact that their vehicles use biofuels grown in Minnesota, Honour takes a different approach.

“In energy, we ought to be moving to taking advantage of resources that are sitting right next door in North Dakota, with natural gas, and Montana and Wyoming with coal,” he said, emphasizing that the Ford F-350 pickup truck that he drives uses natural gas.

Transportation is a key issue in greater Minnesota.

The four said that greater Minnesota needs transportation help, and when they talk about transportation they mean roads. The four were united in opposing expansion of Twin Cities light rail and were mostly against passenger rail to other destinations if it means a state subsidy is needed.

Seifert said that a third of public works funding, which comes from the state selling bonds, should go to roads and bridges. That would provide $400 million to $500 million per two-year budget, he said, much more than normally is available.

That road bonding money would replace things such as local arts projects and other items that may be more wants than needs, he said.

Honour said that rural roads need more funding, but “the things state government does have to be looked at through the lens of how does it affect the entire state.” On the other hand, he added, road funding “is tied to the geography of the state.”

Johnson said too much “transportation” money is going to build sidewalks, trails and other things. That money needs to go back to roads and bridges, he said.

Regulations imposed on road builders have added to highway costs, he added, and streamlining those rules could save considerable money.

“My gut has always been that a little more weight should be placed on greater Minnesota,” Johnson said about transportation funding. “People are so far apart.”

Zellers said one way to save construction money is to exempt rural projects from a law requiring contractors to pay the “prevailing wage.” Under the law, rural projects pay workers the same as those in the Twin Cities, he said, even though the cost of living in most rural areas is lower.

“You can get a lot more bang for your buck,” Zellers said about rural projects.

Each claims to be best

Three of Minnesota’s four major Republican governor candidates have office space in the western Twin Cities suburbs, near where they live. But despite the location, each says he would be the best choice for greater Minnesota residents.

Former state Rep. Marty Seifert regularly brings up the fact that he is the only life-long Minnesotan in the race, and has lived in greater Minnesota all that time. Minnesotans prefer a “lifer,” he said, offering not-so-subtle insults at Kurt Zellers for growing up in North Dakota, Scott Honour for spending much of his career in California and Jeff Johnson for a stint in Chicago.

But his comments do not seem to bother his competitors.

Johnson said he can do a better job for greater Minnesota because he lives in Hennepin County, the largest in the state, after growing up in Detroit Lakes and graduating from Concordia College in Moorhead. That, he said, means he has a balanced background that gives him more credibility in both urban and rural areas.

Also, Johnson said, his running mate is former state Rep. Bill Kuisle, who will continue to run his rural Rochester farm if elected.

Zellers said he has been on the road in Minnesota his entire adult life, starting when he worked for then-U.S. Sen. Rod Grams and continuing when he was state House speaker. “I have traveled the state for 20 years,” he said.

He grew up on a farm near Devils Lake, N.D., and his running mate, Dean Simpson, owns grocery stores in Perham and New York Mills, factors Zellers calls advantages.

Honour lives in Orono and never lived in greater Minnesota. However, his running mate, state Sen. Karin Housley of the eastern Twin Cities suburbs, lived in Walker seven years when her hockey star husband played in Winnipeg.

Honour said his mother came from Willmar, where he continues to hear relatives lobby him on rural issues.

Property tax divide

The candidates split on whether the state should do something to keep rural property taxes in check.

Recently released figures show that farmland taxes will rise in coming years, even as other property taxes will fall, or at least rise at a slower rate than for farmers. The main reason that farm taxes are headed up is a dramatic increase in farmland values, which farmers say raise property taxes even though the higher values benefit them only if they sell.

Seifert said that a law he pushed when he was a lawmaker gives farmers tax breaks on the area around their homes, but it did not include such breaks in the increasingly popular school bond referendums. He said the existing cuts should be extended to all homesteaded land and to referendum-passed taxes.

He also said he supports limiting levies local governments can raise on farms.

“It is a matter of reforming the code that is skewed against farmers,” Seifert said.

Honour said there should be no special privilege for farmers. He said he wants lower taxes across the board, which would benefit farmers as well as everyone else.

“I am hesitant to say the state should step in,” Johnson said, speaking in favor of local control over the issue.

Zellers said he wants to keep agriculture taxes in check, especially so they don’t scare off young farmers. However, he added, he does not know if government can help.

While some groups urge state officials to limit local government spending in an effort to keep property taxes down, the GOP candidates generally agree that local governments should control local budgets.

They also agree that Local Government Aid and other state payments should be trimmed back to only those communities that cannot raise enough property tax to fund fundamental services such as police and fire protection.

The candidates say St. Paul and Minneapolis do not need the aid because they have strong enough tax bases to fund key services.

As a county commissioner, Johnson said he favors local control, but added that he could support a form of levy limits under some circumstances. He said he would tie the property tax controls to other laws that without limits would force up taxes.

No matter what the states does, Johnson said, there will remain urban-suburban-rural differences in how much money local governments have available.

School start debated

Rural and resort areas annually fight legislative efforts to allow schools to start before Labor Day.

Students are needed to work on farms and resorts and should be able to attend the State Fair, supporters of the post-Labor Day start say.

Honour and Johnson said local school boards should decide when to start schools.

One of Johnson’s first bills as a legislator was to allow schools to start when local boards wanted. “Holy cow,” he said of the unexpectedly strong opposition.

However, Johnson added, he remains in favor of letting local boards make their own decisions.

“I’m not personally hearing a lot of chatter about it,” Honour said. “It shouldn’t be a state mandate.”

“It is for our lakes, it is for our farmers, it is for our hospitality industry,” Zellers said of keeping the later start date.

While Seifert said he agrees with the later start, he said the bigger issue is that school days are too short and schools need to find ways to keep students in classes longer.

Oil differences

All of the GOP contenders said they support more pipeline and less train use to transport North Dakota crude oil through Minnesota.

“Pipelines are safer than rail,” Seifert said, adding that railroads “are going to have to work with us to make sure rail crossings are safer.”

He also said “it’s a fair criticism” some make that pipelines should not be in environmentally sensitive areas.

Zellers said he favors running an oil or gas pipeline in the right of way of other utilities, such as electrical transmission lines. “Where we have already established a utility like that, it is a more efficient use of time.”

The former House speaker also said pipeline companies should realize that it may be more efficient to move pipeline routes away from environmentally sensitive areas that often bog down the permitting process in lengthy government hearings.

Honour said he likes using pipelines to move oil, and would like to get rid of new energy mandates.

“Here we are the closest place to the Bakken (oilfield) where you would actually want to live, and instead of having a pipe from there to here to have low-cost natural gas, we put a solar mandate on our utilities that raises our electric rates, which harms everyone in the state,” Honour said.

“We ought to be promoting pipelines,” he added. “Our state has been holding things up.”

Minnesota auditor’s race in surprising spotlight

By Don Davis

Few political observers could have guessed that the hot Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party primary election race would be for state auditor.

State auditor? Yes, Democratic candidates for the office that specializes in checking local government’s books are in the middle of a campaign that is loud and rough, even for the Minnesota party that is used to primaries. Television commercials are being aired before the primary, a rarity in such a race, and the candidates are on the attack.

Incumbent Rebecca Otto and long-time Democratic politician Matt Entenza are fighting in the Aug. 12 primary election for an office that will pay $105,326 annually and generally flies well under Minnesotans’ radar.

It is that obscurity that Entenza said got him into the race.

“I think the auditor’s office has been too quiet and needs to be more active, particularly to help greater Minnesota communities,” Entenza said during a telephone interview from Cloquet.

The one-time state House minority leader from St. Paul said since he began campaigning around the state in June, people say they do not know who the auditor is or what the job is. He said that is proof that Otto is not doing her job.

But Otto, an east Twin Cities resident seeking her third term, said the auditor should not be a big newsmaker. “In this position, you don’t make state policy, you don’t hand out money.”

She said Entenza is talking about doing things that go beyond the auditor’s authority.

The office does not need to be in the spotlight, she said. “If you are messing up, you are making headlines.

Policy, she said, is up to the Legislature and governor. The auditor, she added, audits financial records.

In Minnesota, the legislative auditor keeps track of state programs. The state auditor examines local government books and compiles data about what is found. The auditor also sits on a half-dozen boards, including one that oversees public pensions.

Entenza said that the auditor’s job should include looking ahead to prevent problems, not just looking at past numbers local governments report.

“If you are not looking to the future, the books can become unbalanced very quickly,” he said.

While he pledged to give the Legislature and governor reports about potential fiscal problems, he said that he will not offer specific proposals about how to deal with them.

Otto said that already is what she does. For example, she said, she warned policy makers of potential loss of federal funds over a program designed to allow drivers to avoid being fined if they took driving classes. Her report, she said, provided information to lawmakers, but “they have to decide.”

Another example she offered was her office’s report on sales from municipal liquor stores. She said the figures in her reports can help policymakers, but it is not up to her to decide if cities should sell booze.

Otto said that Entenza would turn the office, with about 110 workers, into a partisan operation.

“Numbers aren’t partisan,” she said.

An example of what Entenza would report to policy makers is school finances. He said there is a growing inequity between rural and Twin Cities schools. “I think the auditor’s office should be putting out reports highlighting the problems some of the rural school districts have.”

The winner of the Aug. 12 Otto-Entenza primary election will face Republican Randy Gilbert and a trio of third-party candidates in the Nov. 4 general election.