Political notebook: Dayton ponders politics in body cast

By Don Davis

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has had a lot of time to think in the past month.

The 67-year-old governor is stuck at his official state residence in a body cast, recovering from hip surgery he underwent at Mayo Clinic just over a month ago. While he meets in person and by telephone with staff and commissioners, he cannot get out to political, social and official events. He said that he cannot even go downstairs.

That leaves him bunches of time to ponder state policy and politics.

Capitol reporters learned that Thursday as he answered questions in a conference call for 55 minutes, ending the chat only because the time had come to invite in some medical marijuana proponents. Dayton said that he was open to another conference call the next day if reporters wanted one. It never happened.

Among things Dayton said in what can only be described as a wide-ranging conversation:

– A just-released report showed Minnesota with more than 2.8 million jobs, the most in the state history. That is 150,000 more than when Dayton took office in 2011.

– Legislators need to pass a tax-cut bill by Wednesday in order for Minnesotans to reap $57 million “in immediate tax savings,” he said. Later, to a reporter’s question, he admitted that taxpayers still could get those benefits if they file amended tax returns. He also said that maybe lawmakers have another day or two beyond Wednesday to pass the measure.

– Discussions about whether to enact tax breaks to attract the Super Bowl are “very preliminary.” He said he has talked to Democratic legislative leaders, and plans to get Republicans involved in the next few days. On Friday, GOP leaders said they had not received an invitation and have not seen him since the surgery.

– Even though House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, had said he wanted to approve a bill to raise the minimum wage in the first two weeks of the legislative session (which has passed), Dayton predicted it will not get done until the end of session, which must come by May 19.

– He wants “almost all of the Senate offices moved out of the Capitol” and into a proposed building across the street to the north. “I think it should be a modest building,” he added, unlike some early plans. “It needs to be a Minnesota-style building.”

The governor hopes his time trapped at home may be near an end. He is expected back at Mayo in the coming days to find out how his hip is healing.

Auditor: Councils inadequate

The legislative auditor says four minority councils the state created years ago do not have a clear mission and are not “adequately integrated into state policy making.”

The report the Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles’ office says the councils on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans, Black Minnesotans, Chicano-Latino Affairs and Indian Affairs “have done a poor job setting specific objectives and identifying outcome measures to assess the impact of their activities.”

Also, the report said, council members often do not attend meetings.

“Overall, there is little evidence that the state’s four minority councils have been effective advisers or liaisons to state policy makers,” the report concluded.

The Council on Black Minnesotans was strongly critical of the auditor’s report, and went on the attack.

The council said Noble’s office needs “to improve its understanding of African heritage people, their various cultures, and their history in Minnesota.” It suggests more “African heritage people as auditors and general personnel.”

While the Council on Black Minnesotans says there are numerous false statements and the auditor’s report should not have been released, the other councils reacted with both praise and mild disagreements with parts of the report.

City revenues up

State Auditor Rebecca Otto just released a report on Minnesota city finances that showed revenues were up 3 percent in 2012 compared to a year earlier.

For cities more than 2,500 population, revenues increased 2 percent, while smaller cities received 6 percent more money.

Total spending for 2012 was $5.4 billion, Otto reported, a 4 percent hike. Bigger cities upped spending 3 percent, while smaller cities’ spending rose 13 percent.

Over the past 10 years, the report indicated, city revenues actually went down 9 percent when dollars were adjusted for inflation. At the same time, actual money coming from property taxes went up 78 percent for cities statewide. Even when adjusted for inflation, property tax revenues were up 29 percent.

The proportion of revenue coming from property taxes grew during the past decade as state aid fell.

Transportation safety bill near

Chairman Frank Hornstein of the House Transportation Finance Committee said he expects to unveil a bill Wednesday to fund transportation safety measures in light of increased crude oil movements through Minnesota.

The Minneapolis Democrat said the bill likely will not include a tax he earlier proposed on crude oil transported through the state. However, he hinted an existing fee charged railroads may be expanded to allow the state to add to its one rail inspector.

The issue became a hot topic after last year’s spectacular oil train derailments in Canada and North Dakota.

Two Harbors wants signs

Two Harbors officials want to allow business names to appear on signs along U.S. 61 that goes through the North Shore community.

A House committee has approved legislation to allow signs in Two Harbors like rural businesses can get. In rural areas, blue signs may direct motorists to nearby businesses, but that is not allowed in cities, where only major attractions and places like gasoline stations, restaurants and motels are allowed to be on signs.

“We’re looking for kind of a level playing field,” Two Harbors City Councilman Seth McDonald told the committee.

Department of Transportation officials were concerned that if the state changes its law, it could violate federal regulations on advertising signs.

Drink up at U

The University of Minnesota, the first Big Ten college to serve alcohol at its football stadium, earned a profit in the first two years of sales.

The legislative permission to drink is ending, so lawmakers are considering extending the program.

The university reports a nearly $181,000 profit last year.

Collin Peterson runs again

Forum News Service
MOORHEAD — U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, the congressman who represents most of western Minnesota from Canada on the north nearly to Iowa on the south, announced this morning that he plans to run for re-election.

Peterson, a Democrat from Detroit Lakes, will seek his 13th term in Congress in November’s election.

He’ll likely face state Sen. Torrey Westrom, a Republican from Elbow Lake who has announced his plan to seek his party’s nomination to face Peterson – a 24-year veteran who hasn’t been in a close election since 1994.

Early in the election cycle, he had been one of the top targets of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

He had been vocal for months about his frustration to pass a farm bill, which is part of the reason some political observers had speculated the moderate Democrat might not seek another term.

The Republican candidate in the 7th Congressional District said he is ready for the fall election.

“I decided to run for Congress because I believe it is time for a new direction, fresh leadership and a return to more of the conservative ideals that have made America great,” Westrom said. “Now that my opponent has decided to seek re-election, after decades in Washington, I eagerly look forward to the upcoming, spirited debate about the future direction of this country.”

Political notebook: Dems push rural issues

By Don Davis

Minnesota House Democrats want voters to know that most rural residents should pay lower property taxes on their homes after actions they took.

“We think it is good news for Minnesotans and Minnesota homeowners,” House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, told a handful of greater Minnesota reporters on a Friday conference call.

After property taxes rose 84 percent in the past dozen years, he said, they now will drop 4.9 percent after actions during last year’s legislative session.

While numbers Thissen and colleagues released are overall statewide figures, Rep. Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth, said the overwhelming majority of rural Minnesotans’ home property taxes will fall.

That is not the case, however, with taxes on farm land.

House Property Tax Chairman Jim Davnie, D-Minneapolis, said he hopes to find a way to lower farmland tax in a second tax-cut bill the House expects to debate this legislative session. Also possible are bigger homeowner and renter refunds and fixing a formula problem that cost 11 counties state aid.

But Senate Tax Chairman Rod Skoe, D-Clearbrook, says there will be no second tax-cut bill. And $500 million in tax cuts the House approved Thursday cut deeper than the Senate will, he said.

Marquart said that rural Minnesota home taxes already are down $30 million, and any homeowner who otherwise would pay more could get a big enough refund to counter higher taxes.

It is obvious around the Capitol that House Democrats are worried about losing rural Minnesota seats in the November election.

Minutes after the House approved its $500 million tax cut, most rural Democratic members sent news releases out via email.

“These tax cuts will go directly to middle class families in Minnesota, including the business owners of main street store fronts and the folks who support them” Rep. Ben Lien, D-Moorhead, said, comments typical of rural Democrats.

“Our great state is on the right track and the way to continue that progress is to grow our economy from the middle out, starting with these middle-class tax cuts,” Rep. John Ward, D-Baxter, said in in his news release.

“The way to continue building on our progress is to expand middle-class economic opportunity,” Rep. Mary Sawatzky, D-Willmar, said.

Republicans were not buying it.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann of Eden Prairie echoed other Republicans’ views by saying that Democrats cannot declare victory in the last half of the Legislature’s two-year session. Last year’s $2.3 billion tax increase is cannot be counterbalanced by a $500 million cut, he said.

Democrats lose 2 votes

A tax-cut bill the House passed in record time, less than two weeks into this legislative session, gained support of all but two representatives.

Democratic Reps. Jason Metsa of Virginia and Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley put the only two red votes on the tally board, later saying the money used to finance the $500 million in tax cuts could have been better spent.

Metsa said he supports the part of the bill that matched Minnesota tax law to federal law, which not only would save money but also make tax returns simpler.

“I think the remaining dollars would’ve been better spent on additional property tax relief, support for our nursing homes and further restoring Minnesota’s commitment to our counties, cities and townships after a decade of funding cuts,” Metsa said.

Winkler said he voted against the tax cut because they were too large.

“I support some of the individual provisions, but think that we should not pass cuts within a year of enacting the first truly balanced budget in a decade,” Winkler said. “In addition, a surplus is a good thing to re-invest in Minnesota’s economy through early childhood education, lower higher education costs, higher pay for care providers, improved transportation, etc.”

More propane transportation

Upper Midwest U.S. senators are pushing legislation to make it easier to transport propane to people affected by shortage of the fuel and its high price.

U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Al Franken of Minnesota, John Hoeven of North Dakota and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin introduced a bill to extend the number of hours drivers can transport propane.

Minnesota U.S. Reps. John Kline, Erik Paulsen, Tim Walz and Rick Nolan have a similar bill.

The longer hours would be allowed through May 31.

“With winter weather still bearing down on Minnesota, we need to do everything we can to deliver relief to families who are feeling the impacts of the propane shortage,” Klobuchar said. “By letting truck drivers work longer hours for the rest of the winter, this legislation will help speed propane supplies to those who need it most and deliver some much-needed certainty to families across Minnesota.

Cash for projects?

Before Gov. Mark Dayton announced changes he wants to make in the state budget on Thursday, it appeared likely that money from a $1.2 billion surplus would be used to fund some public works projects.

However, Dayton tried to put an end to that as he opted against paying cash. He said borrowing money by selling bonds is a better way to fund public works projects such as fixing buildings and constructing new ones.

He included enough money in his revised budget to pay interest on bonds so the Legislature could approve a nearly $1 billion public works bill instead of $840 million legislative leaders want. Legislative leaders are open to paying cash for some projects.

Mute those reporters

Gov. Mark Dayton has been homebound after hip surgery, forcing him to dump news conferences in favor of conference calls with reporters.

When he announced his supplemental budget Thursday, the conference operator explained that reporters’ telephones were muted while Dayton talked.

“I kind of like these calls when all the reporters are on mute,” Dayton cracked.

Analysis: Election-year politics never will be far from Minnesota legislators

House last year

By Don Davis

Politics and legislating always are intertwined, but they could be even more so in the Minnesota Legislature this year.

Minnesota’s 201 state lawmakers return to St. Paul today for a shorter-than-normal 2014 legislative session (they must be done by May 19), with a relatively short must-do issues list.

Democratic House leaders, facing re-election this year, appear happy to meet for less than three months as they try to sidestep controversial issues that could hurt them at the polls. Republicans, never for long sessions, can use their minority status with little say in what happens in the Capitol to take issue with most Democratic initiatives.

Among Democrats, there is a sense of unease in the Capitol as the House and governor’s office are up for election this year (senators are safe from the ballot box for a couple more years). In the 2010 election, Republicans took both chambers of the Legislature (the Senate was GOP for the first time in 38 years) and then two years ago Democrats snatched them back.

As Democrats try to keep their hold on the House, Senate and governor’s office, all signs are that their leaders will try to avoid more tax increases this year at all costs, after a $2 billion hike a year ago. Republicans are trying to make hay with that increase, and by emphasizing that in 2013 Democrats also began the troubled MNsure health insurance marketplace.

Competition for rural and suburban House seats will be fierce since voters in many of those districts could opt for either party. So laying out a middle-of-the-road sales campaign could help Democrats.

In his sales effort aimed at some of those rural Minnesota districts, Democratic House Speaker Paul Thissen of Minneapolis sought a Forum News Service interview about his set of rural initiatives for the session.

Sure, it makes sense to ask a reporter who writes for newspapers that cover much of rural Minnesota in to talk. But it is not common: In at least 15 years, no speaker has delivered a similar invitation to discuss a session’s rural issues. And certainly no Minneapolis lawmaker has done that.

“I think we have a pretty good story to tell,” Thissen began, starting with what he sees as last year’s rural-issues progress.

With the House up for election, it appears to be up to Thissen to temper expectations from liberal DFL activists, many of whom want more taxes and more spending in a variety of areas. More taxes and spending could alienate voters who tend to be moderates.

The House and Senate transportation finance chairmen recently proposed two new taxes: a motor fuel sales tax and another one on crude oil transported through Minnesota. Thissen tried to squelch talk of either tax, at least for this year.

Thissen said he does not support taking up controversial issues such as copper-nickel and sand mining this session. And he said he wants more information before signing off on constructing a $63 million Senate office building, another controversial item.

House Democrats and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton like the idea of repealing some controversial taxes they approved last year, including one on farm implement repair and another on warehouse storage.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, agreed with Democrats that the state economy is improving, but disputed DFL claims that their policies are responsible.

“It wasn’t raising taxes that got us out of this situation,” Daudt said of economic woes.

Republicans say their policies in 2011 and 2012 helped businesses and, thus, the economy. Talk like that and attacking MNsure health make it clear the GOP will continue to run on issues that put the party in power four years ago: lower taxes and smaller government.

Many Republicans say Democrats are running away from what they did when in power last year, predicting they will try to downplay tax and spending increases. Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, said that the opposite could happen. If Democrats begin to think they may lose House control, he said, they could begin passing all of their priority bills, regardless of the needs and consequences.

Political notebook: MNsure supporters see improvement

By Don Davis

MNsure rolled out commercials with real people talking about how the state-run health insurance marketplace helped them.

And a key MNsure supporter promoted a study showing that Minnesota policies are less expensive than in other states.

It is a campaign to draw attention to successes and away from months of bad news, news such as computer problems, impossibly long waits for help and a system that never told some people if their attempts to get coverage succeeded.

State Rep. Tom Huntley, D-Duluth, issued a news release promoting a Kaiser Health News Service report that indicated five of the 10 least expensive health insurance markets in America are in Minnesota.

The cheapest mid-range plan cost about $259 a month in many regional insurance markets, Huntley said, but those in the Twin Cities market could buy plans at $159. Similar plans in the St. Cloud area go for $166, in northwestern Minnesota for $171 and west-central and north-central counties for $180.

Huntley said that an average 40-year-old in the Twin Cities will pay $154 a month for a mid-range plan, while a similar Wisconsin plan would cost three times more. While Minnesota opted to establish its own health insurance marketplace, Wisconsin is using one run by the federal government.

“This study just proves that Minnesota is making the right decisions when it comes to providing access to quality health care,” Huntley said.

While Huntley praised MNsure, the agency announced that more than 100,000 Minnesotans have enrolled in insurance through it.

Minnesotans have until March 31 to sign up during open enrollment. For the rest of the year, people may sign up if they have a qualifying event such as losing a job. Otherwise, open enrollment will return in the fall.

Of the 100,000, two-thirds are in government-subsidized programs, with MNsure their only option to get coverage. Just 31,000 Minnesotans have signed up for private plans.

MNsure’s new round of commercials touts successes that have not been heard among the problems. One features a women with a brain tumor who says she obtained affordable insurance via MNsure.

There will be howling

Wolf Day at the Minnesota Capitol is sure to attract attention.

Rallies in the Capitol rotunda generally are about money issues, but the Howling for Wolves organization is sponsoring the Thursday event in a large part to ask the state to curtail wolf hunting.

“The wolf hunt is an elective and recreational activity, and not intended to control the wolf population,” said Maureen Hackett, founder of the organization. “By failing to establish how many wolves die of all causes, including not performing a baseline wolf survey before the hunt, the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) has chosen to ignore sound scientific methods.”

Fighting invasive

Debate over taxes, the minimum wage and other such topics will dominate the Minnesota legislative session that begins Tuesday, but there are some that say turning back invasive fish and other species needs to be a prime concern.

Rep. John Persell, D-Bemidji, said that much of his area’s economy depends on fishing and invasive species such as Asian carp can be a huge economic issue.

“Last session, we made new investments in research in an effort to try and learn more about how to prevent these AIS (aquatic invasive species) from moving through our waterways,” he said. “This session, we need to do more to increase enforcement across the entire state. Many times AIS spread because of carelessness on the part of those going from one lake to another.”

House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, recently said that fighting invasive species is a priority.

 Bullying bill draws rally

The organization that won last year’s gay marriage debate is turning its attention to efforts to curb school bullying.

Outfront Minnesota, the state’s major pro-gay organization, plans to fight those who do not support the anti-bullying measure. The group is collecting signatures on a petition and will be part of a “safe schools rally” in the Capitol on March 3.

“Because of your support and involvement, we won marriage equality here in Minnesota last year,” Outfront wrote to supporters in an email. “Now, we need you to show up again at the Capitol to get the bill passed now.”

State Sen. Susan Kent, D-Woodbury, said she recently attended a gathering to discuss the issue and was happy to see middle school and high school students there.

“A 10th grader bravely stood before the audience and told her story of having been bullied,” Kent said. “Her dad spoke after her, and every parent in the room hurt with him as he described the pain and frustration of watching his child struggle.”

But Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said school districts do not like the proposal. He said he visited nine districts in his area and officials said they already have anti-bullying policies.

“It will do nothing but to pass on costs,” Gazelka said was the message school officials gave him.

A tough video decision

Plenty of videos are available to watch online.

But Minnesotans have an especially tough decision between two: a YouTube video at http://youtu.be/jUFBa-AFZCc with legislative leaders answering reporters’ questions for 90 minutes or a live video at www.webcams.dnr.state.mn.us/eagle of an eagle’s next, providing the potential of seeing cute baby eagles at some point.

Well, maybe it is not such a tough decision, but there is plenty of time before baby eagles emerge to watch legislative leaders. The Forum News Service-sponsored forum, minus Gov. Mark Dayton after his surgery, hits on many topics that will arise during the legislative session that begins Tuesday and must end no later than May 19. Senate Media Services produced the video.

The eagle cam, meanwhile, just went live at a nest from an undisclosed Twin Cities location.

Department of Natural Resources biologists say they think it is the same pair of birds that used the nest last year, when their eggs did not hatch. The eggs probably froze last year, and the two eggs that had been laid at last report face bitterly cold weather in the next few days.

Political notebook: Lawmaker on offensive on PolyMet issue

By Don Davis

Minnesota state Rep. Andrew Falk went on the attack when a PolyMet Mining Corp. official appeared in a House committee.

The normally quiet Murdock Democrat made it clear that he was upset that PolyMet Vice President Brad Moore would not answer questions about the topic of the meeting: whether the company is providing enough financial assurance that any environmental problems would be fixed once the proposed northeastern Minnesota copper-nickel mine closes.

Falk said he is inclined to agree with people who say PolyMet is only a shell company that does not have enough assets to cover remedial environmental costs.

Holding a well-bookmarked PolyMet annual report, Falk asked: “What is the true value of assets?”

Moore responded: “The details of the finances, I do not know.” But he promised to provide answers to any written questions Falk gave him.

That did not set well with Falk: “I was hoping that an executive vice president would know something about the financials.”

Falk said that he looked through the annual report for cash PolyMet has available to put up as assurance there would be enough money for environment work when the mine closes. All he found was less than $10 million, a fraction of what even the company says needs to be available.

Moore refused to give Chairwoman Jean Wagenius, D-Minneapolis, documents supporting PolyMet’s initial estimates of how much may be needed. Those early figures show PolyMet thinks up to $200 million should be set aside when the mine closes and up to $6 million a year for the long term after closure.

During the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee meeting, Department of Natural Resources officials said that it is too early to know how much is needed to be set aside to clean up water and other potential environmental issues. They said the process is in an environmental impact study stage, with PolyMet’s post-mine closure financial requirements to be discussed once the company actually applies for a mining permit.

Moore said his company will make suggestions, but state regulators will decide how much money PolyMet must set aside.

The state requires mines to have enough money available to reverse any environmental damage that may remain when a mine closes, either at the end of its natural life or if a mine abruptly closes.

Thompson vs. Seifert

State Sen. Dave Thompson wants fellow Republicans to know that he will abide by their state convention’s decision about who will represent the party in the governor’s race.

Former Rep. Mary Seifert of Marshall edged the Lakeville senator in a precinct caucus straw poll earlier this month, prompting Thompson to release a report emphasizing that Seifert does not plan to abide by convention delegates’ decision, and will take the race to a primary election.

“It is unclear whether or not delegates are aware that Marty Seifert has refused to abide by their endorsement,” senior Thompson advisor Jon Seaton wrote in the report.

For years, Republicans have tended to want their candidates to abide by the convention decision, and those who did not promise to abide have struggled to get GOP activists’ support.

Thompson, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson and Hibbing teacher Rob Farnsworth have pledged to abide by the convention decision.

Seaton writes that Thompson did better than Seifert in many GOP-heavy counties and that Seifert did worse in this year’s poll than he did in a similar one when he ran for governor four years ago.

Hubbard joins Dahlberg

Chris Dahlberg’s effort to win the Republican nomination to face Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken received a boost when Stanley S. Hubbard, Hubbard Broadcasting chairman and CEO, became his campaign finance chairman.

Stanley already was a supporter of Dahlberg, a St. Louis County commissioner, but agreeing to become finance chairman illustrates a deeper support.

The wealthy broadcasting leader brings a lot of contacts with him to the job.

Dahlberg faces a crowded GOP Senate field, which includes businessman Mike McFadden, who appears willing to spend his own wealth to help him win.

Political notebook: Propane crisis brings farm leader’s questions

By Don Davis

Rural Midwesterners want answers to a long list of questions about the current propane crisis.

Mainly, their question is: Why?

President Doug Peterson of the Minnesota Farmers Union said his group is calling for increased state and federal government action to deal with the situation. That situation is a shortage of propane that 250,000 Minnesota homeowners use for heat. Farmers, businesses and others also use the fuel, mostly in rural parts of the region.

“Many farmers and rural residents save all summer to buy their propane in the winter months,” Peterson said. “That certainty and ability to pay their heating bills is now gone, and people are being forced to pay outrageous prices for what is an essential element of existence in wintertime Minnesota.”

Peterson wondered whether price gouging is involved.

“Why have costs skyrocketed from $1.50 to $5 per gallon?” he wondered. “How many of our urban and suburban cousins could afford paying three times what it usually costs to heat their homes or businesses?”

If solutions are to be found, they likely will be on the federal government level since propane transportation problems seem to be the big issue and individual states can do relatively little on that issue. Some in Minnesota’s congressional delegation have called for hearings on the subject.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and other Midwestern governors have taken some measures, but they cannot reach across state lines to change rules and convince railroads, pipeline owners and others to transport more propane. They also cannot answer one of Peterson’s questions: whether an upward trend in exporting propane to other countries is hurting Americans.

Peterson also wants to know why a pipeline carrying 40 percent of Minnesota’s propane was out of service for a couple of months. The pipeline is to end propane service permanently in April.

Railroad safety studied

Minnesota officials are just beginning to look into how to make sure railroads hauling western North Dakota crude oil are doing it safely when they pass through the state.

Gov. Mark Dayton met with three commissioners and other key personnel to discuss what legislation may be needed in the session that begins Feb. 25. One possibility is to increase the number of rail inspectors from the one position now in place.

Dayton’s spokesman said the governor plans to talk to North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple about rail safety in light of the Dec. 30 derailment of a BNSF Railway train in his state.

Counties: Fund transportation

Financially strapped Minnesota counties know a good cause, for them at least, when they see one.

More than 70 counties have signed on to an effort to persuade the Legislature to increase transportation funding this year.

Move MN, a statewide pro-transportation coalition, has announced that it is working for more transportation money, but its leaders refuse to say where they suggest lawmakers get the funding.

The state increased the motor fuel tax in 2008, the last time significantly new money flowed into highways and other transportation needs.

“Simply put, transportation is about opportunity and access – connecting families to schools and health care, connecting consumers to businesses and connecting our region’s farms to the global marketplace,” Commissioner John Schueller of Redwood County said. “Lack of investment in our local infrastructure stifles economic growth in Redwood Falls and lessens our ability to meaningfully contribute to Minnesota’s economy. It is crucial the state provide us with the lifeline we need to succeed.”

Pro-sportsman act passes House

The U.S. House has passed a bill to protect hunting and fishing.

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., co-sponsored the legislation that would, among other things, remove federal control over whether bullets and fishing tackle are considered toxic, encourage maintaining shooting ranges, allow people at Army Corps of Engineers-maintained areas to carry guns and open more federal land to hunting and fishing.

Walz said the bill “is based upon one fact: Sportsmen and -women are some of our nation’s most effective conservationists. This legislation will work to promote this simple fact by increasing access to the outdoors and funding common sense conservation practices.”

It’s DFL vs. McFadden

There is no doubt which U.S. Senate candidate Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party leaders most fear.

For weeks, the DFL has hammered away at Mike McFadden for skipping debates with fellow Republican Senate candidates. After Tuesday’s precinct caucuses, in which McFadden finished 8 points behind frontrunner Julianne Ortman, the party issued a statement: “Investment banker Mike McFadden proved once again that skipping debates and refusing to address the issues comes with a hefty price tag. Last night, McFadden lost his third straight Republican straw poll. …”

McFadden is the richest of the GOP candidates and is expected to pump his own money into seeking votes in an Aug. 12 primary election and, if he wins that, in an effort to unseat first-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken.

Leslie Davis a poet

Political observers give Leslie Davis little, if any, chance of winning the governor’s race he has entered, but the frequent candidate does offer some colorful comments:

“Tax his land and tax his wage

“Tax the bed in which he lays

“Tax him ’til he’s good and sore

“If he hollers tax him more

“And write these words upon his tomb

“Taxes drove me to my doom.”

Analysis: Straw poll lays groundwork for campaigns

By Don Davis

Straw polls seldom accurately predict who will win an election months away, but Minnesota Republican activists who cast votes during Tuesday night’s precinct caucuses did not vote in vain.

Republicans on Tuesday sent a message that they like state Sen. Julianne Ortman of Chanhassen in the U.S. Senate race. For governor they balanced their votes fairly evenly between suburban and rural candidates, Sen. Dave Thompson of Lakeville and former Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall.

“Tonight’s decisive caucus victory represents an exciting end to the first phase of this United States Senate race, and a strong beginning for the next,” Ortman said Tuesday night.

A straw poll is like a camera, taking a snapshot of an instance in time. And only of the people who cast ballots.

“A marathon, not a sprint” is how former House Speaker Kurt Zellers, who finished well back in the governor’s race, described a campaign.

More than 14,000 Republicans voted in the poll. More importantly, they also voted for delegates who will advance to district and county conventions through the late winter and spring. That, far more than the poll, will determine who will be the party’s governor and Senate candidates.

Ask Seifert.

The Marshall politician won a precinct caucus straw poll over Tom Emmer four years ago, 50 percent to 39 percent. But Emmer won the party’s endorsement at the state convention.

The difference between the straw poll and the convention was that they involved different voters.

The 14,000 at precinct caucuses send delegates to county and district conventions. Caucuses and conventions whittle down the number of people making decisions until a couple of thousand head to the state convention.

For Republicans, state convention delegates usually pick the statewide nominees, but this year plenty of candidates say they will take the race to an Aug. 12 primary election regardless of what convention delegates say.

“We had the highest vote total among the candidates who are going to honor the delegates and abide by the endorsement,” Thompson said, trying to drive home traditional Republican political values.

Things change in a primary. No longer can candidates only woo convention delegates, but must reach out to hundreds of thousands of potential voters, most of whom were not involved in caucuses and conventions.

Then there is money. The two richest GOP candidates, Scott Honour for governor and Mike McFadden for Senate, likely will pump much of their own money into their campaigns.

Gov. Mark Dayton successfully used that tactic in his 2010 primary race after deciding in the beginning that he would go to a public vote in a primary.

Given the fact that a primary looms, it may seem like the caucus straw poll vote is meaningless. Not so.

Take, for example, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, a former state lawmaker and one-time unsuccessful attorney general candidate. Many expected him to be competitive with Seifert on Tuesday, and maybe even win the poll. But he finished third with 17 percent.

The Detroit Lakes native needs to learn from the vote and attack his weaknesses if he is to continue as a viable candidate.

The same holds true for Zellers, who received a surprisingly low 8 percent of the governor vote, and St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg, with 10 percent in the Senate race.

“While I was pleased with our showing in many parts of Minnesota, I am more committed than ever to reaching every corner of the state with our message of constitutional government, fiscal responsibility and front porch leadership,” Dahlberg said, hinting that he learned areas where he is weak.

The poll reinforced for Seifert that he needs to work harder in the Twin Cities, which he says he knows about because he lived there during legislative sessions. For Thompson, it showed he is weaker in rural areas, so he may promote his rural northwestern Minnesota roots more.

The bottom line is that losers of Tuesday night’s poll actually could be the winners if they use the vote to learn their weaknesses, and then make adjustments in their campaigns.

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Results of Republican nonbinding straw polls with nearly all votes reported:

Governor

Marty Seifert, 28%

Dave Thompson, 26%

Jeff Johnson, 17%

Scott Honour, 9%

Kurt Zellers, 8%

Rob Farnsworth, 2%

Undecided, 10%

U.S. Senate

Julianne Ortman, 31%

Mike McFadden, 23%

Jim Abeler, 15%

Chris Dahlberg, 10%

Harold Shudlick, 3%

Monti Moreno, 2%

Undecided, 16%

Ortman, Seifert take GOP polls

By Don Davis

Minnesota Republicans gave U.S. Senate candidate Julianne Ortman and governor candidate Marty Seifert bragging rights at Tuesday night’s precinct caucuses.

With 97 percent of straw poll votes counted this morning, the two came out atop crowded fields of candidates looking to upset Democratic incumbents Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken.

Ortman scored a bigger victory than Seifert. She picked up 31 percent of the nonbinding votes, with Mike McFadden getting  23 percent. No other candidate was close.

Seifert, meanwhile, edged Dave Thompson 28 percent to 26 percent. Seifert carried a comfortable lead most of the night, but Thompson nearly caught up when Twin Cities results began to mount late. Seifert entered the race late, but maintains strong name recognition and an organization from his run for governor four years ago.

Most caucus meetings in more than 4,000 precincts around the state were routine, but organizers asked police to shut down one Democratic Minneapolis neighborhood site after a fight broke out.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that a verbal altercation turned into pushing, shoving and heated arguments that got out of control.

The caucus, at the Brian Coyle Center, began at 7 p.m. and was shut down after 45 minutes.

The incident briefly shined the spotlight on Democrats, but the GOP straw poll was the big story of the night.

Republican governor candidates are 35-year-old Hibbing special education teacher Rob Farnsworth; Orono businessman Scott Honour, 47; Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, 47, a Detroit Lakes native; former state Rep. Seifert, 41, of Marshall; state Sen. Thompson, 52, of Lakeville; and former state House Speaker Kurt Zellers, 44, of Maple Grove.

In the GOP U.S. Senate race are state Rep. Jim Abeler of Anoka, 59; St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg, 52, of Duluth; businessman McFadden, 49, of Sunfish Lake; bison farmer Monti Moreno, 53, of Marine on St. Croix; state Sen. Ortman, 51, of Chanhassen; and retired Army chaplain Harold Shudlick, 71.

While the main work Tuesday night was to pick delegates to move on to district and state conventions and to discuss issues, the spotlight was on GOP straw polls for the top-of-the-ticket races. The Democratic and Independence parties also hosted caucuses but did not conduct polls.

Tuesday night’s caucuses were the beginning of what is new to many Republicans: a path to an Aug. 12 primary election contest. Several candidates in both the Senate and governor races expect to continue their campaigns into primary races beyond the May 30-31 state convention in Rochester.

That is unusual for the GOP, where candidates usually abide by the state convention endorsements.

Even though the straw poll is not binding and usually such surveys do not predict the eventual winner, it gives the field a frontrunner. As the leader, that candidate has an advantage when soliciting campaign donations and often will get more media attention.

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Results of Republican nonbinding straw polls with 97 percent of districts reporting:

Governor

Marty Seifert, 28%

Dave Thompson, 26%

Jeff Johnson, 17%

Scott Honour, 9%

Kurt Zellers, 8%

Rob Farnsworth, 2%

Undecided, 10%

U.S. Senate

Julianne Ortman, 31%

Mike McFadden, 23%

Jim Abeler, 15%

Chris Dahlberg, 10%

Harold Shudlick, 3%

Monti Moreno, 2%

Undecided, 16%

Democratic and Independence party caucuses did not conduct straw polls.

Updated: Ortman leads GOP Senate poll; race tight for governor

By Don Davis

Minnesota Republicans appeared to have given Julianne Ortman the edge for U.S. Senate in an early snapshot of this year’s campaigns, but Tuesday night they were not so clear on who they favor for governor.

Marty Seifert held a lead most of the night in the governor’s straw poll taken at precinct caucuses around the state, but Dave Thompson made it a tighter race as Twin Cities Republicans reported in.

The Republican Party reported that Seifert had 29 percent of the vote and Thompson 25 percent with 89 percent of the GOP party units reporting.

Jeff Johnson ran third in the Republican effort to find a challenger for Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, who is seeking his second term this year. Three other candidates were not close.

In the Senate race, Ortman gained 31 percent and Mike McFadden 23 percent, easily outdistancing four other challengers in the GOP’s attempt to unseat first-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken.

Most caucus meetings were routine, but organizers asked police to shut down one Democratic Minneapolis neighborhood site after a fight broke out.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that a verbal altercation turned into pushing, shoving and heated arguments that got out of control.

The caucus, at the Brian Coyle Center, began at 7 p.m. and was shut down after 45 minutes.

The local state House district is represented by Phyllis Kahn. She is being challenged by Mohamud Noor, a member of the Minneapolis school board who is also interim executive director for the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota. The fight apparently involved their race.

The incident briefly shined the spotlight on Democrats, but the GOP straw poll was the big story of the night.

Republican governor candidates are 35-year-old Hibbing special education teacher Rob Farnsworth; Orono businessman Scott Honour, 47; Hennepin County Commissioner Johnson, 47, a Detroit Lakes native; former state Rep. Seifert, 41, of Marshall; state Sen. Thompson, 52, of Lakeville; and former state House Speaker Kurt Zellers, 44, of Maple Grove.

In the GOP U.S. Senate race are state Rep. Jim Abeler of Anoka, 59; St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg, 52, of Duluth; businessman McFadden, 49, of Sunfish Lake; bison farmer Monti Moreno, 53, of Marine on St. Croix; state Sen. Ortman, 51, of Chanhassen; and retired Army chaplain Harold Shudlick, 71.

While the main work Tuesday night was to pick delegates to move on to district and state conventions and to discuss issues, the spotlight was on GOP straw polls for the top-of-the-ticket races. The Democratic and Independence parties also hosted caucuses but did not conduct polls.

Tuesday night’s caucuses were the beginning of what is new to many Republicans: a path to an Aug. 12 primary election contest. Several candidates in both the Senate and governor races expect to continue their campaigns into primary races beyond the May 30-31 state convention in Rochester.

That is unusual for the GOP, where candidates usually abide by the state convention endorsements.

Even though the straw poll is not binding and usually such surveys do not predict the eventual winner, it gives the field a frontrunner. As the leader, that candidate has an advantage when soliciting campaign donations and often will get more media attention.

Honour has the most money, both personally and in his campaign, of any of the GOP governor candidates.

Johnson and Thompson have said they will drop out of the race if they do not earn the state convention governor endorsement. Zellers, Seifert and Honour likely will go to a primary regardless of who receives the endorsement.

As poll results came in Tuesday night, Zellers said that despite his relatively low finish in the poll, he will remain in the race.

“This campaign is a marathon, not a sprint,” Zellers said.

McFadden has collected far more money than all other Republican Senate candidates combined, but is an untested candidate. McFadden and Abeler are expected to compete in a primary election, regardless of who the state convention backs in May.

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Results of Republican nonbinding straw poll with 113 of 127 local party units reporting:

Governor

Rob Farnsworth, 2%

Scott Honour, 9%

Jeff Johnson, 17%

Marty Seifert, 29%

Dave Thompson, 25%

Kurt Zellers, 8%

Undecided, 10%

U.S. Senate

Jim Abeler, 14%

Chris Dahlberg, 11%

Mike McFadden, 23%

Monti Moreno, 2%

Julianne Ortman, 31%

Harold Shudlick, 2%

Undecided, 17%

Democratic and Independence party caucuses did not conduct straw polls.

Political noebook: Collin Peterson re-election decision pending

By Don Davis

Being a vital cog in passing a major U.S. House bill generally is an exhilarating experience.

But for U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, passing the farm bill may have been less excitement and more relief.

“Today, after nearly four years of work, the House is finally considering the 2014 Farm Bill conference report,” the western Minnesota Democrat said as debate opened on the bill Wednesday. “It’s been a challenging and, at times, frustrating process. …”

At the end of his speech, he provided another insight to what was going on in his mind as lawmakers began to consider a conference committee agreement that was the end work of the farm bill.

“This process has been going on far too long; I urge my colleagues to support the conference report,” he said.

In the past few years’ work to prepare the farm bill, which began with Peterson as Agriculture Committee chairman, Peterson at times has sounded frustrated not only with problems getting the farm bill finished, but with Congress in general.

Now Washington is watching him decide whether to run again.

Right after the House approved the farm bill, rather easily at that, reporters began asking him if he would seek re-election. He promised a decision by March.

“I have been in limbo here, in farm bill hell for three years and it affects you,” The Hill newspaper reported him saying.

News sources that cover federal politics such as The Hill and Roll Call have watched Peterson closely, not so much that they are concerned about the farm bill, but they are interested in which party controls the House next year. If western Minnesota goes Republican, it could cement the GOP’s hold on the House.

Peterson is a Democrat, although a conservative Democrat, in a Republican district that stretches from Canada south nearly to Iowa. The thinking is if Peterson decides that 24 years is enough to serve in the House that could leave the district in Republican hands.

State Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, is running in the western Minnesota district and has attracted GOP attention nationally as the strongest-yet challenge to Peterson’s reign.

Republicans appear confident that if Peterson steps aside that Westrom will have a reasonably clear path to victory in November.

If Peterson runs again, he no doubt will run on his work on the farm bill. He was one of four chief negotiators and if he campaigns again, western Minnesotans should expect to hear him talk about working with both political parties.

“The report before us today represents a compromise,” Peterson told his colleagues. “I know this is rare in Washington but it is what is needed to actually get things done. I didn’t get everything I wanted, the chairman didn’t get everything he wanted; but that’s how compromise works.”

Candidates OK with endorsement

Two of the four Republican U.S. Senate candidates say they will accept the decision of GOP convention delegates and not run in a primary election.

St. Louis County Commissioner Chis Dahlberg and state Sen. Julianne Ortman promised to abide by the state convention’s endorsement. Businessman Mike McFadden and state Rep. Jim Abeler have not made that promise.

McFadden might be able to use his own money to finance a primary election campaign, giving him an advantage over other candidates who must seek donations. It is not nearly as expensive to court convention delegates as it is to attract a wider range of primary voters.

“Trust is a two-way proposition,” Ortman said. “Therefore, I am announcing today that I will trust and abide by the Republican endorsement decision, and I will continue to work to gain the support and trust of Minnesota Republicans and Minnesota voters all across the state.”

Many Republican activists say they prefer a candidate who abides by the endorsement and such an announcement usually wins a few delegate votes.

“I was honored at age 18 to be elected as a delegate for the 1980 state convention, where I first saw the importance of Republicans uniting behind one strong candidate,” Dahlberg said. “I still see the importance of respecting that process, and that’s why I am pledging to abide by the party’s endorsement.”

Paying for wrong convictions

Two legislators say they want a law to pay people who were wrongly convicted of crimes.

Sen. Ron Latz, D-St. Louis Park, and Rep. John Lesch, D-Saint Paul, are behind a bill to compensate people who were cleared of crimes after they were convicted and imprisoned.

“While there is no amount of money that can give back the years spent behind bars as a result of a wrongful conviction, the state should at the very least offer some sort of compensation to help them get back on their feet,” Latz said.

Twenty-nine other states have such laws.

“We are fortunate to have one of the fairest justice systems in the world, but mistakes still can happen,” Lesch said.

Dayton sets tone

Mark Dayton’s first video of this campaign sets his gubernatorial re-election theme: “building a better Minnesota.”

The YouTube video shows pictures of a diverse population, with a voice in the background saying things like Dayton “improved the state with better decisions and less red tape:”

“For the first time in years, Minnesota is rising, stronger and better than before,” the video declares.

Sieben will not run for lieutenant governor

By Don Davis

The person most discussed as Gov. Mark Dayton’s running mate says she is not interested.

State Sen. Katie Sieben, D-Cottage Grove, made the announcement in a late Friday afternoon statement.

“There is more work to do to ensure that our economic recovery reaches every Minnesotan,” Sieben said of the Senate job. “I will not be a candidate for lieutenant governor.”

Her name came up last summer when Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon hinted she was not interested in serving as second term with Dayton because they seldom talked and she had a limited role in the administration. Earlier this month, Prettner Solon announced she is not running again.

Minutes before Sieben’s announcement, Dayton hinted that he might announce his pick for a running mate on the Democratic ticket early next week, before he undergoes hip surgery at the Mayo Clinic. He refused to tell reporters if Sieben was a leading candidate or anything else about his selection process.

Other names that have been tossed around for the job include his chief of state, Tina Smith, and Commissioner Tony Sertich of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.

Sieben said she wants to continue her job in the Senate, where she is assistant majority leader.

She praised Dayton for improving the state economy, adding: “I have every confidence that Governor Dayton will be successful in his re-election bid, and I will help his campaign in whatever way I can.”