‘If not now, when? If not Jesse Ventura, who?’

Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura is doing what he appears to enjoy: teasing that he may run for president.

It has been something that Ventura frequently has done since he left office early in 2003.

“I’m still weighing the options,” Ventura wrote Monday on a website related to his “Off the Grid” Internet show. “Why would I want to run now when you still have 12 Republican and three Democratic candidates in the field?”

Then-Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura talks in 2002 about American relations with Cuba. In 2016, he says he could consider a presidential run. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Then-Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura talks in 2002 about American relations with Cuba. In 2016, he says he could consider a presidential run. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

In an earlier Internet interview, Ventura said that he could win the presidency the same way he took the 1998 Minnesota governor’s race: by attracting people who otherwise would not have voted.

Ventura said he will make his decision about running in April. That comes after major primary elections and caucuses are held, and major-party frontrunners likely will be known.

If he runs, Ventura said, he might opt for the Libertarian Party, which would give him ballot access in many states.

“For example, if Donald Trump were to lose the nomination in July under the Republican Party,” Ventura wrote, “it would be extremely difficult for him to receive ballot access (as an independent candidate) in time for the general election.”

Ventura said he does not want to be “lost in the shuffle” that the presidential field is experiencing. “You have to time it just right.  You must wait until the parties are down to their final two, a more manageable number.”

Until he decides, the ex-governor and professional wrestler said, “I’m just going to sit back and enjoy the circus.”

Every four years since he left office, fans have urged Ventura to run.

This year, for instance, one supporter has a Ventura campaign website and another is seeking 50,000 signatures on a petition to get him to run (with 8,718 total on Monday afternoon).

 the petition website asks. “Jesse Ventura must run for president in 2016!”

Book review: Mayor’s book is for politicians looking for change

Duluth Mayor Don Ness’ new book “Hillsider” is, in places, a memoir. Elsewhere, it is appears to be a college yearbook, full of pictures that often are not very mayoral. Then there are pages that present the history of the Don and Laura Ness family, beginning with their very first hug shortly after U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone died in an airplane crash. It definitely is a Duluth booster book. And there are words and visuals that are nothing short of art.

But to a politico, more than anything, his manuscript is a textbook that every American politician should read, or at least politicians who want things to change.

A few sentences at the book’s end well explain the Ness political philosophy:

“Politicians and pundits too often claim ownership of the truth. … If we believe we’re the ones with the truth, we no longer seek, we simply defend. We built fortresses. Rhetorical attack and defense become the only ways we know how to discuss issues. We’re always fighting or preparing to fight.”

Through the pages of Ness’ book, his own political truth evolved, starting with his first run for City Council 16 years ago: “I figured if I had any chance of expressing my strengths, I couldn’t be afraid of exposing my weaknesses.”

A politician willing to expose weaknesses? From that comment on Page 16, it is obvious even to someone who had never met Ness that he is a different politician.

The book is a compilation of short essays, some only a few lines long. None ever stretches beyond two facing pages. This book has hundreds of photos, some just because they are pretty Duluth scenes.

The $24.95 book, subtitled “Snapshots of a Curious Political Journey,” will be available in some Duluth stores as well as www.donnessbook.com. In an interview, he said that he self-published the book and is distributing it, too, in order for it to be in people’s hands by the time he leaves office in January.

The mayor said he decided to write the book from notes he had taken over the years just last December and traditional publishing houses would need more lead time than if he did the work himself.

“This is, in many ways, a culmination of my time in public office and I wanted it to be kind of a book end, in essence, to help me end this chapter in my life,” he said.

Ness called the book a series of “snapshot essays … to essentially capture a different tone than your typical political books.”

The short story format “is a reflection of political life at the local level,” where elected officials blend official work with family and community.

“Each one kind of stands alone,” he said of the stories. “It is a good book in a waiting room.”

Time after time, Ness returns to politics:

“Politicians in campaign mode often subtly claim they can do magic. They don’t come right out and state it, but they strongly imply it by saying they can deliver significant public benefits without requiring people to contribute or sacrifice. Some even assure us they can increase and improve services while also cutting taxes. Incredible. Clearly magical.”

The book shows that Ness began his political career as an idealist running for Duluth City Council, not prepared for what would hit him during the eight years on the council and a similar time as mayor, a tenure ending in January. He said he has no plans to run again, at least until his youngest child (now 4) graduates.

Ness will be 41 when he leaves office early next year, the age many people get involved in politics.

In the interview, Ness said that he hopes young people will read his book and realize they, too, can get involved.

“It is a story that is coming to an end at a relatively young age,” Ness said. “It may be more relevant to the 20-somethings.”

Would-be politicians do not need to subscribe to the common partisan divisiveness, Ness said, adding that his experience proves that.

When Ness landed on the City Council, he was surprised that “there was no real thought in the system.

“It was almost entirely action and reaction,” he wrote. “I developed a real contempt for this type of traditional politics driven largely by personality conflicts and trivial grievances. Where was the system described in my seventh-grade civics class?”

At times, he succumbed to traditional politics, resulting with him upset with himself.

When he tossed and turned at night, did not eat well, stress took over (“I was a mess”) and his actions were not popular, Ness opted to do something politicians just don’t: “I acknowledged, expressed regret and remorse about and took ownership for how my choices were negatively affecting people.”



Political chatter: Is Scott Walker a Tim Pawlenty rerun?

Republican presidential candidate and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines Aug. 17, 2015.  A well-known online magazine compares him for then-Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty who ran for president four years ago. (Reuters photo by Joshua Lott)

Republican presidential candidate and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines Aug. 17, 2015. A well-known online magazine compares him for then-Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty who ran for president four years ago. (Reuters photo by Joshua Lott)

Scott Walker has outlasted Tim Pawlenty as a presidential candidate, but there are similarities between the two and some wonder if Walker’s campaign is doomed.

The well-known online Slate magazine asks if Walker is Tim Pawlenty 2.0.

Writer Jamelle Bouie wrote what others have thought.

“He’s not a firebrand and he doesn’t alienate ordinary Americans,” Bouie wrote about Walker. “Instead, he looks and sounds like a middle manager; an ordinary, almost boring guy who just wants to save you money.”

The Wisconsin governor should be a winner, Slate reported, since he has done well in a generally Democratic state. The same was written about Minnesota Gov. Pawlenty when he was running for president.

Politicos have called both dull and uninspiring. In a recent campaign stop in Carroll, Iowa, C-SPAN showed the country — or at least those who watch the channel — that Walker has a ways to go before becoming a charismatic candidate. He sounded much like Pawlenty did in his Iowa campaign, far from a Donald Trump, whose brash talk attracts attention.

“Right now Walker looks like he’s on the wane,” Slate reports. “He’s not quite Tim Pawlenty — the doomed Minnesota governor who quit the 2012 Republican primary after poor showings in polls and onstage — but he’s coming uncomfortably close.”

Pawlenty dropped out of the race Aug. 13, 2011, a day after he finished third on a straw poll that Iowa Republicans canned this year. That may have been about where Walker would have finished this year.

One difference is that Pawlenty put all of his eggs in the Iowa basket, expecting his neighboring state’s first-in-the-country caucuses to give him a boost into the rest of the campaign. Walker, on the other hand, has spent time in New Hampshire and elsewhere as he apparently is using a broader strategy and has more money.

It also could be argued that Pawlenty did not have the success in Democratic-leaning Minnesota that Walker has to the east.

“On paper, Scott Walker is a winner,” Bouie wrote. “He doesn’t just govern a blue (Democratic) state — a win in its own right — he’s transformed it, making Wisconsin a vanguard for conservative causes, from right-to-work laws and public education cuts, to voter ID and strict limits on abortion.”

But, Bouie continues, Walker has been “a non-presence. He doesn’t flicker, let alone catch fire, and when it comes to issues and answering voters, the Wisconsin governor has been awkward, clumsy and flat-footed. Yes, he has money and yes, he has an organization. But that doesn’t make up for skill, or a lack thereof. So far, he just isn’t good, and it shows.”

Still, Slate says, “none of this means Walker is doomed. If he improves in debates, learns to answer questions, begins to capitalize on missteps from his opponents and otherwise boosts his performance, he could soar. The raw material is still there.”

Dayton vs. North Dakota

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is not happy with his neighbor to the west.

When asked during a Minnesota Public Radio State Fair interview, Dayton said Minnesota is on track to meet climate change goals, but not every state can say that.

“These other states like North Dakota … just have their heads in the sand and want to profit and then pollute our air accordingly,” he added.

At issue, among other things, is a lawsuit North Dakota won overturning a Minnesota law that basically bars the purchase of coal-generated electricity from North Dakota. Dayton said Minnesota will continue the court fight.

Dayton used the term “Neanderthal” in referring to North Dakota climate protection policies.

Ironically, on the same day Dayton went after North Dakota, officials of the two states held a conference call to see how their differences could be worked out.

Dayton and North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple are childhood friends, but that has not smoothed out rough edges in relations between the states.

Klobuchar for president?

There is plenty of talk that U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has a higher office in her sights, especially given her new book, and Minnesotans apparently want to know her intentions.

A reporter following Klobuchar around the Minnesota State Fair for an hour and a half heard some people mentioning the possibility of a presidential run during the quiet morning tour before most people had gone through the turnstiles.

The senator never seems to answer the presidential question directly, although in her most recent Senate campaign she eventually pledged to serve out her term after Forum News Service peppered her with presidential questions.

Dayton relaxed

Gov. Mark Dayton says he is more relaxed at this year’s Minnesota State Fair than he has been in a long time.

For most of his adult life, Dayton either worked for government or was running for office.

This year, he still will talk to fair visitors, but it will be for information, not campaigning.

“I like to find out what is on people’s minds, and they are not shy about telling me,” Dayton said on the fair’s opening day. “It is like a rolling focus group.”

Where are we?

St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges joined Gov. Mark Dayton to present proclamations making the opening day of the Minnesota State Fair Ye Old Mill day in the state and their cities.

Interestingly, however, no one from Falcon Heights appeared in the ceremony, and that is the city where the fair is located.

After the ceremony, Dayton joined the mayors in a ride in the century-old fair attraction. Dayton’s office said it was not planned in advance The mayors sat in the front, mostly hiding the state’s governor from cameras when they disembarked at the end of the three-minute ride.

Dayton takes advantage of single-day window to raise commissioners’ pay

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says on Wednesday, July 1, 2015, he is solely responsible for giving raises to commissioners he appointed. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton says on Wednesday, July 1, 2015, he is solely responsible for giving raises to commissioners he appointed. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton handed state commissioners annual average raises of $29,000 Wednesday, admitting that many Minnesotans cannot relate to that big an increase.

“My goal is to make government as good as possible,” Dayton said, adding that he came in thousands under the limit legislators set for commissioner pay.

“I did what I was authorized to do…” he said. “I am solely responsible for this.”

Dayton said he understands that the size of the raises may be tough for the public to understand, and the average raise alone is more than some families bring home. He asked Minnesotans to give him the benefit of the doubt that the raises are needed.

Top-level workers’ salaries have not risen as much as needed in recent years, he said. “We are playing catchup.”

The Democratic governor took action on the only day he was allowed to under a deal he and legislative leaders cut early this year. The Democratic-controlled Legislature of 2013-2014 gave Dayton the freedom to decide commissioner pay, but lawmakers of both parties objected in January this year when he upped salaries nearly a month before he told legislators.

The salaries announced Wednesday are similar to those he gave in January, before he and legislators agreed that the raises would be revoked and the governor would be able to hike commissioners’ pay only on Wednesday, the first day of the state’s $42 billion, two-year budget. After midnight Wednesday, power to set salaries returned to the Legislature.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Dayton should have talked to Minnesotans after the January dispute so he would know they do not support paying $900,000 more to his appointees.

“The governor apparently is more out of touch than I thought with Minnesotans,” Daudt said.

Top commissioner salaries of $154,992 annually go to those running transportation, revenue, public safety, natural resources, human services and budget departments. Not far behind, at $150,002, are commissioners of corrections, education, employment and economic development, health and pollution control.

Most Dayton Cabinet members received $25,000 to $35,000 raises.

Five Public Utilities Commission members each get a $43,000 raise to $140,000 annually. They do not sit on the Dayton Cabinet.

In all, 31 officials will get paid more under Dayton’s action.

The governor said one commissioner was offered $50,000 a year more for a private job, but she turned it down. He said no commissioner has complained about pay.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said the Legislature overwhelmingly gave Dayton authority to raise salaries.

“I share the concern of hiring and retaining our highly qualified, dedicated commissioners and other public servants who perform the outstanding work of our state departments,” Bakk said.

GOP leaders were critical of Dayton, even though Democrats pointed out that most Republicans voted in favor of the bill that gave Dayton authority to deliver pay raises Wednesday.

Daudt predicted lawmakers will attempt to overturn the pay raises in the 2016 legislative session.

The Republican also said that it will be tough to approve any agency budget increases next year in light of the pay hikes.

The speaker said that Dayton already had given 5 percent commissioner raises each of the past two years and he could have accepted raises in the 3 percent to 5 percent range.

The raises will be used in next year’s legislative campaigns.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said the raises are part of a larger issue he sees with Democrats who want to help themselves and their friends.

Hann said that compared to other states, Minnesota commissioners are overpaid. Dayton has had no problem getting commissioners, even with the old pay, the senator added.


Political chatter: Negotiations take a different path

This year’s negotiations to end the Minnesota legislative session could be called different, unusual, strange or, even, weird.

Of course, one difference — although far from unique — is they did not produce a budget before the May 18 constitutional end of the session. That aside, the process was, er, uncommon.

One example is that fewer leaders than normal were taking a direct part in talks.

As the regular session neared an end, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, excused themselves from a meeting with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and went into one of the governor’s residence rooms to negotiate their own deal.

The pair handed it to the governor, then went out to brief waiting media on the “deal,” not really saying that Dayton had not approved it.

As the Legislature tried to wrap up its work late May 18, negotiations continued into the last few minutes. But they failed, and Dayton vetoed three of eight state funding bills.

The big dispute was about education, in particular whether to fund Dayton’s top priority of sending all 4 year olds to school.

After the regular session, Dayton and Daudt became the chief negotiators. Bakk said his caucus could accept whatever the governor negotiated, although the senator and governor remained in close contact.

Dayton eventually gave up on his pre-kindergarten plan, in the name of wrapping up the budget. He promised to continue the debate in the remaining three years of his term.

Once the education debate ended, attention turned to a provision Dayton said was a must-do in special session: overturn part of a law he just signed into law that allows counties to hire private accountants to check their finances instead of using the state auditor.

Dayton, a former auditor, said that he would not call a special session without promises that lawmakers would overturn the clause.

But he eventually gave in on that, too, saying that it was more important to finish work on time than to press the auditor issue.

With that seemingly last disputed item out of the way, more disputes arose. They had to do with jobs, environment and energy legislation and in the end they appeared to be settled with little to-do.

The one thing Dayton would not give up on was his insistance that each of the Legislature’s four political caucuses promise that in a special session they would pass the remaining bills as negotiated, without changes. That is a common demand of governors who call special sessions, but then lose control over what lawmakers can do once they convene.

With Dayton insisting each of the four legislative leaders sign a promise that bills would not change, he ran into yet another snag. This time it was Senate Democrats, many of whom appeared to be distancing themselves from the environmental provisions they did not think were strong enough, threatening one of the budget bills.

Dayton finally decided the bills would pass, and he signed a document calling a special session hours before it started.

Move looks bad

Dayton said there is nothing illegal about an official in his administration leaving for a job with a medical marijuana company, but it does not look good.

Assistant Health Commissioner Manny Munson-Regala announced he is resigning from a position that included helping design the Minnesota medical marijuana program. In early July, he goes to work for Cottage Grove-based LeafLine Labs.

New IP leader

Minnesota Independence Party members have elected Mark Meyer of Lake Crystal state chairman.

He succeeds Mark Jenkins, who says he will remain active in the party.

Meyer has been involved in the party for years,

“We are the party serving the political needs of centrists, moderates and independents,” Meyer said. “We are the party of reform, small business and the working middle class. Working together we will move back to major party status and beyond.”

Phil Fuehrer of St. Paul was elected state party director.

Wolf delisting attempted

A U.S. House appropriations subcommittee is considering a provision to remove gray wolves from the endangered list, and forbidding courts from reviewing the decision.

A court ordered the wolves in Wyoming and the Great Lakes area to be protected. U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., wants wolves to continue to be protected.

“This rider is a tremendous overreach that would interfere in the federal listing of endangered species,” McCollum said. “Our committee’s role is to appropriate the necessary funds to allow the expert staff of scientists and professionals to do their jobs working to protect endangered species. This bill should not be mandating which species do or do not require protection.”

She also said that the courts should be allowed to do their work.

Franken: Save mail

U.S. Sen. Al Franken tells the head of the U.S. Postal Service that northeastern Minnesota mail service has deteriorated since a Duluth mail processing facility closed.

In a letter to Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan, the Minnesota Democrat asked her to fix service problems. He said the problems hurt residents, businesses and communities across the region.

“People and businesses from Grand Rapids to Grand Portage rely on the postal service to get their mail — including notes from loved ones, checks, medicine, and newspapers — in a timely fashion,” Franken said. “Mail that used to take a day or two to arrive now takes at least three to five days, and that is simply unacceptable.”

Political chatter: Pre-special session grumbling loud this year

Scaffolding surrounds the Minnesota Capitol building Friday, June 5, 2015, as an extensive renovation project continues. During the work, the building is closed, forcing a special legislative session to be held across the street in the State Office Building. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Scaffolding surrounds the Minnesota Capitol building Friday, June 5, 2015, as an extensive renovation project continues. During the work, the building is closed, forcing a special legislative session to be held across the street in the State Office Building. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

There always is plenty of grumbling among legislators near the end of a regular session when deals are being cut behind closed doors, and it gets even louder during special session preparation when most legislators are back home waiting for news.

It may be even worse this year. After lawmakers saw some bills for the first time minutes before they had to vote on them before the regular session ended May 18, dozens demanded that legislation be posted online at least 48 hours before any special session vote, allowing plenty of time to get to know bills’ contents.

“The public — and legislators — need 48hrs to read the bills before voting,” Sen. Roger Reinert, D-Duluth, tweeted, joining a chorus of legislators from both parties.

Reinert and other lawmakers also appeared to get more information from the media than they did from legislative sources. The Duluth senator tweeted to political reporters: “I’m pretty thankful for you … right now.”

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said it would be nice to get the bills out early, but said most of what his colleagues would see in a special session was what they saw in the regular session. It should not take long to figure out the differences, he said.

The Minnesota form of legislating nearly always involves private meetings among the governor and legislative leaders to hammer out budget deals near the adjournment deadline. That follows months of committee testimony and debate on individual projects, work that may or may not be considered in final negotiations.

Those final negotiations often last until the constitutional deadline to adjourn. This year, for instance, Forum News Service reported just after this year’s adjournment (which came two minutes late):

“The Minnesota Legislature ended early today amid shouts of ‘crooks’ and ‘shameful,’ with plenty of confusion mixed in, as lawmakers failed to finish everything they wanted to do in 2015.

“‘This is no way to make public policy,’ Sen. Barb Goodwin, D-Columbia Heights, said at eight minutes before midnight after senators received a 94-page jobs, economic development and energy bill.

“Senators passed the measure at two minutes before midnight, and a Senate worker ran it to the House.

“The House approved it with many representatives not voting at a minute before midnight as the House speaker avoided eye contact with everyone and called for an immediate vote, refusing to acknowledge anyone wanting to speak.

“Democrats shouted protests at Daudt.”

Minnesota not alone

Other states joined Minnesota is missing their budget deadlines this year.

Alan Greenblatt of Governing Magazine reports that Minnesota is not all that bad: “Just having a budget for the governor to sign or veto, however, puts Minnesota ahead of some other states. There are eight states where control of the legislature is divided between the two parties. In most cases, they haven’t been able to get much done, failing even to send the governor a budget at all.”

In Minnesota, lawmakers sent Gov. Mark Dayton all eight budget bills, but he vetoed three, necessitating a special session to finish work on a $42 billion, two-year budget.

Iowa, Washington and Colorado are among the other late states. In Washington, lawmakers ate through a 30-day special session without success so are on their second special.

“The parallel universes Democrats and Republicans have inhabited over the writing of the state’s two-year operating budget don’t seem to be inching closer together,” the Seattle Times reported.

Frequent candidate dies

Dick Franson was a common Capitol pressroom visitor during election season.

He would bring around copies of an American Legion newspaper and show an advertisement he bought, usually in color, and proclaim that as an example of his campaign rolling along nicely.

Franson, who recently died at 86, ran for statewide office nearly three dozen times, and always lost. Badly lost.

“Dick always spoke out for the issues most important to him and, in true DFL fashion, was interested in serving his community any way he could,” Chairman Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party said. “He ran for local and statewide offices always with an eye to giving a voice to veterans and with a message of duty, honor and country.”

Franson ran for a variety of offices, mostly statewide, after serving one term on the Minneapolis City Council. He ran for U.S. Senate, governor and secretary of state, besides other offices.

He was born in Little Falls, Minn., on Valentine’s Day.

Governor’s house open

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, who opened his house to reporters covering budget negotiations, on Tuesday will open it to the public for the first of six summer tours.

Tours will begin every 10 minutes on Tuesday, June 23, July 14, July 28, Aug. 4 and Aug. 18 from 10:30 a.m. to noon.

Reservations are accepted, but not required, at (651) 201-3464 or residence.gov@state.mn.us.

Women’s Auxiliary of the Minnesota Historical Society volunteers will answer questions in each room on the first floor and lower level of the residence. The home is at 1006 Summit Ave., in a St. Paul neighborhood with many historic homes.

There will be no charge, but non-perishable food items will be accepted for food shelves.

Political chatter: Reporters take what information they can get in budget talks

Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk talk to the media, who waited for hours before leaders emerged for this May 2015 "availibility."(Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk talk to the media, who waited for hours before leaders emerged for this May 2015 “availibility.”(Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesotans read their newspapers, watch television, listen to radio and follow social media to get updates about state budget talks, but the average news consumer has little idea about how that information reaches them.

Or how much more information does not.

The story is a hurry-up-and-wait tale of politicians vs. the media, this year with a twist of fancy digs, rain and sunburn.

Here is how it typically works: The governor invites legislative leaders into his office (his home this year, but more on that later) to discuss how to work out the state’s two-year budget. While there certainly are policy differences to iron out, too, it generally is the budget where most of the efforts are focused.

Reporters do not know what really goes on behind the closed doors, but from what some say who have been there, it often is an exchange of talking points like what the politicians dish up to the public. Offers are exchanged, which in a good year leads to a compromise between the two sides.

Outside the private talks, about the public budget, reporters and photographers wait. And wait and wait and wait. It is called a stakeout.

Once a politician emerges from the talks, reporters jump from their camping chairs (known for a few weeks as stakeout chairs), floor space or conversation spots to see what the politician will reveal about negotiations.

One of two things happens: the politician says something worthwhile or he doesn’t.

This year, Gov. Mark Dayton got other negotiators to agree to put a “cone of silence” over participants of talks before the end of the 2015 regular session. He and House Speaker Kurt Daudt discussed whether the gag order should remain in place when the two discussed state spending before a special legislative session.

“I lost on a 1-1 vote,” Dayton joked, so he and Daudt have talked to the media after negotiations sessions end.

They never reveal many details, but without the cone of silence at least the media can tell the public where holdups are, what progress has been made and explain a few — a very few — details.

In some years, legislative leaders and the governor hand reporters copies of offers they exchange. Not so much this year.

Stakeouts generally are in front of the governor’s office in the Capitol, where cold marble floors wait the media.

Things are different this year, with the Capitol shuttered for renovation. Gov. Mark Dayton invited legislative leaders to his official home, on swanky Summit Avenue in St. Paul.

For legislative leaders, that means they have to drive back to their offices, instead of walking to the next building, to discuss developments with others. They also must face the media when they come and go, unlike at the Capitol where there are multiple entrances they can use to avoid reporters and cameras.

For reporters, this year’s accommodations are different than in the past.

They either set up their camping chairs on the governor’s front lawn (unlike other governors, he allows them inside the locked gate) or in an ornate, but slightly musty, basement. The basement is preferred on rainy and chilly days, and by photographers who need to get out of the sun to edit photographs.

Journalists staying outside have got wet and sunburned.

The bottom line is that wherever talks are held and whatever the issues, the media and thus the public are at the whims of politicians to release any information about the secret talks.

Achievement gap

There is a lot of talk about the “achievement gap,” but little understanding of what it means.

Take, for instance, early-childhood education expert Art Rolnick, who said: “We are going to close the achievement gap. That is the No. 1 problem in education in the state and in the country.”

Basically he is talking about the difference in education levels from most poor minority students and those who come from families with more money. The difference between well-off students and those whose families can afford little is the achievement gap.

That gap is what the state budget argument has been about.

Rolnick and Republicans favor scholarships and other aids for the poor, to give them a better chance for education. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton prefers to fund school classes for all Minnesota 4 year olds.

Walz picks manager

Former state Rep. Terry Morrow will manage U.S. Rep. Tim Walz’ re-election 2016 campaign.

“Terry shares the southern Minnesota values of hard work, caring for our neighbors and building strong communities,” Walz said. “He brings a deep understanding of Minnesota politics and knows how to win elections.”

Paying for telemedicine required under Minnesota bill



Forcing insurance companies to pay for telemedicine appointments could bring specialized health care to all parts of Minnesota, hospital officials and lawmakers say.

While some health insurance policies already pay for telemedicine, the use of technology to allow a distance health-care professional to examine a patient, state legislation announced Wednesday would require all policies to provide reimbursement.

“Let’s get medicine into the 21st century,” Dr. Jon Pryor CEO of Hennepin County Medical Center pleaded.

Medical specialists are scarce in greater Minnesota, but patients can access them in local clinics or even from home via computer or other video connections.

Mandy Bell of Avera Health, with 15 southwestern Minnesota clinics, said that forcing insurance coverage would further increase telemedicine availability and improve health care.

Up to 30 percent of telemedicine patients say they would not receive health care if not for telemedicine, Bell said.

Maureen Ideker, who works in western Minnesota for Duluth-based Essentia Health, gave an example of someone who would benefit from telemedicine as a diabetic who needs weight control help. That service may not be available in parts of rural Minnesota, she said, but it could be provided via technology.

Ideker said that insurance does not cover assisted living and group home residents, but would under the bill, allowing them to say home or near home for medical services.

Health professionals said it is difficult to transport disabled or sick Minnesotans to specialists, while it would be much easier if they could stay in their home communities.

“It alleviates a lot of provider shortages we are seeing,” said Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center.

Shortages of rural health care professionals likely will grow, added Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley. Expanded use of telemedicine could help the problem, he added.

“We want to make sure people in rural Minnesota have the same quality of life,” he said.

Rep. Jennifer Schultz, D-Duluth, said telemedicine is more convenient than making long drives.

“We really need to get to the point where we have patient-centered care,” Schultz said.

Bill supporter Rep. Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley, said he has been a volunteer emergency medical technician for nearly 20 years and has seen firsthand local hospital personnel communicating with Fargo, N.D., doctors when treating patients.


Political Chatter: Midwest man to run GOP convention

A long-time Minnesota political operative with North Dakota roots and who lives part-time in Wisconsin will run the 2016 Republican National Convention.

The four-day event Jeff Larson will oversee is to be in Cleveland. He did the same for the 2008 national convention in St. Paul, about 20 miles from his Hudson, Wis. home.

“From planning and preparation, to execution and implementation, I will work to the best of my abilities to ensure the Republican Party holds a successful national convention to showcase not only our nominee but also our party’s vision for the future of this country,” Larson said of his chief executive officer duties.

Larson, who divides his time between Hudson and the East Coast, helped Republicans win back U.S. Senate control last year.

Larson has worked in Minnesota politics, particularly advising Sen. Norm Coleman.

He brings to the 2016 convention a varied of Upper Midwest background.

Larson got his political start volunteering for then-Grand Forks, N.D., Mayor Bud Wessman. He earned his degree in his hometown, at the University of North Dakota, and worked on a statewide campaign before heading to the state’s Agriculture Department for a marketing gig.

He was not there long, getting involved in politics again in 1984, and staying involved ever since, including a stint in South Dakota. He moved to Minneapolis in 1990 and later to Hudson.

Larson received his most notoriety for paying $130,000 for 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s clothes at the 2008 convention. The Republican Party eventually repaid him.

‘Black market highway’

Recent news reports of cigarettes being smuggled into Minnesota come as no surprise.

Dale Erickson of Henry’s Foods in Alexandria told Gov. Mark Dayton in a March 2013 town hall meeting in Moorhead that a proposed cigarette tax increase would mean Interstate 94 “will become a black market highway” as cigarettes taxed at a lower North Dakota rate would show up in Minnesota. “There is no way to trace the cigarettes.”

Erickson and convenience store owner Frank Orton told Dayton that they would lose business to Fargo, N.D., stores that collect smaller taxes.

“Minnesotans could drive across the bridge to Fargo and buy their cigarettes for $18 less per carton,” Erickson said.

Minnesota legislators and Dayton upped the cigarette tax, along with adding a higher tax to the richest Minnesotans in 2013.

The Star Tribune recently reported that cigarette smuggling is on the upswing, and state officials say they need $1 million to improve their tobacco law enforcement. Officials say cigarette smuggling costs the state $2.6 million in tax revenues.

GOP unveils MNsure plan

Republicans have wanted to get rid of MNsure since it launched, but with it firmly in place, at least some have turned their attention into making major changes instead of eliminating the health insurance sales program.

One plan would confine MNsure to serving those on public health care programs and establish a non-profit entity for people who want to buy private insurance without public subsidies.

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said that since 91 percent of people MNsure serves have policies fully or partially paid by government, that should be the emphasis of the controversial program.

“MNsure has been serving two masters and it’s time for that to stop,” Benson said.

Another GOP proposal, by Sen. Julie Rosen of Fairmont, would add insurance expertise to the MNsure board and require that its budget obtain legislative approval.

A third Republican bill authored by Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, would open the MNsure marketplace to more companies and products and would let Minnesotans buy insurance across state lines.

State wolf control?

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson and other representatives have introduced legislation to return wolf management decisions in the western Great Lakes area to the states.

A December federal court decision put the region’s gray wolves under federal protection in Minnesota and other nearby states, meaning the state has little authority to manage them or to allow farmers to protect their livestock from wolves.

“This legislation returns gray wolf management to the state of Minnesota where it belongs,” the western Minnesota Democrat said. “Farmers should not have to choose between protecting their livelihood and complying with federal law.”

The bill came after the Minnesota Farm Bureau and the Minnesota Farmers Union jointly asked Minnesota members of Congress to take that action.

Lobbying like trial

Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea of the Minnesota Supreme Court likens her lobbying lawmakers for a 7.5 percent budget increase to going to trial.

She calls paperwork she hands out to legislators “evidence” and like a lawyer heading into a trial, she remains focused on the main goal, not letting anything distract her. In the legislative case, she concentrates on the budget issue, and does not promote changes in policy during this budget legislative session.

The chief said she likes to talk about the courts system: “I do go pretty much wherever two or more are gathered.”

Check is doubtful

Bluestem Prairie blogger Sally Jo Sorensen writes that newly elected state Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, may be barking up the wrong campaign donation tree.

“He sent a fundraising letter to one of Swift County’s most successful farmers and business people, Murdock seed farm owner Jim Falk of Murdock, whom Miller’s letter identified as a ‘fellow Republican’ who shares Miller’s values…” Sorensen wrote. “Bluestem suspects that Miller shouldn’t get his hopes up, since Falk is not only Swift County DFL chair, he’s also the father of Andrew Falk, whom Miller defeated in a fairly personal campaign last fall.”


Political chatter: 2012 ag controversy continues with committee assignments

Republicans who will control the Minnesota House next year angered Democrats by leaving a strong environmentalist off the environmental committee.

House Speaker-designate Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, released a list of committee members Thursday night, and the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee list did not include Rep. Jean Wagenius, D-Minneapolis. She has served on the committee each of her 14 terms in the House, earning a reputation of detailed-oriented environmentalist.

“I am deeply disappointed that Speaker-designate Daudt has taken the unprecedented step of refusing to accept the individual the minority caucus has designated as its lead on a Minnesota House committee,” current Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said. “So much for the ‘balanced approach’ the Republicans touted repeatedly during the campaign.”

Two years ago, when Democrats took control of the House, Thissen put Wagenius in charge of an environment and agriculture committee, angering rural Republican who said Wagenius is against traditional farming and that putting the subjects together reduces the importance of agriculture.

Republicans gained control of the House in last month’s election, and established several rural-oriented committees. Rep. Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake will be chairman of the Agriculture Finance Committee, while Rep. Paul Anderson of Starbuck will lead the Agriculture Policy Committee.

Daudt’s office said little about the decision, but issued a statement from him: “We have put together a committee structure that is balanced and we look forward to rolling up our sleeves and getting to work on problems Minnesotans care about.”

Thissen said Wagenius’ voice is important for the committee.

“Just because House Republicans don’t take climate change or protecting Minnesota’s water and air seriously doesn’t mean that the majority of Minnesotans agree with them,” Thissen said. “Rep. Jean Wagenius is a woman of great integrity who would bring much needed experience to the important work of the environment committee.”

Democrats’ rural problems two years ago were not limited to the Wagenius chairmanship. They also took heat by making Minneapolis’ Thissen speaker and Erin Murphy of St. Paul majority leader, skipping over Rep. Paul Marquart of Dilworth. He had run to give a rural balance to leadership; next year he will be an assistant minority leader after 10 rural seats flipped from Democrat to Republican in the November vote.

Bachman doesn’t go quietly

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann surprised no one as she exited Congress for the unknown.

The Republican firebrand was critical of Democratic President Barack Obama to his face at a White House holiday party, she weaved critical remarks around thank-yous in her final floor speech and she sent an email blasting her own party’s congressional leaders.

“Speaker John Boehner, Mitch McConnell and the GOP leadership cut a deal with the Obama Democrats to approve another staggering $1.1 trillion in new spending,” she wrote in an email from her political action committee. “What happened to the Republican commitment to fight the reckless Obama agenda, balance the budget and save our country?”

She added: “Unfortunately, I can’t say I am surprised. Dismayed, disappointed and angry — but not surprised.”

Franken for Hillary

Hillary Clinton has the support of both of Minnesota’s Democratic U.S. senators.

Sen. Al Franken told MSNBC that he is in the Clinton camp. Amy Klobuchar already expressed her support, despite talk that she could be a presidential candidate herself.

Clinton has not announced she is running in 2016, but she is expected to and is considered the leading Democratic candidate, by far.

“I think that Hillary would make a great president,” Franken said in the MSNBC interview.

“I think that I’m ready for Hillary,” he said. “I mean, I think that we’ve not had someone this experienced, this tough, and she’s very, very impressive.”

 Solid agreement already

Minnesota’s legislative leaders and governor are feeling out each other to find out what to expect in the coming legislative session, but they already agree on one thing.

“We are going to the last day,” House Speaker-designate Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, predicted.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said he, too, thinks legislators will use every day until the constitutional deadline to adjourn. He said all deadlines for the session will be set with that date in mind.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton probably would not argue. He often has said that the nature of a Legislature is to use all of the available time.

The 2015 session begins at noon Jan. 6. And while it must end by May 18, Dayton could call legislators back into session if they do not complete a budget or new issues arise. However, Dayton has shown a reluctance to call special sessions.

Seifert to lobby

Former state Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, will lobby for greater Minnesota issues in the 2015 Minnesota Legislature.

He has joined the Flaherty and Hood law firm, which represents the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and several cities that belong to that group.

Seifert has lost two campaigns for governor, including a Republican primary loss this year in which he ran as the only greater Minnesota candidate.

Franken in Uber fight

The fast-growing Uber transportation service and U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota are engaged in a privacy battle.

Franken, an outspoken privacy advocate and chairman of a subcommittee on the subject, has complained about Uber’s data collection practices. He also has wondered whether Uber misuses consumer data.

“I believe Americans have a fundamental right to privacy, and that right includes the ability to control who is getting your personal location information and who it’s being shared with,” Franken said. “I recently pressed Uber to explain the scope, transparency and enforceability of their privacy policies. While I’m pleased that they replied to my letter, I am concerned about the surprising lack of detail in their response.”

Uber’s response indicated that the company that connects riders with drivers for hire has disciplined its workers who broke its privacy policy.

Part of the problem, as Franken explains it, is that the global positioning system Uber uses allows the new company to track riders’ locations.

Pawlenty happy out of politics

Pawlenty meets media

By Don Davis

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty was not involved in the 2014 election, and seems just happy with that.

“I have kinda taken a political sabbatical,” Pawlenty told reporters Friday after he talked to Republican state House members.

However, he later sent a message to reporters that he meant that he was retired from politics.

“I think I had a full run,” he said, reminding reporters that he spent three years on the Eagan City Council, 10 in the state House and eight as governor before his unsuccessful run for president. “I don’t know what more I can do.”

Pawlenty said he avoided politics this year, but House GOP leaders invited him to speak to their caucus before they picked a speaker and other leaders.

“This is an enormous privilege,” he said was his message, especially to newly elected lawmakers who gave Republicans the House majority.

He advised the members, and any Republicans looking to win, that they stick to the basics “that people care about” like jobs and public safety. GOP candidates need to learn to appeal better to independent voters, he added.

Pawlenty said that this year’s election reminded him of his last Minnesota campaign, with Democrats and Republicans splitting wins.

“Minnesota is unpredictable,” he said. “It is not unlike 2006. … Minnesotans want to balance things out.”

Pawlenty was the last Minnesota Republican to win a statewide office.

Since his presidential bid failed, Pawlenty has led the Financial Services Roundtable in Washington, D.C. He said he returns to Minnesota every week to the same Eagan house where he has lived for years.