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.

Rural votes decide House control

New House GOP majority

By Charley Shaw and Don Davis

Rod Hamilton summarized the Republican takeover of the Minnesota House: “This election should be a wakeup call to all state leaders! Do not turn your back on greater Minnesota!!”

Indeed, the Mountain Lake Republican legislator’s tweet pointed out, 10 of 11 House seats Republicans picked up from Democrats came from outside of the Twin Cities.

The GOP rural performance gave the party a say in state policy after Democrats controlled the House, Senate and governor’s office the past two years. Voters Tuesday retained Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, while the Democrat-controlled Senate was not up for election.

With the Tuesday election, it appears Republicans will control the House by a 72-62 tally after Democrats held a 73-61 edge for two years. However, one race is headed toward a mandatory recount.

Republicans and Dayton agreed on Wednesday that they did not want gridlock like occurred when Republicans controlled the Legislature and a newly elected Dayton was in the governor’s office in 2011. That was when state government shut down for three weeks as the two sides could not agree on a budget. Dayton and House Republicans said Wednesday they would give no promise that will not happen again next year.

If Republicans do not want to compromise, Dayton said, “it’s a prescription to gridlock unless we rise above it.”

House Republican Leader Kurt Daudt of Crown, one of at least two people running for speaker on Friday, said that cooperation “is up to the Democrats.”

There was plenty of talk about hope among those headed to the Capitol when the new Legislature convenes Jan. 6.

“I’m excited about working with a good two-party system,” Rep.-Elect Dave Baker, R-Willmar, said as Republicans celebrated their House majority.

He learned that he beat Democratic Rep. Mary Sawatzky just before 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, who said that in her first term “we made great strides across the board in carrying for people.”

In a story heard often, the race between Baker and Sawatzky had been the target of a massive advertising blitz by the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as by outside political action groups that had filled voters’ mailboxes with fliers during the campaign season.

Like many Republicans who won Tuesday, Baker said he ran for office because he believed that in the past two years the state produced a “bad tax policy” that was harming private sector job growth and there were “too many unfunded mandates in public schools.”

Daudt said Republicans won in greater Minnesota because Democrats ignored the area outside of the Twin Cities.

“We are not going to forget about any part of the state, especially rural Minnesota,” said Daudt, who lives on a farm north of the Twin Cities.

But House Speaker Paul Thissen of Minneapolis said that his party has taken care of rural Minnesota.

“If you look at the objective facts, I think we did quite well for greater Minnesota,” Thissen said, citing additional funding for nursing home, education and broadband.

The biggest factor in losing the House majority, the speaker said, was low turnout. Just half of Minnesota’s voters cast ballots Tuesday, with the average in recent non-presidential years about 60 percent. When turnout is low, it generally is because Democrats stay home.

“We need to really think from our party perspective about what we missed in some of those races this year,” Thissen said.

Twenty-six new members (or those returning after an absence) will be sworn in on when the 2015 session convenes; all but five are Republican.

Most of the 11 Democratic incumbents who lost Tuesday were first-termers, but veterans ousted included greater Minnesota Democratic veteran Reps. John Ward of Baxter, Andrew Falk of Murdock and Patti Fritz of Faribault.

DFLers held onto all but one of several competitive seats in the Twin Cities suburbs that they had picked up in 2012. The exception was House District 56B where Rep. Will Morgan, D-Burnsville, lost to Republican businesswoman Roz Peterson of Lakeville.

Like in rural Minnesota, parts of the Twin Cities likely will continue to be a battleground as many contests were decided by slim margins, notably House District 48A where Rep. Yvonne Selcer, D-Minnetonka, awaits an automatic recount in the race that shows she beat former GOP Rep. Kirk Stensrud by 36 votes.

Among crucial House races:

2A: Republican Dave Hancock of Bemidji was first elected to the House in 2010 and served one term before he was defeated in 2012 by Rep. Roger Erickson, D-Baudette. Hancock, who co-owned a tire and automotive business for many years, won his seat back on Tuesday in a rematch by 4.87 percentage points. The district was predictably difficult for DFLers, having been won in 2012 by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and on Tuesday by GOP 8th Congressional District candidate Stewart Mills.

10A: Four-term DFL House member John Ward of Baxter, who had managed to win decisive re-elections in previous years despite the Republican tilt to his district, met his match against Republican Josh Heintzeman of Nisswa. Ward won in 2010 by 15 points despite that year’s GOP wave that sent many DFLers in greater Minnesota packing. Heintzeman runs a log construction business.

10B: The victor of one of the DFL’s biggest upsets in 2012, Rep. Joe Radinovich, D-Crosby, knew he had a big target on his back in his rematch with Republican farmer from Aitkin, Dale Lueck. Radinovich won the first contest by a mere 1.47 points in a district that favored GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney by 9 points, but succumbed to Lueck on Tuesday by 3.86 points.

11B: Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Hinckley, has had one of the most volatile electoral rides of any lawmaker in recent memory. Faust met his second re-election defeat on Tuesday in his east-central Minnesota district that also includes Mora and Pine City. Faust was first elected in 2006 on his second try to unseat former GOP Rep. Judy Soderstrom. He lost his seat in the subsequent 2010 election only for voters to send him back to St. Paul in 2012. After one term back in the House, Faust, a Lutheran minister, lost the swing district to Republican Jason Rarick, an electrical contractor from Pine City.

12A: Jeff Backer, a businessman and former mayor of Browns Valley, successfully won the seat from first-term Rep. Jay McNamar, DFL-Elbow Lake. McNamar had beaten his Republican opponent in 2012 points with an Independence Party candidate getting 6.14 percent of the vote.

14B: Jim Knoblach, who previously served six terms in the House and is a former Ways and Means Committee chairman, will return to the House. Knoblach, who retired from the House in 2006 to run unsuccessfully for Congress, won back his House seat against first-term DFL incumbent Zach Dorholt by 0.61 point, barely exceeding the threshold required to avoid an automatic recount.

17A: Rep. Andrew Falk, D-Murdock, saw his bid for a fourth term representing western Minnesota counties of Swift, Chippewa and Renville Counties upended by Tim Miller. The race was a rematch from 2012 when Falk beat Miller by a 7.9-point margin. Miller, a consultant from Prinsburg, eased past Falk on Tuesday by 10.9 points. Falk, a farmer, had worked extensively on agriculture and renewable issues in the House.

17B: Throughout Tuesday night, the race between Rep. Mary Sawatzky, D-Willmar, and her Republican challenger Dave Baker was agonizingly close. At times the secretary of state’s website showed a difference of less than a quarter of 1 percent. In the end, Baker, a hospitality business owner from Willmar, unseated the first-termer Sawatzky in a district that has swung back-and-forth since veteran DFLer Al Juhnke was upset in 2010.

24B: Rep. Patti Fritz, D-Faribault, lost her bid for a sixth term. Fritz, a nurse and leading advocate for anti-abortion issues that split the House DFL caucus, had won close elections before. This was another close contest. But Fritz was on the losing side of a race decided by 1.87 percentage points in favor of first-time candidate Brian Daniels. Daniels is a businessman and brother of Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, who ran unopposed this year.

27A: Republican challenger Peggy Bennett won big on Tuesday. The Albert Lea elementary school teacher beat first-term Democratic incumbent Shannon Savick of Wells by 13 points, with the wild-card factor that Independence Party candidate Thomas Keith Price of Alden garnered 6.9 percent of the vote. Democrats lost the House seat despite winning 27A in the governor’s, Congressional and U.S. Senate races. The southern Minnesota district has flipped between Republicans and Democrats in the last three House elections.

48A: Before Democrats’ hopes of holding onto control of the state House were dashed in greater Minnesota, victories in competitive districts in the Twin Cities suburbs provided them with early optimism on Tuesday night. Things have preliminarily gone the DFL’s way in 48A where Rep. Yvonne Selcer, D-Minnetonka, won by 36 votes, an outcome so slim that state law requires an automatic recount. Assuming the recount doesn’t change things, Selcer, a former Hopkins school board chairwoman, will have won a second term by defeating the seat’s former GOP incumbent Kirk Stensrud, whom she beat in 2012 by 202 votes, or 0.82 percentage point.

56B: Although the Twin Cities suburbs are loaded with swing districts, this Burnsville/Lakeville district was the only GOP pickup on Tuesday. Commercial realtor and Lakeville school board chairwoman Roz Peterson won a rematch with Rep. Will Morgan, D-Burnsville, from the race she lost two years ago by 0.8 percentage point. The race was one of that year’s marquee DFL pickups in the Twin Cities area, and Peterson began campaigning for a rematch shortly afterwards. On Tuesday she unseated Morgan, a Burnsville High School physics teacher, by 8.16 points. Morgan had served two terms in the House from 2007 to 2011, before himself being defeated and then regaining his seat in 2012.

Voters split their picks


By Don Davis

Minnesota retains its reputations for being, well, unpredictable when it comes to elections.

In Tuesday’s election, the state’s voters gave two Democratic former recount survivors relatively easy victories, but turned over control of the state House to Republicans. They gave Democrats wins in two hotly contested U.S. House races, with one a razor-thin margin.

And a third party no longer will get state perks.

One look at maps illustrating the vote leads to a definite conclusion: Minnesotans are not shy about splitting tickets.

The most dramatic map would be of the U.S. House representation. Three massive mostly rural districts, along with Hennepin and Ramsey counties, elected five Democrats to the U.S. House. Three suburban districts, a far smaller acreage, picked Republicans for Congress.

Look on the map of where Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton drew votes and there are some clusters, such as the urban and northeastern areas. Republican Jeff Johnson did well in most rural counties, even those that voted for Democratic U.S. House candidates. It is just that most of those counties have fewer residents than where Dayton won.

Bring out the map for the state House races and you have a Republican domination.

Tuesday was a split verdict.

“We did very well in Hennepin, Ramsey and St. Louis counties,” a happy Dayton said Wednesday.

But, he said in response to reporters’ questions, that does not mean that he will ignore less populated counties that voted for Johnson.

“We made a lot of progress in the state, but there is a long ways to go,” he said, adding that he likes to travel the state talking to its residents — and that will not change in his final term in office.

“I am not going to sit in St. Paul the next four years,” he declared.

Election returns will not affect him, he added.

For Dayton, Tuesday marked a first and a last. It was the first time he tried to be elected to a second term, after opting against running a second time for state auditor and U.S. senator. On the other hand, he has said that at 67 this was his last election.

Across the state, Dayton beat Johnson 50 percent to 45 percent in complete but unofficial returns. The five-point win was big compared to his race four years ago that was decided by a recount.

Even more luxurious was Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s 202,899-vote margin over Republican Mike McFadden. Franken beat then-Sen. Norm Coleman by 312 votes after a lengthy recount and court battle in the 2008 election.

All statewide winners were Democrats, as they have been since Republican Tim Pawlenty won his second term in the governor’s office eight years ago.

The closest race came for secretary of state to replace retiring Secretary Mark Ritchie. Democrat Steve Simon received 22,408 more votes than Republican Dan Severson. Other statewide winners were incumbent Democrats Auditor Rebecca Otto and Attorney General Lori Swanson.

Statewide Democratic winners came in the face of a national Republican wave that washed the party into control of the U.S. Senate and boosted GOP’s U.S. House members, too.

The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party statewide victories came despite a low turnout that normally spells trouble for the party.

“Turnout was clearly an issue,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen, whose Democrats face being a House minority. “I suppose there are a lot of reasons for that. There wasn’t a particularly exciting statewide campaign.”

Two of the most exciting races came in mostly rural U.S. House districts.

Incumbent Democrat Rick Nolan and Republican challenger Stewart Mills waited until early Wednesday to learn that Nolan is headed back to Washington after winning 49 percent to 47 percent in the north-central, northeast and east-central part of the state.

In the large western Minnesota congressional district, 24-year veteran Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson had an easier time beating Republican state Sen. Torrey Westrom 54 percent to 46 percent.

About half of the state’s 3.9 million registered voters went to the polls Tuesday or voted via newly legal early ballots. Ritchie said that in the last non-presidential general election, in 2010, turnout was 56 percent and in 2006 it was 60 percent.

Since there will be no statewide races in 2016, Republicans have four years to figure out how to get a winner.

It may take longer than that for the Independence Party, made famous by Gov. Jesse Ventura as the Reform Party. Since before Ventura was elected in 1998, the party carried legal status of a “major party,” giving its candidates easier ballot access and the chance to get state campaign money.

However, a major party must obtain at least 5 percent support in a statewide race, which it failed to do on Tuesday. That means Independence candidates will be treated by the state like other third parties, such as the Greens and Libertarians.

Democrats appear to take statewide offices

By Tracy Frank

Democratic candidates led races for statewide office in Minnesota Tuesday, with only the race for secretary of state close.

Final results were not available.

For Minnesota attorney general, two-term incumbent and Democratic-Farmer-Labor candidate Lori Swanson, 47, of Eagan, led with 53 percent of votes with 3,224 of 4,106 precincts reporting.

Republican Scott J. Newman, a 67-year-old retired private practice attorney from Hutchinson, had 38 percent of the vote.

Swanson had 880,003 votes to Newman’s 630,945.

The state’s chief legal officer serves a four-year term and will make $117,716 in 2015.

Four people ran for Minnesota secretary of state after Mark Ritchie opted not to seek a third term.

In the lead, DFL candidate, attorney Steve Simon, 44, of Hopkins had 48 percent of the vote.

Republican candidate Dan M. Severson, a 60-year-old retired naval officer from Sauk Rapids, had 45 percent.

Simon had 785,243 votes to Severson’s 738,077.

The secretary of state serves a four-year term and will make $92,934 in 2015. The office administers elections, registers businesses, records business documents and financing statements, preserves official state documents and administers an address confidentiality program.

Two-term Minnesota State Auditor and DFL candidate Rebecca Otto, 51, of Marine on the St. Croix, led her race with 52 percent of the vote. Republican Randy Gilbert, a 49-year-old auditor from Plymouth, had 39 percent of the vote.

Otto had 859,121 votes to Gilbert’s 642,902.

The state auditor serves a four-year term and oversees local government financial activity. The annual salary is $105,326 for 2015.

In the race for Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice, Wilhelmina M. Wright led with 57 percent of the vote against John Hancock with 3,224 precincts reporting. Wright had 719,870 votes to Hancock’s 531,072.

Associate Justice David Lillehaug led with 54 percent of the vote against Michelle L. MacDonald. Lillehaug had 668,201 votes to MacDonald’s 573,037.

Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Wright in 2012 and Lillehaug in 2013.

Supreme Court justices serve a six-year term and were paid $156,375 in 2014.

Update: GOP takes Minnesota House control

By Charley Shaw

Victories in greater Minnesota on Tuesday delivered the state House back to GOP control.

It was a lonely GOP victory in what otherwise was an election day Democrats dominated in state races.

Republicans picked up DFL seats in many rural areas, helping the GOP pick up the seven seats needed to flip the House for the third time in as many election cycles.

In their bid to keep control of the state House, DFLers got some early good news in the Twin Cities suburbs by holding onto hotly contested seats in Bloomington, Eden Prairie, Minnetonka and Brooklyn Park. However, the race between Rep. Yvonne Selcer, D-Minnetonka, and Republican Kirk Stensrud was decided by a mere 36 votes, triggering an automatic recount.

But a strong showing in greater Minnesota turned the tide in favor of the GOP.

While the state Senate wasn’t up for election this year, all 134 House seats were on the ballot. For the last two years, DFLers have controlled the House and Senate, enabling DFL Gov. Mark Dayton to pass major parts of his agenda.

Republicans this year waged a campaign to regain some power at the state Capitol in St. Paul. They needed a net gain of seven seats to wrest control of the House.

Earlier in the evening, Dayton won a second term, in which he will face a Democratic Senate and Republican House.

Of their 73 seats, DFLers in roughly 20 districts had to battle for re-election on competitive turf, including nine DFL-held seats in greater Minnesota where GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney won in 2012.

The House has flipped back-and-forth between DFL and Republican control in the last two election cycles. In the last midterm elections, in 2010, Republicans took control of both legislative chambers from the DFL. The tables turned in the presidential election year of 2012 and the DFL established single-party control of the Legislature and the governor’s office for the first time since 1990.

Greater Minnesota was a major theater for the House campaigns with races in Brainerd, St. Cloud and Willmar, among other communities, drawing a deluge of print and broadcast advertising. The 2015 legislative session will convene Jan. 6. State lawmakers will construct the next two-year general fund budget as their main item of business. Legislative leaders have also signaled that transportation funding will be a major agenda item.

Nolan leads Mills in tight race

By Brady Slater

Democratic incumbent Rick Nolan maintained a slight lead over Republican challenger Stewart Mills in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District race late Tuesday night — a contest predicted to be one of the closest House races in the nation.

With 464 of 810 precincts reporting, Nolan led with 48 percent of the vote. Mills was closely trailing with 46 percent of votes, with Green Party candidate Ray “Skip” Sandman holding onto 4.5 percent of the vote.

Complete results were not available at press time. With 57 percent of precincts reporting, Nolan had 90,888 votes, while Mills had 86,604.

Still, Nolan and his supporters could feel the momentum tilting their way.

Hugging and chatting up a roomful of supporters growing every minute, Nolan thanked the supporters who had gathered at Arrowwood Lodge at Brainerd Lakes.

“I gotta tell you I have never seen such an outpouring of support,” Nolan said.

With numbers starting to skew his way, Nolan said he was “cautiously optimistic.”

“We’ve still got a lot of votes to count. Because of the work you’ve done, we’ve still got a darn good chance to win this thing.”

The 8th District race for the seat representing Northeastern Minnesota had been ballyhooed by pundits as a toss-up since late summer. As a result, it became one of the most expensive congressional elections in the country.

Nolan and Mills’ campaigns each raised more than $2 million. Additionally, the Federal Election Commission reported that, through Monday, about $12.5 million in independent money poured in from political action committees attempting to steer voters with television commercials, radio ads and direct mailers.

The race took a notable turn in mid-October, when Mills drew an 8-percentage-point lead in a SurveyUSA poll.

Both Nolan and Mills were raised and still reside on the Cuyuna Range — Mills in the Brainerd lakes area, Nolan in Crosby. They waged campaigns that strove to define middle- class values.

Early in the evening, Mills addressed an intimate gathering of friends and family, as well as a throng of media, including metro TV stations, at Gull Dam Brewing in Nisswa, Minn.

“This has been a great experience; this has been a great journey,” he said.

Mills thanked his friends, his family, “and especially my wife (Heather).” He thanked the “people working in the field tirelessly,” and “the people that identified with the hunting camp doctrine.

“At hunting camp, if you complain about something you get the job to fix it,” he said. “That’s why I started.”

Mills, 42, a third-generation executive in his family’s Mills Fleet Farm business, was making his first foray into politics. Mills’ stake in the company has been reported by various media outlets to be between $50 million to $150 million. Throughout the campaign, Mills bristled at suggestions he was too wealthy to understand middle-class America. He repeatedly called his family a small-business success story, and worked to establish himself as an ally to farmers, outdoorsmen and the Iron Range’s miners.

The incumbent Nolan, 70, sought his second term in what has amounted to a second political career. Making his sixth bid for Congress, Nolan has won four straight elections — in 2012 against Chip Cravaack and from 1975-81, representing the state’s 6th Congressional District. The last person to defeat Nolan was Republican John Zwach in 1972.

Throughout the campaign, Nolan addressed a broad range of topics, displaying a deep understanding of the issues, but also struggling to formulate a platform. He found his stride late when he clamored against the Republicans’ overtures at privatizing Social Security and Medicare, and when he worked to establish himself as a champion of the middle class.

Sandman, 60, of Duluth, is the Green Party candidate who distinguished himself from the major party candidates for his unequivocal rejection of precious metals mining.

Peterson defeats Westrom for U.S. House

By John Hageman

Longtime U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., defeated Torrey Westrom, a Republican state senator, in the race for the U.S. House in Tuesday’s election.

With 75.1 percent of precincts reporting just before midnight, Peterson was leading with 54.1 percent of votes. Westrom had 45.8 percent of votes. Complete results were not available at press time, but the Associated Press had called the race in Peterson’s favor and Westrom later conceded.

Peterson has represented Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District since 1991. Outside groups poured millions of dollars into the race in an effort to unseat Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Agriculture.

Peterson said in an interview just before 10:30 p.m. that the election didn’t feel much different this year despite the outside spending and advertisements. He was feeling optimistic with less than half of the precincts reporting.

Westrom was not made available for an interview just after 10 p.m. In his concession speech, he thanked supporters and noted that Republicans had won a number of races across the country.

The 7th District stretches along Minnesota’s western border from the Canadian border nearly to Iowa.

Peterson is often described as a conservative Democrat. He voted against the original passage of the Affordable Care Act, but has stopped short of calling for a full repeal of the law.

That distinction was a source of criticism from Westrom, a state legislator since the age of 23 who advocated for the law’s repeal and replacement. He also called for balancing the federal budget and building the Keystone XL pipeline.

Westrom and other Republicans had argued that Peterson has been in office too long, and has lost touch with constituents. Television ads focused on reimbursements for travel expenses.

Peterson often cited his work on the latest Farm Bill on the campaign trail. He said he wanted to go back to Congress to make sure the bill is implemented correctly.

Franken’s victory speech

U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s Election Night Remarks
As prepared for delivery

Thank you!

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I am so honored, and so humbled, and so grateful to the people of Minnesota.

Thank you for taking a chance on me six years ago.  And thank you for giving me the chance to keep working hard for you in Washington.

Every day, the people of this state impress me. . . inspire me. . . and motivate me to work even harder.

So I want to thank our business owners and community and technical colleges who are working together to close the skills gap and put workers in good-paying, middle-class jobs.

I want to thank our farmers who are using new technologies to turn bio-mass into fuel.

I want to thank our students who are working 20, 30, even 40-hour weeks while going to school full-time because they want to take a chance on themselves and contribute something to their community.

I want to thank every single hard-working Minnesotan I’ve met along the way – everyone who works hard and plays by the rules and just wants a fair chance to build a better life for their families.

I couldn’t be more proud to be your Senator.  I brag on you all the time.

And I promise to do everything I can to reward your trust – or, if you didn’t vote for me, to earn it – over the next six years.

We’ve got a lot to do.  And I’m excited to get back to work.  Tomorrow morning.

Tonight, though, I just want to say thanks.

And, as always, the first person I want to thank is Franni.

I can’t tell you how great it’s been over the years to watch Minnesotans get to know and love Franni the way I do.

Like most people who run for office, I wouldn’t have done it if Franni hadn’t been willing to be my partner in navigating all the trials and tribulations of a campaign.

And I’m quite certain I wouldn’t have won if she hadn’t turned out to be so good at it.

Franni, I love you, and I’m so proud of you.

The same goes for you, Thomasin, and you, Joe.

I love my kids, and I love my kids-in-law, Brody and Stephanie, and I love my grandson, Joe.

And I’m proud of all of them.  Even if they worked slightly less hard than Franni.  Especially my grandson, who did nothing except be cute.

I also want to thank Senator Amy Klobuchar.  Since the day I got to the Senate, you’ve been a role model and the best partner I could have asked for.  Minnesota is lucky to have you as their Senator, and I’m lucky to have you as a friend.

And I want to thank Governor Mark Dayton and our incredible state legislature and our congressional delegation.  I’m proud to be part of your team, and I can’t wait to see what we can achieve together in the months and years ahead.

This has been a long, tough campaign.  But I think every campaign, at least these days, is long and tough – for candidates, for their families, for their supporters.

In some ways, that’s a bad thing.  I think people have probably had enough TV ads and fundraising emails for a while.

But in some ways, it’s a good thing.  Because it gives all of us who do this something in common.

Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, everyone who steps up to run for office – or gives their time and energy to help them – experiences a lot of the same ups and downs.

And it’s a reminder that, although we might not always agree, we’re all in this together – all working as hard as we can to fight for the things we believe in.

And that’s why I hope you’ll join me in giving Mike McFadden, and his family, and his supporters a big round of applause.

I also want to thank DFL Chair Ken Martin and the tireless, perpetually-underthanked DFL staff.  This is the best state party in the whole country, and you have a lot to be proud of tonight.

Last, but by no means least, I want to thank my team.

Now, look.  I’ve watched a lot of election night coverage in my life.

And you always turn on the TV and they say, “Senator So-and-So is now speaking,” and you see him or her thanking all these people you’ve never heard of, and it’s just boring.

That’s what I used to think.  But I’ve learned better.

When my grandson was 30 minutes old, I held him in my arms, and I said to him: “It’s all staff.”

So bear with me for a second, because I’m going to thank a lot of people.

Now, first of all, my staff isn’t really my staff.  They’re my team.  They’re my friends.  They are dedicated public servants, public policy professionals, and volunteers.

I want to thank my campaign manager, Matt Burgess.

I want to thank my chief of staff, Casey Aden-Wansbury.

I want to thank my deputy chief of staff and senior advisor, Alana Petersen.

I want to thank the people who made our ads and did our polling and raised our money and created our mail pieces and grew our field program and built our website and sent you all those obnoxious fundraising emails.

I want to thank the field organizers who spent months criss-crossing the state drinking gas station coffee…

The schedulers and other staffers who made sure I was in the right place at the right time…

The finance team who put together hundreds of events and thousands upon thousands of call sheets…

The researchers who made sure we got our facts straight, and the communications staffers who made sure we got our voice heard…

The folks who made sure that our phones got answered, that our Internet stayed on, and that our volunteers had fun…

And, of course, every single supporter who made a phone call or knocked on a door or marched in a parade.

And I want to thank everyone who has been part of my Senate staff over the last six years – helping constituents, working on legislation, putting together hearings, making sure Minnesotans know about the work I’m doing, and generally making me look good while getting not nearly enough credit.

I wanted to thank all these people individually, by name.  But that could take all night.

Besides, I would probably still end up forgetting someone.  And they’d feel even worse about it, considering how many other people I’d thanked.

So let me just say the one thing I think you need to hear more than anything else: It mattered.

Every time I walked into our headquarters, or a field office, or a rally, and saw so many people working so hard to help me win, it reminded me how important this is to so many people, and it made me do a better job.

The work we do together matters to Minnesota, and I can’t wait to get back to it.

I’m going back to the Senate to help people refinance their student loans, the same way they refinance their mortgages or their car loans.

I’m going back to the Senate to stand up for women’s health care.

I’m going back to the Senate to make sure that American workers continue to have the right to organize.

I’m going back to the Senate to keep leading the charge for net neutrality.

I’m going back to the Senate to make sure we confront this Sputnik moment, and aggressively take on climate change, and create millions of 21st-century jobs in clean energy and energy efficiency, and make sure those jobs are here in America – in Minnesota.

I’m going back to the Senate to support workforce development partnerships, and new infrastructure, and veterans’ health care, and so many other issues.

I’m going back to the Senate to fight for the middle class and those aspiring to be in the middle class.  Because we all do better when we all do better.

I’m going back to the Senate to work hard for the people of Minnesota.

But for tonight, all I want to say – to you, and to every Minnesotan – is thank you.