Democrats’ goal: Get members to vote

Democrats rally

By Don Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


By Don Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two debates left

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

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

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

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

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

Early voting still open

Minnesotans still may cast ballots early.

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

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

Minnesota Ebola plan less restrictive


By Don Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Minnesota announces Ebola plan


By Don Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Don Davis

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

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

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

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

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

House races funded

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

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

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

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

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

Johnson: Dayton lied on rates

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

DFL plans road trip

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

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

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

Election notebook: GOP to remove photo of abuse victim

By Don Davis

The Minnesota Republican Party on Thursday agreed to remove a photograph of a young abuse victim from a television commercial accusing Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton of making it easier to mistreat children.

“The ad is currently being revised and an edited version will begin airing as soon as possible,” the party said in a statement when a controversy arose over the commercial featuring the case of 4-year-old Eric Dean, whose stepmother is serving time after being convicted in his death.

The GOP decision came after the boy’s grandmother, Yvonne Dean of Starbuck, asked Republican Chairman Keith Downey to remove references to the boy’s case from the ad.

The Pope County boy died in 2013 after several reports about abuse.

The Republican television spot showed a story and photo of the boy from the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune. The ad said about the governor that it is “downright horrifying that he signed a law making it more difficult to investigate maltreatment cases. … It is time to stop the incompetence. Stop Mark Dayton.”

After aides said Dayton would talk about the Dean case and other issues at a midday Thursday event, he avoided the media by leaving the back way. He earlier had said that supporters of the law did not think it would make abuse cases more difficult to investigate.

The Democratic governor’s opponent, Republican Jeff Johnson, supported Downey’s decision to remake the commercial.

“My heart goes out to Eric’s family as they grieve his loss,” Johnson said. “This little boy’s picture should never have been used in an ad.”

The GOP statement said information in the ad was true, but after talking to the grandmother, “Downey apologized for not contacting her before the ad was produced. We will honor her request and will redact the Star Tribune’s picture of Eric Dean from their article as it appears in the ad.”

Anti-DFL ads begin

The Republican-leaning Minnesota Jobs Coalition is running cable television commercials against Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party incumbents in eight state House districts.

In those against rural legislators, the ads say the targeted incumbents “voted with big city liberals to bring Obamacare to Minnesota.” Many commercials indicate the Democrats voted for “a new $90 million luxury office building” for senators.

The coalition is working to elect a Republican House majority after Democrats have controlled the House, Senate and governor’s office the past two years.

“One-party DFL control of state government has been a disaster for Minnesota families and businesses,” said Ben Golnik, chairman of the Minnesota Jobs Coalition Legislative Fund.

Democrats targeted in the ads are Reps. Roger Erickson of Baudette, John Ward of Baxter, Jay McNamar of Elbow Lake, Andrew Falk of Murdock, Melissa Hortman of Brooklyn Park, Barb Yarusso of Shoreview, Jason Isaacson of Shoreview and Will Morgan of Burnsville.

Independence ad coming

The big political parties and outside groups are spending millions of dollars on hard-hitting, often negative, televisions commercials.

The Independence Party’s attorney general candidate, Brandan Borgos, on Thursday said he was thrilled with a low-budget spot to be on the Internet next week, a commercial featuring dancers and “a positive message.”

Borgos said he expects to spend $20,000 on the Internet-only ad, and hopes it will go viral to boost his candidacy.

Election notebook: Michelle Obama leads big names to Minnesota

Michelle Obama with kids at White House.

By Don Davis

Some of the country’s biggest Democratic names plan Minnesota visits this week to help their candidates with two weeks until election day.

While the party’s biggest name, President Barack Obama, is not scheduled to be here, his wife is. So is his former secretary of state, potential presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. And his vice president and other possible presidential hopeful, Joe Biden, plans to be in northeastern Minnesota.

Republicans have not announced any VIP visitors in the next-to-last full week of the 2014 campaign season, although New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a possible presidential candidate, campaigned for GOP candidates last week.

Also, former President Bill Clinton earlier this month attracted 2,700 to a Minneapolis rally. U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Jon Tester of Montana appeared with U.S. Sen. Al Franken during the weekend.

First lady Michelle Obama is to rally Democrats this afternoon at Patrick Henry High School in North Minneapolis. She is coming to campaign for Franken and Gov. Mark Dayton’s re-election campaigns. She is expected to speak after 3:30 p.m.

The get-out-the-vote rally is free, but tickets were needed for people to attend.

Biden will visit the Iron Range and Duluth Thursday. He also visited the area days before the 2012 election.

The vice president is to be in Hibbing to stump for Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, who the latest poll shows trailing Republican challenger Stewart Mills.

Biden also will be in Duluth for an event on domestic violence issues on Thursday

Also Thursday, Hillary Clinton has added an afternoon rally to her previously planned fundraiser for Dayton.

Clinton, a former U.S. senator, will be featured at a rally planned for Macalester College’s Leonard Center Fieldhouse. Tickets are free and available at the DFL Website.

The Clinton fundraiser for Dayton will be early Thursday evening at the St. Paul RiverCentre, with tickets available for up to $2,500 each. Co-hosting the event with Clinton will be Franken and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

“We are excited to have Secretary Clinton back in Minnesota to support Sen. Franken, Gov. Dayton and the DFL ticket,” Chairman Ken Martin of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party said. “There’s a lot of work to do over the next two weeks and Minnesotans are energized to help get out of the vote, volunteer, knock on doors and talk to voters about what’s at stake this election.”

Ag coalition pushes issues

Members of a coalition of Minnesota-based farm and food organizations is touring Minnesota and informing voters in the weeks leading up to the Nov. 4 election about farming and food production issues.

The group, known as A Greater Minnesota, asks voters to support candidates that have signed a pledge that encourages support of farms of all sizes, “environmental stewardship, caring for farm animals, sensible food labeling and food safety.” Sixty-five candidates have signed on.

“Concerns regarding the safety and methods of how our food is produced have increased dramatically in recent years, which is ironic because the care, safety and protected environment of our farm animals has never been better,” said Steve Olson, executive director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association and Chicken and Egg Association of Minnesota. “Crops, today, are producing higher yields, nourishing more people, all while using less water, fuel and other chemicals.”

Executive Director David Preisler of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association said farm groups are under pressure “from extreme activists and the views of the majority are not being heard. Our state government needs to be a stronger partner and supporter of Minnesota farmers and ag-related companies if we want to protect and grow this industry.”

Dayton up by 10

A just-released poll shows Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton with a 10-point lead over Republican challenger Jeff Johnson.

The KSTP-SurveyUSA poll reported that half of the likely voters surveyed said they would vote for Dayton, with 40 percent backing Johnson. The rest support another candidate or have not decided.

The poll also shows Republican challenger Stewart Mills leads Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan 47 percent to 39 percent in their northeast and east-central Minnesota district.

Nolan beat Republican Chip Cravaack two years ago, which was just two years after Cravaack upset long-time U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar.

The 8th Congressional District used to be dependably Democratic, but changes such as the district being extended south into GOP territory has made it more of a swing district.

Different strokes for different governor candidates

Mark Dayton and Jeff Johnson see the world differently.

Very differently.

Democratic Gov. Dayton wants the minimum wage to rise as planned because “I believe in the old-fashioned notion that work should pay” for the necessities of life.

His Republican challenger, Johnson, prefers to focus on what he calls “the maximum wage” to improve all Minnesotans’ pay.

Dayton says more money is needed to improve transportation, which officials say needs a $12 billion injection to keep roads and bridges in good shape.

Johnson, on the other hand, feels roads and bridges should take priority in state spending, replacing other programs that could be cut or eliminated.

Dayton would allow the proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline to continue to work its way through the process at the state Public Utilities Commission.

Johnson claims that Dayton appointees to the board are holding up pipeline approval on behalf of environmentalists, and he would push it through.

Those and other issues illustrated differences between the two major Minnesota governor candidates during an hour-long debate sponsored by the Duluth News Tribune and Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce.

The third debate involving the two produced no new revelations, but as Johnson said afterwards it may have made the “differences more stark.”

It was the first debate without Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet. The two previous ones included her, and organizers of the two final debates have not invited her.

Johnson and Dayton often looked at, and scolded, each other during the early-morning debate.

When talking about a Vikings football stadium that costs more than $1 billion, half funded by tax money, Johnson explained the situation that was similar to other issues: “This is another example of how we are going to differ as much as we can possibly differ”

On the stadium, Johnson said taxpayers should not have paid for it, citing a new New Jersey stadium construction project that involved no government funds. “This whole deal has been a disaster.”

Dayton, a champion for the facility, rebutted Johnson: “Tell 7,500 who are working to build the project that this is a disaster.”

The first-term governor said the professional football team would be in Los Angeles or another city if Minnesota had not built a stadium to replace the Metrodome. The new facility, to be done in less than two years, is going up on the former Metrodome site. Dayton said it is bringing new vigor to a formerly run down part of downtown Minneapolis.

On the minimum wage, Dayton said that more than 300,000 Minnesotans will benefit directly as it rises to $9.50 an hour in the next two years, and others’ wages also will rise.

“If you want to build a middle class, you have to give people a chance to earn that money through the workplace,” Dayton said.

But Johnson, who said that he would do more to help the middle class than Dayton, said that Minnesotans do not want minimum wage jobs.

The Republican brought up a talking point he often uses, that half of the state’s workforce is underemployed and a minimum wage increase would not help them. Johnson often promotes help for businesses, so they can create better jobs.

“You want to lower the minimum wage and want to lower taxes on the super wealthy,” Dayton told Johnson.

Much of the answer to the road and bridge funding deficit, Johnson said, is to move them up to the top of the state priority list. In an earlier interview, Johnson said that means some programs could lose money.

Johnson said that too much transportation money is being spent on sidewalks, bicycle paths and other items other than roads and bridges. He suggested that in addition to changing priorities, he would borrow more money.

Dayton said that transportation borrowing already is at its upper limit and much transportation spending already goes to repaying previous loans.

The Democratic incumbent said the situation requires new revenue, but was not clear about how he would raise it. At a Forum News Service debate last week, he said he would propose a sales tax on gasoline, but the next day backed away a bit from the idea. In Duluth, he said that remains a possibility, but said attitudes like Johnson’s  that more money is not needed could kill the concept in the Legislature.

Both candidates professed support of the Sandpiper pipeline, which is proposed to go across northern Minnesota. And both said it eventually could ease railroad congestion.

Johnson accused Dayton and his three PUC appointees of stalling the pipeline, with plans to kill it after the Nov. 4 election. Dayton said that pipeline construction needs to be fully studied for environmental impacts before it is built.

The two also differed on MNsure, the state web-based health insurance sales program.

MNsure got off to a rocky start last year, but Dayton said it is improving and offers the country’s lowest cost insurance. But, he said, some oppose it for political purposes.

“People who oppose the Affordable Care Act want to go back to Darwinian survival of the richest,” he said to Johnson.

“It has been an unmitigated disaster since Day 1,” Johnson told Dayton, then pledged to seek federal permission to make some changes in MNsure so innovations could be incorporated. He did not say what innovations he backs.

Minnesota leaders seek federal rail help

By Don Davis

Minnesota’s leaders want federal help to ease railroad delays.

U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday sent a letter to the head of the Surface Transportation Board saying that rail delays are hurting many parts of the economy.

“As we watch winter come to the state of Minnesota, we have become increasingly alarmed by the service failures of several railroads that serve critical industries in our state,” the three Democrats wrote to board Chairman Daniel Elliott.

And Tuesday, Dayton holds what is expected to be the last of a series of rail safety and rail congestion summits. It will be 10 a.m. at Kirby Ballroom, University of Minnesota Duluth. It begins an hour after he is to end an election forum with Republican governor candidate Jeff Johnson.

Following the rail meeting, Dayton is to meet with Minnesota Power officials.

The state’s power companies are among those complaining that overloaded rails are slowing service. Rail congestion is causing power plants to run low on coal.

“We are hearing daily from captive shippers across the agricultural, mining and energy sectors who cannot move products to market or transshipment locations; cannot secure delivery of enough coal to run power plants; and are forced to find extremely uneconomic alternatives, which ultimately lead to higher costs and poorer outcomes for businesses and end-use consumers,” the officials’ letter said.

They claim that railroads “have not provided even minimally adequate levels of rail service.”

The Surface Transportation Board oversees freight railroads and the official wrote that power companies are restricting use of coal-fired power plants to conserve coal stockpiles.

The three say that the situation appears to be getting worse.

Railroad officials recently told state legislators that service is improving and will get better in coming years as they expand their rail networks and make other infrastructure changes.

An Amtrak official at the legislative hearing blamed rail delays on hours-long waits its passengers must endure.

Passenger and freight trains share the rails. The Amtrak official said freights, especially those carrying oil, get priority, but railroad officials denied that.

Farmers already have sustained more than $100 million in losses due to rail congestion, which Dayton blames mostly on greatly increase use of rails to transport western North Dakota crude oil.

Farmers say they have a difficult time getting fertilizer and other crop inputs, and worry that crops they are harves ting will not get to market on time.

Governor campaign notebook: Ag property tax cut not likely

By Don Davis

Minnesota farmers should not expect their property taxes to fall right away regardless of who is elected governor.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican challenger Jeff Johnson have no plans for immediate change as farmland taxes continue to rise when other property taxes have fallen or risen at slower rates.

Johnson said that he hopes to dust off a bipartisan property tax report compiled two years ago and see if anything in it would help.

“I don’t know what the change is, to be honest with you,” Johnson said.

Dayton said that property taxes are not the best way to raise money to fund local governments, but they are the best method available. He does not plan to propose any specific ag tax changes.

Property taxes are based on land value, and since farmland prices have been soaring recently property taxes also are rising.

“I say it is the most unfair tax,” Dayton said about property taxes.

Dayton said that his plans to change sales taxes, including adding some to business-to-business transitions, were “roundly trashed,” and he does not plan to bring them up again as a way to reduce property taxes.

“For the foreseeable future, we have a surplus and I am not going to raise anybody’s taxes for anything,” he said.

Johnson cautioned Minnesotans to be patient: “I think it will take a couple of years to come up with a plan to reform taxes. It is not just cutting them.”

Forum News Service discussed farm taxes and many other greater Minnesota issues with the candidates during campaign swings they made in rural areas.

 Transportation spending

Neither of the two candidates said they plan to suggest a tax increase to fund what they agree are major unmet transportation needs.

But those comments came before Wednesday night, when Dayton suggested support for a gasoline sales tax.

“We are going to have to raise revenues and we are going to have to prevent the continued deterioration of our highway system,” Dayton said before the Wednesday night debate.

The state needs $6 billion to stop highway deterioration and congestion, a figure that does not even include adding new roads, Dayton said.

“There is no free lunch,” he added. “We don’t have an effective way to fund it … anywhere in the country right now.”

Johnson’s answer to transportation problems is to make roads and bridges a top state priority and take money from other areas for them.

“We all rely on roads and bridges more than anything else,” he said, so transportation spending on transit, sidewalks and other programs should be whittled back.

Johnson said he would support more state borrowing for roads and bridges, but Dayton said the state already borrows as much money for such uses as is allowed.

Biofuel differences

Dayton said government has a role in developing industries such as ethanol and biodiesel, fuels produced with Minnesota grains, while Johnson prefers to keep government out of private business.

However, Johnson said, since state government gave the industries a boost and required that the fuels be used, he does not want to end the mandate right away.

“I never have been a strong supporter of state mandates or state subsidies … because I think the private market does the best job of creating the energy market,” Johnson said. “But I also fully recognize how tremendously individuals and business people have relied on that mandate.”

Johnson also said he would not use the bully pulpit as governor to promote the use of higher amounts of ethanol blended into gasoline. Republican Tim Pawlenty frequently preached ethanol when he was governor.

“I think consumer can make the best choice of what makes sense for them,” Johnson said.

Increasing the percentage of ethanol in gasoline is “not realistic or fair” this this point, he said.

Dayton said that the state’s long-running mandate that gasoline contain 10 percent ethanol, usually made from corn, is “one of the principle reasons that the industry has been able to establish itself in spite of the fierce opposition of the oil industry.”

He also supports biodiesel, a soybean-based fuel added to diesel. The state has a role in helping with “transitional costs” with higher blends of the soybean fuel, he said.

With ethanol, “one of the basic laws of thermo dynamics is anytime you convert from one form of energy to another there is efficiency quotient and you lose energy,” the governor said. That means it does not produce as much energy as pure gasoline, he added, which is reflected in lower prices for ethanol than gasoline.

Governor candidates get more specific in varied Moorhead debate

Forum News Service Minnesota governor candidate debate

By Adrian Glass-Moore

Candidates for Minnesota governor were forced to be specific at their second debate Wednesday on the campus of Minnesota State University Moorhead, a shift in a campaign that has been noted for staying vague.

Republican challenger Jeff Johnson pledged to hire an outside auditor to review state programs, give more power to parents of students in failing schools and speed up permitting processes.

Incumbent Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said he would focus on funding for badly needed transportation improvements across the state by proposing a sales tax on gas, increasing funding for special education and lobbying for a child care tax credit in the state Legislature.

The gas tax was a point of disagreement between the two major party candidates and Independence Party candidate Hannah Nicollet, who said she would “possibly” support a gas increase but stressed the need for bonds.

For his part, Johnson dismissed the idea of raising taxes as “wrong.”

“I do believe that we should start bonding for roads,” he said.

The debate covered everything from the proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline to marijuana legalization, and fielded questions from social media.

Johnson took every chance to distinguish himself from Dayton by drawing attention to what he called their vastly different leadership styles and backgrounds.

Citing his upbringing in greater Minnesota, Johnson said he would be a better advocate for more rural communities.

“I think this is a fundamental difference between Governor Dayton and me,” Johnson said. “The fact that my roots are here, that my family is here, actually gives me an appreciation of greater Minnesota.”

Johnson was born in Detroit Lakes and attended Concordia College in Moorhead.

But the incumbent Democrat defended his record, saying that 38 percent of funding from recent bonding bills went outside of the Twin Cities.

“Being from greater Minnesota doesn’t automatically mean you’re for greater Minnesota,” the governor said.

The two disagreed on the state of the economy and job prospects for Minnesotans in response to a question from Anne Blackhurst, president of MSUM.

Blackhurst asked what the state could do better to encourage graduating students to find jobs in the state.

After Dayton cited low unemployment figures in the state, Johnson accused him of painting a rosy picture of the state’s economy and failing to acknowledge an underemployment problem.

“I truly think that you are out of touch,” Johnson said. “I am so tired of being told that everything is perfect.”

Johnson wasn’t the only one leveling criticism. Dayton said his challenger failed to support education when he was in the Legislature, a claim Johnson denied.

Nicollet stood out among the candidates for her support of recreational marijuana legalization and abolishing the corporate income tax.

The governor stuck to emphasizing his first term’s accomplishments.

“I started running for governor in 2009 because I saw the state headed in the wrong direction,” he said. Citing a projected budget surplus thanks to his “balanced approach,” the governor said, “We’re on a sound fiscal platform now.”

The debate, moderated by Don Davis of the Forum News Service, was the second of five. The next debate will be in Duluth on Oct. 14.

Minnesota governor candidates debate tonight

Minnesota’s three major-party governor candidates go on stage tonight to answer greater Minnesota and general state government questions.

Voters may attend the 7 p.m. event at Hansen Theatre on the Minnesota State University Moorhead campus. The 90-minute debate sponsored by Forum News Service will be shown live on Forum Communications Co. Websites serving Minnesota (go to to find one) and aired live on WDAY’Z Xtra channels in northwestern Minnesota (channel 6.3 over the air on WDAY and 8.3 on WDAZ).

A recorded video of the debate will be available on Forum Communications newspaper Websites Thursday afternoon and Minnesota Public Radio will air a shortened version at noon Thursday.

The debate will include Republican Jeff Johnson, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Hannah Nicollet of the Independence Party.

Questions, to be asked by Dana Mogck of WDAY and Don Davis of Forum News Service, will include some emailed in advance as well as those picked up from Twitter during the debate from people using hashtag #mngov.