Twist on fair politics: GOP vs. GOP

Guards stop MacDonald

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Nov. 2 on Minnesota Public Radio.

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

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

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

– An unknown date on WCCO television in Minneapolis.

– Nov. 2 on MPR.

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

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

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

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

The governor nominated Franken to get ice dumped on him.

Dayton doused

Johnson

Franken

McFadden

Analysis: Sharp contrasts separate Johnson and Dayton

Johnson, Dayton

Johnson, Dayton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Political Chatter: Politicians fake news sites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McFadden backs tax? No

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June primary discussed

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

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

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

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

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

A big difference

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

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

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

Big money, big problem?

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

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

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

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

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

Governor race could be ‘Minnesota nice’

Dayton, Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

That probably is a good thing, he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnson’s speech eased tensions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnson wins 4-way GOP governor race

Johnson

By Don Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dayton said he called Johnson to congratulate him Tuesday night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—-

Republican governor

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

DFL state auditor

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

Joseph Ryan Denton contributed to this story.

Oil train disaster training not here yet

Talking oil train disasters

By Don Davis

Forum News Service

LITTLE CANADA, Minn. — Minnesota emergency services personnel will be trained and equipped in a few years to deal with oil train disasters, but the governor worries about what could happen before then.

“If the accident would just wait for two years, three years, four years, boy, would we be ready,” Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday told his first in a series of rail safety roundtables.

Dayton’s public safety commissioner, Ramona Dohman, told the governor that every city and county must have plans for dealing with disasters, but not specifically how to handle volatile North Dakota crude oil that fills about 50 trains that cross Minnesota each week.

“We are the cross-country freeway for this because it is going to the East Coast,” said Dave Christianson of the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Local government plans are “one size fits all…” Dohman said. “They cover whatever may happen in your community.”

“It is just that they have not responded to these spills and fires…” the commissioner said. “How do you respond to the Casselton fire?”

Dohman and others from the public safety community said they are concerned about how Minnesota would deal with an oil train fire like in Casselton, N.D., late last year. Or an accident that killed people in Quebec. Or a fire in West Virginia. Or any of a number of other incidents involving crude oil pumped from the Bakken oil field in western North Dakota. Most of that oil is transported across Minnesota.

Doug Bergland, the Washington County emergency management director, said many firefighters already have 40-hour classes dealing with hazardous material response, but nothing specific about the crude oil that often moves in 100-car unit trains. He said he does not think that most law enforcement officers have any significant training on that issue.

“We are in uncharted territory here,” said state Rep. Frank Hornstein, D-Minneapolis, a sponsor of legislation that passed earlier this year to help fund training for first responders.

Christianson said that problems exist on several levels, including lack of training, lack of proper equipment and aging 1960s-era rail cars. “You have gaps layered upon gaps, layered upon gaps for the next three years. … In the meantime, we have real risks for communities.”

Dohman said that first responders will begin to get rail oil safety training next month. “Bakken awareness 101,” she called it.

However, she added, limited money is available and none will be spent on improving training for responders who already know the basics.

Dayton said the first thing that needs to be done is to make sure someone is in charge of looking ahead to see what the oil transportation situation will be in the next decade. He promised that person will be named within a week.

The task will be difficult. Hornstein said that Bakken oil transportation has increased 70-fold since 2005, and North Dakota oil production continues to increase.

“This is not a theoretical problem,” Hornstein said.

A report from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration singled out Bakken crude as being more volatile and riskier to transport than other U.S. crudes. However, a recent North Dakota Petroleum Council-commissioned study yielded similar data as the PHMSA study but found Bakken crude to be consistent with other types of light, sweet crude.

Christianson contends that Bakken crude is more dangerous than other oil: “This stuff if so volatile, you don’t fight the fire, you evacuate.”

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman called the situation frustrating for elected and public safety officials, who have a difficult time dealing with the ever-changing situation.

With an expanding railyard in his city, more trains will carry many types of dangerous substances are expected. Up to eight oil trains a day go through St. Paul.

In additional to the legislation that funded training, lawmakers ordered state officials to report back on how many crossings along oil train routes need to be upgraded, and to complete an assessment of training and equipment in public safety agencies where oil trains travel.

Dayton said that he plans similar meetings along oil train routes in coming weeks, with the next in coming days in Moorhead, near where most North Dakota oil enters Minnesota.

GOP governor candidates court voters at Farmfest

Seifert, Zellers, Johnson

By Don Davis

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

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

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

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

Honour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nicollet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More counties to get federal flood aid

Federal authorities on Friday added 24 Minnesota counties affected by summer floods to its disaster list.

The Red Lake Band of Chippewa and Prairie Island Indian Community also were declared federal disaster areas.

State officials earlier this week asked Washington to add 30 counties and the two tribes.

“I will continue advocating strongly for the inclusion of the six additional counties that sustained significant damage during this summer’s flooding,” Gov. Mark Dayton said.

Friday’s announcement means 30 Minnesota counties are included in the disaster, even though state officials have said more than half of the state’s 87 counties sustained at least some damage.

Federal money will fund 75 percent of state and local government costs related to floods that began on June 11. The other 25 percent is to be paid by the state.

The 24 counties added to the federal disaster list are Beltrami, Blue Earth, Brown, Carver, Dodge, Faribault, Koochiching, Lac Qui Parle, Lake of the Woods, Le Sueur, Marshall, Martin, McLeod, Nicollet, Redwood, Rice, Roseau, Scott, Sibley, Steele, Todd, Wadena, Waseca and Yellow Medicine. The counties that originally were designated are Chippewa, Freeborn, Jackson, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Renville and Rock.

Still being considered for federal aid are Dakota, Hennepin, Lyon, Ramsey, Watonwan and Wright counties.

Federal funds only are available to local and state governments, not individuals or businesses.

More counties expect flood aid

By Don Davis

More Minnesota counties likely will be added to a presidential flood disaster declaration.

President Barack Obama on Monday declared eight of 51 counties that experienced flood damage this summer as eligible for federal disaster aid. However, Gov. Mark Dayton’s office reports that more counties are expected to join the list as local officials complete their damage assessment.

Dayton said that he initiated the disaster response process before all county damage totals were available to speed federal money to the state.

So far, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reports $37.1 million in damages from floods that begin on June 11. That is nearly $30 million more than needed for Obama to declare a disaster.

The eight counties on the list so far are Chippewa, Freeborn, Jackson, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Renville and Rock, mostly southern and western Minnesota rural areas. State Emergency Services Director Kris Eide has said the most expensive damage is in the Twin Cities area.

Federal aid that will follow Obama’s declaration will help local governments pay for flood-related costs such as debris removal, road repairs and fixing other public facilities like parks and water treatment plants.

Washington reimburses 75 percent of disaster costs, with the state picking up the rest. Dayton said that he may call a special legislative session to fund the state portion, but has not decided about the issue, and does not know when a session might occur.

The presidential declaration allows all Minnesota local governments to apply for funds to prevent or reduce future disaster risks to life and property.

While it is possible some aid will be made available to individuals and businesses, the Obama declaration only applies to state and local governments.

“Weeks of torrential downpour this summer triggered devastating flooding that inflicted severe damage all across our state,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said. “This disaster declaration will deliver critical funding and support to communities impacted by flooding and help our state rebuild and recover.”

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., called Obama’s decision “a necessary first step to helping residents in the affected counties get back on their feet.”

State officials have called the June flooding, which remains a problem in parts of the state, the most widespread disaster the state has experienced. More than half the state’s 87 counties reported damage.

Political chatter: U.S. House races bring in money, too

By Don Davis

Everyone knew that U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Mike McFadden will run rich campaigns if they face off in November, as expected, but a couple of mostly rural U.S. House races involve more money than usual.

Northern and east-central Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District race between Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan and Republican challenger Stewart Mills is a financial barnburner.

Nolan reports $1 million raised in April, May and June, with $579,000 in the bank. First-time candidate Mills says he raised $989,000 in the same time period and has $429,000 available.

Mills, of the Fleet Farm supply store family, gave his campaign $121,000.

In the 7th district, taking in a huge area of western Minnesota, incumbent Rep. Collin Peterson, a Democrat, raised $1 million and has most of it in the bank: $717,000. State Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, surprised many observers by picking up $430,000 during the quarter, with $328,000 cash on hand.

National Republican groups have picked Westrom and Mills as two GOP candidates with bright futures and are helping them financially. Both districts are expected to attract lots of money from groups other than the campaigns.

Other incumbents hold massive leads over rivals, such as in southern Minnesota where Democrat Rep. Tim Walz collected more than $1 million for the quarter as two Republicans combined got little more than $200,000.

In the 2nd Congressional District, just south of the Twin Cities, Republican Rep. Kline amassed more than $2 million, with Democrat Mike Obermueller reporting less than $600,000.

For the Franken-McFadden race, incumbent Franken, a Democrat, reported that he took in more than $3.3 million during the quarter and had $5 million in the bank. McFadden, the Republican challenger, says he raised $1.1 million in the same three months, leaving $2 million in the bank.

Auditor race on TV

Minnesotans expect to see television commercials for governor, U.S. Senate and maybe even the U.S. House, but state auditor not so much.

In what may be a first, the two Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party auditor candidates have TV commercials looking for votes in the Aug. 12 primary election.

In what normally is a quiet, or maybe even invisible, campaign, incumbent Rebecca Otto and long-time DFL politician Matt Entenza are competing.

Entenza’s commercial clearly is looking for DFL votes.

“Matt Entenza, progressive for auditor,” his commercial ends.

“Progressive” often is used as another word for “liberal Democrat.”

He promises to “end unnecessary tax giveaways to big corporations,” something traditionally outside the bounds of the state auditor’s office, which usually is thought of as just auditing local governments’ books.

Otto’s commercial closely matches how most in government view the auditor.

She begins her commercial saying that she ran because she discovered “hundreds of millions of dollars in errors” in local government audits. She ends it with: “I will make sure the numbers add up.”

Pre-registration ending

Today is the final day for Minnesota voters to register before the Aug. 12 primary election.

They still may register at the polls, although that could result in a delay casting ballots.

Minnesotans may register online, at mnvotes.org, for the first time this year. They also may see who is running at that Website and download pre-registration applications.

Nearly 5,700 voters have registered online.

Where’s spell checker?

Republican governor candidate Jeff Johnson pointed to an embarrassing spelling error by the campaign of the man he hopes to replace, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

Johnson wrote on his Facebook page about his son Thor and a visitor:

“A young man knocked on our door. Thor answered. The young man said, ‘Do you know who your household is voting for in the governor’s race?’

“Thor: ‘Jeff Johnson is my dad, so probably him.’

“Young man: ‘Dude, that’s so cool — I actually got Jeff Johnson’s house on my list. You should give this brochure to your dad; he’ll think it’s funny that they misspelled Minnesota on the top.’”

The young made handed Thor an item headlined: “Help us continue to build a better Minnesta.”

Separately, the Dayton campaign sent a tweet about his running mate: “Red Lake Senior High School on Red Lake Indian Reservation hosted a visited by @Tinaflintsmith today.”

Both campaigns and journalists fear such misspellings and misused words (the fear is especially bad for a journalist writing about someone else’s misspelling).

Thursday a bad day

Thursday was a rough day for those around Minnesota government.

That is when word came of three deaths: President David Olson of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, former state Rep. Mary Ellen Otremba of Long Prairie and Rueben Simpson of New York Mills, the 99-year-old father of Dean Simpson, a former state representatives Kurt Zeller’s lieutenant governor candidate.

Thompson becomes manager

Former Republican governor candidate Dave Thompson has become Scott Newman’s attorney general campaign manager.

Both are GOP state senators.

Thompson, of Lakeville, lost his party’s endorsement for governor to Jeff Johnson. Newman, of Hutchinson, faces token opposition in the Aug. 12 primary. He wants to replace Democratic Attorney General Lori Swanson.

Wage poster ready

Minnesota’s minimum wage is to rise on Aug. 1, and the state Department and Labor and Industry is ready with a new poster employers must display.

The poster is available at www.dli.mn.gov/posters.

Workers in large businesses will be paid at least $8 an hour, with those at small firms getting $6.50. It is the first step in boosting big-company wages to $9.

Dayton seeks presidential disaster declaration

By Don Davis

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton Wednesday asked that counties damaged by floods last month be declared a presidential disaster area.

Dayton also added 16 counties to the state disaster list, meaning 51 of Minnesota’s 87 counties reported damage from flooding that began June 11.

If President Barack Obama honors Dayton’s request, state and local government will get federal money to pay 75 of flood-related costs. The state will pay the rest.

Dayton said that eight mostly rural counties — Chippewa, Freeborn, Jackson, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Renville and Rock — have reported $10.8 million damage to public facilities. Minnesota needed to record at least $7.3 million to qualify for federal aid.

However, the governor said, 31 counties and one American Indian tribe so far have reported more than $55 million in costs, so total damages are expected to rise substantially as more damage reports come in.

As federal, state and local officials survey damage, Dayton said, damage assessments are coming in higher than initial reports.

State Emergency Management Director Kris Eide said she expects counties in the Twin Cities area to report far higher damages than rural areas because the population is higher and there are more public facilities.

Federal money only is available for government infrastructure damage and costs of fighting floods. Any help for private homes and business owners would come from other programs, but it is not clear if that will be available.

Even before Obama decides whether he will approve the Dayton disaster request, the U.S. Department of Transportation told state officials Wednesday that Minnesota will receive up to $5 million in “quick release” emergency relief funds to help fix the state’s flood-damaged roads.

The federal money will reimburse the state for emergency repair work and is in addition to $750,000 the federal government already sent Minnesota.

The state will share the funds with local road authorities.

“The flood damage recently inflicted on Minnesota roads, highways and bridges has been severe and widespread,” Dayton said. “These funds will speed up important repairs statewide.”

During a recent Minnesota visit, Obama promised that his administration will help Minnesota recover from one of the most widespread floods in state history.

The governor’s letter to Obama laid out the background for Obama: “Minnesota is experiencing historic summer flooding. The precedent conditions for the disaster were set this past winter when much of the state experienced well above average snowfall. Wide areas of northern and eastern Minnesota had between 150 and 200 percent of normal winter precipitation. Cool spring weather and an orderly snowmelt runoff fully charged the soils with moisture. By the end of April, wetlands and lakes were full; rivers and streams were running at high levels.”

The governor told the president about heavy rainfall in May and, especially, June.

The 10-member Minnesota congressional delegation followed Dayton’s letter with its own: “As we’ve toured affected communities in recent weeks, we’ve seen firsthand the damage these storms have caused. After disaster strikes Minnesota, we hit the ground running and do not stop until we have the resources in place to ensure that communities can recover. We urge you to make the federal government a full partner in that effort.”

Dayton’s letter explained that the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Federal Emergency Management Agency and county emergency managers are continuing to assess damage in affected counties.

Most of the damage reported by local officials is to roads and bridges. Also, local governments spent money to protect their communities from rising water.

In addition to fixing roads and bridges, local governments and some non-profits could use federal funds for debris removal and flood prevention as well as fixing water public facilities such as sewage treatment plants and parks.

Minnesota federal flood disaster likely, but homeowners in question

Eide

By Don Davis

Local governments across Minnesota and state agencies should receive federal aid to recover from widespread flooding last month, but it is not so clear where homeowners stand.

Commissioner Mary Tingerthal of the Minnesota Housing Finance Authority said Tuesday that her office has received relatively few reports of home damage, despite about 40 of the state’s 87 counties reporting flooding problems. However, Gov. Mark Dayton said he expects homeowners to report in as floodwaters recede.

Tingerthal suggested that homeowners document any damage: “photographs, photographs, photographs.”

She said they should first check with their insurance agents, even if they have heard their damage would not be covered. If it is not covered, the Small Business Administration may come to Minnesota to accept applications for federal aid. And if all else fails, the state has some emergency money available.

There have been no federal promises about homeowner aid, although state and local governments are all but assured some help.

Most home damage has been water in basements.

Until disaster service centers are set up, state officials suggest Minnesotans with questions should contact their county emergency management directors.

Tingerthal’s comments came as Dayton and key aides briefed reporters on floods.

In most of the state, waters are receding. However, some northern waters such as Lake of the Woods are not expected to crest until well into July.

“This dry weather has been a Godsend,” Dayton said, although it began raining outside his St. Paul office shortly after he spoke those words.

In general, Minnesota forecasts for this week are drier than they have been for weeks.

A few counties so far have reported $32 million worth of public facilities damage, things such as roads and sewage treatment plants. If verified during a process that started Tuesday, Minnesota easily will top the $7.3 million needed for federal financial assistance that would go to state and local governments.

Dayton said it is too early to know if he will need to call a special legislative session to provide the 25 percent of flood recovery costs that Washington would not send to local governments. He said the state has $3 million available, but other funds might be found or officials may opt to wait until the 2015 Legislature convenes in January when full damage costs are known.

Federal, state and local officials surveyed damage in Nobles, Rock and Jackson counties Tuesday and plan to wrap up work in Rock today, and move on to Renville. State Emergency Management Director Kris Eide said she hopes the survey can continue in the Twin Cities area next week.

More costly damage is expected in the Twin Cities, Eide said, because of the dense population and so much infrastructure is located there. Carver County alone has reported more than $9 million in damage.

In southwest Minnesota, Tuesday’s survey showed Rock County has $3 million in damage, Nobles $700,000 and Jackson $150,000.

Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson said 80 percent to 90 percent of crop damage probably is covered by federal crop insurance. However, he added, farmers will not know how much they will receive until prices are set at harvest time.

Many other farm loses should be covered by regular insurance, the commissioner added.

While it is not known how many homes have been damaged, Dayton reported that 2,000 Minnesotans flooded the Commerce Department insurance hotline with questions. He said some insurance companies blame state law on lack of coverage from mudslides, but he said no law forbids that.

Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle said most state roads already are repaired or are well on the way. A few in more severely flooded areas may not reopen until Labor Day, he said.