Republican red meat in Rochester

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

ROCHESTER – Minnesota’s Republicans held a pep rally at the Mayo Civic Center Thursday night, a full-throated partisan crank-up for this weekend’s state convention.

Barack Obama (more than Hillary Clinton), Nancy Pelosi, Al Franken, liberalism and the “Democrat” Party were repeatedly, if predictably, bashed. “Look at what the Democrats
offer us – Barack Obama and Al Franken are the most radical extremists this country has ever seen,” said state GOP chairman Ron Carey, decrying their “left-wing values.”

Surveying the conventional wisdom writings of what he called “the pundits” who have predicted a “slaughter” of Republicans in November, Carey predicted that “the joke’s gonna be on these folks.”

The party trotted out a couple of its congressional candidates who are facing decidedly uphill battles in deeoly blue districts come November and gave them a few minutes in the spotlight.

Ed Matthews, who is trying to take down Rep.Betty McCollum in a district that has been held by Democrats for 60 years, mentioned “change” in Washington almost as incessantly as Obama has. He said his platform is grounded on God, the U.S. Constitution and the Republican Party’s platform.

Barbara Davis-White, who is trying to knock off first-term Rep. Keith Ellison in the deeply blue Fifth Congressional District, called him “a liberal.”

“BOOOOOOOOOO,” the crowd replied.

“We cannot let our country die under the influence of Democrats and socialism,” she said, adding that Ellison is “a man who’s threatening our national security.”

Sen. Norm Coleman, whose endorsement for a second term is expected to be the centerpiece of the convention, made a brief, surprise, appearance when he introduced Sen. Tom Colburn, who gave the keynote address of the night. “Six more years,” members of the crowd roared.

“You are what defends liberty,” Colburn told the Republicans, saying the party can “regain our footing” if the party keeps its focus on Islamic radical terrorism and the federal government’s deficit spending. “There’s a culture in Washington that kicks the can down the road,” Colburn said. “It’s time that stops.”

Officially, the convention kicks off at 9 a.m. Friday.

Forget 2008. On to 2010!

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

lopez.jpgHow much more advanced can the election cycle become? Can you say 2010?

Would-be DFL candidates are already starting to test thebakk.jpg gubernatorial waters and near the top of that list is Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Virginia.

Carpenter, labor leader and 100 percent Iron Range, Bakk has risen through the ranks from House rep in 1994 to chairman of the powerful Senate Taxes Committee. Often mentioned as a possible challenger to Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Mpls., for Senate Majority Leader, Bakk says he’d like a corner office, but not that one.

“I’m a problem solver,” Bakk said, “I’ think I’ve got pretty good leadership ability. I’m thinking pretty hard about putting my name up there, seeing what people think.”

There hasn’t been an Iron Range governor since Rudy Perpich which was also, incidentallY, the last time DFLers held the office.

Mind, Bakk’s far from the only one with gubernatorial aspirations. Others said to be interested are Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.

So, what do you think?

You may now return to the ’08 cycle, already in progress.

Another “special” special session?

Monday, September 17th, 2007

In the bleary-eyed hours of last Wednesday morning, the special legislative session had barely been gavelled to a close and Gov. Tim Pawlenty had just signed the bill into law when talk began of the need for another special session.

As incongruous as it might seem, lobbying efforts have been intensifying to bring lawmakers back again before the regularly scheduled legislative session begins in February.

Why the hurry? Many believe that four months will be too long to wait.

When legislators will meet again in February, will they really pass a gas tax increase in an election year? Will the housing implosion by that time have dried up revenue that could have gone to property tax relief as the economy turns sour?

A property tax bill vetoed by Pawlenty would have given cities like Hibbing a 10.1 decrease in its tax levy. Without the tax bill it is facing a 9.9 percent increase. Minneapolis would have received over $13 million in new local government aid. St. Paul would have received more than $9 million.

Tom Kuntz, the mayor of Owatonna and President of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, said cities awaiting help for local government aid cannot wait. Local budgets are being finalized by the first of December and a special session is needed by mid-November, he said.

“If the economy turns sour they don’t have the dollars to work with, there’s no chance in heck of getting an increase in local government aid.”

While the door is not completely closed, Pawlenty appears disinclined to call lawmakers back again before February.

“As the Governor stated early Wednesday morning after signing the flood relief package, absent a dramatic event such as another natural disaster, other issues will be dealt with during the regular 2008 session, which is only a few months away,” Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said Friday.

Grover’s Nod

Friday, September 14th, 2007

On August 9, eight days after the I-35W bridge collapse, no-new-tax guru Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, sent out a letter to Minnesota legislators reminding them of the principles of the no-new-tax pledge. One of the principles included the idea that not even a natural disaster should sway signers from maintaining their stands against raisingtim_pawlenty.jpg taxes.

On August 10, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who signed the pledge in his first bid for governor, sent a letter to DFL legislative leaders indicating that he supported a five-cent-a-gallon gas tax increase to pay for transportation funding. But he said he would prefer that any gas tax increase be temporary and that it be offset by decreases in the income tax.

DFL leaders and Pawlenty critics point to Pawlenty’s and Norquist’s letters as evidence that the governor was bowing to his conservative base and feeling pressure from Republicans, even after he seemed amenable to much more of a transportation funding compromise after the I-35W bridge collapse.

We asked both Norquist’s office and Gov. Pawlenty’s office what the connection was between the two letters.

What will it take? The “Lundegaard-ization” of a catastrophe

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

Perhaps the best analogy of what is going on in the on-again off-again special session debate can be found in a telling scene from the beloved Minnesota movie, “Fargo.” No, it’s not the part with the woodchipper.

It’s the scene where car salesman Jerry Lundegaard and an irate customer face each other over the unexpected inclusion of the cost of a sealant in the price of the car. After some give and take, a seemingly distraught Jerry goes to his boss. In reality, it’s a ploy. He spends some time talking about the Gophers before returning to the table.

Jerry Lundegaard: “Well, we’ve never done this before. But seeing as it’s special circumstances and all, he says I can knock a hundred dollars off that Trucoat.”
The customer is irate and hurls accusations about how untrustworthy Lundegaard is. But ultimately, the car buyer can’t bring himself to walk away from the deal.

Now, consider the events this week.

Rep. Alice Hausman, chairwoman of the House Capital Investment Finance Division, was part of a group of state representatives who toured the flood-damaged areas on Wednesday.

She came back to say this:

“We heard from a woman who had lost her home and her business tell us
that having our committee visit today gave her hope that her town can
rebuild and thrive. Now we need to take her story and
all of those we heard today back to St. Paul and get this special
session done, so these hardworking people won’t lose hope in the hard
weeks and months ahead.”

Gov. Tim Pawlenty also visited southeastern Minnesota on Wednesday. He was asked afterward if he had detected any anger from average citizens about inaction in St. Paul.

This is what he had to say:

“They don’t understand the details of all this stuff but they want and need help. The people that we’ve met with for the most part have been wonderful. They’re tired. They want some hope and they want some help and we can and should give that to them. But Minnesotans are strong and good people. They understand there is a process but they have expectations about needing and wanting help and we should give that to them.”

Why haven’t more average Minnesotans become angry? What will it take to get Pawlenty and House and Senate DFL leaders to walk out the door with an agreement on a special session?

Every time they seem close to shaking hands, one of them throws in the extra cost of the Trucoat.

Tilt-a-poll results

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

(Updated with Senate results)

More than 58 percent of those participating in a Minnesota House of Representatives unscientific poll at the State Fair support raising the state’s gas tax by at least a dime for road and bridge improvements.

Coming in the wake of the I-35W bridge collapse, that’s a 17 percent bump up from last year, when the same question was posed to fairgoers.

The Minnesota Senate had its own poll and found that 40 percent wanted a combination of a 10-cent a gallon gas tax increase, borrowing by issuing bonds and a half-cent metro-wide sales tax increase for roads and transit. Only 24 percent supported the 10-cent raise exclusively.

While hardly an accurate barometer of public sentiment, the roughly 10,000 fairgoers for who stopped eating Sweet Martha’s cookies long enough to wipe their fingers and fill out the polls could provide at least a template for crafting legislative strategies.

Some of the results may be more surprising than others. For the House poll, fairgoers, for instance, were generally opposed to the idea of raising the state’s sales tax to dedicate funding to the environment and the arts (48 to 41). It’s an issue that is likely to be discussed intensely in the upcoming legislative session in February. In the Senate poll, using 4600 respondents, 55 percent said they would favor dedicating funding.

A resounding 81 percent were opposed to public financing for a new Vikings stadium in the House poll. The Senate did not ask that question.

Among the more populist findings in the House poll (and perhaps not so surprising, given the fair’s lifting of restrictions on full strength beer this year), 57 percent believe liquor stores (and car dealers) should be allowed by law to be open on Sundays. In the Senate poll, 64 percent of those polled would support legislation allowing grocery stores to sell wine.

The complete poll results are here:

and here:

Staff writer Mark Brunswick: Now, wouldn’t that be special?

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Is there anything special about a special session? Minnesota’s governors called only three special sessions in the first half century of statehood, but have called 29 since 1959. ramsey.jpg

There have been three special sessions called to address major disasters: floods in 2002 and 1997 and the Sioux wars of 1862.

With the bridge on a major transportation artery collapsed and three counties in southern Minnesota under water, it would not be hard to consider this the kind “extraordinary occasion” upon which the state consitution allows the governor to call a special session. Negotiations on a special session agenda continue.

“Any special session should be confined to addressing immediate needs,” said Rep. Chris DeLaForest, R-Andover, expressing the concern of many Republicans. “Otherwise there’s a great risk of a chaotic free-for-all.”

Back in 1862, on the eve of a special session called to address concerns over the Dakota conflict, The Stillwater Messenger made the same observation after rumors circulated that the Legislature planned to elect Gov. Alexander Ramsey to the U.S. Senate:

“The critical state of our domestic affairs rendered this course by the Governor highly appropriate, and if the members will but go to work with energy and prudence and finish up the business of the session and adjourn at the earliest possible moment, the people will heartily acquiesce in their actions”

The Faribault Republican was even more pointed, warning:

“They better not do it (electing Ramsey); particularly the members of Southern Minnesota, and the Minnesota Valley; and if they do they should return with their coffins on their backs, for their constituents will have their political graves dug for them when they get home.”

Lawmakers met and the immediately began debating the first order of business: collecting per diem and mileage.

Here are some questions and answers concerning special sessions:


Is a gas tax hike slipping away again?

Monday, August 20th, 2007

tice.jpgAre Minnesota’s DFLers at risk of losing another opportunity to raise the gas tax?

One can get that impression. Consider this Sunday Star Tribune editorial and this Sunday column by editorial writer Lori Sturdevant.

The editorial warns that a debate over light rail transit on a new I-35W bridgetim_pawlenty.jpg is distracting Minnesotans from the larger challenge of boosting overall transportation funding (it does not endorse any specific source). Officials should stop “obsessing” about the replacement bridge, the editorial advises, and see the larger issue.

Sturdevant describes a shift in the political winds at the capitol last week, with agreement weakening on the idea of a special session to provide “more investment in roads, bridges and transit.” She argues that failure to move forward on that plan will pose risks for Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who may seem “to have squandered a rare opportunity to bring people together and do good.”

Pawlenty, of course, was seen to be running some risks with his conservative admirers when, just after the bridge collapse, he signalled a willingness to reconsider a special session and a gas tax hike.

But it’s just possible that it was a calculated risk based on recent experience. When he “extended the olive branch” as he put it, was Pawlenty guessing that DFLers might respond by demanding the whole tree, blurring focus on the gas tax issue?

Who knows? What’s clear is that some distraction has happened. Among other things, DFLers, especially St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, started calling for the special session to provide more local government aid to protect homeowners from property tax hikes. And then came the insistence of light rail advocates that trains be accomodated on the replacement bridge, the better to make it part of a bolder long-term transformation of the transportation system.

By the middle of last week, as reported here by Bob von Sternberg, you had DFL legislators at a joint Transportation Committee hearing, urging the administration to slow down and not be in such a rush to move forward on the new bridge.

However sensible that advice, anything that reduces the post-collapse sense of urgency about action on transportation has the effect of reducing pressure on Republicans to relax their opposition to tax increases.

The situation is somewhat reminiscent of the recent regular legislative session. DFLers came in with big majorities and big momentum, and most observers believe that a modest gas tax hike could have been enacted early in the session even over a Pawlenty veto. But DFLers instead proposed a wide array of tax hikes that helped Republicans unite in opposition. The result: No tax increases at all, not even a modest gasoline levy.

Agreement on a special session and a gas tax increase may still come. And DFLers can’t really be faulted for wanting to advance a bold agenda even if it makes incremental gains more difficult.

But it does seem to make them more difficult.

Staff writer Mark Brunswick on Tuesday’s special legislative election and the political impact of the bridge collapse

Monday, August 6th, 2007

Even before last week, the race for the southern Minnesota House seat vacated by Steve Sviggum had been regarded as too close to call.

pfeilsticker.jpgThe candidates are DFLer Linda Pfeilsticker, 35-year-old a high school teacher running for office for the first time, and Republican Steve Drazkowski, a 42-year-old cable contractor and former University of Minnesota extensiondrazkowski.jpg agent.

The bridge collapse in Minneapolis – and new concerns about how the state’s transportation infrastructure is funded – has thrown more questions into the mix for the special election, scheduled for Tuesday.

The collapse has renewed calls for a gas tax increase. In a major turnaround, the Pawlenty administration appears ready to back down on its historic opposition, which included two vetoes of state transportation funding bills.

During the campaign, Drazkowski remained adamantly opposed to a gas tax increase, saying it would cripple the economy of the district. But in an interview Monday, he said it should be considered if Gov. Tim Pawlenty takes the lead in supporting it.

Pfeilsticker has said throughout her campaign that she would not rule out supporting a gas tax increase as part of the mix for transportation funding. She maintained that position in an interview Monday.

Just hours before the bridge collapse last Wednesday, the Minnesota Republican Party warned that Pfeilsticker should not be trusted on what it called pocketbook issues.

“Linda Pfeilsticker’s repeated refusal to rule out a gas tax increase means the residents of House District 28B had better hold onto their wallets,” warned party spokesman Mark Drake in a press release.

Question: How much will the collapse affect the outcome of the election?


Staff writer Mark Brunswick on a reminder of the value of disclosure

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Gov. Tim Pawlenty made an unusual comment while announcing recently that the state would begin negotiating to buy land from U.S. Steel to establish a new state park on Lake Vermilion. He vermilion.jpgdisclosed that Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Holsten owns property on the lake.

St. Louis County records show that Holsten owns land valued at $179,000 on a plat named Thirtysix Island T of Greenwood. Holsten confirmed that he bought the land this spring.

But a check of Holsten’s disclosure statement with the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board shows Holsten has reported no such ownership. Holsten says he will disclose the property the next time he is required to file.

“It’s something I have to do,” he said.

His property is described as being near the middle areas of the sprawling lake and the U.S. Steel property is about 10 miles away in a southeast portion, near the current Soudan Underground Mine state park.

No one has suggested any improper connection between the DNR commissioner’s property and the state’s pursuit of a state park on the same lake. In fact, Holsten’s familiarity with the area is being credited for getting the state thinking about making a bid for the U.S. Steel land.

Nonetheless, the situation is a reminder of the value of public officials being asked to fully disclose their assets.

Why could that be important? Here’s one example:

In Minnesota, the state’s Land Exchange Board oversees a DNR program that exchanges state-owned land for privately-owned land. The state may also exchange state-owned land for other publicly-owned land.

The laudable goal of the land exchange is to allow more efficient and productive management of lands. The Land Exchange Board consists of the Governor, State Auditor, and Attorney General.

Any exchange of public lands of the state for any publicly- or privately-held lands must be approved by all three members of the board.

Neither Pawlenty nor Attorney General Lori Swanson have reported owning any real property other than their homes. But State Auditor Rebecca Otto has disclosed owning additional property in Crow Wing County.

That kind of information is helpful to the public when they try to monitor how state business is conducted.

And to be mindful of a valuable Latin phrase: Quid Bono, or Who Benefits?


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