January 2008

Walz patrols his southern flank

Monday, January 28th, 2008

A report from Washington correspondent Conrad Wilson:

WASHINGTON – Rep. Tim Walz traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border on Saturday to learn more about illegal immigration, an issue that has emerged as possibly central in the First District congressional race. tim_walz1.jpg

Walz visited with U.S. Border Patrol Agents and K-9 units, examined security technology and detention facilities, and saw areas of the border “where security needs differ.”

Walz is facing a competitive re-election bid this November from state senator Dick Day, R-Owatonna, and three other Republicans — Rep. Randy Demmer, R-Hayfield; Rochester physician Brian Davis; and business consultant Mark Meyer. All have made illegal immigration a key theme, and Day traveled to the border at the end of November.

“Securing our borders is the first step in addressing problems with illegal immigration in this country,” said Walz in a statement. “I organized this trip because I wanted to learn first-hand from the men and women on the ground about what’s working and what additional resources these agents need to do their jobs.”

In a statement Walz outlined several areas for improvement: Increased efforts to recruit and hire new Border Patrol Agents; funding for more security cameras; better evaluation of the use of K-9 units, which actually seize more drug money each year than it costs to run their program.

Illegal immigration gained visibility last spring in governmental raids on food processing plants in the First District cities Austin, Owatonna and Worthington.

“In 2007, the Congress funded 3,000 new Border Patrol agents and I am more convinced than ever that more agents and additional technologies are some of the best methods to secure and monitor the border,” Walz said.

-Conrad Wilson

Pawlenty of flyover land gets another boost

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

On The McLaughlin Group’s weekly bombast-fest last weekend, the always provocative — if not always geographically precise — Eleanor Clift made a prediction. (The transcript/podcast isn’t tim_pawlenty.jpgon the site yet, but here’s the link.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Pat.

MR. BUCHANAN: Because the Democrats, all of them, say all our troops will be out within a year, combat troops, General David Petraeus will be a major player in the campaign of 2008, this year.


MS. CLIFT: You heard it here first — Wisconsin Governor Tim Pawlenty likely to be the Republican running mate, whoever gets the nomination.


Ellison: Dems may squabble, but are all for equality

Monday, January 21st, 2008

A report from Conrad Wilson, Washington correspondent:

WASHINGTON – Rep. Keith Ellison believes all is well in the Democratic presidential nomination contest, saying recent racial friction on the campaign trail between Hillary Clinton and Barackellison.jpg Obama got a bit out of hand but has blown over.

“You know what I really think about it?,” Rep. Ellison said during an interview in his office last week. “I think that in the heat of a presidential campaign or any electoral race, people will say things that they probably would not have said if they had considered things more carefully. And I think that people will repackage what you said in a way that, you know, isn’t necessarily what you meant.

“I think there is no doubt that Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards are firmly committed to equality in America. There’s no real question about that.

“Now people on the other side of the coin, I think there’s some real questions about where they’re at.

“I will tell you it was a moment of some good dialogue, some good discussion, but at the end of the conversation we’re all pretty much for equality. … I mean none of these candidates are whipping up anger against immigrants. None of them are engaging in hysteria against the Muslim world. They’re all for inclusion. I thought it was an interesting dialogue …”

Rep. Ellison endorsed Obama and is the state co-chair of his campaign.

-Conrad Wilson

Look out, there’s trouble behind us!

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

The estimable Congressional Budget Office offers this paper on options for a stimulus package to revive America’s swooning economy.

The hard thing about economic policy, it’s been said, is that it’s monopoly_guy.jpglike driving by watching the road in the rear-view mirror. The CBO report discusses the danger of this “recognition lag” leading to stimulus efforts that come too late to do short-term good but still have the potential to do long-term harm by fueling inflation, boosting deficits and so on.

Nonetheless, CBO appears to believe that the current economic weakness has been spotted in time for a properly designed stimulus to help. Lower inflation since the late ’80s, it says, has improved our ability to diagnose the economy’s condition.

Among the keys to an effective stimulus, CBO says, are:

1) That it come quickly, while it can still prevent or shorten a downturn, and

2) That it come in a form that will immediately boost economic activity. More money in the hands of consumers of modest means, who will promptly spend it, would fit the bill better than general tax cuts that would flow in large part to the affluent, it says. And business tax breaks on new investments would do more good than general business tax relief.

The political complications are obvious. The Democratic majority in Congress may see political opportunity in economic troubles, or at least hesitate to cooperate with President Bush on anything long enough to damagingly delay enactment of a stimulus.

Republicans, meanwhile, may insist on broad tax cuts or rebates that do not leave out the rich or smack of micromanaging the economy. That could also delay agreement and reduce the cost effectiveness of any stimulus that is put in place.


* Will there be a stimulus package?

* How soon?

* Will it conform to the CBO’s principles?

Disaster by design?

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

35w.jpgWe still don’t know why the bridge fell, but a federal investigation so far has found no indication that failures of inspection and maintenance were among the causes.

The National Transportation Safety Board issued interim findings today from its investigation into the August 1 collapse of the I-35W bridge.

As leaked yesterday, they have discovered an original design defect in the form of excessively thin “gusset plates” that linked some of the bridge’s steel beams. They indicate that bridge inspections would not be expected to uncover such a disaster in the making.

What shall we make of it?

Minnesotans also-rans in Washington website awards

Monday, January 14th, 2008

A report from new Washington correspondent Conrad Wilson:

WASHINGTON – Finally, “Mouse Awards” that don’t require a stupid hat and a trip to Disney World.

The Congressional Management Foundation released their 2007 Gold Mouse Report, which details best practices and gives awards for congressional web sites.

None of the members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation coleman.jpgklobuchar.jpgreceived a gold; however, Sens. Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar both received bronze “Mouse Awards.”

The awards are based on 94 different criteria. A special emphasis is placed on: timeliness of the information on the site, overall usability, content that relates to issues concerning the district and representative, and constituent casework.

This year 15 percent of the 64 members of the freshman class won awards, said Tim Hysom, director of communications and technology services for the Foundation. The report was started in 1998.

The nonpartisan CMF doesn’t make public the full list of results. Instead the foundation sends an individual report with detailed results to each office. The Foundation analyzed 618 sites, including all 435 member’s websites as well as committees and leadership sites.

Hysom said he was disappointed there wasn’t greater improvement from the 2006 report, but was impressed with how quickly some freshmen have set up quality web sites. “While 98.3% of Member sites have content about national issues, just 63.1% of them included information from the 110th Congress,” the report states.

Both Minnesota senators reacted positively in written statements. “In this digital age, my website is an essential link between our office and Minnesotans from all corners of our state,” said Klobuchar.

Coleman, who received a silver award last year said: “Because many Minnesotans often rely on the Internet as a primary way to keep up-to-date on current events and information that impacts their daily lives, it is extremely important for their elected officials to maintain effective web communication.”

-Conrad Wilson
Washington Correspondent

Ritchie in his own words

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has been cleared of doing anything wrong when he shared an office-generated email listritchie.jpg with his campaign.

But the transcript of his interview by Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles, makes interesting reading.

At one point, Nobles calls Ritchie’s attention to the campaign newsletter that was sent to participants in the civic engagement forum. This exchange follows:

Q: …would you characterize that as a solicitation for a contribution?

A: Not in my mind. We send out solicitations for contributions to our contribution solicitation list and they are completely different.

Q: It does say, if you cannot make it to this event at the Blodgett home — if you cannot make it to this event, but would like to help me cover my campaign-related expenses for this year, you can donate online here, and it’s underlined as if you could click there, I assume that’s what that means, and then it goes on to say, you can still qualify for the State of Minnesota refund of up to $100 per couple if you make your contribution in this year.

Is that not a solicitation for a campaign contribution?

A: It has been stated by two individuals that they believed they were being solicited for contributions because of that and I’m not disputing their statements in that way.

Q: But you would not characterize that as a solicitation for a campaign contribution?

A: I would not characterize that newsletter as a campaign contribution solicitation. Those words at the bottom of that newsletter do solicit a contribution.

Any more questions?

Ritchie cleared and criticized

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

The Legislative Auditor’s report on Secretary of State Mark Ritchie’s recent troubles is out. ritchie.jpg

It’s a divided verdict. The auditor clears Ritchie altogether of doing anything wrong by giving his campaign a contact list generated through an official program. But it criticizes him for inititally being less than candid with the investigation.

Auditor Jim Nobles and Ritchie end the affair in disagreement. In a letter attached to the audit report, Ritchie rejects the criticism of his candor, while the report itself says Ritchie has never provided a convincing explanation.

Question: What’s the final upshot for Ritchie?

Pawlenty on immigration: What role politics?

Monday, January 7th, 2008

Gov. Tim Pawlenty renewed his periodic crusade against illegal immigration Monday, and some of his critics were quick to detect a political motive.

Union leader Javier Morillo said it plainly to reporter Jean pawlenty_mccain.jpgHopfensperger: “I think this has everything to do with the presidential race. Immigration is the one issue John McCain has been clobbered on. If the governor is, as everyone speculates, looking to be McCain’s vice president, he’ll be the guy with credibility on immigration from the Republican perspective.’’

It’s true that McCain has run afoul of strong sentiments on this issue in the Republican base, where his comprehensive immigration reform ideas have been seen as “amnesty.” He had a difficult exchange on the subject with Mitt Romney in the weekend debates.

The issue is hardly a new one for Pawlenty, but his firing it up again does have the effect of placing him where he could give McCain some balance. Similarly, on taxes, Pawlenty is seen nationally as a strong low-tax advocate, another issue where some have doubts about McCain.

Meantime, Pawlenty has lately endorsed strong action to combat climate change, an issue McCain is also speaking out on.

What to make of the critics’ charge?

A great Obama moment you won’t see on the highlight reel

Monday, January 7th, 2008

tice.jpgBarack Obama is riding high, largely on a wave of enthusiasm for his charisma, eloquence, and youth and his startling defiance of the race barrier.

Obama embodies “change” — the longing of the season — whichobama2.jpg at its deepest is a yearning for the feeling of change.

When Hillary Clinton keeps emphasizing her superior proven effectiveness at making change, meaning policy change, she isn’t so much wrong as simply missing the point.

But to give Obama his due, he at times demonstrates a difference that goes beyond the atmospheric and inspirational. At times he demonstrates the kind of understanding and candor about complex issues that shouldn’t be as unusual as it is.

There was a instance of this higher sort of “change” in Saturday night’s New Hampshire debate. The exchange (excerpted from the New York Times’ full transcript) went like this:


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