February 2008

No, we’re not making this up

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

The office of Sen. Larry Craig, R-Wide Stance, sent out an e-mail that has to be seen to be believed. He’s, uh, soliciting interns to serve in Washington, D.C. from May until August.

Craig is quoted in the e-mail as follows: “Interns have the chance to be an essential part of a
working congressional office. They participate in the legislative process as well as ensure that craig_1.jpgconstituent services run smoothly. For those interested in politics, it is an incredible opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at how our government functions while serving the people of Idaho.” (Italics added.)

Until now, the only “behind-the-scenes look” associated with Craig focused on his behavior in a bathroom stall at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport last June. The senator was arrested during a layover between flights by an undercover officer who claimed Craig’s toe-tapping and hand motion were indications he wanted to have sex. Craig said he was picking up a piece of tissue on the floor and the gestures were misunderstood. Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a plea he has been trying to withdraw.

A D.C. moment

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

A report from Washington correspondent Conrad Wilson:

WASHINGTON – While the national media was riveted by the Roger Clemens hearing on Capitol Hill, down the hall at a more sparsely attended gathering, lawmakers and policy wonks assured themselves that their committee meeting was by far the more important of the two brouhahas.

Yes, it was politics as usual at the House Transportation Committee hearing: the Dems advocating a gas tax while the Bush Administration proclaimed again and again the ills of their ways.

Minnesota Rep. Jim Oberstar and Transportation Secretary Mary Peters squared off in the traditional Washington fashion, both steeped deep in their party’s rhetoric.

While Oberstar and many of his colleagues advocated for a gas tax to pay to improve surface road conditions, Peters took a conservative line, calling instead for direct charges and fees to support transportation.

But it was clear from the television cameras, overflow rooms and seemingly countless reporters, that the bright lights of Capitol Hill were shining not for chairman Oberstar nor Secretary Peters, but for the seven-time Cy-Young award winner, Roger Clemens.

“The secretary is not under the same kind of scrutiny that Mr. Clemens is in the hearing next door by any means; she is drug free,” Oberstar joked during opening remarks. “Although, I must say, we would welcome a surface transportation program on steroids.”

Peters, equally witty, didn’t miss a beat.

“As was indicated, there is the Clemens hearing going on, which may be more interesting, but I would argue that ours is the more important hearing,” Peters said during her opening remarks. “And just for the record Mr. Chairman, I have never taken human growth hormones, ever,” she joked.

Although it seemed as though little was accomplished, perhaps the greatest moment of agreement came when Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Secretary Peters both expressed their bi-partisan affinity not for funding, but rather the 1964 Dodge Dart.

– Conrad Wilson

Carpe per diem

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

A lawsuit filed by a citizens group over the pay of members of the state House and Senate raises some interesting questions and has some interesting supporting documents. It also renewscapitol.jpg the debate about the legitimacy of what we call a part time legislature.

The group, Citizens for Rule of Law, on the surface could be seen as one of those gadfly organizations that drive people nuts. But the substance of their suit makes some interesting points: that legislators gave themselves an increase in per diem payments in defiance of the Minnesota constitution.

They filed their suit on Monday in Ramsey County District Court. Here is the story from The Star Tribune.

Legislators, part-timers all, have been loathe to give themselves pay increases since 1999. Doesn’t look good to voters. But the use of so-called per diem payments continues to rise as a de facto form of compensation.

As part of the suit, the group included documents accounting for per diem payments in the House and Senate. In the House, the payments last year ranged from $18,234.35 for Al Juhnke to nothing for Steve Simon. In the Senate for current members, the per diem payments range from $21,954 for Mee Moua to $8,844 for Dick Day, not including mileage and other expenses.

The documents are linked to the news story above.

Better health, higher costs?

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

Health care reform is on the agenda at the state capitol and on the presidential campaign trail. And every reformer seems to have a sure-fire plan to rein in health care costs.

But here’s an insight into why controlling health care costs is such a confounding problem.

This recent Dutch study, published in
the Publichealthcare.jpg Library of Science,
concludes, in essence, that obesity and smoking reduce health care costs, while preventing those scourges would boost costs.

Of course, we’re frequently told just the reverse. Smarter lifestyle choices would cut costs as surely as they would improve health, it’s often said.

But the researchers here disagree. They are at pains to emphasize that reduced obesity and smoking would indeed lead to longer and healthier lives, and for that reason alone are well worth achieving. But lower health care costs, they say, are not among the benefits to be expected.

Why? Because people who don’t smoke and aren’t overweight live longer, and yet they still get sick, and eventually very sick — and the diseases they ultimately suffer tend to be more chronic and lingering, and therefore more costly, than the conditions that too-often kill smokers and the obese too early.


Romney is out

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

mccain_vmi.jpgWith Mitt Romney stepping aside for John McCain, one half of the November general election match up is presumably set.

Can the GOP come together behind McCain?

McCain’s Temper

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

Now that Arizona Sen. John McCain is the presumptive Republican nominee for president, his personality is likely to come into sharper focus. And it’s worthwhile for the public to ponder a question that politicians have long asked themselves: Does McCain have the temperament to be president?

I wondered about his personality years ago while covering a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing in Washington where he delivered a tongue-lashing to a Democratic congressman who had criticized tribal casino gambling.

Much of the current buzz about McCain is coming from Republicans. Some undoubtedly are motivated by a sense that McCain isn’t conservative enough. But whatever the motive, the stories have taken on a life of their own. On Monday the New York Times, deep in one of its campaign stories, made a passing reference to the “temperament” issue.

Others are far more blunt.

The conservative website, Wethepeopleforpresident.com, ran a scathing piece last week about “Mack the Knife” that quotes four current or former GOP senators on unsettling encounters with McCain over the years that raised the possibility he was unfit to be president. One of them, Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico said, “I wouldn’t want this guy anywhere near a trigger.”

It’s enough to make one wonder if McCain picked the affable Gov. Tim Pawlenty to join him on the campaign trail to improve his image, not as a tryout for a potential vice presidential slot.

Year of the Incumbent?

Friday, February 1st, 2008

WASHINGTON — Year-end money reports on the U.S. House races with the greatest chance of being competitive in Minnesota suggest that this may be the year of the incumbent.party_symbols.jpg

Challengers across the state seem to be having a hard time raising cash.

In the north suburban Sixth District, where Democrats are pinning hopes of gaining another seat, freshman Republican Michele Bachmann raised over $300,000 in the last three months of 2007, more than any other incumbent House member from Minnesota. She now has $795,653 in cash on hand to defend her seat.

Democratic challenger and former state transportation commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg took in over $133,000 over the same period, bringing him to $96,000 in cash on hand.

Democratic rival Bob Olson, a tax attorney and banker, brought in just a little more than $26,000 in the last quarter, but it gave him $92,000 in the bank, not far behind the much better-known Tinklenberg.

Although the national Democratic effort to oust Bachmann has already attracted spending by independent left-leaning groups who dislike her social conservatism, the two Democratic candidates vying to run against her still have a ways to go to compete financially.

In southern Minnesota’s First District, which Republicans are hoping to make competitive, Democratic freshman Tim Walz raised $249,000 in the last quarter, giving him over $750,000 cash on hand.

Walz’s fundraising prowess, though lagging behind Bachmann, still dwarfs that of the three Republicans vying to take him on.

State Sen. Dick Day of Owatonna raised nearly $53,000 in the last quarter, bringing him to nearly $96,000 in the bank. But his war chest – the biggest of the three challengers – includes a $23,000 loan he made to his own campaign last year. He also put in $7,000 of his own money.

Brian Davis, a Mayo Clinic doctor, took in nearly $60,000 in contributions over the same period, leaving him with $85,000 at year’s end. But he also had to self-finance to the tune of $46,000.

State Rep. Randy Demmer of Hayfield reported nearly $35,000 in total contributions over the last three months. Overall, Demmer has raised more than $70,000 for his campaign, but has spent more than twice that. He ended the year with about $42,000 in cash on hand – but only after making loans to his campaign totaling $135,000.

In the Second District race south of the Twin Cities, Republican Rep. John Kline reported fourth quarter contributions of over $170,000, bringing him to $395,000 in cash on hand. By comparison, his latest Democratic challenger, Iraq war veteran Steve Sarvi, reported only $43,000 in contributions, not counting a 10,000 loan from himself.

This does not bode well for Democrats, who would like to think they have a chance in a traditionally Republican district that went to Democrat Amy Klobuchar in last year’s Senate race.

But Sarvi, so far, is not keeping up with the last Democratic effort to unseat Kline. At this stage in the race in 2006, DFL hopeful Coleen Rowley had more than $84,000 in campaign cash, more than twice Sarvi’s bank balance. She went on to lose handily to Kline.

Kevin Diaz
Conrad Wilson

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