September 2008

Al on the bailout, farm issues and Doug Johnson

Monday, September 29th, 2008

Al Franken expressed skepticism today about the proposed $700 billion bailout package, saying that he wouldn’t vote for the plan until he was absolutely convinced it would protect taxpayers.

He’s not there yet, he said.

“It’s really a sad day in America when taxpayers are asked to foot the bill for a mess they didn’t make,” Franken said, shortly before a bipartisan House majority rejected the bailout bill this afternoon.

The DFL Senate candidate said that he won’t support a bill that leaves out the six conditions he spelled out last week: congressional oversight, ownership stakes for taxpayers in companies seeking relief, no golden parachutes for executives, restoration of regulations, a moratorium on home foreclosures and creation of a financial products safety commission.

But he cautioned against rushing to push the bill through. He noted that the package represents more money than the government spends every year for Social Security, or has already spent on the war in Iraq.

Franken spoke to reporters in a conference call announcing that he had received the endorsement of the political action committee of the National Farmers Union. Doug Peterson, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, said Franken has a solid understanding and interest in farming.

Peterson criticized Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, Franken’s opponent, for supporting the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and opposing country-of-origin food labeling (which, Coleman says, would raise the price of food).

Franken laid out his rural agenda, which includes promoting wind energy and biofuel production, halting farm subsidies to non-farmers, fair trade, implementing country-of-origin labeling and investing in infrastructure and broadband Internet for rural areas.

He also responded to comments from former state Sen. Doug Johnson, a longtime Iron Range DFLer and legislative powerbroker who said this weekend that he will vote for Coleman because, he said, Franken is too “angry” to accomplish anything in Washington.

For Johnson, it will be a first — he’s never voted for a Republican. “I’ve never been a ticket splitter before, but the problems on the Range, state and country are too severe to stick with one political party,” he said, according to the Mesabi Daily News.

Said Franken: “I’ve said that there have been times that I have gotten outraged at things that have happened in this country … My question is, why hasn’t Norm gotten outraged? I know the difference between being a public figure and being an office holder. I’ll be able to work very well with friends across the aisle on all kinds of things.”

Franken added that he didn’t believe Johnson’s defection represented weak support for him on the Range, traditionally one of Minnesota’s most Democratic areas.

“I’m actually very proud of my support on the Range, and if you talk to any of the state legislators up there, [Tom] Rukavina or [Tony] Sertich … my support is deep and wide,” he said.

Live blogging continues from McCain-Obama rallies

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Editor’s Note: Star Tribune reporters will be blogging today from the McCain-Palin rally in Blaine and a counter event held by the Obama campaign in downtown Minneapolis. The posts begin here with the most recent:

Chauncey Dunn of Minneapolis and Vidula Kale of St. Paul, used their lunch breaks to come to the Obama rally at Peavey Plaza in support of “change.”

“I want to show my support to galvanzize people to action,” Dunn said, “And remove the hopelessness that people feel.”

Dunn, who was recently laid off from his job at an import/export company, shared the feelings of many people in attendance: the economy needs to be restored. “It’s affecting everyone I know,” he said. Last year, Dunn said his groceries cost him $100. This year, those same groceries cost $160 to $170.

A middle-aged woman showed her support for Barack along with her Golden Retriever, and donned a T-shirt that read “I’m a hockey mom, but I ain’t no Pit Bull.”

Mayor Rybak asked those in the crowd to do five things before the election.

1. Sign up to vote

2. Send a text message to No. 62262, which spells “Obama.” Type MN in the message to get on Obama’s text message system, and convince 5 others to do the same, Rybak asked.

3. Knock on doors in your neighborhood and encourage people to vote for Obama.

4. Host a debate-watching party next Friday and invite uncommitted people to attend.

5. Take Election Day off. “This will be the largest get out and vote operation in Minnesota,” Rybak said.

To close the rally out, Rybak invited St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Minneapolis City Council members to join him onstage where they high-fived one another. The crowd responded with cheers, chanting “Yes we can!”

Aimee Blanchette


McCain and Palin, both delivering 15-minute remarks, launched slashing attacks against Obama; McCain concentrated on his solutions for the nation’s faltering economy, while Palin concentrated on the things she’ll undertake as vice president.

Unlike ealier appearances this week, when enthusiasm for Palin overshadowed McCain, both were repeatedly showered with full-throated roars.

“Our opponent points the finger of blame, but has he ever lifted a finger to help?” Palin asked.

“NO!!!!” the crowd responded.

She said Obama is practicing “the worst of politics, politics as usual.”

As vice president, she said, she will concentrate her efforts on government reform, energy independence and help for children with special needs, the latter a particular personal priority because her 4-month old son suffers from Down syndrome.

Families and children “with special needs will have a friend in the White House,” she said.

When she talked about the need to diversify the nation’s energy supply, she was greeted by the “Drill Baby Drill” chant that had rocked the Republican convention.

“Drill, Baby Drill, yes,” she replied.

Pallin ventured into new policy territory, condemning Iran’s attempt to develop nuclear weapons. “Iran should not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons – period,” Palin said. Should it be able to do so, it would cause “a second Holocaust,” she said.

Palin and McCain both complemented each other as mavericks, with Palin getting some of her loudest cheers when she said “we need to take the maverick in the Senate and put him in the White House.”

McCain repeated some of his formal remarks on the economy, first released this morning in Green Bay. If he is elected, he said, “the forces that brought down our economy will be out of business,” he said. “Senator Obama just doesn’t get it … Americans have had enough of business as usual. The days of Me First and country second will end on Nov. 4 if you vote for Gov. Palin and me.”

He expanded his critique of Washington D.C’s culture to include the financial markets. “Washington and Wall Street – change is coming,” he said. Friends, we need reform in Washington and Wall Street. Times are tough.”

McCain said he tried, and failed, two yeas ago to legislate reforms of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. “Congress did nothing, the administration did nothing, Sen. Obama did nothing” – other than, he said, than “to take their money.”

The financial crisis, he said, had its roots in “the Washington culture of lobbying and influence peddling,” while Obama “was gaming the system. That‘s not country first. It’s Obama first.”

Bob von Sternberg


A stroller parked to the side in the hangar carries a sign reading “We (heart) Trig”, referring to Palin’s youngest child.



A smiling woman holds two puppets, one on each hand, one bearing Palin’s face, the other, McCain’s.



In Blaine, a small but noticeable crowd left after Palin stopped talking and introduced McCain.

A small boy left the hangar carrying a sign that reads, “Home schoolers for McCain-Palin”


More live blogging from McCain-Obama events

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Editor’s Note: Star Tribune reporters will be blogging today from the McCain-Palin rally in Blaine and a counter event held by the Obama campaign in downtown Minneapolis. The posts begin here with the most recent:

At Peavey Plaza, the Obama rally crowd easily exceeded 1,000 people, and Orchestra Hall officials said there were about 3,500. Among those who attended was Minneapolis resident Mary Hirsch. She pushed a stroller with her three-legged dog Freckles inside. On the front was this sign: “Beagles for Barack.”

Hirsch said the country needs the changes Obama is promising, including on health care, which she said a lot of her friends are having a difficult time affording. As for McCain/Palin, “they’re not going to do for the middle class what needs to be done,” she said.

Onstage, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak had people join him carrying the following signs outlining Obama’s economic policies:

–No more foreign oil
–Kick out the lobbyists
–Regulate Wall St.
–Middle class tax cuts
–End the war

Lipstick was a theme on quite a number of signs in the crowd, including one picture of President Bush wearing lipstick.



Many thousands of people, mostly white and young, at the McCain rally. Campaign officials claim 13,000.

A woman taken out of hangar on a stretcher, appearing to be dehydrated.

Another large crowd that had to stand outside is now pressing against fence, hopng to see McCain and Palin leaving.

As the candidates exit, Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Power of Rock ‘n’ Roll” blares loudly through the hangar.



Loud eruption from crowd as McCain and Palin arrive at the hangar in Blaine.

As Palin begins speaking, many toward back of hangar cannot see her, and her voice — even with a microphone — is barely audible in the cavernous space.

At least 100 stand outside, listening through the open hangar door. Palin can actually be heard much better by those outside.

A B-25 bomber sits adjacent to the hangar door. The nose art is of a woman, with wings, dressed in red white and blue accompanied by the words, “lady luck.”

Loud applause as Palin says, “America, we will drill now.”

Palin gets her loudest cheer as she describes McCain as the “only man in this election who has fought for you.”

As McCain is introduced, chants of “USA, USA, USA!!!”

Crowd boos as McCain mentions Obama, and McCain adds that Obama profited from excesses on Wall Street.

Crowd starts chanting, “Nobama.” Large applause.

Crowd breaks into loud laughter as McCain talks about Democrat VP nominee Joe Biden saying that raising taxes “is patriotic.”



At Peavey Plaza, the size of the crowd has doubled in the past 15 minutes. R.T Rybak is speaking, declaring that Twin Citians are happy to have McCain and Palin in town and want to give them a warm welcome. The crowd responds with boos.

“We can almost see Canada from here,” Rybak says. “That will double her [Palin's] foreign policy experience.” The crowd cheers and whoops.

Carrying a sign reading “White Suburban Moms for Obama-Biden,” Sue Sadowsky is a stay at home mother and former PTA president from Minnetonka. Obama, she says is “right on the issues, from health care to education, to women’s issues, the economy…”

Between songs, one of the musicians who warmed up the audience said, “Did somebody say ‘No Caribou Barbie’? Amen.” The crowd went wild.

Dozen of signs carry references to lipstick.

Bee Fairbanks, a downtown resident who came to the rally when she saw people bearing Obama signs gathering, feeds a turkey sandwich to her terrier mix, Precious, who is riding in a stroller. “Enough of the Bush administration,” she says. “We don’t want a woman president unless it’s Hillary Clinton.”

If McCain were to die in office, she says, making Palin president, “then we’re really going to be sorry,” Fairbanks says.

Aimee Blanchette


A woman is pushing a stroller through the crowded hangar in Blain. The small boy aboard holds a red, white and blue pompom. Mom wears a black “Palin rocks” t-shirt.

Mike Kaszuba

Live blogging from McCain-Palin and Obama rallies

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Editor’s Note: Star Tribune reporters will be blogging today from the McCain-Palin rally in Blaine and a counter event held by the Obama campaing in downtown Minneapolis. The posts begin here with the most recent:

At Peavey Plaza, several hundred people had gathered for the Obama campaign rally as noon approached. Groups of women on bicycle rode down Nicollet Mall with “Women for Obama” signs on their fenders.

Homemade signs were everywhere. One woman’s sign read: “Barack My World.”

Another used the same pun seen already at the Palin-McCain event in Blaine: “Read My Lipstick: No New Wars.”

Aimee Blanchette


Amid many signs in the Blaine hangar, one small black and white placard simply reads “Sarah Pride.”

The hangar, which appears to be nearly 200 yards long inside, is more than 75 percent full.



Harriet Turner, from Fargo, holds a sign in the hangar that says, “Read my lipstick.”

“We had preferred seating, but it’s all full,” she said.

Mike Kaszuba


Nine teenage girls are posing for pictures in Blaine, wearing white homemade t-shirts that read, “If only we could vote.” All are from Middle Creek Christian School in Andover, all high school juniors.

Mike Kaszuba


The explanation for the unusual arrangements — landing at one airport, motorcading to another — is simple. Although McCain was holding his rally in a suburban airport hanger, a type of venue he has used all week, the runway at the airport in Blaine is too short for his 757. So his 13 vehicle motorcade traveled from MSP International to the rally.

Bob von Sternberg


Inside the white-floored hangar in Anoka, with a World War II-era bomber standing nearby, a singer leads the growing crowd in the national anthem. When it’s over, crowd breaks into ‘John McCain’ chant.

Mike Kaszuba


Outside the Anoka County airport gate, union member Jerry Braun held an Obama sign as hundreds walked more than a mile in the hot sun to the rally.

“How much you pay for groceries and gas?” he taunted the crowd.

Mike Kaszuba


The Republican presidential-vice presidential ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin is back in the Twin Cities for the first time since the GOP convention earlier this month.

The candidates’ plane touched down at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport at 10:44 a.m. McCain and Palin were greeted by about a half-dozen people, including Tani and Bill Austin, founder of Starkey Laboratories and head of the Starkey Hearing Foundation, which distributes hearing aids free, worldwide. The Austins also have emerged as prominent Republican fundraisers.

McCain, Palin and others on the trip, including Palin’s husband, Todd, then boarded the Straight Talk Express bus for the ride to Blaine, where they’ll hold a noon rally.

Bob von Sternberg

Two seconds too few

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Yet another curiosity in our surprise-a-minute U.S. Senate race: reports this week that Sen. Norm Coleman could lose his campaign ad discount because his picture in a recent TV ad appears on the screen for a couple seconds less than the feds say it should.

As first reported Wednesday by the Democratic blog MNpublius, a recent Coleman ad featuring former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice (and DFLer) Sandy Keith shows the senator at the end of the ad with the standard voiceover, “I’m Norm Coleman and I approved this message.”

The problem is that Coleman’s image is supposed to be in the ad for at least four seconds, according to a federal law that guarantees candidates reduced ad rates for full disclosure.

I clocked Norm at two seconds; a Democratic media consultant in Minnesota told Mother Jones magazine that the senator appears for 2.9 seconds — better but apparently still not quite good enough for government work.

A Washington, D.C. attorney for the Franken campaign has sent letters to Minnesota TV stations stating that Coleman has “forfeited” his right to “the lowest unit [ad] charge for the duration of the campaign.”

That remains to be seen. Some folks, mostly Republicans, say the infraction is minor and rarely enforced; Coleman officials point out that the senator is on the screen long enough to clearly identify him as the sponsor, and they’re right.

Lawyers for Franken, however, say rules are rules.

According to the Washington Post, the same case is being made against Republican Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon (apparently, Smith doesn’t appear in his ad at all).

Neither the Federal Election Commission nor the Federal Communications Commission forced stations to raise ad rates when Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania made the same kind of boo-boo in 2006. Santorum lost the election anyway.

The bottom line for the Coleman camp: If they lost the low ad rate, some estimate that it could wind up costing upwards of a million dollars in increased ad expenses.

As they say in the business, stay tuned.

While Jon Voight walked by …

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

While mudslinging may be common between politicians, it’s a rare thing to see the altercations become physical.

But that’s exactly where Ed Matthews, a Republican challenger vying for Betty McCollum’s seat in the Fourth Congressional district, found himself last week during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

A YouTube video posted Sunday shows the before and after effects of an altercation between Matthews and San Francisco street performer Jeff Grubler. You can see the video for yourself here.

The video shows Grubler and a friend, in John McCain and George W. Bush masks, singing and dancing to a parody of the Beach Boy’s hit “Barbara Ann” — titled “Bomb Iran.” But a scuffle broke out while the scene was being shot. Apparently, Grubler constructed the McCain mask he was using out of an “Ed Matthews for Congress” yard sign — a fact to which Matthews, who happened to be walking by, took exception.

According to Grubler, he was in the middle of performing his street show when a man unknown to him * apparently Matthews — grabbed the mask from behind while shouting “That’s my sign.”

“I just thought he was some Republican goon who didn’t like my skit,” Grubler said. “It wasn’t until later that I learned he was the actual candidate on the sign.”

Matthews contends he was calmly talking with Grubler about how he acquired the sign when Grubler started yelling and yanked Matthews’ convention credentials from his neck.

But it was the sign-turned-costume that bothered Matthews the most.

“That’s theft right there,” Matthews said. “Obviously, they didn’t have permission to use (the sign). We don’t give those signs out to just anyone, we only give them to people who contact our campaign and request them.”

When asked if campaign signs were still the candidate’s property after they are given away, Matthews said he didn’t know the answer.

Grubler said he didn’t steal the sign.

“I didn’t break into his headquarters and steal his sign or anything like that,” he said.

Unfortunately for viewers, the video only shows the before and after of the altercation, not the main event itself — a fact which Matthews said was “extremely telling.”

Grubler explained the gap in film by saying that a random celebrity sighting distracted the videographer from tapping the altercation (viewers can see actor Jon Voight walk through the video around the 30 second mark).

The video ends with the police temporarily detaining Grubler while Matthews is escorted back into the convention with the disputed sign in hand. Though police held Grubler for almost an hour for questioning, he was released without being charged for an offense.

Bachmann, others enlist in ‘Palin truth squad’

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

While vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin has encountered a veritable posse of media and political vetters since she joined the GOP ticket more than a week ago, a trio of Minnesota politicians has rallied to her defense.

Sixth District congresswoman Michele Bachmann, state Rep. Laura Brod and former state Rep. Barb Sykora are joining a throng of Republican women who have signed up as members in a so-called “Palin Truth Squad.”

According to the group’s press release, the squad is meant to “counter recent attacks on Governor Sarah Palin, her family, her friends and her record of accomplishment. The Palin Truth Squad will set the record straight against Internet and liberal smears of Governor Palin.”

In the event of false attacks, rumors or smears against Palin, the McCain campaign will unleash the surrogates to “set the record straight,” the release states.

Both McCain and Democratic nominee Barack Obama have accused the other of false and misleading attacks in recent days.

“The entire intent behind the Governor Palin Truth Squad is that as the need arises — take your pick of any of the things that have come up in the past week — Mrs. Bachmann and others in the truth squad will take the opportunity to extend their voices into the discourse,” Bachmann’s campaign manager Brandon Lerch said Wednesday.

“They want the facts to see the light of day.”

While Palin-surrogate might be a new role for Bachmann, she has already publicly defended the VP nominee. Bachmann appeared on Larry King Live Tuesday night, talking about Palin’s effect on female voters, and then followed up on Bloomberg news Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the McCain campaign took the offensive earlier this week, blasting the media’s coverage of Palin as sexist.

Palin is scheduled to partake in her first media interview with ABC New’s Charlie Gibson later this week, though an air date has yet to be set.


Youth views of Bristol, sex ed and the RNC

Friday, September 5th, 2008

Student journalists from Children’s PressLine in New York City covered the Republican National Convention this week. Here’s their final group of dispatches.

Bristol story bristles local youth
The front entrance of the Xcel Convention Center on Wednesday night was teeming with people as Republican VP pick Sarah Palin’s voice boomed through the MSNBC televisions stationed in a nearby park. Young people sat scattered about the park, intently watching the speech or conversing in large groups.

Politics most certainly lingered in the air as Palin spoke of strong family values. We decided to ask some of the youth there about the day’s hot topic: Bristol Palin’s pregnancy.

We caught up with 15-year old Cal Calson, a Minnesotan, as he made his way through the throngs of people and asked his opinion on Palin’s daughter’s pregnancy.

“What are you supposed to do in that kind of situation? I think they made the best choice in that situation,” he said. “I think it’ll show other young people what they have to deal with and not just get an abortion. They should face the problem and deal with it together instead of just going out and discarding the problem.”

Another local, 23-year-old Catherine Kallaus, discussed how she thought the pregnancy was affected by Palin’s politics. “If Sarah Palin believed more in sex education and teaching more than just abstinence-only, it might have been a better choice for her,” she said. “If people aren’t educated about what their options are, where does that leave them?”

Lucas, a 16-year-old from Minneapolis who didn’t want to give his last name, was indifferent to Bristol Palin’s situation. “That has absolutely nothing to do with the election,” he said. “I think it deserves a little blurb, and that’s it. It really has nothing to do with the discussion of the VP.”

–Natasha Kirtchuk

Miss Involved USA
When we caught up with Miss Teen Minnesota USA, 17-year-old Sarah Sprayberry, she had the excitement of a cheerleader and was as well-spoken as a candidate running for office.

As people gathered in the Xcel Center on Wednesday night, we grilled her like she was a senator, asking her about teen dropouts in her state. “I’ve actually read a lot about that as Miss Teen Minnesota,” she said. “Kids think it’s O.K. to drop out of school. And it’s too hard and not fun.”

She went on to say, “Well, school’s not supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be something you get through and afterwards you look to your future, which is a very exciting thing.”

Although she was wearing a short, glimmery dress, Sarah seemed determined to dispel the image of beauty queens as shallow and self-involved, plunging into the interview with energy. She told us she wanted to be a reporter, too.

What message would she like to send to youth? “I would like to say to them it’s important to be yourself. It’s important to be confident. It’s important to be a part of your community.”

–Evan Wood

Kids are people, too
Big buildings and big business fill the streets of Minneapolis, but so do big issues and kids who want to fix them. Local youth journalists from ThreeSixty Journalism want to help their region’s kids stay informed about issues that involve them.

At Best Buy’s “At 15” reception at the Minnesota History Center, we got to see the kids in action and learn about what matters in this part of the country. The event was a kick-off of the company’s initiative to create a forum for young people’s voices.

Maybe it is not surprising that the issues that affect kids in Minneapolis also affect kids in New York City: war, education and the environment seem to be main ones.

While shadowing our Midwest counterparts, we learned that kids in this part of the country are upset that so much money is being spent on the war and not enough on the schools. They want less test prep and more academic content. Yup, we do too.

We’re proud of Best Buy. If more companies brought teens and adults together, maybe young people would get more practiced at getting their voices heard.

–Evan Wood

Sex Ed is News
Tuesday morning, our youth reporters caught up with elected officials at St. Paul’s Xcel Center and talked with them about sex education.

“Abstinence is great and has lots of success. However, sex education should still be taught,” said Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas).

We didn’t bring up the Palin family in our interviews but Congresswoman Mary Fallin (R-Oklahoma) did. She supports abstinence-only programs, but said that Bristol Palin’s pregnancy “makes it even more important that we talk to our young girls, [about how] having sex unmarried — how risky it can be, and that you have to take precautions.”

Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore (R), who is running for Senate, told us, that he doesn’t “object to sex education in school. I think that’s fine, but I think that abstinence can be put forward in addition to that.”

–Jake Feldman

Paulsen’s back on the stage

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

Erik Paulsen will have his moment on the podium, after all.

The Republican Third District congressional candidate was scheduled to speak on the first day of the GOP convention, but concerns about Hurricane Gustav scaled things back.

As the convention regained its footing, Paulsen’s campaign feared that he might be left on the cutting room floor. But late Wednesday they got word that he is scheduled to speak sometime between 5:20 and 5:40 p.m. today.

Paulsen’s Democratic opponent, Aswhin Madia, got some face time on the podium in Denver last week but made no speech.

Someone to watch in a McCain administration

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

Accompanying Tim Pawlenty as part of a Republican attack team in Denver last week was Michael Williams, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission. In classic government style, the Texas Railroad Commission doesn’t have anything to do with running railroads. It is the state’s energy agency.

On Wednesday, Williams, who once had been criticized for accepting Super Bowl tickets from an energy company, took the stage in St. Paul to support energy independence, including offshore drilling. Could he have a place in any potential McCain administration?

Here is what he had to say about energy policy:

For energy security, we need to explore more, conserve wisely and aggressively pursue alternatives.

We can responsibly drill for oil and natural gas here in America and protect God’s creation.

These things are not mutually exclusive. America cannot say no to clean coal…no to nuclear power…and no to offshore exploration.

That may be good for Saudi Sheikhs, but it’s bad for American families.

With rising electricity rates and soaring gasoline prices, Democrats say “turn down the air in your home,” and, “increase the air in your tires.”

That’s not an energy policy … that is an Obamanation!

When the Michigan factory worker builds a pickup truck… and when the Ohio farmer buys that truck… and when that steelworker in Pennsylvania takes that truck to the filling station… they will put more change in their pocket and pay less in taxes under John McCain. That’s the kind of change … John McCain is talking about.

John McCain … is ready to lead.

Americans will not fall for identity politics over good ideas … slogans over substance … or promises and platitudes based on wrong policy prescriptions. We have a proven leader with a record of reform who is ready to lead and ready to succeed.

John McCain will be my President. Thank you.

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