June 14, 2006
Jobs, jobs, jobs

If you're keeping track, the campaign for governor started Tuesday.

As the endorsed DFL ticket headed north for a series of press conferences, Gov. Tim Pawlenty called one of his own to trumpet new unemployment numbers. The unemployment rate in May dropped to 3.7 percent, which the governor noted is the lowest in five years. He said he couldn't take credit for the good numbers, but that he would certainly take the blame if they headed in the opposite direction.

"This is really good news. It'll be one of the lower unemployment rates in the entire nation, and we think it reflects an improving economic situation and job market in Minnesota, with the obviously, the increase in jobs being added in our state."

But both MPR and the Star Tribune noted that the numbers don't tell the whole story. Here's how MPR's Tom Scheck put it:

But the jobless rate declined primarily because people gave up trying to find a job, not because people found work. Steve Hine, research director for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, says 2,500 people found work from April to May. But he says more than 9,000 stopped looking for work altogether during the same time period. He says that group is the bigger factor in last month's declining jobless rate.

"The number of unemployed people can diminish because unemployed people are finding work or because unemployed people are dropping out of the labor force. On the face of it, these numbers look like it's about a 3-1 ratio here in terms of labor force dropouts as opposed to those finding work," according to Hine.

If Gov. Pawlenty was reasonably modest about the unemployment numbers, his campaign manager was not. The governor's campaign manager Michael Krueger was not. He put out this statement:

"Minnesota¹s job growth has gone from lukewarm to red hot. If Peter Hutchinson, Mike Hatch, Ken Pentel or Becky Lourey had been Governor the last four years, their tax-more, spend-more policies would have stunted job growth across Minnesota."

In a phone call from Eveleth to MPR's Midday program, DFL-endorsed gubernatorial candidate Mike Hatch responded:

"This kind of juggling of the books doesn't work. For him to try to claim that he hasn't raised taxes is crazy," Hatch said. "I don't intend to be raising taxes. I do intend to manage the state in a prudent manner. I intend to focus on the issues, I talked about. Education, health care, transportation and jobs."

Hatch also responded to those who said his acceptance speech at the party convention on Saturday was, well, boring. He did it by criticizing Pawlenty's speech at the GOP convention:

"I think that speech to the Republican convention about the loving and all of that and the hating if you will was highly inappropriate for a gubernatorial candidate. You can't sit there and cater to one narrow special interest group. I made a point during this convention, even in the midst of an endorsement fight. My speech was to the public--the five million people in Minnesota. It wasn't red meat. It didn't get the crowd revved up. It wasn't supposed to."

Well, mission accomplished there, I guess.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:00 AM
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June 12, 2006
Conventional wisdom

A couple of people at the DFL state convention asked me why I haven't updated this page for a while. Well, be careful what you wish for.

I have been a bit lazy since the session ended, but if you want updates, I'll give you updates.

Let's start with the convention. The main outcome? Steve Kelley is out of the governor's race. Yes, after more than nine hours and seven ballots Saturday, Mike Hatch emerged with the endorsement. Beckey Lourey is following through on her plan to run in the primary. Party chair Brian Melendez says he'll try to talk Lourey out of running, but he may not have much luck after essentially calling her a weak candidate on Saturday night.

GOP chair Ron Carey immediately went after Hatch calling him an "abrasive, attack-dog liberal" and saying his acceptance speech was the "most angry in the history of politics."

Huh? From where I sat in the convention hall Hatch's 20 minute acceptance speech was anything but angry. As it went on with its history of the state's milling industry, the education policies of the past six governors, and federal reserve employment statistics, it turned an arena filled with 1,500 screaming delegates into a docile crowd that wanted nothing more than to head for the doors as quickly as possible to get to the post-endorsement parties.

There was nothing in the speech that came remotely close to Pawlenty's attack-dog "wildest dream" quote. In fact there were hardly any memorable quotes at all in Hatch's speech. I guess the GOP had their lines written in advance.

For nastiness quotient compare this Hatch line...

"What this great state needs more than anything else right now is a new governor."

to this statement from Pawlenty campaign manager Michael Krueger...

"For the next three months Democrats will have a primary battle to see who's better at raising taxes, ignoring illegal immigration and resisting real accountability in education."

Who sounds like the angry attack dog?

The big question in the gubernatorial race for the DFL seems to be what to do about Peter Hutchinson. He will compete for the Independence Party endorsement on June 24. DFLers are convinced that if his campaign catches on he will pull support from Hatch. What did Hutchinson have to say about Hatch's endorsement?

Here's his statement from Saturday:

"The events of today show the DFL still needs to figure out who will be their gubernatorial candidate on the November ballot. I’ll miss Steve Kelley’s thoughtful and civil contributions to the debate about Minnesota’s future."

Translation: Mike who?

One final thought. There was a lot of talk about values at the DFL convention: "Minnesota values," "common sense values," common sense-Minnesota values," etc. But in a striking difference from the GOP convention there wasn't a single prayer. God was mentioned in the pledge of allegiance, but I didn't hear Him mentioned other than that. Now that wasn't the only striking difference between the two conventions, but it sure did stand out.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:44 AM

June 1, 2006
Republicans meet

Republicans begin meeting in Minneapolis tonight for a state convention they're hoping will hold no surprises.

Unfortunately for those of us in the news business that's not a very exciting prospect. Conventions are more fun when the outcome is up for grabs. (At least it seems like it in retrospect. It's not really much fun sitting up all night through countless ballots)

For this one though, there's no suspense at all. Even so, Gary Eichten and I will be there with a cast of thousands to provide live updates on the radio starting at 7 p.m. Thursday.

At about 8 p.m. Rep. Mark Kennedy will be endorsed for U.S. Senate. MPR's Tom Scheck has a story today raising the big question of whether DFLers will be able to tie Kennedy to George W. Bush and his mid-30's approval rating:

Kennedy has wide support from the national leaders in the Republican Party. President Bush reportedly raised $1 million for his campaign during a one-day visit to Minneapolis last December.

Vice President Cheney and others in the administration have also raised money for him, as have three dozen Republican senators and congressmen.

Despite all of that money, Democrats, like DFL Party Chair Brian Melendez, say Kennedy will have a difficult time winning in Minnesota. Melendez says the president's low approval ratings will have an impact on Kennedy, who voted for the president's policies more than 90 percent of the time.

"George Bush himself is not on the ballot this year, but Mark Kennedy is about as close as you come in the state of Minnesota to a proxy for the Bush administration," Melendez said. "I believe that some of the disappointment and disgust with the Bush administration will transfer to Congressman Kennedy."

Democrats will endorse Amy Klobuchar for Senate a week from Friday at their convention in Rochester. Ford bell says he will challenge her in the September primary.

Tomorrow GOP delegates will endorse Tim Pawlenty for a second term as governor. The only suspense is whether the convention will hear from Sue Jeffers, who says Pawlenty isn't conservative enough. MPR's Laura McCallum had this back and forth in her story yesterday:

"My turning point for wanting to challenge Tim Pawlenty for the Republican nomination was the stadium," said Jeffers. "But every time I looked at that billion-dollar bonding bill, I asked, who is looking out for the taxpayer?"

Jeffers says other fiscal conservatives are unhappy with Pawlenty's record. Pawlenty doesn't seem threatened by Jeffers, and he questions her GOP credentials, since she's also running as a Libertarian.

"If you're going to run for the Republican endorsement, then you should commit to run as a Republican. Just a novel thought," Pawlenty said. "But I don't think she's in that situation, and I think once the delegates get to know her a little better, I think I'll do pretty well."

And even though the Democrats haven't settled on a candidate yet they were organized enough to send a bevy of candidates out to bad-mouth Pawlenty at three press conferences around the state Wednesday. Different groups of DFL office seekers were in Duluth, St. Cloud and St. Paul as part of a unified effort unlike any we've seen from the DFL in a great while.

And then there's Peter Hutchinson of the Independence Party, who will try to win his party's his endorsement before a Saints game at St. Paul's Midway Stadium on June 24. Here's his quote from the Star Tribune:

Independence Party candidate Peter Hutchinson, a consultant and former state finance commissioner, chided leaders of both of the larger parties for "flying around the state, patting themselves and their parties on the back. Up in the thin air, they can't see that politics is broken."

Broken? Or just getting started? Hutchinson now has an IP opponent. Pam Ellison issued a statement last night saying she's running.

"I represent the majority of Minnesotans who do not identify with any of the mainstream political parties. I personally believe that the political parties have become another barrier between a responsive government as it was created to be and the citizen."

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:50 AM

May 31, 2006
And they're off

By the time you read this Gov. Tim Pawlenty has probably already announced he's running for re-election. No big surprise. Everybody knew he was running, but it still marks the real beginning of the campaign season. And it's just in time, given that the GOP state convention starts tomorrow.

In the Pioneer Press Bill Salisbury has a piece suggesting Pawlenty may be the most polarizing governor in the country. It also features the governor admitting he made some mistakes in the last four years:

He said he alienated some groups with his tough budget decisions, and he angered DFLers with his "center-right" philosophy that's a threat to the "old Mondale-Humphrey-McCarthy-Wellstone view of the world that is deeply imbedded in the political psyche here."

But his biggest mistake, he said, was rolling over the Senate DFL majority during the 2003 legislative session, when with the help of the Republican-controlled House, he got almost everything he wanted and gave the senators nearly nothing in return.

For the next two years, he said, DFL senators were so angry that they blocked him from getting most of the things he wanted, even when that meant not getting anything done at all.

And the governor repeats that he will not sign any more pledges like the "no new taxes" one he agreed to the first time around. DFLers contend he broke the pledge, and they say lots of people's taxes and fees went up over the past four years.

All this should make for a very interesting campaign, and maybe for a very dull GOP state convention. But I'll have more on that tomorrow.

On the DFL side Sen. Becky Lourey will announce her running mate. Unconfirmed reports say it's Tim Baylor, a real estate developer who used to play for the Vikings.

In other news attorney Greg Wersal has escalated his anger about a judicial retreat into a formal complaint. MPR's Tom Scheck had that:

Wersal says the Minnesota Judicial Council, and Supreme Court justices Russell Anderson and G. Barry Anderson attended a retreat in February that provided advice on how to win elections. Wersal says he's concerned that they used taxpayer money to discuss how to run a campaign, something other political candidates have to do with their own money.

"This is all about helping the incumbents win elections," he said. "That's what this is about."

Judges in Minnesota are appointed but have to run for re-election. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled recently that judges in Minnesota can seek party endorsement, raise money and speak at partisan events.

An official with the Minnesota Supreme Court says the retreat did not focus on how judges can keep their jobs but on maintaining a fair and impartial judiciary in light of the recent ruling.

The state campain finance and public disclosure board got the complaint.

And it looks like Minneapolis residents may get a chance to bring instant-runoff voting to the mill city. The Star Tribune explains just how simple it is:

With instant-runoff voting there would be no primaries, which traditionally have low voter turnout. Instead, there would be one election day and one ballot. Voters would rank three candidates in order of preference.

If no candidate receives a majority, the candidate with the least number of first-place votes is eliminated. But those ballots are then counted for their second choices, which are added to the vote totals. A candidate wins when he or she receives at least 50 percent of the vote.

Got it?

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:56 AM

May 25, 2006
Isn't that special

Some folks here this morning are all wound up at a news item that the governor may call a special session on the natural resources constitutional amendment. But it's not likely to happen.

Even the lead in the Star Tribune makes it pretty clear that it's not going to happen:

Gov. Tim Pawlenty may be willing to call a special legislative session to reconsider a proposal that would allow voters to amend the state constitution to fund support for the outdoors and the arts, but only under strict guidelines that may prove untenable.

Why would Senate negotiators be willing to move now after they just spent three months standing pat? They still remember 1998 when the constitutional right to hunt and fish was on the ballot and it drew lots of GOP and IP voters. This sounds more like Pawlenty throwing those voters a bone to show he's still willing to work for them.

How would you feel if the state Legislature spent public money on a retreat where they talked about how to win elections? That's exactly what Greg Wersal is accusing judges of doing, according to the Pioneer Press:

Hennepin County Chief District Judge Lucy Wieland, who sits on the council, said the retreat focused on maintaining an impartial judiciary in light of Wersal's 2002 U.S. Supreme Court victory.

"The goal of the session was to educate the Judicial Council about the national and potential local trends in the direction of the politicization of the judiciary and the impact that has on the public's confidence," Wieland said. "It was really educational."

Wersal countered that the retreat on an "impartial judiciary" was really about how to get incumbent judges re-elected. He points to a summary of strategies that lists, "First task — how to help with judges who are up for re-election in 2006."

He points to another section labeled, "Campaign Tips, Ten Do's and Don'ts of Judicial Campaigning."

Wersal is guy who went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to win Minnesota judges the right to campaign.

And speaking of the campaign, it's already started over the one constitutional amendment that will for sure be on the ballot this fall. MPR had news items from both sides. First the supporters:

A group called Minnesotans for Better Roads and Transit launched a campaign Tuesday encouraging voters to support a proposed constitutional amendment that will appear on the ballot in November. If voters approve, the amendment will dedicate all of the revenue from the sales tax on new and used vehicles to roads and public transit. Currently nearly half of the money from the sales tax goes into the state's general fund.

The president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, David Olson, said the amendment is critical to the state's economy.

"It's a very important component of our state's future. If we don't have a great transportation system it makes it much harder for us to retain important businesses and attract new businesses to the state of Minnesota."

And now the opponents:

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland says the way the amendment is written, he worries all the money would be used for transit programs.

"We do in the city of Moorhead get a small amount of transit aid for our city bus system. But that's not going to help the road between Moorhead and Detroit Lakes. All you have to do is drive highway ten and you're going to see a pretty tough road. We are very concerned I think about the fact that across the state we are going to see a shortchange in road construction funds," he said.

You can see how complicated these constitutional amendments get. And that's the one the Legislature could agree on.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 7:12 AM