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November 16, 2005
Not guilty

Three years after he was alleged to have facilitated an illegal corporate campaign donation it took just three hours for a jury to clear Ron Eibensteiner. Eibensteiner is the former Republican state party chair. MPR's newest reporter Sea Stachura laid out the allegations against him:

Prosecutors alleged Eibensteiner arranged an illegal corporate donation from American Bankers Insurance Company of Florida to the Pawlenty for Governor campaign in 2002.

The judge said in order to find Eibensteiner guilty the prosecution had to prove he had intentionally aided the contribution or knowingly received it.

The really weird thing about this whole case is that American Bankers admitted it made donations to both the Republicans and the Democrats to try to influence the election. They wanted the Independence Party and its commerce commissioner Jim Bernstein out of office.

Now Eibensteiner is blaming Mike Hatch for the whole thing. Hatch was a prosecution witness in the case who found a letter Eibensteiner wrote to lobbyist Ron Jerich thanking Jerich for getting the contribution from American Bankers. Eibensteiner testified that it was a form letter sent by mistake that he didn't even remember signing. Clearly, the jury believed him.

In another one of those not very surprising announcements, Sen. Becky Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, confirmed Tuesday that she is running for governor again. She ran four years ago but dropped out after she failed to win the DFL endorsement. One interesting part of her campaign may be highlighting her opposition to the Iraq war. Here's what MPR's Bob Kelleher said:

She says businesses, communities, and families are burdened by long deployments of Minnesota's National Guard units.

"We all know that our Minnesota Guard was always intended primarily for in-state activities, but that is no longer the case," she said.

Her administration, she says, will work to bring the troops home. Lourey's opposition to the war is well know,. In May, her Army pilot son, Matt, died when his helicopter was shot down over Iraq. In August Lourey went to Texas to support an anti-war protest outside President Bush's ranch.

It'll be interesting to see how the war issue plays next year... And the same sex marriage issue...ant the tax issue...and the Eibensteiner letter issue....


Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:14 AM
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November 14, 2005
Looking for news

The election is over. The governor is in China. There's not much going on today. But there are a few things to mention. St. Paul mayor-elect Chris Coleman is expected to name his transition staff today. And DFL U.S. Senate hopeful Amy Klobuchar is giving a speech about energy policy.

As for Pawlenty in China, there's just not much to report. The governor toured the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square before he stopped at a Dairy Queen in Beijing. Wow. And just to hammer home the point there's not much going on the Pioneer Press reports that Pawlenty's opponent next fall is likely to be...Mike Hatch.

Although the next election for Minnesota governor is a year away, the prospect of a colossal clash between Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Attorney General Mike Hatch already has the political class chattering.

They are two of the best-known political figures in the state. The first-term governor is considered a rising star on the national Republican stage. Hatch, a major player in state politics for a quarter-century, is the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party's highest state-office holder, and he holds the record for getting the most votes for a partisan statewide office nearly 1.2 million in 2002.

Of course there are other candidates running, including Kelly Doran, who over the weekend picked up the endorsements of some northern Minnesota DFL politicians, including Sens. Tom Bakk, Tom Saxhaug and Yvonne Solon Prettner.

We have to turn to Washington to find some real news. The House can't pass its budget bill because of a revolt by moderate Republicans. MPR's Tom Crann talked to Rep. Jim Ramstad, the Republican from Minnesota's 3rd District, on All Things Considered Friday. He doesn't like the proposed Medicaid cuts in the bill.

"There's nothing that could get me to change my vote against these cuts that disproportionately impact really the poorest of the poor," said Ramstad. He added, "I also object to the budget bill because of the student loan provisions. Those would cost University of Minnesota students $6.3 million next year alone. It seems to me instead of cutting student loans by $14 billion we should cut the pork in the recent highway bill starting with the two Alaskan bridges to nowhere, which as we all know have become a national embarrassment and outrage and rightfully so."

And that's just part of what he had to say. It'll be interesting to see how Rep. Mark Kennedy positions himself through this debate. Kennedy of course is running for Senate next year. For most of his career in the House he's voted with President Bush. He broke with the White House last week by opposing drilling in ANWR, but he declined a request by All Things Considered to discuss what he thinks about the rest of the budget bill.

Finally the Star Tribune takes a look at LRT riders and tries to answer a question that has always perplexed me. Why are people who aren't willing to ride the bus eager to get on a train?

The Hiawatha ridership is 65 percent higher than predicted. In October, an estimated 742,000 riders used the line.

Rail's smooth ride and consistent schedule make it appealing to riders who would not consider the bus. The permanence of the track and the frequency of service make it easy to use without knowing a schedule.

Within one year, light rail has emerged as the single busiest transit line in the metro area.

It's the permanence of the track, you see. You never know when those streets are just going to up and move.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:24 AM
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November 11, 2005
As I was saying....

So I decided to take a few months off from writing this column. Did I miss anything? Let's see...three Supreme Court nominations, Peter McLaughlin's entire campaign, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Chris Coleman's big victory...oh, you get the idea. It doesn't pay to take time off in the news business.

So let's get on with it. Now that the 2005 off-year elections are history the 2006 campaign is well underway. And a big unresolved issue from the past few years is back in the headlines--the push to amend the constitutuion to ban same-sex marriage. About 250 conservative pastors met in Eden Prairie Thursday to say they'll push the Legislature to put a proposed amendment on the ballot next year. Several protesters were also on hand to object to what they consider discrimination against gays and lesbians. Which party might benefit from having the gay marriage amendment on the ballot next year? Here's a hint from Mark Zdechlik's MPR piece:

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty is on record in support of a ban. Asked about the amendment at an event unrelated to the summit on Thursday, Palwenty said he wants the issue on the ballot next year when he's expected to run for re-election.

"I think traditional marriage is an important part of our society and it's a cornerstone of our society and we should not treat every domestic relationship as the equivalent of traditional marriage, and so I think protecting that is important," Pawlenty said.

The legislative session runs from March to May, and I guess we can look for this issue to dominate it. So much for the idea that it would be a quiet one.


Speaking of Gov. Pawlenty, he announced his plan for helping people pay their heating bills this winter. It includes an agreement with the state's two biggest utilities not to turn people's heat off when they can't pay their bills, and diverting some welfare money into heating assistance. He has also ordered state agencies to cut back on energy use. Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, says it's a start, but she still wants a special session to deal with energy issues.

All this may seem a little unnecessary on a day when Mark Seeley says it could hit 65 degrees in the Twin Cities. But did you see this story in the Pioneer Press?

November's warm weather has caused a sharp drop in natural gas prices, but whether Minnesota consumers will see lower heating bills as a result remains to be seen.

Experts say the fact that natural gas prices have declined certainly won't hurt, but whether it helps put much of a dent in predictions that home heating costs will be at least 40 percent higher this year in Minnesota is far less certain.

That's what we get for living in a cold weather state at the end of the pipeline. But at least we don't have to worry about hurricanes.

In other news former state GOP chair Ron Eibensteiner says he didn't do it-- didn't solicit an illegal corporate contribution from a Florida-based insurance company, that is. Eibensteiner took the stand in his own defense at his trial in Rochester as reported in the Star Tribune:

"No I did not" or "absolutely not" were Eibensteiner's responses to questions from his attorney William Mauzy about whether Eibensteiner solicited the donations or even was aware of them before the media inquired about them months later.

Eibensteiner also said he did not write or read the text of a letter, which he signed, thanking a lobbyist who arranged the contributions. It was an electronic form letter prepared by an unknown staff person and sent out under his name, Eibensteiner said.


No court Friday because of Veteran's Day. Testimony resumes Monday. As does this column. I promise!

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:36 AM
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