March 2006 Archive

March 31, 2006
From Minnesota to Massachusetts

What would happen to the debate over gay marriage if an amendment to ban it were actually approved? If Massachusetts is any indication, the debate would continue. MPR's Tom Scheck spent last weekend in Boston talking to people about the issue there. Massachusetts is the only state where gay marriage is legal, and gay couples have been getting married for about two years. But as Scheck reports opponents of gay marriage are still trying to ban it:

The Massachusetts Family Institute garnered more then enough signatures to jump-start the next step. Workers at the office are busy stamping post cards to lobby lawmakers to let the people vote. Kris Mineau, the president of the organization, is confident that they can convince enough lawmakers to vote to put the measure on the ballot.

"This is the last opportunity in this commonwealth to resolve the issue once and for all," Mineau said. "I believe that it's paramount that the people vote because otherwise we'll never know what the real heart of the people is about this."

But Scheck also notes that supporters of gay marriage picked up seats in the Massachusetts Legislature in the last election.

Speaking of the gay marriage issue, the dispute over Sen. Dean Johnson's comments to agroup of pastors has become a running joke at the Capitol. MPR's Laura McCallum sent me this note:

At almost every committee hearing I've covered lately (or again yesterday on the floor, [Rep. Tom] Rukavina joked about it during the debate over the House budget resolution), one lawmaker will ask another one if he or she talked to any Supreme Court justices on the matter. I suspect the justices (or Johnson) don't see this as a laughing matter, but it always seems to draw a laugh.

Oh, those wacky lawmakers.

In the Senate Tax Committee, what seems like a slam dunk bill is getting a little more complicated. Brian Bakst from the Associated Press had the story:

The Senate Tax Committee plans to vote Friday on a proposal to give many married couples and some other middle-income people a tax break. But to pay for it, the plan would raise income taxes for wealthier Minnesotans. The bill is the work of committee chairman Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis. It puts the Senate on a collision course with the Republican-controlled House and GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Sen. Bill Belanger, the Tax Committee's lead Republican, warned Thursday of deadlock, preventing any tax relief. "I see this as starting down the same path as we did last year," he said. "For some people, compromise is not in their vocabulary."

Speaking of vocabularies, MPR's Dan Olson took a look at the constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot this fall. It deals with transportation, and there's already a good deal of confusion about just what the amendment actually says:

Voters will be asked to decide if 100 percent of the MVST revenue, about $558 million this year, should eventually go to transportation. Right now just under half goes to the general fund for other uses.

But that's not the ballot language lawmakers approved last session.

Their language puts the question to voters this way: "Do you approve amending the state constitution to allow no more than 60 percent of MVST revenue to go to roads and bridges and no less than 40 percent to transit."

Which just goes to show it's not only vocabulary, but syntax which is important. Try to remember that this weekend. Just don't talk to a Supreme Court justice beforehand to try to figure out what it all means.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:24 AM

March 30, 2006
Who's in first?

Two gubernatorial campaigns released figures yesterday saying they have a lead in committed DFL delegates. Can they both be right?

In a statement Sen. Becky Lourey said she was in the lead with about one third of the delegates chosen:

The Lourey campaign released a spreadsheet identifying the statewide count of delegate preferences showing State Senator Lourey with support from 132 delegates followed by Attorney General Hatch with 130 and State Senator Steve Kelley running third with 86. This count is comprehensive, including Senate districts and county convention units where no subcaucusing took place.

“The most important thing to notice in the delegate count so far,” said Lourey campaign spokesperson John Blackshaw, “is Senator Lourey's support is statewide. Not all of the other candidates can claim that fact. And anybody who counts delegates will tell you, candidates without statewide support cannot win a statewide election let alone a convention endorsement.”

Sen. Steve Kelley released a statement saying HE is in the lead with half the delegates counted:

Steve Kelley: 131.5 (21%)

Mike Hatch: 129 (20%)

Becky Lourey: 74.5 (12%)

Uncommitted: 206 (33%)

So can both campaigns be right? It doesn't look like it, given that Lourey has counted fewer total delegates and claims to have such a big lead. It is interesting that Hatch comes in second in both counts. Stay tuned until June.

The DFL party is criticizing Rep. Gil Gutknecht for some remarks he made. Here's part of the statment from the DFL:

Republicans defeating Democrats in the 2006 mid-term elections is as important to our country as the Minnesota 1st Regiment turning back the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War, according to Rep. Gil Gutknecht. The MSU Reporter reported yesterday that Gutknecht made the comments at a campaign rally on behalf of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kennedy.

“To compare beating Democrats to defeating the Confederate Army is either an absurd display of historical ignorance or an insult to the intelligence of Minnesota.” Minnesota DFL Chair Brian Melendez said. “Such an insinuation raises serious concerns about Gil Gutknecht’s win-at-all-costs mentality. He should be ashamed of himself for stooping so low, apologize to Democrats across the country and get on with running a more positive campaign based on the issues.

“Mark Kennedy, on the other hand, should be embarrassed that his good friend and ally used such tactics on his behalf. Representative Kennedy has said repeatedly that he wants this campaign to be about the issues. Well, he has a choice to make right now. Will he run a positive campaign, come clean about where he stands on the issues and let the voters decide based on merit? Or will he employ the insult-and-divide strategy he learned from the Karl Rove playbook, while following the orders of President Bush 92 percent of the time?

Did you catch how they went from slamming Gutknecht to slamming Kennedy? Well, the Gutknecht folks weren't impressed, as evidenced by this item in the Star Tribune:

Gutknecht's campaign office said his remarks were meant as a reference to a "pivotal moment in U.S. history," not to slaveholders. Gutknecht also issued a prepared statement saying, "Rumors of my comparing DFLers to slaveholders have been greatly exaggerated."

Heidi Frederickson, a Kennedy spokeswoman, called the DFL complaint "a pathetic attempt by the DFL to distort Congressman Gutknecht's remarks."

Now I'm sure they'll all let bygones be bygones.

And remember the statement by Sen. John McCain, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and other members of that bipartisan delegation to Iraq calling on President Bush to push for a unity government? Is it working? Look at this item from the Associated Press:

President Bush expressed frustration that Iraqis have so far failed to form a unity government, but he said withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq too early would damage U.S. security.

"I want the Iraqi people to hear I've got great confidence in
their capacity to self-govern," Bush said Wednesday. "I also want
the Iraqi people to hear - it's about time you get a unity government going.

"In other words, Americans understand you're newcomers to the
political arena. But pretty soon it's time to shut her down and get

I think it's time to shut this page down and get back to work. But if you missed Don Gonyea on Midday Wednesday you should give it a listen. He's NPR's White House correspondent and had some good stories to tell.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:27 AM

March 29, 2006
The story of my life

Did you ever have one of those days when you got way behind before the day even started?

Well, that's the way I feel today. It doesn't help that I've (voluntarily) increased my workload by taking on both this column/blog/internet newscast or whatever you want to call it along with a podcast of MPR's political stories called, creatively enough, the Policast.

And this is all in addition to my real job which is supposed to be writing and editing stuff to put on the radio.

I usually get into work around 5:45 in the morning. I check out the newscast material, read the wires, update the headlines, talk with Perry Finelli, Cathy Wurzer and the Morning Edition producer about what we have and what we need and try to generate news material. (We also talk about other issues, such as today's marathon discussion about the proper pronunciation of the new St. Paul school superintendent's name). Then I sit down and buzz through the papers, try to write this column and then do the podcast.

It's usually my goal to have that done by 7:30, as I am able to work fairly quickly, but today I just can't seem to get anything done.

If I put off those tasks until later, other things start to intrude. Reporters start checking in with their plans for the day, people call in sick, listeners start calling to complain, praise or ask questions about what they heard on the radio. And I have to put together something we call "the grid," which is an electronic document that basically lays out our plan for the day, including the stories we plan to put on All Things Considered and Morning Edition.

By nine o'clock the other editors and producers are in and we have the first huddle of the day at 9:15 to talk about what is and what is not on the grid, what we should be covering, who we have to send to events and what people are working on.

So because I am so far behind today, I'm going to read the news on my own. The only things I will point out to you are a story by MPR's Elizabeth Stawicki on the legal precedents in the gay marriage issue, and the Star Tribune not willing to let the Dean Johnson story end.

Now I'm going to get back to work!

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:53 AM

March 28, 2006
Weekend in Iraq

Gov. Tim Pawlenty is giving President Bush foreign policy advice. The governor spent the weekend in Iraq with a delegation led by Arizona Sen. John McCain. On a conference call with reporters Monday afternoon Pawlenty talked about a statement issued by the delegation which calls on the president to consider a summit meeting with Iraqi leaders to force them to form a unity government.

"If we don't get qet a unity government in place so the people who are perpetuating that violence can either feel like they have a seat at the table or others will have a seat at the table from their religious background and marginalize the rejectionists, then I think it's going to continue at this level or potentially get worse," Pawlenty said.

Bob Collins in Polinaut thinks Pawlenty's trip may have something to do with his national ambitions. Maybe. But the governor must also be concerned that with 2,600 Minnesota National Guard troops headed to Iraq and popular support for the war dropping, it could become an issue in this year's campaign. At the very least dissatisfaction with the president's Iraq policy has the potential to discourage some likely Republican voters from turning out. And at the same time opposition to the war could energize DFL voters. Before Pawlenty or any other Republican starts thinking about 2008 they've got to get past 2006.

Maybe you've tuned out the news from Iraq. Here's what's on the wire from the AP this morning:

A car bomb exploded Tuesday as police exchanged fire with two attackers outside a police station south of Baghdad, wounding at least a dozen people. The attack follows two days of violence in Iraq that left at least 151 dead, including 16 people killed Sunday in a military assault on what Iraqis claim was a mosque. Shiite politicians halted negotiations on a new government in response to the assault.

Back home Dean Johnson has apologized and everyone is satisfied. Oops. Looks like MPR's Laura McCallum found some people who aren't:

But Johnson's apology doesn't go far enough for a group calling on Johnson to resign. Minnesota Citizens in Defense of Marriage has taken out newspaper ads and is collecting signatures calling for Johnson to step down from office. The group's president, Jeff Davis, says it's still unclear whether Johnson talked to judges about cases that could come before the court, or whether Johnson lied about the matter.

"In either situation, we think that Dean Johnson has apparently committed what we believe is a pretty serious offense here. Secret conversations between a sitting legislative leader with Supreme Court justices about a potential court case undermines the system of checks and balances inherent in our constitutional doctrine," Davis said.
"If it didn't occur, then he's repeatedly lied to constituents on this matter."

Well, he said he was sorry, didn't he? Before the apology the Senate managed to get some work done. They passed a bill that makes it harder for government to seize private property. MPR's Tim Pugmire has that story:

Most people were outraged by the Supreme Court decision that said government can take your home, or government can take your business and give it to another private owner," [Sen. Tom] Bakk said. "I think people feel pretty strongly that the constitution should protect them from that." Under Bakk's bill, local government would have little room left to use eminent domain for economic development. The bill also sets specific conditions that government entities must meet in order to take private land for public purposes. Public hearings would be required for all eminent domain actions. And property owners would receive adequate compensation for their land, as well any legal fees.

The University of Minnesota Regents have approved a plan to trade some university owned land near Rosemount to get more support at the Capitol for a new football stadium. The increased funding from the state would cut the amount of money students would have to put into the stadium.

And finally MPR's Bob Kelleher has the kicker for the day. St. Louis County taxpayers are saving money because their elected officials are shopping for bargains on eBay:

Turns out eBay was just the place to shop. They found barely used stuff - police radios, modems, and computer mounts - everything to turn an ordinary squad car into a high tech communicator.

If you think that's kind of silly, I hear MPR is shopping for parts on eBay to upgrade our computers at the Capitol bureau. I just wish UPS would hurry up and deliver that stuff.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:28 AM

March 27, 2006
Some quick items

As the legislative session begins to move toward deadlines, Gov. Tim Pawlenty is still in Iraq. Pawlenty made the surprise trip Friday. In a conference call with reporters Saturday he said security there is worse now than it was when he paid a visit in 2004. He says recent sectarian violence and efforts to undermine the building of an Iraqi government have made the country less safe for contractors and civilians.

"The American public is understandably frustrated with some of the events in Iraq, and their patience is not limitless. And so we have tried to convey to Iraqi leaders that there's a great sense of urgency to show more progress and tangible and measurable progress in Iraq."

Since the governor made those comments dozens of people have been killed or found dead in Iraq.

MPR's Laura McCallum reports that Republican leaders in the Minnesota House begin their discussions on a bonding bill this week.

The House Capitol Investment Committee will hear testimony Tuesday on the $990 million package of construction projects approved last week in the DFL-controlled Senate. House Speaker Steve Sviggum says the Senate bill is too large and left out several important projects. He says one glaring omission is the $33 million request to expand the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center.

And as you might expect Duluth officials Are not happy about that. MPR's Bob Kelleher sent along this quote from Duluth Mayor Herb Bergson:

"You know, we were told we needed a referendum. We had that, and 61 percent of the people said 'we're in favor of it.' We were told we had to get it in the governor's bill. We did that. We were told we had to get it in the House bill. We did that. Speaker Sviggum has promised us it would be in there. And then the State Senate leaves us out. Somehow I missed that."

The top Democrat in the Minnesota Legislature will publicly apologize on the Senate floor Monday to resolve an ethics complaint. Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson has been under fire for telling a group of pastors he had assurances from several Supreme Court justices that they wouldn't overturn the state's law banning same sex marriage. A bipartisan Senate ethics panel Friday decided Johnson should apologize to the Senate.

Maybe you saw Bill Salisbury's story in the Pioneer Press on Sunday about a new poll that shows voters oppose the proposed constitutional amendment 54-40 (or 54-28 if the amendment bans civil unions, as it does). Many opponents of the amendment contend a big reason Republicans are pushing it is to energize their base this fall and get conservatives out to vote. This poll certainly seems to indicate the issue could cut the other way.

And while so much has been said about gay marriage the past few weeks MPR's Annie Baxter has a story that should remind everybody that there are other serious issues out there that aren't getting much attention, namely the lack of affordable health insurance for older workers:

The Pallansches consider themselves to be in good health. Their worst problems are Joe's high blood pressure and Deb's sinus problems. Nevertheless, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota turned them down without saying why. And Deb says their other health insurance option, with HealthPartners, came with both a high deductible and sticker shock.

"I just wasn't prepared for what the price was going to be," she says. "The premiums were $532 for the two of us, with a $10,000 a year deductible."

Yikes! As if a rainy Monday wasn't depressing enough already.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:39 AM

March 24, 2006
Some in, some out

Looks like one candidate is dropping out of the governor's race while two more are getting into the 5th District Congressional race.

Neither Kelly Doran nor his campaign will confirm that he's decided to end his campaign for governor but the Pioneer Press is quoting unnamed sources saying he's done. Doran lent his campaign $1.8 million last year and has spent at least $800,000 of that. His personal wealth and presence in the race had led other candidates to at least consider not staying within state spending limits for the campaign. He also convinced Sen. Sheila Kiscaden to switch from the Independence Party to the DFL and become his running mate.

And of course he actually started the campaign running for U.S. Senate, but changed his mind and decided governor was the right office to pursue. He got only 6 percent of the vote in the straw poll at DFL caucuses. It will be interesting to hear what finally made him decide to drop out.

As for those getting into the campaign, Jon Olson and Rebecca Yanisch have scheduled announcements for the 5th District Friday. Unfortunately they're both at the same time, which makes it a little hard for news organizations to attend both.

For those of you who are tired of the Dean Johnson story, MPR's Laura McCallum has a story about the Senate passing its version of the bonding bill. For those of you who aren't tired of it, the Senate Ethics Committee meets to talk about it Friday morning and we'll have more on it later.

And of course debate on the whole gay marriage constitutional amendment continues. MPR's Tim Pugmire was at the rally of amendment opponents yesterday and Gary Eichten did an hour on Midday Thursday.

And for those of you who are tired of the state Capitol altogether, check out Mark Zdechlik's story of a soldier adjusting to life after Iraq.

It seems like I've spent this whole page today promoting MPR's work. Oh well, why not the best? Now I have to get back to actually making radio so I have something to talk about Monday.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:29 AM

March 23, 2006
Trying to change the subject

Does anybody care that the Minnesota Senate is going to vote on a bonding bill today?

The bill is supposed to be the main work of the Legislature this session. The senate version has a price tag of $990 million. Of course, everything is being overshadowed this week by the debate over gay marriage. And the bonding bill, which funds building projects around the state, has a long way to go before it actually becomes law.

There is another rally set for today on the gay marriage issue. This time is the opponents of putting the ban on the ballot will gather. Like the supporters of the ban who rallied the other day, the opponents will argue that God is on their side.

Meanwhile, former Vice President Walter Mondale and former Gov. Arne Carlson have sent the governor and legislative leaders a letter urging them to focus on issues that are key to Minnesota's future. They don't come right out and say it, but presumably the gay marriage ban would not be on their list of such issues.

If most voters agree with the former officeholders, it's sure hard to tell by what's going on in the senate. You've probably heard by now that Republicans have filed an ethics complaint against DFL Majority Leader Dean Johnson. MPR's Tom Scheck had the story:

Republican senators Mike McGinn and Claire Robling delivered the complaint to the President of the Senate. The complaint said Republicans were troubled about Johnson's comments about same-sex marriage and the state Supreme Court. McGinn, of Eagan, says he's also troubled that Johnson's story has been constantly evolving over the past week.

"We were very slow to file this ethics complaint because we didn't want it to appear like it was a totally partisan attack. That's not what we're about. We're about taking care of the Senate's credibility," McGinn said.


The delay in filing the complaint also gives the story another day of life. Other Republicans say Johnson could end the whole controversy simply by allowing the Senate to vote on the proposed amendment.

Johnson was supposed to be on Midday yesterday, but he bailed out a half hour before airtime. Mr. Eichten and the Midday crew recovered quite well with the help of the aforementioned Mr. Scheck. The highlight of the program for me was Tom reading the ethics complaint seconds after it was slipped under the door while he was on the air. I'm not sure if that counts as talent or good luck, but it made for a pretty good news broadcast.

Finally, Kerri Miller asked me yesterday if I thought the Star Tribune had a lot of egg on its face Wednesday for reporting (wrongly) that Gopher basketball coach Dan Monson was not expected to keep his job. What do you think? The subhead on Thursday's story about Monson keeping his job says "athletic director quells rumors after a day of conflicting reports." When the state's major daily prints the rumors on the front page it certainly gives those rumors an air of credibility.

I'll tell you what I told Kerri. I spend too much time trying to keep eggs off MPR's face to worry too much about what the Star Tribune does. And if we're egg-free today I'll be happy.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:15 AM
Permalink | Comments (2)

March 22, 2006
Enough already?

I got a note yesterday from a close watcher of Capitol events asking whether the Dean Johnson story is being blown out of proportion.

I won't use this person's name, but here's part of the note:

I'm not disputing it's worth covering. I'm just wondering if it's drop-everything-else-slap-on-the-front-page-everyday type of story. The GOP is lovin' it cuz they can dribble out a bit everyday and keep it in the news. Then they send out news releases quoting mainstream sources to add heft to it all.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty may be thinking the same thing. Look at what MPR's Tom Scheck reported:

Gov. Pawlenty chose diplomacy over denunciation when asked about the troubles plaguing the top Democrat in the Legislature. Pawlenty said Dean Johnson made a big mistake and apologized for it. The governor says that's good enough for him

"From my standpoint, it should be handled like this: Sen. Johnson has admitted that he's not been truthful. He's asked for forgiveness and second chance. We should give it to them and we should move on," he said.

The state Republican party says it won't move on. Neither will the groups who want the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions on the November ballot. About 1,000 people rallied at the Capitol Tuesday. Many said they would pray for the Senate to take a vote on the issue, as Scheck reported:

Pastor Wes Wheatley of Minneapolis says it's problematic if gays are allowed to marry as they can in Massachusetts.

"We are opening the door to untold destructive evils for our next generation," he said. "The concept of mother and father and child will be gone forever."

The religious element of the debate raises a couple of questions. If the Senate doesn't vote on the amendment, does it mean God didn't hear the prayer or that He just chose to ignore it? And if God doesn't like gay people, why did He make so many of them? I'll leave it to more learned minds than mine to try to answer those.

Opponents of the proposed amendment have their own rally set for Thursday morning at the Capitol. And Dean Johnson will be on Midday Wednesday where he will no doubt have more to say about the whole situation.

So back to the original question: are we making too much of the Dean Johnson story? I don't think so. Everybody knew this gay marriage issue would be a big one going into the session, and it's not every day a Supreme Court Chief Justice calls reporters to deny something the majority leader said. Sure the GOP is using the story for its own purposes, but certainly the DFL would too if the situation were reversed.

I think the Dean Johnson angle may be winding down, but for many people the gay marriage debate is just beginning. Yes, there are other things happening at the Capitol. Some of them are more important, some are less important (the Olympics bid?). But I don't think this one has been overplayed.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:12 AM

March 21, 2006
What a tangled web

The Dean Johnson story just won't go away. Even if supporters of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions hadn't tried unsuccessfully to force a vote on the measure on the Senate floor Monday, the story would have been front page news. It's not often the Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court calls reporters to deny a statement by the Senate majority leader. But as MPR's Tom Scheck reports, that's what happened:

Chief Justice Russell Anderson said he was "incredulous" when he heard about Johnson's statements that justices had made assurances to him. Anderson says he asked each member of the Minnesota Supreme Court, including former chief justice Kathleen Blatz, to see if anyone ever talked about Minnesota's Defense of Marriage Act. The law defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Anderson says all justices said "no." And he made it clear it's not appropriate for an elected official even to ask a judge about an issue.

"I have been a trial judge and appellate court judge for 23 years and I have never been approached by a legislator or a county commissioner or a township officer or a mayor asking me for a commitment or even a conversation about a matter that is before the court or might become before the court. We just don't do that in Minnesota," Anderson said.

Republicans are making noises about filing an ethics complaint against Johnson. Senate DFLers say they stand by their leader. People on both sides of the constitutional amendment will rally this week at the Capitol. It's still not clear to me exactly how the stories about Johnson impact the larger issue. I hope we'll learn more in the next few days as we look into the issue a little more deeply.

Sen. Johnson may be comforted by the thought that things could be worse. Just look at former DFL Rep. Loren Jennings. He was sentenced to four years in prison by a federal judge Monday. Here's the story from the Star Tribune:

Prosecutors said Jennings used his political clout to financially help Northern Pole, Inc., which he and his partners had lent hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Northern Pole collected $650,000 in state-mandated conservation money from two energy companies, of which $298,398 went to pay off loans from Jennings and his partners.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Dixon III said the sentence sends the message that public officials who abuse their office "will be held to the same standards as everyone else."

Jennings says he will appeal.

The House has passed one prong of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's initiative on immigration. It says that cities like Minneapolis and St. Paul have to do away with ordinances that prohibit police from asking immigrants about their legal status. Here are a couple quotes from the floor debate, first from the bill's sponsor Rep. Jim Knobloch, R-St. Cloud:

"We need to give the police the ability to enforce the law and use this tool when it's needed so they can help us in the fight against terrorism."

Knoblock is also running for Congress in the 6th District. Taking the opposing view was Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis:

"This makes our communities less secure. How can our communities be secure when citizens are afraid to call police? And that's the chilling effect of this legislation in immigrant communities. We rely on informants and we rely on people watching criminal activity."

The bill passed easily 94-37 in the GOP-controlled House. It'll have a tougher time in the DFL-dominated Senate.

So who is running for Congress in the 5th District? Officially so far: Rep. Keith Ellison, Minneapolis City Council members Paul Ostrow and Gary Schiff, Hennipen Co. commissioner Gail Dorfman and Minneapolis Park Board president Jon Olson. College professor Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer had entered the race before Rep. Martin Sabo's announcement Saturday that he is retiring. Gary Eichten had Sabo on Midday Monday.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:32 AM

March 20, 2006
War after three years

Sunday marked the third anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq. More than 2,300 U.S. troops have been killed since then, and President Bush's approval in the polls has slipped below 40 percent. MPR's Annie Baxter notes that when the war started 70 percent of those polled by Gallup thought it was winnable. Now the figure is just over 20 percent. Baxter sampled some Minnesotans views of the war:

[Former Marine Chris Briscoe doesn't oppose all military interventions. But he doesn't think the grounds for the Iraq war were legitimate.

"I was supportive of military action in Afghanistan when it was a direct action to the 9/11 attacks. But once it was repurposed to the energy industry and the neo-con agenda, I was opposed to military action at that point," he said.

But some war supporters like Will Brown of Eden Prairie are digging in their heels and staying firm in their convictions. Brown works in marketing and says he's skeptical of how polls are presented, so he doubts public support for the war is eroding so dramatically.

But even if the polls are right, Brown says public perceptions can be fickle and shouldn't distract from the military's purpose.

"I'd hate to see public policy shifted on a whim, if you will, I'd like to see us accomplish the mission, set up a government in Iraq, so that the people of Iraq can be self-supporting and enjoy the benefits of democracy in that region. Until we get to that point, I'd hate to see us pulling out prematurely and creating a power vacuum that could lead to more death and destruction through civil war in Iraq.

MPR's Tim Post talked to a veteran recovering from wounds he got in Iraq:

Now two years after the attack that shattered his body, Vandenheuvel is doing better. The 25-year old lives with his mom in an apartment in Sartell, north of St. Cloud.

Vandenheuvel finds it easy to be optimistic, considering how much he's healed in just two years.

"There's only step farther down than I was, and that's dead. Not very many people that were in the situation I was in, can go as far as I have especially so soon," Vandenheuvel said.

And people on the Red Lake Indian Reservation are marking another grim anniversary. The school shooting there happened one year ago Tuesday. MPR's Tom Robertson has that story:

Red Lake School Superintendent Stuart Desjarlait said students are generally doing well, but attendance has dropped by about 15 percent in the past few weeks as the anniversary date approaches.

"I think a lot of the students have handled it very good, but we all suffer," said Desjarlait. "We all remember in our own way."

Desjarlait says the school shootings continue to affect his staff. Some teachers are struggling with emotional trauma. Some are dealing with depression. Desjarlait says four teachers have taken medical leave in just the past two weeks. That's happened to about a dozen teachers since last March. Even high school principal Chris Dunshee is taking some time off. He's gone for the rest of the school year.

Turning to political news, the flap over Sen. Dean Johnson's tape recorded comments on gay marriage continues. The West Central Tribune noted something that didn't happen:

The Willmar pastor who secretly taped state Senate Majority Leader on the issue of gay marriage requested extra police patrol at his Sunday worship for fear of protesters. A police report shows that Brent Waldemarsen was concerned that protests could disrupt his Sunday service. Police did drive by the church, but saw no protesters.

And are there any Minneapolis politicians who aren't interested in running for Rep Martin Sabo's seat? We'll try to get a good list going later today.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:21 AM

March 17, 2006
Same sex, embellishments and audio tape

Is it a bigger deal to tell a lie or to secretly tape somebody telling a lie?

Now, Sen. Dean Johnson isn't saying he told a lie. He's saying he "embellished" a conversation. And the person who taped the embellishment tells the West Central Tribune that HE didn't do anything wrong:

Brent Waldemarsen, senior pastor at Harvest Community Church of God in Willmar, acknowledged the recording of Johnson has opened up a can of worms. “Unfortunately, it’s the senator that opened it,” he said Thursday in an interview with the West Central Tribune.

In the recording made during a January meeting of the New London-Spicer Ministerial Association, Johnson says that Supreme Court justices have told him the court will not take action to overturn the state law defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Waldemarsen said the fact that he recorded the meeting without telling Johnson should not “overshadow the fact that Senator Johnson said some things that should not have been said. That’s really what this is about,” Waldemarsen said.

And Johnson, who was in Mississippi Thursday to see off Minnesota National Guard troops headed for Iraq, tried to turn the whole thing back on the groups pushing for the anti-gay marriage amendment. MPR's Tom Scheck had that:

Johnson initially released a statement saying his comments were poorly worded. He told Minnesota Public Radio that he had informal conversations with one judge and has met with other judges on other issues. Johnson said he did nothing wrong and returned fire at his critics.

"They see Dean Johnson, the majority leader, stopping what they're trying to ram through the Minnesota Legislature. No issue is going to be rammed through the Minnesota Legislature. Every issue will be given due process," he said.

"We've heard enough from Sen. Johnson and it's time that he listened to the people of Minnesota who are saying 'let the people vote,'" countered Chuck Darrell with Minnesota for Marriage. The group has been lobbying for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Minnesota since a Massachusetts Supreme Court allowed same sex marriages in that state in 2003.

Darrell's group has more than 80,000 signatures on a petition calling for the Senate to vote on the proposed constitutional amendment. Will all this force the Senate to vote? Stay tuned. One thing Johnson says is that he will not resign. I guess if every politician who "embellished" had to quit there would be a lot of empty seats.

And speaking of the war in Iraq, the only member of the Senate to vote against a bill making it a crime to protest at funerals was the one whose son died in Iraq. MPR's Laura McCallum has the story:

When Sen. Becky Lourey's son Matthew was killed in Iraq last year, no protesters disrupted his funeral. Lourey says if they had, she would have endured them. She says her son fought and died for the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights, including the freedom of speech.

"We can say whatever we want to say, no matter how ugly, and we don't get thrown in jail," Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, said.

Lourey, of course, is running for governor.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:39 AM

March 16, 2006
To vote or not to vote

Supporters of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage are Calling for Sen. Dean Johnson's head. They want Johnson to resign over statements he made (and that someone tape recorded) at a meeting with pastors a couple months ago.

Johnson said he had talked with a number of members of the Supreme Court, including former chief justice Kathleen Blatz and they had assured him they would not overturn Minnesota's current law defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

Blatz denies ever saying that, and a court spokesman points out it would be a serious ethical breach for any justice to make a commitment about how he or she might vote on an issue.

MPR's Tim Pugmire quoted Jeff Davis, president of Minnesota Citizens in Defense of Marriage:

"This is just indicative of the type of misinformation campaign that we believe Sen. Johnson has been on, on this issue, for the past two years. And given the fact that he has now obviously we believe been caught in a lie, it's incumbent upon him to step down."

Johnson was in Mississippi Wednesday to see off Minnesota National Guard troops who are headed to Iraq. He issued a statement saying his remarks were misconstrued:

First and foremost, I have at no time ever received any promises or commitments regarding any potential judicial cases from any member of the state Supreme Court."

We have a reporter in Mississippi and we're trying to get more from Johnson. If not, we'll catch him for sure when he gets back.

More strong rhetoric at the Capitol on another issue--voting. MPR's Tom Scheck was tracking a hearing in the House Civil Law committee on GOP Rep. Tom Emmer's bill that would require proof of citizenship for voter registration and a photo id for voting:

Rep. Keith Ellison, DFL-Minneapolis, said the bill is a "nefarious attempt" by Republicans to make it more difficult for people of color, the poor and the elderly to vote.

"This is voter suppression pure and simple. The people who are proposing this don't want to try to persuade Americans to vote for their point of view, they just want to stop Americans from being able to vote at all," he said.

Who should get to vote on what? It's the question of the day at the Minnesota Capitol.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:35 AM

March 15, 2006
Schiavo in Minnesota

The debate over whether to withhold food and water from people who are too ill to make their own decisions has come to a Minnesota House committee. MPR's Tom Scheck had the story:

The vote comes just a year after the public debate on whether a feeding tube should be removed from Terri Schiavo. She was in a persistent vegetative state for 15 years and did not provide any legal direction on her wishes.

Rep. Tim Wilkin, R- Eagan said his bill would ensure that every person who is legally incapable of making health care decisions would receive nutrition and hydration unless the person specifically rejected it beforehand.

"This bill is not about pulling the plug on a respirator. It's not about kidney dialysis. It's not about determining whether someone should have a heart bypass or not. This is about food and water, and that's it. That's the only presumption, and I think we all deserve that presumption."

Others at the hearing argued that it wasn't that simple, but the bill, backed by the anti-abortion group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, was approved by the House Health Policy and Finance Committee. The committee approved another MCCL-backed bill that would put new restrictions on abortion in Minnesota.

Those bills pretty much overshadowed what may be a looming showdown over state spending. MPR's Tim Pugmire had the story about Gov. Tim Pawlenty's recommendation for spending the state's budget surplus:

Pawlenty's supplemental budget plan includes $49 million in tax breaks. His priority is to ensure married couples no longer pay higher taxes than single filers. Other proposed reductions and credits would help the bottom lines of corporations, dairy farmers and resort owners. The governor also wants to cap the growth of local property tax levies.

Senate Democrats are also pushing for property tax relief this session. DFL Majority Leader Dean Johnson says Pawlenty is moving in the right direction but isn't going far enough. Johnson is pushing for an amount in the range of $200 million to $250 million.

"It's a high priority of the Minnesota Senate that a majority of the tax relief account, which has $317 million, be used for tax relief purposes."

But Johnson worries that a pending court case could upend any spending or tax relief plans. Last December, a Ramsey County District court judge struck down the so-called "health impact fee," which added 75 cents to the price of a pack of cigarettes. Lawmakers approved the fee last year to help balance the state budget. The Minnesota Supreme Court takes up the case next month. Johnson says the outcome could throw the budget process into turmoil towards the end of the legislative session.

"You know we can make plans, the governor can make an announcement, we can make plans and suggest these are the spending thresholds. But come about say May 1st, we're going to have to seriously scratch our heads and say can we commit?"

With the cigarette fee still hanging out there even House Speaker Steve Sviggum worries the governor may be proposing too much spending. The governor and legislative leaders head to Mississippi today to see off Minnesota troops who are headed to Iraq. Maybe they can work something out on the plane.

And speaking of court cases, how about the judge's decision to throw out Minneapolis's "photocop" program. Here's the Star Tribune story:

More than 26,000 people have received tickets under the city's Stop on Red ordinance, which presumes the owner was the driver during the offense. The owner must prove that someone else was driving to avoid a conviction.

But District Judge Mark Wernick said the ordinance is invalid because it provides vehicle owners with less due process rights in court than the state statute. State law for a similar violation requires the state to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" who was driving. But Minneapolis' ordinance shifted the burden to the owners to prove their innocence.

The Minnesota ACLU originally challenged the constitutionality of the red light camera law. I wonder if those 26,000 red light runners will now become card-carrying members?

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:36 AM
Permalink | Comments (1)

March 14, 2006
Who will own the Pioneer?

The Pioneer Press is for sale again. On the same day the parent company of the Star Tribune said it is buying the parent company of the Pioneer Press, it said it would sell the paper along with a few other Minnesota publications owned by Knight Ridder. The McClatchy Co. says it wants to avoid antitrust concerns that would arise if it owned both the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press.

So what happens to the Pioneer? MPR's Jeff Horwich has some of the possibilities and some of the concerns:

"The disappearance of the Pioneer Press would make a huge growth spurt for the Star Tribune," says veteran Pioneer Press reporter Aron Kahn.

Kahn says he and many of his colleagues remain skeptical that McClatchy has any interest in seeing the Pioneer Press succeed.

"We're concerned that we would just be used as a liquidation vehicle, to make some money for a corporation, or reduce the expenses of another corporation -- and that journalism is really disregarded in the process," says Kahn.

Over at the McClatchy-owned Star Tribune the headline says "McClatchy puts its faith in the future of newspapers:"

Now McClatchy has to show that it can extend that model to new markets and prove that newspaper companies can thrive despite the advent of new technologies that some believe will eventually make them obsolete.

McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt tried to face that perception head-on Monday morning in a conference call with stock analysts.

"Pessimism about our industry is indeed widespread these days," he said. "But we believe it is misinformed."

But then again he doesn't work for the Pioneer Press.

In the political world, Sen. Norm Coleman was on Midday Monday, and he put to rest the rumor that he wants to run for vice president, saying the only office he plans to run for in 2008 is U.S. Senate:

"I haven't made the official announcement, but I am interested in continuing to serve the people of Minnesota. I think I've got the best job in America. I represent the best state in America, and I just hope that folks will consider giving me the opportunity to keep doing it, so no, let's rule out any of those 'higher ambitions.'"

At the Capitol, a Senate committee rejected an effort to weaken the law that bans legislators from taking gifts. Sen. John Hottinger had argued that the ban prohibits lawmakers from getting to know each other and adds to the potential for gridlock.

And another Senate committee approved a bill designed to go after big companies that don't provide health insurance for employees. The Star Tribune has the story:

The bill would cover only the handful of Minnesota firms with 10,000 or more employees. It would require those companies to spend on health benefits an amount equal to 8 percent of the wages it pays to its lower paid workers, or pay the difference to a state fund.

The measure's sponsor, Sen. Becky Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, said large corporations that fail to provide adequate health care to their employees force taxpayers and other "responsible" companies to pick up the tab.

"What I'm trying to do is stop the cost shifting to the public programs," Lourey testified.

The chamber of commerce doesn't like the bill, and the GOP majority in the House probably won't either.

Gov. Pawlenty releases his supplemental budget today. More on that tomorrow.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:35 AM

March 13, 2006
One paper town?

The owners of the Star Tribune are about to buy the owners of the Pioneer Press. Sunday night Knight Ridder, which published the Pioneer Press agreed to a buyout offer from McClatchy, Co., which publishes the Star Tribune. Reports put the deal at $4.5 billion.

McClatchy is actually much smaller than Knight Ridder, which makes the deal look a little bit like the worm swallowing the fish. But the latest from the Associated Press makes it clear that McClatchy intends to spin off a number of the papers it will buy in the deal:

McClatchy plans to sell 12 of Knight Ridder's 32 newspapers, including The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Philadelphia Daily News and the San Jose Mercury News, saying that those papers don't fit the company's longstanding criteria of buying newspapers in growing markets. McClatchy also plans to sell Knight Ridder's newspaper in St. Paul, Minn., the St. Paul Pioneer Press, in anticipation of antitrust concerns that would arise out of McClatchy's ownership of the Star Tribune in the adjacent city of Minneapolis.

Which means more uncertainty for employees at the Pioneer Press and for news consumers here in Minnesota. I guess the positive news for both the former and the latter is that McClatchy is not talking about closing the Pioneer outright.

There's not a lot of political news today, unless you count the absence politicians as news. More than 15,000 people showed up for a public memorial for Kirby Puckett at the Metrodome Sunday night and, refreshingly, there was not a single politician in sight. Annie Baxter had the story from MPR:

Inside the Metrodome, Bo Clark said he had an extra motivation for feeling proud of Kirby Puckett: the two of them were neighbors back in Chicago's Robert Taylor housing project.

"Our families grew up together, right across the street from one another. He's always going to have Minnesota, but Chicago is always going to live in his heart, just like mine. But it's good to see all this support out here for him in the Twin Cities and to know he was always loved here," Taylor said.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:45 AM

March 10, 2006
Eight second gap

I haven't written much about behind the scenes MPR stuff, but yesterday's State of the State broadcast is worthy of a couple of lines.

We've been broadcasting the speech for years, no matter who the governor is. When the governor gives the speech in the House chamber, as Tim Pawlenty did yesterday, we set up in the House gallery, which is actually one floor above the chamber. We have a line, i.e., a wire, which goes from the gallery on the third floor of the Capitol all the way down to our office in the basement press room. Once the signal goes down the wire we hook up on a digital line that connects to the studios in downtown St. Paul and then to the transmitter and your radio.

This is all pretty basic stuff. We've been doing it for more than 25 years. What's changed is the way we broadcast. A couple of months ago we switched to a digital format which will give you many more options as a listener in a few years when digital radio receivers become more popular. But in changing the way we broadcast, it added an eight second delay to the signal. So when Gary Eichten talks in the studio what he says comes out of your radio eight seconds later.

That might not seem like a big deal, but it creates all kinds of problems when you're trying to do a live broadcast. In the old days I could sit at the Capitol, plug my headphones into the radio, open up the mic and talk with Gary on the air.

Now imagine what it's like trying to do that with the delay. If you've ever tried to talk when hearing yourself on delay it's a... it's a little... it's a little like... it's a little like trying... it's a little like trying to read this sentence.

So what was the amazing high tech solution engineer Genaro Vasquez and I came up with? It was to have me listen to myself with one ear of the headphones and use a cell phone in the other ear to hear Gary, pre-delay. The only problem with that is as a cell phone signal bounces around there's still a delay. So every time I started talking I had to pull the phone away from my ear. All in all quite a comical sight of your humble correspondent crammed in between the TV camera tripods with a pair of headphones stuck over one ear and a cell phone in one hand and a microphone in the other.

And of course I had no idea what it was actually sounding like on the radio. Listen for yourself at the Midday archive and see if we pulled it off. Don't you just love technology? I hope we can come up with a better solution before the state conventions in June.

Now if anyone out there is still reading this, what about the speech itself? MPR's Laura McCallum had the story:

Pawlenty hasn't officially announced he's running for a second term, but the final State of the State of his first term certainly sounded like an election-year stump speech. He described the state as "strong, hopeful and prosperous", and he ticked off his achievements of the last three years, starting with the budget.

And the governor's opponents were quick to respond. The Pioneer Press had a nice roundup, starting with IP candidate Peter Hutchinson:

"He was asking the citizens to have the gumption that the Legislature and the governor don't have," Hutchinson said.

[Becky] Lourey, a DFL candidate for governor, said she liked many of the promises Pawlenty made in the first half of the speech, "and then in the last half of the speech, he said he wouldn't pay for it."

[Attorney General Mike] Hatch said the governor was "throwing crumbs at our problems."

Another DFL gubernatorial candidate, real estate developer Kelly Doran said Pawlenty was only "tinkering around the edges'' and not solving the state's health care and transportation problems.

But other than that they loved it.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:32 AM

March 9, 2006
Can't wait for State of the State

I'm betting the State of the State is great.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty delivers the address for the fourth time today at the Capitol. (You can listen to it at noon live on MPR)

I'm thinking the governor will tell us things are going pretty well, especially since he's trying to get re-elected this year. Expect to hear a lot about how he balanced the budget (even though it is the governor's job to balance the budget). Let's see if he mentions the "supercharged truth in taxation" bill he proposed last year. Or getting some money from Indian casinos. Those are some proposals from State of the States past that never happened.

There's always a great feeling of excitement around the speeches although people tend to forget them pretty quickly. I'm not sure whether they're as big a deal as they used to be, especially for a governor like Tim Pawlenty, who is on TV so often and is so good at being a TV personality. Pawlenty is out and about so much that it doesn't seem like a major event when he gives a speech at the Capitol. But, as I say we're broadcasting it, and it's sure to get a lot of coverage. If nothing else it's a good kickoff to the campaign and the session.

In the news roundup today, there's still some fallout from the straw poll at the precinct caucuses the other night. MPR's Tom Scheck had just about all the candidates claiming victory and this analysis:

While many of the candidates continue to spin the results in their favor, Carlton College political science professor Steven Schier says he expects Klobuchar and Hatch to be the DFL candidates on the November ballot.

"There are frontrunners in each case. One is a prohibitive frontrunner, Amy Klobuchar. The other one, Mike Hatch, is a frontrunner but faces some bumps between here and the endorsing convention and the primary, potentially, but otherwise I think the signals are pretty clear."

Speaking of clear signals, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman is sending one about Capitol city's budget. Tim Nelson of the Pioneer Press quotes the mayor laying out the problem:

"In 2007, we face a $20 million deficit and a growing gap between expenditures and permanent funding sources," Coleman told the City Council, scores of employees and others gathered in the council chambers for his first major address.

"If we were to tackle this issue entirely with tax increases, we would have to raise the levy by over 30 percent," the mayor said. Cuts would require a layoff of 150 police officers and firefighters.
"Neither option is acceptable," Coleman said.

In the short term Coleman has appointed a commission to help him come up with financial solutions.

If you were a state lawmaker looking for an issue an election year issue that would save consumers $100 million, the Legislative Auditor may have found you one. MPR's Annie Baxter had it:

The analysis says the restriction on beer and wine sales at grocery and convenience stores leads to higher prices, costing Minnesotans about $100 million a year. But the report also says loosening up those restrictions could lead to alcohol abuse. Legislative Auditor James Nobles said the report is aimed at educating lawmakers without prescribing a new liquor law approach.

Sounds like an invitation to reopen that wine in grocery stores debate.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:24 AM

March 8, 2006
Winners and losers on caucus night

The results of the caucus night straw poll are in, and the winners are Mike Hatch, Amy Klobuchar, and the conventional wisdom.

The conventional wisdom wins because Hatch and Klobuchar were widely seen as the DFL frontrunners for governor and U.S. Senate respectively. MPR's Laura McCallum has the numbers:

With 75 percent of the precincts reporting, about 38 percent of caucus attendees prefer Hatch in the governor's race. State Senators Becky Lourey and Steve Kelley were in a virtual tie for second with slightly more than 20 percent of the vote. Real estate developer Kelly Doran got 6 percent of the vote, and about 10 percent were undecided. For U.S. Senate most backed Hennepin County Attorney Amy Kloubuchar, who got nearly 77 percent of the vote, compared to veterinarian Ford Bell's 16 percent.

Those numbers have to be most disappointing to Steve Kelley, who was the only DFLer who had promised to abide by the party endorsement. In years past, that would almost guarantee support among potential delegates. Ford Bell has not made a similar promise, but he certainly must have expected more support from die-hard DFLers.

So what's the spin on a 15 point Hatch lead? Look at this from the Star Tribune:

Lourey's spokesman, John Blackshaw, offered this analysis: "Clearly we're very pleased. The race is wide open. Mike Hatch is no longer the presumptive endorsee, and it's going to be a tough fight."

And this from the Pioneer Press:

Kelley's campaign manager, Matt Filner, said he was happy that Hatch had not won more than 50 percent of the votes in the poll. "The majority of DFL voters, all of whom know Mike Hatch, are voting for somebody else," Filner said. "I think nobody expected that anybody but Mike Hatch would finish first. … This race is wide open."

So, in case you didn't hear, the race isn't just open. It's wide open. Got it? OK then.

More votes will be counted later Wednesday, so we'll see whether anything changes.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:31 AM

March 7, 2006
A sad day in Minnesota

There's only one big story in Minnesota today, and it has nothing to do with politics.

Kirby Puckett died Monday in Arizona at age 45. What did Puckett mean to Minnesotans? MPR's William Wilcoxen wrote this:

Two years before Puckett's arrival the Twins had suffered through the worst season in team history. Major League Baseball had recently endured the first labor dispute to force the cancellation of a big part of a season. Some Minnesotans complained that the Twins' move to their new, indoor home was a part of the big business mentality that was taking the innocence -- and some of the fun -- out of baseball. Two World Series titles later, those gripes were long forgotten, banished by a blizzard of Homer Hankies.

The story of his life is well known in part because it all happened so recently. He came from the housing projects in Chicago to play in the outfield of the Metrodome. He was the most talented and the most popular player on any Minnesota team. Puckett's baseball career was cut short in 1996 by blindness in one eye caused by glaucoma. After he was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame in 2001 his personal life degenerated into a series of tawdry stories: a messy divorce, a sexual assault trial in which he was eventually acquitted.

And now his death of a stroke at age 45, not 44 as was reported for most of the past two days.

We'll have more about politics and precinct caucuses tomorrow.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:37 AM

March 6, 2006
Caucus break

It's pretty quiet Monday and Tuesday at the Capitol because legislators are taking a break for Tuesday night's precinct caucuses.

If you've never heard of caucuses or have no idea what happens at them you're probably in the majority. As a rule, very few people attend them, which is too bad, given that they have the potential to de-emphasize a lot of the things people hate about politics...things like dominance of big money and special interests, back-room deals, and the lack of choice between the two major parties. When people don't attend them, they tend to be dominated by small groups that are organized well enough to get their people out to them.

The caucuses are community meetings in each of Minnesota's 4,111 precincts. You have to decide whether you're a Democrat or Republican and choose which party you want to caucus (or meet) with. You'll spend the evening talking about and voting on the issues and/or candidates you think are most important. Eventually you'll vote to send some delegates on in the process, which is designed to end with the endorsement at the state party convention this summer. I say designed to end, because several candidates say they won't abide by the endorsement and will instead compete in the September primary election. That in turn weakens the endorsement process and the caucus system.

That's our civics lesson for the day. Now on to the news. It's dominated not by politics, but by Kirby Puckett's health. Here's the latest from the Associted Press:

PHOENIX (AP) - A nursing supervisor says Hall of Fame outfielder Kirby Puckett is in critical condition after having surgery for a stroke. The 44-year-old former Minnesota star, who led the Twins to two championships before his career was cut short by glaucoma, was stricken Sunday at his Arizona home. A statement from the Twins at their spring training camp in Fort Myers, Florida, says Puckett had surgery at Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn and was later moved to St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. The nursing supervisor at St. Joseph's, who declined to give her full name, did not provide details of Puckett's situation.

On the subject of sports the Pioneer Press takes a look at whether the numbers add up on that Vikings stadium proposal:

"They're claiming public benefits that are very questionable,'' said Art Rolnick, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis. "This notion that there will be a new increase is specious.'' Zygi Wilf, the team's lead owner, stands by the complex's projected impact. "I'm very conservative in the way I analyze my deals,'' he said. "Our numbers reflect that.''

Although things are generally quiet at the Capitol, there are a couple of press conferences Monday. A group of DFL lawmakers will announce a lobbying reform proposal. Some House DFLers talk about a plan to reduce class sizes. And later in the week the governor gives his State of the State speech.

In the meantime, I'm going to try to find a theater that's showing "Crash."

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:25 AM

March 3, 2006
Stadiums and stem cells

How much money will it cost to achieve that long-sought dream of making the University of Minnesota a truly world-class research institution? How about $366 million? University officials released a 10 year plan Thursday they say would put the U among the leaders in the biotech field. MPR's Art Hughes quotes university president Robert Bruininks:

"Twenty other states, including California, New Jersey, and Wisconsin, are making enormous research investments. 'Reaching,' to use Senior Vice President Frank Cerra's words, 'for the brass ring of biomedical science,'" said Bruininks. "In order to be competitive, the university must add approximately five state-of-the-art buildings, and the researchers to fill them, over the next 10 years."

The $366 million over 10 years is in addition to more than $200 million in other bonding requests the university has made this year. That doesn't include the $100 million it wants for a new on-campus football stadium. The biotech money would be put into a special fund to bypass the every-other-year bonding process.

The Pioneer Press notes some skepticism among legislators:

"If this is their top priority, they should make it so," said Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, bonding committee chairman... "They're bringing this out pretty late in the game — they must realize they are behind the gun for this year," Dorman said.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty also hasn't signed on to the plan yet, even though he's been talking about the need for Minnesota to take a lead in biotech research. The chair of the bonding committee in the Senate, Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, likes the proposal.

While the university considers the future of medicine, the House and Senate have started to argue over how to provide health insurance to people who need it now. They differ over how to spend a surplus in the state's health care access fund. MPR's Laura McCallum says that may mean folks without insurance will have to hang on for at least another year:

Given the opposing approaches, the stage appears to be set for partisan gridlock, with the House passing Bradley's plan and the Senate backing Berglin's proposal.

DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson says it would be unfortunate if nothing gets done this year.

Speaking of partisan fights, Gov. Pawlenty and Attorney General Mike Hatch are fencing over how to protect your privacy. Hatch, of course, is one of many who wants Pawlenty's job. The Star Tribune notes there are some people who think both of them should keep their privacy plans... to themselves:

Don Gemberling, the former director of the state office that ruled on data practices disputes, said Pawlenty and Hatch are simplifying and exploiting concerns about privacy for political purposes.

"I see it as, 'Hatch is gouging me with this thing, and now I have to gouge back,' " Gemberling said. He said the law already provides sufficient safeguards.

Simplifying and exploiting for political purposes? Since when is THAT happening at the Capitol?

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:26 AM

March 2, 2006
Jobs, jobs, jobs

I was reminded of Gov. Rudy Perpich's old slogan yesterday when I walked by his portrait at the Capitol. Of course the jobs issue is back in the news because of the revenue forecast released this week. Just to review, the forecast said this:

... in the last two years, employment growth in Minnesota has fallen further behind the national averages. During the second half of 2005 Minnesota payroll employment grew at an annual rate of just 0.4 percent. U.S. payroll employment, even with the disruptions from the hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, grew nearly twice as fast.

So how concerned is the current governor about this? Not very. I asked him about it on Midday yesterday and he said basically the job growth lag is not a big deal for a number of reasons. First, he said there's not enough data to indicate a trend. Secondly, he said, the defense industry is leading the national economy, and Minnesota doesn't have many defense companies. And he said the numbers are lower because he's cut government jobs, and because the state's population is aging and the numbers reflect people leaving the workforce.

What did the governor talke about? His agenda for the session, which includes ensuring that 70 percent of every education dollar be spent in the classroom, and cracking down on illegal immigration. He also talked about health care initiatives and tax reform.

The governor took it as a given that a bonding bill will pass, and he has been pushing the gay marriage ban.

Presumably he will have more to say in his state of the state speech and in his supplimental budget, but anyone looking for a bold program for the future of the state to kick off the session and the campaign season didn't hear it yesterday.

Maybe it's enough that the budget is balanced, but you have to wonder what else will excite voters this year.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:31 AM

March 1, 2006
Good news/bad news

The new revenue forecast shows the state has a slight surplus. That's good news, right? Maybe not.

First the good news. The $181 million in projected extra money means the state can finish undoing that shift in school payments it used to balance the budget a few years ago. That leaves $88 million in surplus.

But to get to that figure the state is counting the $400 million its collectiong from the 75 cent per pack "health impact fee" on cigarettes, even though a judge has thrown the fee out. If the state Supreme Court agrees that the fee is unconstitutional, it leaves Minnesota not with an $88 million surplus but with a $312 million deficit. That's the bad news.

But wait, there's more good news. The budget reserves are full again and there's $317 million in a "tax relief account." And if times get bad the state can always shift those school payments again to make the bottom line look better.

But the real bad news is contained within the forecast. Simply stated it's where are the jobs?:

Job growth in Minnesota continues to be weaker than would be expected at this point in an economic expansion. In the four years since the end of the recession, payroll employment has increased by just 2.3 percent. In the four years following the end of the 1990-91 recession, employment grew by 11 percent.

Since November 2001 Minnesota's economy has added 56,000 jobs or about 14,000 per year. In the 49 months following the end of the 1990-91 recession employment in Minnesota was up by 237,000 jobs or nearly 60,000 per year.

Is this drop in job growth a temporary glitch or a permanent feature of Minnesota's new economy? That's a question you may want to put to candidates as they knock on your door this summer.

As you might expect, the nature of the forecast is sparking a political debate, as noted by MPR's Laura McCallum:

"The forecast, although slightly positive, is clearly only an inch deep in terms of the positive nature of it. Underneath that thin layer of ice are some very significant problems," according to [St. Paul DFL Sen. Dick Cohen.]

Republican leaders mocked Democrats' pessimism, and say the state is on solid financial ground after years of reining in spending. Now that there's a surplus, leaders on both sides of the aisle are proposing ways to spend it.

Listen to Midday Wednesday for more on the surplus and the session. I'll be at the Capitol along with Gary Eichten and crew. As usual, on the first day of the session we'll talk with dozens of lawmakers about what they think will happen.

Posted by Mike Mulcahy at 6:19 AM