WASHINGTON - Six of Minnesota's eight U.S. house seats are among the dwindling number of potentially competitive seats in the 2014 midterm elections, according to Oregon U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, who heads the House Republicans' campaign organization.
"This is a much smaller battlefield than we've seen in the past," said Walden at a briefing for reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
This isn't to say that 75 percent of Minnesota's House seats will face competitive races next year. Walden's assessment is more a reflection that Minnesota has become a rare state where four districts (the 1st, the 2nd, the 3rd and the 8th) have a fairly even split between Democratic and Republican voters.
7th District Democrat Collin Peterson is a top target of the National Republican Congressional Committee (as he has been in many past election cycles). Peterson's district has voted for the past three Republican presidential nominees while returning the veteran DFL lawmaker to Washington which has earned Peterson a place in the NRCC's "Red Zone" of Democrats in Republican-friendly territory.
Two other Democrats -- 1st District Rep. Tim Walz and 8th District Rep. Rick Nolan -- were on Republicans' list of potentially vulnerable incumbents if the political winds shift or the GOP recruits the right candidate.
Walden also acknowledged that all three Minnesota House Republicans could be on defense in 2014. Democrats have specifically targeted 6th District Rep. Michele Bachmann and 2nd District Rep. John Kline. Both lawmakers are already facing a rematch against their 2012 competitors, Jim Graves and Mike Obermueller respectively.
Last week, Bachmann began running ads in the Twin Cities media market 18 months before the election, a highly unusual move in congressional races. It's likely a sign that Bachmann is trying to stave off another close race against Graves though Walden was confident of her prospects.
"Michele clearly has a national following that's very strong. She has a large cash on hand number and she is a very effective campaigner," Walden said of Bachmann.
3rd District Rep. Erik Paulsen has not been targeted but his district, like Kline's, narrowly voted for President Obama over GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney last year, a sign of a competitive district.
Republicans currently hold 233 seats while Democrats hold 201 (one seat is vacant). Due to redistricting and demographic trends, political prognosticators such as the Rothenberg Political Report see Republicans holding a structural advantage of 209 safe seats in the House (217 are needed for a majority).(0 Comments)
WASHINGTON - It's that time of the year when members of the Senate have to reveal details about their 2012 personal finances. Minnesota's two Democratic Senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, filed their disclosures on time and the official filings are available here for those who wish to dive deeper into them.
It's difficult to be precise about what members of Congress are worth because their assets and debts are reported in broad ranges, but from the 30,000 foot perspective allowed by the Senate filings, Franken and Klobuchar's personal finances are little changed from last year.
The Senate is sometimes referred to as a club for millionaires and Franken's net worth certainly qualifies him for membership while Klobuchar would only count for membership based on the highest estimates of her net worth.
Franken's assets are worth somewhere between $4.3 million and $12.8 million, essentially unchanged from his 2012 filing. Those assets are spread over a very broad set of investment funds and a personal business that manages the assets and income from Franken's previous career as a comedian, actor and writer before entering the Senate in 2009. Franken has a mortgage on his house in Minnesota that's between $100,000 and $250,000.
Franken reported outside income between $144,500 and $387,500, higher than the $103,000 and $290,000 he reported last year. While much of that money came in the form of interest and dividends, Franken also collected between $50,000 and $100,000 in rent from a co-op apartment he owns in New York City.
Klobuchar assets are worth between $400,000 and $1.2 million, an increase from last year when she reported assets between $310,000 and $1 million. Those assets are almost entirely spread across a series of investment and college funds. She reports holding no debts and minimal outside income from those investments.
For comparison's sake, the last place member of Congress on Roll Call's 2012 list of the 50 wealthiest members of Congress had a minimum net worth of $6.2 million although at least seven members of that list have retired or been defeated since it was published.
Disclosures by members of U.S. House will be released in the middle of next month.(0 Comments)
Gov. Mark Dayton says the education funding bill he signed into law today is one of the primary reasons for raising taxes this session.
The bill provides $485 million in new spending for public schools, including early childhood education scholarships, all-day kindergarten and a bump in the basic per-pupil formula. Dayton said while more money for education doesn't guarantee success, less money would guarantee failure.
"This is why we raised taxes progressively," Dayton said. "So that we could deal with the deficit, pay that off without having to make more draconian cuts, such as these programs here that would have been inevitably affected by that, and have the resources to make these new investments that are going to pay off for Minnesotans, for middle income families and for people throughout the state."
Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, said the bill he worked on as chair of the Senate Education Committee helps to turn the financing tide of the past decade by making needed investments in schools.
"This is the best education bill to be signed in Minnesota history," Wiger said.
Many Republican lawmakers opposed the E-12 bill.
Rep. Kelby Woodard, R-Belle Plaine, described the bill as empty slogans and promises. He said Democrats are increasing funding, but doing little to improve the current education system.
"We're just taking more money and putting it into the programs that have given us the same results over the last decade," Woodard said.
Woodard and other Republicans are also critical of the bill's repeal of the current tests required for high school graduation. Gov. Dayton said those tests are "onerous" and "absurd," and will be replaced with a better system for measuring student performance.
WASHINGTON - U.S. Sen. Al Franken is in "good shape for re-election" 18 months out from Election Day 2014 with approval ratings above 50 percent and a big leads over all of his potential opponents, according to the Democratic polling firm, Public Policy Polling.
In a survey of 712 Minnesota voters from May 17-19, the firm found that Franken drew more than 50 percent support against all of his potential GOP rivals. The poll's margin of error is 3.7 percent.
Franken won office in 2008 with a slim 312 vote margin and Republicans have long argued that he will be vulnerable in 2014. Still, the GOP has struggled to recruit a high profile candidate to run against Franken.
So far, no Republicans have officially declared their candidacy though businessman Mike McFadden appears closest to launching a campaign. The GOP's highest-profile potential recruits, U.S. Reps. John Kline and Erik Paulsen, have both declined a Senate bid.
"Al Franken has proven to be a pretty popular Senator," said Dean Debnam, the firm's CEO. "Add to that a relatively weak Republican bench in Minnesota and he's looking like a clear favorite for re-election."
PPP works for Democratic candidates (in fact, the firm polled Minnesota's 6th District on behalf of DFLer Jim Graves and his bid against Bachmann earlier this week) but generally has a reputation for accuracy.
The firm polled Franken against McFadden, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, talk radio host Jason Lewis, state Sen. Julianne Ortman, state Sen. Julie Rosen and Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek. With the exception of Bachmann, most of those potential candidates had limited name recognition with the public.
Two potential candidates who pulled their names from consideration early were former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman (who was defeated by Franken). PPP's poll suggests why neither ran: both were viewed favorably by less than 40 percent of those polled.
Minnesota is not the only state where the GOP is struggling to recruit strong candidates. The AP recently reported that Republicans in Iowa and Michigan were having similar problems in the face of open seats currently occupied by Democrats.
Franken's fellow U.S. Senator from Minnesota, DFLer Amy Klobuchar, continues to have a very high job approval rating of 61 percent. Klobuchar was re-elected by a landslide last year.
PPP says it will also release polling results about Gov. Mark Dayton tomorrow.(0 Comments)
From MPR's Tim Nelson:
Gov. Mark Dayton says the just-concluded legislative session was a landmark.
This morning he touted results including statewide all-day kindergarten and financial support for Rochester to help with the Mayo Clinic's Destination Medical Center plan.
"When people asked me last fall what would happen when we had a DFL legislature and a DFL governor, I said one word: progress," Dayton said. "And that's what we've brought about in the last five months."
Dayton and DFL leaders said legislation passed this year will also give Minnesotans property tax relief, a fairer income tax system with higher taxes on top-tier earners, a two-year tuition freeze for University of Minnesota and MNSCU students and tax incentives to create private sector jobs.
Republicans decried the results, much of which happened without any GOP support.
"We started with a $627 million budget problem and Democrats solved it by raising sales, income and business taxes that everyone will pay," said Senate minority leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, ahead of a statewide barnstorming tour.
"Unfortunately, everyone will pay more because of the Democrats' overreaching."
Republicans were particularly critical of the Legislature's passage of a bill authorizing day care workers and personal care assistants to vote to join a union. Republicans called it "political payback" to unions looking to expand their reach in the state's workforce.
Legislative leaders said they didn't overplay their political hand, but corrected a long-standing imbalance, marked by chronic budget crises for the state.
"I think this is a Legislative session where we really turned the corner," said House Speaker Paul Thissen. "We did finally get past the partisan gridlock and balance our budget without gimmicks in a fair and lasting way. And that is going to be a lasting legacy."
Dayton was also critical of Republicans for not agreeing to a proposed $800 million state borrowing bill. Lawmakers could only agree to a pared-down version that funds Capitol restoration work, improvements to the Minneapolis Veterans home and flood protection in northwest Minnesota.
Dayton said the state should have done more.
"The Republicans wouldn't pass a bonding bill that had all these economic development projects, the Mayos of these small towns; Fosston and St. Cloud, Mankato. Not so small. But those were the equivalent projects. And they just turned them all down," he said. "They don't believe there's any role for government in positive economic development, and they're wrong."
The state's Independence Party was also critical of the results of the legislative session.
"The 2014-2015 budget still does not address that the debt that this state incurred to our schools in 2012-2013. Republicans and Democrats are both complicit in it. They both passed imbalanced budgets," said party chair Mark Jenkins.
He called on state leaders to pay back the so-called school shift by Dec. 1, or the party would file a lawsuit to ask the court to balance the state budget.
The Dayton administration isn't worried about the potential suit.
"The budget is absolutely balanced, it's absolutely constitutional," said state budget director Jim Schowalter. "Simple timing of payments has been found under the purview of the Legislature and the governor for years."
State lawmakers wrapped up their work on slew of legislation last night.
Here's an overview of the Legislature's final few hours of work, including budget details.
The Legislaturepassed a bill that will allow in-home care providers to unionize.
Minnesota cities will get an $80 million increase next year in Local Government Aid.
A campaign finance board bill was stripped of tougher political donor disclosure rules.
Lawmakers decided the Twin Cities metro area should get more outdoors money.
Lawmakers approved State Capitol bonds.
Advocates of an anti-bullying bill say they'll try again next year.
There will be no minimum wage hike this year.
And now that the Legislature has adjourned, the political spin begins...
The FBI will interview Andy Parrish, one of Rep. Michele Bachmann's former staffers. The FBI joins the Federal Election Commission, congressional investigators, an Iowa Senate panel and an Iowa police department in looking into various aspects of Bachmann's unsuccessful bid for the White House, according to MPR reporter Brett Neely.
Jim Graves, a challenger to Bachmann for the 6th Congressional District seat, commissioned a poll that shows he's slightly ahead of Bachmann, 47 to 45.
Senior White House aides knew about the IRS giving greater scrutiny to Tea Party groups, but did not tell President Barack Obama, the Washington Post reports.
Politico looks at who knew what and when in the IRS scandal.
Now that the Legislature is done with its work for the year, the Daily Digest is on hiatus.(1 Comments)
Posted at 2:05 AM on May 21, 2013
by Tom Scheck
Those hoping the Legislature would increase the state's minimum wage will be disappointed. That's because DFLers in the Minnesota House and Senate couldn't reach agreement on a new base wage.
House Democrats were pushing for the minimum wage to increase $9.50 an hour. Senate Democrats pushed to increase the wage $7.75 an hour.
Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, says he's disappointed that Senate Democrats weren't willing to go higher. He said he'll continue to push for a higher wage next year.
"We're talking about a pay increase for 350,000 Minnesota workers that would help the economy and make a big difference in their lives," Winkler said. "And if the people who say they're Democrats aren't willing to do that then I question whether they're being honest about their own values."
The current state minimum wage is $6.15 an hour but most workers earn the higher federal minimum wage.
DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk says he plans expect lawmakers to work on the issue over the interim. He says he expects a wage hike to pass next session.
Minnesota lawmakers worked right up to their midnight deadline to put the final pieces of a two-year, $38 billion state budget into place. They then adjourned for the year.
The last votes included the Senate's passage of a massive tax bill, and House approval of a measure to finance state government operations. Both votes were delayed most of the final day by negotiations on a new, smaller bonding bill that covers repairs on the state Capitol.
The last day of the session began with the House resuming debate on a contentious bill to allow for the unionization of two groups of workers whose customers are eligible for taxpayer subsidies: in-home child care providers and personal care assistants who work with the elderly and disabled.
Several Republicans, including Rep. Linda Runbeck, R- Circle Pines, described the effort as a money grab by organized labor.
"This is just shocking," she said. "What's happening is we're taking taxpayer dollars that are intended to help small children and the vulnerable elderly and disabled, and we're giving them over to the union."
But Democrats argued that the two groups of workers deserve a right to organize for collective bargaining. Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL- Brooklyn Park, said his bill doesn't, as critics claimed, intrude on small businesses.
"It also does not form or create a union, or force anyone into one," he said. "It just gives those that have expressed an interest a chance to have a vote on whether or not they want to form a union."
The passage of the bill ended a 10 hour debate that stretched over more than two days. But it also triggered a harsh reaction from opponents on the floor to applause coming from supporters in the gallery.
Three days after an $800 million bonding bill failed to gain the necessary 81 House votes needed for passage, a pared down $156 million package of public construction projects passed.
The measure includes money for flood mitigation projects and improvements to the Minneapolis Veterans Home. But most of the bill, $109 million, is for the next phase of renovation work on the deteriorating State Capitol building. Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, said keeping the renovation going is critical.
"This Capitol is a 108-year-old building that is an iconic gem for the state of Minnesota," he said. "But it is at its tipping point, members. It is at its tipping point."
The backroom House negotiations to reach a deal on the bonding bill held up Senate action on the tax bill. That critical debate finally began with two hours remaining in the session.
The DFL-backed tax bill raises more than $2 billion in new revenue, through an income tax increase on the wealthiest 2 percent of Minnesotans, a cigarette tax increase of $1.60 per pack and the elimination of some corporate subsidies. It pays for new spending for public education and property tax relief, as well as erasing the state's $627 million projected budget deficit.
Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said the tax bill is the result of excessive government spending under Democrats
"Our Minnesota state Legislature, led by the DFL, has said yes to virtually every request of every special interest group that has come and asked for something more," she said. "Nearly every spending proposal is included in the state budget. On a day like this we realize how much the cost is going to be, and it's going to be enormous."
Republicans also argued that the tax increases will kill jobs and drive businesses out of the state. But DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook said the CEOs he's met with place greater importance on the state workforce.
"This state is going to be successful if we have the best workforce around," he said. "Lower taxes would be nice, but you have to continue to invest in what has made you strong. And I would argue that, and I think the CEOs I met with would argue, it's been the investment Minnesota has made in its workforce that has created all these Fortune 500 companies here and all the vendors that serve them."
DFL leaders were unable to reach a final agreement for a minimum wage increase. Bakk said he expects a bill to be passed next session.
Lawmakers return for the 2014 session in late February.
The Legislature is sending a pared down public works construction bill to Governor Dayton.
DFL legislative leaders cut a deal with their Republican counterparts to craft a $156 million bonding bill that continues the restoration of the state capitol, provides flood mitigation to northwest Minnesota and funds a Minneapolis Veterans Home.
Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, says the bill is the best option in a year when they typically don't do public works projects.
"It is a bonding bill that takes care of the urgent needs of the state while providing some jobs, taking care of some of the infrastructure," Ward said. "Taking care of the needs that we have in the state of Minnesota."
Several Democrats complained that the bill doesn't spend enough. Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, supported the bill but says he wished it spent more.
"I think it's a fine bill," Mariani said. "I've been a supporter of the Capitol. I absolutely agree with you that we cannot afford to lose this facility. This is a Minnesota gem. What concerns me is what's not in this bill."
The measure was scaled back after the House failed to get the needed votes to pass an $800 million bonding bill. The new bill overwhelmingly passed both the House and Senate.
A spokeswoman for Governor Dayton says he'll sign the bill.
From Elizabeth Dunbar:
Parks in the Twin Cities metro area won't get a bigger piece of the Legacy bill's parks pie, but lawmakers decided the metro should get more outdoors money.
The conference committee report on the Legacy bill allocates 40 percent of the parks money to state parks, 40 percent to metro parks and 20 percent to regional parks in greater Minnesota. The distribution was recommended by a commission appointed to solve a perennial dispute between metro and rural lawmakers over where the parks money should go.
The Senate version of the bill adopted those recommendations, but the House version gave 43 percent to metro parks. As part of a compromise, metro parks will get 40 percent of the parks money, but they will also get $6.3 million from the Outdoor Heritage Fund to restore habitat within metropolitan regional park system.
The money was not part of the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council's recommendations. The council reviewed a similar proposal from metro parks for habitat projects, but it received low marks.
In the arts portion of the bill, county fairs will not receive any Legacy money. County fairs received $2.8 million in the last two years for arts and cultural heritage programs. Lawmakers decided to give county fairs $2 million in the agriculture spending bill instead.
Overall the bill allocates $496 million in money raised from the extra three-eighths of 1 percent added to the sales tax by voters in 2008. The
House and Senate still must vote on the final conference committee package.
UPDATE: The House has passed the bill 77-57.
UPDATE AT 6:30P: The Senate passed the bill.
Minnesota Public Radio is slated to receive $3 million in the next two years from the Legacy's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.(0 Comments)