When the next governor of Minnesota takes office, he or she will step into a political fight that literally will shape Minnesota politics for a decade to come.
The new governor will have a hand in redrawing the political district boundaries that could tilt power to one party or the other and set off infighting among politicians who suddenly find themselves on hostile turf.
"It is an absolute street fight," said Michael Brodkorb, deputy chair of the Minnesota Republican Party.
Congressional and state legislative boundaries are redrawn every 10 years, based on U.S. Census results that calculate how many people live in a state in minute detail. Politicians use that information to reshape congressional and state legislative districts to fit the new population report. Census numbers will come in late this year, leaving next year's crop of politicians to start drawing. Maybe in blood.
"There are ways that you can hurt your enemies and help your friends," said Peter Wattson, the Minnesota Senate counsel.
If a DFLer wins the governor's race and the party retains control of the state House and Senate, the DFL could draw lines aimed at keeping it in power for the next decade. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, if she wins reelection, could find herself on much less friendly home turf in a redrawn Sixth Congressional District. Should a Republican capture the top seat, the party could try to merge Minneapolis and St. Paul into one district, eliminating at least one very safe Democratic House seat and forcing a battle between Democratic U.S. Reps. Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison. Now picture similar scenarios playing out in every U.S. House and legislative district in Minnesota.
Whoever wins in 2010 will draw state lines that will rule the political world until 2022.
RACHEL E. STASSEN-BERGER
Rep. Michele Bachmann is backing off a provocative assertion she made in her "nation of slaves" speech at a recent conservative gathering in Colorado, in which she claimed the national debt more than doubled under President Obama, from $5.8 trillion to $13 trillion.
The total national debt was already up to $10.6 trillion in January 2009, when Obama took office, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. Total national debt now stands at $13.2 trillion, partly as a result of the massive 2009 economic stimulus package.
What Bachmann should have said, her office now clarifies, is that, according to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) calculations, the total debt held by the public was $5.8 trillion at the end of 2008. It has since risen to $8.6 trillion.
Still a jump, still trillions, but not as apocalyptic.
Bachmann, it turns out, was conflating total national debt and "national debt held by the public." Apples and oranges, though both fruit.
That said, Bachmann spokesman Dave Dziok said, "the bottom line is that both the public and total debt has increased significantly under President Obama and the Democrats' policies."
Dayton, the GOP and vets
The state GOP teed up a new line of attack against DFL gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton last week, saying he was "opposing veterans benefits."
"We think this is outrageous," said GOP Chair Tony Sutton, after playing a tracker's video of Dayton saying that he wouldn't approve exempting veterans' military pensions from state income taxes.
Dayton, a DFL candidate for governor, hit it right back.
"I knew the Republican Party's distortions would start soon and now they have," Dayton said at a Thursday news conference.
Dayton said he would let stand the $750 income tax credit veterans already receive and stood by his record of working to increase veterans' benefits and services when he served in the U.S. Senate. But he said that deep deficits looming, this was not the moment to give extra tax breaks to anyone.
"Unlike Republican candidate Tom Emmer, I will not offer tax cut bribes to special groups of people as Rep. Emmer did this week to restaurant servers," Dayton said.
When Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty pushed for military income exemptions, the proposal would have cost the state $42 million a year in tax revenues.
In 2007, Pawlenty pushed to exempt military income and pensions from taxes. That proposal would have cost the state $42.3 million when fully phased in.
Ironically, the GOP tracker captured Dayton's words while Dayton appeared at a VFW hall in Hibbing to talk up his proposal for a $2 million grant program that would allow local governments to better serve returning soldiers.
RACHEL E. STASSEN-BERGER