With an insider’s eye, Hot Dish tracks the tastiest bits of Minnesota’s political scene and keep you up-to-date on those elected to serve you.

Contributors in Minnesota: Patrick Condon, Baird Helgeson, Patricia Lopez, Jim Ragsdale, Abby Simons, Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Allison Sherry, Corey Mitchell and Jim Spencer.

Rochester VA clinic staff ‘felt pressure’ to manipulate wait time data, audit finds

Posted by: Corey Mitchell under 1st District, Minnesota congressional Updated: August 1, 2014 - 5:31 AM

An internal audit by the VA found that staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Rochester “felt pressure to manipulate” appointment data to hide delays in medical care to veterans.

“The audit information is troubling, but not shocking give the culture we’ve uncovered at VA in recent months and the pressure to hit unrealistic wait-time goals,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee who represents Rochester.

The audit by the VA’s Veterans Health Administration was ordered earlier this year by former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

In response to cover-ups of wait times at VA facilities, Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress have reached an agreement that will provide $10 billion in emergency funding to the VA to allow veterans to seek private care rather than face long wait times at Veterans Affairs medical facilities. Walz was a member of the House-Senate conference that negotiated the deal.

 “[The audit] underscores the importance of the … legislation we passed. This legislation ends the practice of using wait-time metrics for performance goals.”

Minneapolis VA officials are awaiting a final report from the VA Office of the Inspector General in Washington, D.C.

VA policy is to enter the date the veteran requests as the “desired date” even if that time is not available. That date is then used to track waiting times for veterans to get appointments.

Patrick Kelly, director of the Minneapolis VA Health Care System said: “We don’t have enough information … to really take action on that. When there’s a further level of review, we will then take the appropriate … suggested or needed actions.”

As part of the audit, 43 schedulers in the Minneapolis VA Health Care System – including its network of 13 clinics in Minnesota and western Wisconsin -- were asked whether they were instructed to alter scheduling data or felt pressured to do so. The Minneapolis system has about 900 schedulers total.

Five schedulers in the Minneapolis region said they received instructions to alter appointment data. One scheduler said they were told to track appointments outside the system.

Kelly said the issues were tied to compliance issues at two clinics and “never any issue of integrity or trying to hide anything.”

The report found no offenses in the St. Cloud VA Health Care System. Released this week, the report follows up on an audit of 900 Veterans Affairs’ facilities throughout the United States.

Minnesota House members vote along party lines to sue President Obama

Posted by: Allison Sherry under 1st District, 2nd District, 3rd District, 4th District, 5th District, 6th District, 7th District, 8th District, Minnesota congressional, Democrats, Republicans, President Obama Updated: July 31, 2014 - 1:48 PM

WASHINGTON -- Minnesota's eight House members voted mostly like the rest of the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday on a measure to sue President Barack Obama over executive powers -- the state's three Republicans supported it, the five Democrats voted against it.

At the heart of the House resolution, which authorizes GOP Speaker John Boehner to sue the president, is Obamacare. Republicans say the president has not adequately enforced the law, which they oppose, because his administration has delayed some parts of its implementation, including the requirement that employers provide health coverage.

Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen's spokesman sent over this statement Thursday:

"Congressman Paulsen is concerned about the continued growth of executive power and its impact on our political system. The vote made by the House seeks more accountability of the executive branch through this narrowly defined action. This is more about making sure the president – and any future president – is constitutionally required to faithfully execute our nation’s laws or go through Congress to have them changed."

Joining Paulsen in a yes vote were GOP Reps. Michele Bachmann and John Kline.

Democrat Rep. Betty McCollum said ahead of the vote she was going to vote "no on the Boehner lawsuit and will instead focus my energy on the needs of the families of the Fourth District."

Democratic Reps. Tim Walz, Keith Ellison, Collin Peterson and Rick Nolan also voted no.

"Republicans have failed to get their work done in Washington and they use stunts like this lawsuit to distract attention from that simple truth," McCollum said.

More than $715K poured into political groups recently

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger under Funding, Minnesota campaigns, Republicans Updated: July 31, 2014 - 3:58 PM

In the last few weeks, more than $715,000 in political cash has changed hands in Minnesota politics.

According to reports filed in recent days, the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, Education Minnesota, Freedom Minnesota PAC and DFL auditor candidate Matt Entenza have gotten big cash infusions.

The Alliance, largely funded by unions and wealthy Minnesotans, received $275,000 on Monday from WIN Minnesota. The Alliance is the communications arm for Democratic causes, running ads and dealing with the media. WIN Minnesota is largely the funding arm.

The Education Minnesota teacher's union, one of the most politically active labor groups in the state, transferred $125,000 to its political PAC last week. The union derives money from member dues and the PAC spends money on politics.

The Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota also received a cash infusion from its parent union. According to a filing, the union's political arm received $64,000 from the union.

On Tuesday, the Freedom Minnesota PAC received a $25,000 donation from Daniel Loeb, a New York-based hedge fund manager.

Freedom Minnesota PAC was started to help state Rep. Jenifer Loon in her August primary fight. Loon is being challenged by a fellow Republican in large part because she voted to legalize same-sex marriage last year.

Loeb and his firm have been active supporters of same-sex marriage and gay rights.

Meanwhile, DFLer Entenza gave his campaign for auditor $227,000. Entenza is a state House member who ran for governor in 2010. He donated more than $5 million of his own money to that campaign.

This year, he is waging a primary campaign against DFL auditor Rebecca Otto.

State law requires candidates and campaigns to file reports within 24 hours of receiving big contributions since it is so close to the primary election day.

The cash on the recent filings is in addition to the fundraising the campaigns reported earlier this week.


Alliance for a Better MN director moving to Education Minnesota union

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger under Minnesota campaigns, Minnesota governor, Gov. Mark Dayton, Minnesota legislature, Minnesota state senators, Democrats Updated: July 31, 2014 - 1:11 PM

The head of the one of the most powerful Democratic groups in Minnesota will move to one of the most powerful unions in the state.

Carrie Lucking, who has been executive director of the Alliance for a Better Minnesota since 2011, will become Education Minnesota's director of policy, research and outreach.

"I absolutely loved it here and it was a really difficult decision to go," Lucking, a former teacher, said.

But both the Alliance and Education Minnesota have been heavily involved in politics -- and each other. Education Minnesota spent nearly $5 million on political causes since 2008.

The Alliance, which has spent more than $10 million since 2007, has supported Democrats in their election quests. The Alliances' funders received much of their money from Education Minnesota and other unions, the Democratic Governor's Association and Alida Messinger, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's ex-wife.

Since 2010 Education Minnesota has given at least $660,000 to Alliance's funders and Messinger has donated more than $2 million.

But Lucking said her new job, which will start in September, will not be directly involved in politics and political spending.

"I’ve been living and dying by the election cycling for ten years," she said. "It turns out that’s a long time."

Lucking said the Alliance will be bringing on an extra set of hands to help out during the election and naming a new interim director soon.

Lucking is married to Bob Hume, Gov. Mark Dayton's communications chief.

She said getting distance between their two jobs -- hers at the Alliance in independent political spending -- and his working for a governor the Alliance supports was not one of her considerations in taking the new job.

At home, the couple, who had their first child this year, largely talks about the things all new parents discuss, she said -- food, the baby's inputs and outputs and other domestic affairs.

Updated with contributions from Glenn Howatt

Abeler picks up former Sen. Durenberger's nod in Senate race

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Updated: July 30, 2014 - 2:16 PM

Republican Senate candidate Mike McFadden has received support from many current and former Republican members of congress from Minnesota, but GOP rival Jim Abeler has picked up a few of his own.

On Wednesday, Republican former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger shared that he would support Republican state Rep. Jim Abeler in the U.S. Senate race and urged others to follow suit.

Durenberger's choice to opt against the presumed front runner and the Republican endorsed candidate fits with his choice in 2010. That year, he backed Independence Party's Tom Horner against GOP's Tom Emmer for governor.

Here's what Durenberger said about his preference for Abeler:

The death of my U.S. Senate Republican Leader Howard Baker this July reminded me of the critical importance of the U.S. Senate and of leadership at critical times in our nation’s history. This is without a doubt one of those times. Howard Baker wanted only to be known as one who used his elected office “to bring people together.” And expected members of the Senate to be willing to do the same.

Minnesota has a tradition of electing members of both parties to do just that. Minnesota needs to be represented in the Senate now by such Senators from both parties. State Rep. Jim Abeler is just such a person. Jim is a proven leader in legislative policy fields, especially health sand health care.

Many times I asked Rep. Abeler to speak to my Healthcare MBA class. In 2011, shortly after Minnesota voters elected Jim sand Republicans to a majority in the House of Representatives, he told my class: “Over my 13 years I’ve built bridges to the majority and the minority in order to better serve all my constituents. I hope my DFL friends will use those bridges to better serve theirs.”

I respect Mike McFadden’s success as a person and as a highly successful financial advisor to private business. I respect even respect the endorsement process in the party since without it I might not have been able to serve as our U.S. Senator. I even respect its right to suspend me and others from the party over other endorsements we made.

But critical times call out our responsibility to each other as citizens and Minnesotans deserves an experienced policy-making conservative to represent them in the U.S. Senate. Jim Abeler is undoubtedly just such an experienced leader and deserves your vote. He will have mine on August 12.

Photo: Former Sen. Dave Durenberger in 2010 with gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner/Star Tribune file photo


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