U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison has written an autobiography, "My Country 'Tis of Thee," set for release on Sept. 24
Ellison's 304-page memoir will take a "provocative look at America and what needs to change to accommodate different races and beliefs," while touching on topics ranging from race and immigration to President Obama and the rise of the Tea Party, according to a book description page.
The first Muslim elected to Congress and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Ellison is the latest in a long line of Minnesota political figures to pen a memoir. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty released autobiographies during their presidential runs in 2011.
The push for expanding background checks to private sales, which has found a mixed reception at the Minnesota Legislature, received a boost from the state's prosecutors.
The board of directors of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association approved a resolution last week that supports background checks for sales at gun shows or over the internet.
The association, representing county prosecutors throughout the state, said sales among relatives should be exempt from background checks, as should other private sales that involve no more than five guns per year.
Currently in Minnesota, background checks are conducted for any guns sold by licensed dealers. A bill pending in the Senate would apply background checks to virtually all person-to-person private sales, except sales among relatives. A weaker version is pending in the House.
Debate on the gun issue could resume after the House and Senate complete work on initial versions of budget bills, expected to occur next week.
John Kingrey, executive director of the state prosecutors association, said the group was motivated by two developments: the failure of the U.S. Senate to pass a background checks bill and passage by the national prosecutors' association of a resolution supporting background checks.
The National District Attorneys Association adopted a resolution in support of universal background checks "to prevent felons and people who have been adjudicated mentally ill from legally purchasing firearms." The group's resolution said such a law should "respect the privacy rights of lawful gun owners."
The state resolution says the county attorneys support expanding background checks "to include sales at gun shows and through the internet. Exemptions should continue for transfer or sales among family members or private sales of no more than five guns a year."
An attempt to change employment practices in private businesses to give ex-felons a better chance to be considered for jobs was passed with bipartisan support in the Minnesota Senate on Saturday.
Sometimes called "ban the box," because it would eliminate the are-you-a-felon box on most employment applications, the bill would delay questions about criminal histories until an applicant is granted an interview or made a conditional job offer. It passed the Senate 44-16 vote and its sponsor, Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, said he believes it will have similar success in the House.
The bill essentially extends to private employers the law that now applies to public employers. It would not require private employers to hire anyone, but it is designed to give people who have rebuilt their lives a better chance to explain their past to prospective employers.
Champion said the bill does not prohibit employers who are prohibited by law from hiring certain offenders -- such as nursing homes and hospitals -- from continuing to state that on their job applications. He also accepted an amendment that clarified that the bill does not give rejected applicants a cause of action to sue the company that turned them down.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday announced that he has picked prominent DFL attorney David Lillehaug to fill an upcoming vacancy on the Minnesota Supreme Court, adding a reliable Democrat to the court's Republican-appointed majority.
Lillehaug, a former U.S. Attorney for Minnesota who unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate, has been built into the fabric of Minnesota's political life for decades.
The white-haired, Harvard-trained attorney represented U.S. Sen. Al Franken in his 2008 recount that lasted until 2009, Dayton in his 2010 recount, the next year's government shutdown and the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party in last year's redistricting.
Rarely one to shy from the spotlight, Lillehaug has cut a lower profile since last year after he applied to join the Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice Helen Meyer. Ultimately, Dayton selected appeals court judge Wilhelmina Wright, who became the high court's first African-American female member.
Lillehaug, who handles complex litigation at the Fredickson & Byron firm, will replace Justice Paul Anderson. Anderson was an appointee of former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson and will reach mandatory retirement age in May.
On the court, Lillehaug will sit with several justices who had represented partisans before joining the bench.
Justice Chris Dietzen defended then Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Pawlenty during the 2002 campaign before Pawlenty appointed him to the appeals court then the Supreme Court; Justice G. Barry Anderson had worked as a Minnesota Republican Party attorney before his Pawlenty appointment to the court and retiring Justice Paul Anderson worked closely with Carlson before the govern elevated him to the bench.
“How do you get appointed to the Supreme Court? Know the governor, know the governor, know the governor,” said attorney Erick Kardaal, who has worked on the opposite side of cases from Lillehaug.
But political connections are no guarantee of judicial outcomes.
“You don’t get to decide the cases just because you appointed the judge,” said Peter Knapp, professor at William Mitchell College of Law.
Eric Magnuson, a Pawlenty appointee to the court who left the bench in 2010, said the bench tends to moderate former advocates.
“There is a significant difference between being an advocate where you can kind of have tunnel vision and when you are a decision maker,” said Magnuson. Shortly before he left the court, Magnuson sided against Pawlenty in an unallotment case. Lillehaug argued the winning side of that case.
Lillehaug's political connections run even more deeply than those he will join.
Along with representing Democratic candidates and office holders, the former debate team and moot court star has long been a go to operative for debate prep for candidates, often playing a role in developing the lines that would ring for years.
He was a staffer to Walter Mondale's 1984 presidential campaign and worked with late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone and his campaign.
After Wellstone's death in a plane crash shortly before the 2002 election, Lillehaug was a key calming influence as Democrats geared up to finish the campaign with Mondale on the ticket, said Ken Martin, the DFL Party chair who ran Lillehaug's 2000 U.S. Senate campaign.
"David played a huge huge role in that episode, really calming people down, giving people a sense of stability and purpose," Martin said.
Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration on Friday highlighted steps they have taken to streamline government and make the case that new investments will drive down costs even more in coming years.
Dayton chief of staff Tina Smith and two commissioners outlined a host of initiatives that have saved tens of millions of dollars. While the savings are modest so far, Smith and others said the improvements show the administration’s work to make government more efficient and affordable is working.
The goals continues to be, Smith said: “How can we make sure we are getting the best value for the tax dollars that we are spending? How can we improve services for people and businesses?”
Dayton’s team picked up an initiative started by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration, a so-called lean initiative that empowers workers to find ways to work more efficiently. The state estimates the program has saved about $12 million over the last two years.
The state saved $19 million my centralizing its piecemeal, agency-by-agency approach to technology, using its consolidated purchasing power to bargain for a better deal.
Finding efficiencies in government has been an area where Dayton and Republicans have found agreement. Republicans offered several initiatives in past years to streamline government, particularly in the area of technology.
Dayton’s new budget proposal would make investments in many departments to yield larger savings, including the departments of human services, natural resources and education.
For consumers, the changes have resulted in faster permitting times and faster appeals by residents seeking greater state services.
New-found efficiencies at the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs allowed workers to lower the bedsore rate to 4.5 percent, less than half what it was at its peak.
These efficiencies are not "going to change overnight, but you can really feel the momentum shifting,” said Department of Administration Commissioner Spencer Cronk.