The Minnesota DFL is calling for an ethics probe into why State Sen. Julianne Ortman’s campaign cut a check to a onetime rival in exchange for his endorsement at the Republican Party’s state convention last May.
Ortman, R-Chanhassen, confirmed this week to Star Tribune blogger Michael Brodkorb that her U.S. Senate campaign wrote a check to a former competitor. Ortman, who failed to gain the party’s endorsement and eventually dropped out of the race, said the payment was unauthorized by the campaign.
On Friday, DFL Chairman Ken Martin called for an ethics complaint to be filed with the Minnesota Senate.
“Sen. Ortman admits to a wrongdoing that brings dishonor to the Senate,” Martin said. “She should be held accountable by her colleagues.”
Ortman did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Fellow Republican U.S. Senate candidate Monti Moreno first confirmed the payments in an interview with Brodkorb last month, saying he was approached by Ortman’s campaign manager, Andy Parrish, at the convention in Rochester. Moreno said Parrish offered to pay off up to $5,000 in campaign debt in exchange for the endorsement. Moreno accepted and said he later received a check for $400 from the Ortman campaign. Another U.S. Senate candidate, Philip Parrish (No relation to Andy Parrish) also confirmed to Brodkorb that he was approached, but that he turned down the offer.
Businessman Mike McFadden went on to win the endorsement.
Ortman reiterated to Brodkorb this week that the "check was not authorized by me or by the campaign." Ortman added that "the matter has been referred to [a Federal Election Commission] Compliance expert."
Earlier this year, Minnesota Senate Republicans filed ethics complaints against DFL state Sens. Jeff Hayden and Bobby Joe Champion for alleged abuses of power. A panel failed to resolve the complaints, which are now postponed indefinitely.
In his statement, Martin pressed Senate Minority Leader David Hann to back any complaints filed against Ortman.
“Sen. Hann has a track record of being concerned about the integrity of the Senate and actions of members of the Senate majority,” Martin said. “We’ll see if that concern includes the conduct of his caucus members, especially one who admits to questionable campaign practices or if Hann was using the Senate Ethics Committee only to score political points.”
Senate Republican Caucus spokeswoman Katie Fulkerson said Hann would not comment.
State House Republicans have yanked Rep. Jean Wagenius, a Minneapolis DFLer and longtime ally of environmentalists, from her longstanding spot as lead House Democrat on the committee that oversees state spending on environment and natural resources.
Republicans take over the House majority when the new legislative session convenes on Jan. 6. On Thursday, the GOP released its list of 2015-16 committee assignments. Wagenius previously chaired the environmenta and natural resources commitee in 2013-14, chaired it in previous sessions as well, and served on it since she first entered the House in 1987.
A spokesman for House Democrats said when the caucus submitted its committee wishlists to incoming Republican Speaker Kurt Daudt, that it was made clear Wagenius was the party's choice to be the top DFLer on what will now be called the Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee. Instead, she was excluded from the committee altogether.
Rep. Paul Thissen, the House DFL leader, described it as "unprecedented" that the minority party would not get to choose its own committee lead. "Rep. Wagenius is in her 15th term and is the 4th most senior woman in the Minnesota House," Thissen said in a press release. He went on to suggest it was because "House Republicans don't take climate change or protecting Minnesota's water and air seriously."
A spokeswoman for Daudt said he was attempting geographical balance on the committee assignments, and noted the committee already has several members from Minneapolis and St. Paul. In place of Wagenius will be Rep. Jeanne Poppe, a Democrat from Austin.
"We have put together a committee structure that is balanced and we look forward to rolling up our sleeves and getting to work on problems Minnesotans care about," Daudt said in a statement. He was not made available to answer follow-up questions.
The 21-member committee will have 12 members from otustate Minnesota, six from the Twin Cities suburbs and three from Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Wagenius was first elected in 1986 to represent a south Minneapolis House district that's centered around the Lake Nokomis area. She has associated herself with a number of environmental causes, including efforts a decade ago to ban the controversial herbicide atrazine. She once described herself as a "Mother Earth feminist" in a campaign bio, a term the state Republican Party later mocked in a press release.
When Democrats took over the House two years ago, Wagenius's environment committee was expanded to also oversee state spending on agriculture. That led to howls from Republicans who were upset that a Minneapolis Democrat and environmentalist would be controlling distribution of money for ag programs. At the time, Democrats also denied several seats to several Republican members who wanted to be on the committee; but they did honor the GOP request to make Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, the Republican lead.
McNamara said Thursday that he did not ask for Wagenius to be taken off the committee. "That was the speaker's call," he said, referring to Daudt. Asked about his relationship with Wagenius, McNamara said: "She's got her views and I've got mine. I think we've got a lot of respect for each other."
Over a lunch of pork and potatoes at the governor's residence in St. Paul on Thursday, Gov. Mark Dayton and Rep. Kurt Daudt -- soon to be the Republican speaker of the House -- discussed the upcoming legislative session, and also took a few minutes to talk about their dogs.
Dayton and Daudt, R-Crown, met privately for a little over an hour. Shortly after Republicans retook the House majority earlier this month, Daudt's GOP colleagues chose him to be the next speaker. He'll officially ascend to the post in January, when the new session starts.
"The governor said it was a congenial conversation, and a great opportunity to get to know the new speaker better," said Matt Swenson, Dayton's spokesman. Dayton and Daudt share a love of dogs, and both own two.
While the lunch chatter may have been friendly, the new Republican majority is likely to complicate the DFL governor's efforts to pursue an ambitious second-term agenda. The last time Dayton shared power with Republicans at the Capitol, in 2011-12, it led among other things to a 21-day state government shutdown amid disputes over taxes and spending cuts.
Swenson said the two men didn't talk with too much specificity about issues, although he said both transportation and education were among the discussion topics.
Democrats and Republicans have both argued that the state needs to put more money into upgrading the state's transportation infrastructure, but the two parties differ in how best to do that. While Democrats are more likely to look for new sources of revenue, Republicans will argue that should be accomplished by spending less in other areas of state government -- including money for transit projects prized by many Democrats.
Dayton has been meeting privately with the Legislature's top leaders in recent days. Prior to Thursday's meeting with Daudt, he met with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and with Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, who in January will transition from speaker to minority leader.
Swenson said Dayton was also seeking to meet soon with Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, the leader of Senate Republicans.
A recount of the state House race in District 48A has been completed, and it confirms the original results, with DFL Rep. Yvonne Selcer holding on to her seat by 41 votes.
In the recount, Selcer picked up six additional votes, while her Republican opponent, Kirk Stensrud, picked up one additional vote. There were 19,171 votes cast in the close contest in the suburbs west of Minneapolis.
House Republicans, who won back the majority in this month's election, maintain a 72-62 advantage.
Democrats attribute Selcer's victory to sheer effort: She is said to have started walking her district as soon as she won election in 2012 and continued through re-election, slogging through neighborhoods even during the coldest days of winter.
WASHINGTON -- Minnesota's senior Sen. Amy Klobuchar will chair the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach committee -- a role that gives her additional power in dealmaking with Republicans and special interests on Capitol Hill next year.
The steering commitee's primary purpose is outreach to special interest and outside groups when hammering together compromises.
"This is something I've been doing for years and I think it's a very necessary role right now," she said to a group of reporters at the Capitol Thursday following the announcement. "I take the Republicans at their word. They say they want to move on things."
Though Klobuchar and Sen. Al Franken will be in the minority party starting in January, Klobuchar's appointment Thursday by Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid means she will still be in the mix trying to strike bargains with Republicans, she said.
Among problems she hopes to tackle in the next year: tax reform, immigration reform and negotiating a federal standard minimum wage.
"I think there is some opportunity here," she said. "We will know within probably three months if it's real, but I think there is some opportunity now."
Klobuchar is serving her second term and isn't up for re-election until 2018.
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