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, J. Patrick Coolican, Patricia Lopez, Ricardo Lopez, Abby Simons, Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Corey Mitchell, Allison Sherry and Jim Spencer.

Posts about Republicans

Minnesota state House candidate sued after allegedly sawing his neighbor’s garage in half

Posted by: Corey Mitchell Updated: September 22, 2014 - 6:15 PM

A state House candidate from northern Minnesota is being sued in civil court after cutting his neighbor’s garage in half.

Roger Weber, a Republican from Nashwauk, faces a lawsuit filed by Mark Beseman of Iron seeking $20,000 in damages to the garage and $20,000 in punitive damages, as well as a small portion of Weber’s land.

According to the civil suit, Weber's father owned 40 acres near Nashwauk and in 1978 gave 39 acres to his son. The father kept the house, garage and remaining acre of land until his death in 2012 when it was passed down to his daughter, Ann Anderson, who sold it to Besemann in spring 2013.

Weber said, he told his sister he was going to remove any structures that sat on his side of the property line. Weber's attorney, Brian Bengtson, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

The suit is the result of a simmering property dispute that has stretched on for more than a year. Besemann filed the initial complaint in September 2013 after authorities in Itasca County declined to investigate the matter.

Weber faces incumbent DFLer Carly Melin in the Nov. 4 general election. It’s a rematch of the 2012 race where Melin coasted to victory, capturing 70 percent of the vote.

Judge Lois Lang is scheduled to hear the case Itasca County District Court on December 15, more than a month after Election Day.

The Republican Party of Minnesota did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the case.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Leadership shake-up at Jeff Johnson campaign; former Pawlenty aide taking charge

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: September 19, 2014 - 4:15 PM

Jeff Johnson replaced his campaign manager Friday, as his challenge to Gov. Mark Dayton intensifies and Election Day gets closer. 

Johnson dropped the surprise news in an afternoon press release. David Gaither, a former state senator and chief of staff to former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, is taking over the campaign. He's replacing Scot Crockett, who led Johnson's successful effort to claim the Republican Party endorsement in May and to win the GOP gubernatorial primary in August. 

"David Gaither's skills and experience will be invaluable to my campaign as we make the final push to victory in the next six weeks," Johnson said. The campaign said Crockett would return to his home in Virginia to be with his family, but would continue to advise the campaign. 

With the election near -- absentee balloting started Friday -- Johnson has struggled with an under-funded campaign and low name recognition. A Star Tribune poll of 800 likely voters taken in early September found that a third of respondents had never heard of Johnson, and another 40 percent had not formed an opinion of him. 

The same poll had Dayton leading Johnson, 45 percent to 33 percent. 

Johnson's campaign has also yet to air television commercials, while the DFL and third-party group Alliance for a Better Minnesota have already aired ads critical of him. Johnson said earlier Friday he would have a TV ad on the air by the end of September. 

Gaither, who like Johnson hails from Plymouth, served as a Republican state senator from 2002 to 2005. He resigned to serve as chief of staff under Pawlenty, generally considered the top staff position in any administration. Gaither stayed in the job only a little over a year. 

Most recently, Gaither sought a return to elected office when he ran for his old Senate seat in 2012. He lost to Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka. The Johnson campaign said Gaither would take a leave of absence from his job as executive director of the Minneapolis-based International Education Center. 

Johnson continues to focus campaign on MNsure

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: September 19, 2014 - 12:52 PM

Republican Jeff Johnson hammered on the Dayton administration's handling of MNsure Friday, in what has swiftly become a principal theme of his campaign for governor. 

It was Johnson's third press conference on MNsure since the news earlier this week that PreferredOne, which offered the lowest rates and sold the most plans on the state health insurance exchange in the last year, is pulling out. Four insurance companies continue to sell plans on the site, but Johnson and Republican allies seized on the news as they try to take advantage of the Dayton administration's struggles to get MNsure operating efficiently. 

This time, Johnson called for Minnesota's legislative auditor, a Capitol watchdog agency, to expand an ongoing MNsure audit to include a look at the Dayton administration's role in setting PreferredOne rates. Johnson said the situation "looks fishy," but was not able to offer any evidence or even specific allegations of wrongdoing.

"That's what we need to find out," Johnson said. 

A day earlier, Dayton when asked by reporters said his administration did not dictate anything to PreferredOne. The company has made no allegations to that affect, either. 

"The Commerce Department and the administration do not dictate to these companies what the rates are," Dayton said. "The notion that we set these rates is another one of the fallacies that those who are opposed to the system want to perpetuate." 

While Johnson has tried to turn the MNsure issue against Dayton, the DFL has hit back against Johnson by highlighting some of his own past votes on health care. Specifically, Johnson acknowledged Friday that as a state legislator in 2003, he voted for a budget backed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a fellow Republican, that eliminated about 38,000 adults without children from state-provided health care coverage. 

"That was a decade ago in the midst of a very deep deficit that we were in the middle of and that was part of the governor's plan to balance the budget without tax increases," Johnson said. 

Earlier in his campaign, Johnson talked more frequently of scrapping MNsure altogether. He still says he'd seek a federal waiver from complying with the federal Affordable Care Act, but has also acknowleged that if elected he would likely have to continue to deal with MNsure. 

"We have MNsure sitting in front of us and we have to figure out how to move on from that," Johnson said. 

Franken, Klobuchar back Obama’s plan to arm Syrian rebels

Posted by: Corey Mitchell Updated: September 18, 2014 - 7:13 PM

With support from Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, the U.S. Senate approved President Obama’s plan to train and equip Syrian rebels Thursday, backing his strategy to confront the Islamic State militants.

The legislation, drafted as an amendment to a routine bill to keep the government funded past Sept. 30, grants the president authority to train foreign forces to confront the Islamic State.

Opponents in both parties framed the vote as a precarious step toward a wider conflict in a region where American troops have been fighting for more than a decade.

Less than 24 hours before the vote, Franken told the Star Tribune he was unsure if he would support the measure.

“While I do have real concerns about this strategy, I believe that training and arming the Syrian rebels is our best available option,” Franken said in a statement after the vote.

The U.S. House approved the measure Wednesday.

The authorization expires in mid-December with the spending bill it is attached to, ensuring lawmakers will revisit the issue before the end of the year. The bill language specifies that the measure is not a broad authorization of force against the Islamic State.

“There needs to be a full debate in Congress on an authorization to use military force,” Franken said. “What I don’t want is for this to be a slippery slope that leads to another protracted ground war in the region.”

The debate over how to respond to the Islamic State has emerged a flashpoint in Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race. Federal authorities suspect that at least a dozen men and women have left the state to join the terrorist group.

Seizing on the potential threat to Minnesotans as a key campaign issue, Republican nominee Mike McFadden has criticized Franken’s, accusing the senator of blindly supporting Obama’s foreign policy.

Jury convicts Michelle MacDonald of test refusal, resisting arrest

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: September 17, 2014 - 5:06 PM

A Dakota County jury convicted Minnesota Supreme Court candidate Michelle MacDonald of refusing to submit to a breath test and obstructing the legal process in connection with an April 2013 traffic stop.

MacDonald was found not guilty of fourth degree driving while intoxicated, while her attorney vows to appeal both convictions. He does not contest a third conviction of speeding.

“She’s disappointed as anyone to get a verdict like this,” said MacDonald’s attorney, Stephen Grigsby. “She intends to pursue the next procedure which is an appeal on the basis of law that allows innocent people to be convicted.”

The jury convicted MacDonald after a daylong jury trial that began Tuesday and ended Wednesday. The jury deliberated for about three hours before delivering the verdicts Wednesday afternoon.

MacDonald, was endorsed by the Minnesota Republican Party at its May convention to run against incumbent Justice David Lillehaug, only to draw ire a month later when charges came to light that she was stopped for speeding, refused to exit her vehicle and did not take a breath test.

MacDonald remained steadfast, maintaining her innocence and appearing at the party’s Minnesota State Fair booth even when she was told she wasn’t welcome, and earlier this month filing a complaint against the party and several members, alleging that they attempted to coerce her into renouncing her endorsement. The complaint was dismissed by an Administrative Law Judge.

Grigsby said he has nothing to do with MacDonald’s campaign and only serves as her attorney in the criminal case. He said MacDonald’s conviction on the test-refusal count is based on a legal interpretation of civil law, which leads to confusion among a jury.

“It’s like asking somebody to find a squared circle,” he said. “It’s not a fact, it’s a legal conclusion and juries only find facts.”

Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 12. In the meantime, Judge Leslie Metzen ordered a psychological evaluation for MacDonald.

MacDonald did not answer a call to her cell phone, and her voice mailbox was full.

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