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.

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Gun group tells Nolan: You need firearms training

Posted by: Corey Mitchell Updated: September 24, 2014 - 2:18 PM

The Minnesota Gun Owners Political Action Committee has offered to pay for firearms training for Democratic congressman Rick Nolan at the chain of retail stores owned by the family of his Republican opponent, Stewart Mills.

The offer came in response to a picture posted to Twitter on Wednesday showing the congressman holding an AR-15 rile with his finger on the trigger while surrounded by supporters.

Bryan Strawser, executive director of the Minnesota Gun Owners PAC, said Nolan’s actions were “unsafe and dangerous.”

Gun rights have emerged as a key issue in the Eighth Congressional District race. Mills released a campaign ad this summer that claimed Nolan is among the politicians who “have no respect for the Second Amendment.”

Nolan earned a ‘F’ rating The National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund, but dismissed Mills’ ad as a “big lie, smear tactic.” Nolan aides said the congressman declined comment on Strawser’s offer.

“The basic rules of firearms safety, taught to students as young as 12 in [Minnesota Department of Natural Resources] hunter safety classes, state clearly that one’s finger should be kept off the trigger until ready to shoot,” Strawser said.

“It’s nothing short of hypocritical for Mr. Nolan to be photographed at what appears to be a campaign event while holding an AR-15 rifle,” Strawser said. “Mr. Nolan has specifically called for a ban on the very rifle he is holding in this photograph.”

The Minnesota Gun Owners PAC offered to buy firearms training for Nolan at Mills Fleet Farm Indoor Shooting location in Baxter.

It’s the same shooting range where Mills, a company vice president, recorded an “open video letter” to Nolan and other Democrats in Congress, advocating for armed security in every school. He also argued against the push to pass gun control legislation in Congress, saying it “isn’t about controlling guns, it’s about controlling people and limiting your freedom.”

The video, which has racked up more than 307,000 views on YouTube, features a live-fire demonstration at the shooting range and may have unintentionally served as the soft launch for Mills’ congressional campaign. He officially entered the race five months later.

In the video, Mills notes that hunters can find an exclusive line of AR-15 sporting rifles at the location. But the political point was to challenge a Nolan assertion. During an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” said that “I don’t need an assault rifle to shoot a duck.”

GOP's Johnson releases first broadcast TV ad in governor's race

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Updated: September 24, 2014 - 12:05 PM

By Patrick Condon

Republican candidate for governor Jeff Johnson has released his first broadcast television ad of the campaign, a 30-second spot that mixes gentle family humor with a few swipes at Gov. Mark Dayton. 

The ad titled "Accountable" is set to start airing Thursday on broadcast and cable stations statewide. Spokesman Jeff Bakken would not reveal how much the Johnson campaign spent on the ad, but called it "substantial."

"If people are watching TV tomorrow, they'll see it," Bakken said.

Dayton, the DFL incumbent, started airing his first TV ad on Tuesday, a hockey-themed ad that touts achievements of his first term. 

Johnson's ad opens in the kitchen of his family's home in Plymouth, his wife and sons standing nearby. He talks about his proposal to audit every state program. "I'm pretty thorough," Johnson says, which he illustrates in a series of light-hearted clips: monitoring one son's lawnmowing job; double-checking the other son's homework; and accusing the family dog of chewing up a football. 

Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner, then shifts to political jabs: "Mark Dayton should be held accountable for wasting our money." He notes two examples: a state Senate office building now under construction next to the Capitol, and bonuses last year that went to managers at MNsure.

Dayton did sign legislation that authorized the office building project, although he had criticized initial plans as too lavish, and they were scaled back. On the MNsure bonuses, Dayton noted those were not his decisions, although he did sign the legislation that created MNsure in the first place. He said recently he would not support bonuses this year for any MNsure employees. 

In response to Johnson's ad, the Dayton campaign hit back at some of the Republican's votes when he served in the Legislature. "If you audit Commissioner Johnson's record, you'll find he consistently voted for budget gimmicks and shifts," said campaign spokesman Jeremy Drucker. That's in contrast to Dayton, Drucker said: "Governor Dayton's administration turned a $6 billion deficit into a $1.2 billion surplus."

Johnson's ad comes a day after both campaigns released their most recent fundraising totals. They showed Johnson had narrowed the financial gap with Dayton, although the incumbent retains an advantage. 

The TV ad should help address what's been one of Johnson's key challenges, lack of name recognition. A recent Star Tribune poll found that nearly three-fourths of respondents had either never heard of him, or had no opinion of him. 

Bakken said Johnson would air more TV ads. The Dayton campaign has also said more ads are planned. 

The Johnson ad can be viewed here. Dayton's first ad can be viewed here

(Updated to add comment from Dayton campaign.)

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.

Dayton 'very alarmed' by audit findings on state-subsidized nonprofit

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Updated: September 22, 2014 - 11:09 AM

Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday said that a Star Tribune report of a nonprofit using state funds to subsidize cruises, a director's car lease and spa treatments was very concerning and alarming.

"I was personally really appalled," Dayton said. "I take it very seriously." 

The DFL governor met with his Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson and others about Community Action on Monday to further delve into its spending. As a result, two state agencies, Human Services and Commerce will immediately develop an action plan to deal with Community Action.

The Star Tribune reported on Sunday that Community Action, which drew board members from high-profile Democratic ranks, that a Human Services Department audit found " the organization’s longtime chief executive, Bill Davis, misspent hundreds of thousands of dollars from 2011 to 2013."

Jesson said her department saw red flags in the nonprofit's administrative spending and began looking into it months ago.

"I think we've been taking this very seriously. A step at a time," she said. Community Action was given an opportunity to respond by September 1. Those responses did not assuage the worry.

"What we have seen so far has not alleviated the serious concerns we had," she said.

Jesson said the department looks into state subsidized nonprofit spending and results and audits those that do not comply with best practices.

Jesson said that Dayton's budget two years ago included more funding for Human Services auditing.

Monday morning, Dayton did not say definitively whether Community Action would receive any more state funding.

"Give us an opportunity here to converse among ourselves," and the city of Minneapolis, he said. Dayton said he only became aware of the spending when the Star Tribune reported it on Sunday.

Community Action, which is supposed to help low-income city residents, included state Sen. Jeff Hayden, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, Minneapolis City Council President Barbara Johnson and City Council Member Robert Lilligren on its board. The Star Tribune reported that those elected officials sent others to board meetings in their stead.

Dayton said the party affiliation of the board members -- they are Democrats -- did not change his feelings about the nonprofit's spending.

"I would be very alarmed if there were Democrats involved, I would very alarmed if there were not Democrats involved," Dayton said. "The fact that there were people who were placed in positions of responsibility who allegedly...spent public funds inappropriately, particularly funds that were intended to help people get out of poverty, is very disturbing to me."

Dayton campaign debuts first television ad of re-election bid

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: September 22, 2014 - 7:27 AM

By Patrick Condon

Gov. Mark Dayton is out with his first television ad of the campaign, a hockey-themed piece entitled "Darn Good Coach" that talks up the Democratic incumbent's first-term accomplishments. 

Dayton's campaign released the ad to the press Sunday. Spokesman Jeremy Drucker said it would begin airing on broadcast television stations statewide on Tuesday. 

"A few years ago, things in Minnesota weren't going very well," the ad begins. On the screen, a hockey player tumbles on the ice and a goalie misses several pucks as several statistics flash on screen: "$6 billion deficit. 100,000 jobs lost." 

"So we got a new coach," says the narrator, one of the hockey players. That's when Dayton appears, standing amid a group of players just off the ice. Dayton himself does not talk in the ad, but the narrator goes on to enumerate several economic milestones: more than 150,000 new jobs created, one of the nation's best state-level economies. 

The state of Minnesota's economy has been a main point of discussion in the governor's race, as Dayton attempts to take credit for improvements of the last four years. His Republican opponent, Jeff Johnson argues that things could be even better if state government spending increases under Dayton could be reigned in. 

Johnson's campaign has not yet aired broadcast television commercials, which are expensive. Johnson's fundraising has lagged behind Dayton so far, but the Republican said on Friday that he would have ads on the air by the end of September. 

In response to the Dayton ad, Johnson spokesman Jeff Bakken said: "Mark Dayton is trying to paint a record that doesn't match reality. Dayton raised taxes by $2 billion--the largest tax increase in Minnesota history--and his all-DFL dream budget has led to Minnesota having one of the worst job-creation records in the country this year. Minnesotans are hungry for change and will be voting for it on November 4."

Dayton's campaign has reserved nearly $1.3 million in TV airtime from late September to Election Day. Drucker said the "Coach" ad would not be the only one. 

Dayton does not currently coach hockey; Drucker said the players in the ad belong to a Twin Cities men's hockey league. The governor is a former high school and college goalie, and he also coached one of his sons in youth hockey for eight years. 

It's the third sports-themed ad this year by a candidate for statewide office. Mike McFadden, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, ran an ad that featured his experience coaching youth football, and also ran a hockey-themed ad earlier in the campaign. 

The ad can be viewed here

Updated with Johnson campaign response.

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