U.S. Rep. Tim Walz's legislation to make it easier for veterans to find work after they leave the military won widespread support from the House and Senate and is now headed to President Obama's desk for final approval.
The Veterans Skills to Jobs Act would speed up the licensing process for veterans, allowing them to bypass federally required training for jobs they're already qualified for because they learned how do them while serving in the military.
The legislation, introduced by Walz and Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., passed the House and Senate this week with bipartisan support and should resonate in Minnesota, which has one of the nation's highest unemployment gaps between veterans and civilians
At almost 23 percent, Minnesota also has one of the highest unemployment rates for post-Sept. 11 veterans in the country. That's twice the national average of 11.5 percent more than three times higher than the state's overall unemployment rate.
During his visit to Minnesota this summer, President Obama called for a "Veterans Jobs Corps" to find work for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. The Obama plan shares similarities with Walz's legislation, which the White House praised this week.
"No veteran who fought for our nation overseas should have to fight for a job when they return home," a statement from President Obama read, in part."... we must all continue our efforts to ensure that these talented men and women whould be an asset to any company have every opportunity to succeed after they serve our nation."
This week, the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs Committee also approved Walz's HIRE at Home Act, which would streamline the state certification process for returning veterans.
Former Republican state Rep. Allen Quist is largely self-funding his Congressional campaign, loaning or donating to his own campaign most of the $243,160 in contributions he's reported so far.
Through the end of June, outside donors have contributed less than 10 percent of his total fundraising haul. But Quist still has more resources than his primary opponent, state Sen. Mike Parry.
Allen Quist generated $178,230 in the second quarter of 2012, and had more than $165,000 in the bank at the end of June. Parry has $36,400 banked after raising almost $52,000 during the months of April, May and June.
Quist and Parry will face off in next month's Republican primary with the winner advancing to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz in November for the right to represent the First District, which covers southern Minnesota.
Walz has more than $800,000 stored away for his re-election bid after raising more than $237,000 during the second quarter.
National Democrats have also pledged to back Walz's campaign. The three-term incumbent is part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Frontline" program, which lends support to vulnerable incumbents. In 2010, the committee spent a quarter million dollars to help Walz retain his seat in Congress.
The National Republican Congressional Committee poured significant resources into the race in 2010, spending more than half a million dollars in an effort to unseat Walz. But, as Quist and Parry continue to slug it out, support for this year's crop of Republicans has yet to materialize. Neither candidate secured enough votes to win the party endorsement during the First District Republican convention in April.
As the primary nears, Quist plans to ramp up his fundraising efforts with help from U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann. A longtime Quist associate, Bachmann plans to speak at two of his campaign fundraisers next week in Rochester. Quist is also spending $100,000 on television advertising in southern Minnesota prior to the August primary.
The former state representative made a play for the Republican endorsement to run against Walz in 2010, but dropped out of the race when party leaders endorsed former state Rep. Randy Demmer.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and his Congressional Black Caucus colleagues left the House floor during today's votes to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for his refusal to surrender document concerning "Fast and Furious," a controversial gun-tracking operation.
When the U.S. House voted this afternoon, Ellison, other black caucus members and much of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which Ellison co-chairs, hosted a press conference on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building during the vote.
"I agree that the 'Fast and Furious' operation deserved a methodical Congressional investigation -- this is our oversight responsibility," Ellison said in a statement.
"However, the investigation has ignored the fact that the Bush Administration started this program, which let weapons traffickers by thousands of guns. The Obama Administration acted decisively to stop the program and Attorney General Eric Holder condemned the approach.
"Yet, once again the Republicans won't take 'yes' for an answer and have turned this tragedy into a political football."
Holder is the first black to serve as attorney general and was the first to face a contempt vote by the full House or Senate. The measure passed the House of Representatives, 255 to 67.
The Fast and Furious investigation is trying to determine whether the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms deliberately allowed guns to fall into the hands of drug cartels in Mexico while agents sought to track how the weapons are smuggled to criminal groups. A Customs and Border Protection Agent was shot and killed with one of the trafficked guns.
Democrats pushed for a mass walkout, but two of Minnesota's Democratic representatives -- Collin Peterson and Tim Walz -- supported the contempt resolutions against Holder. The Washington Post reported that the National Rifle Association, which supports the contempt vote, may have influenced Peterson's decision.
"To do its job, Congress must have access to all the information it needs to make independent, sound judgments on behalf of the American people," Walz said in a statement.
"Five years ago, when I voted to hold President Bush's Administration officials in contempt, I said we have to stay consistent in our oversight of executive branch officials. After reviewing the facts carefully, I have come to the same conclusions as I did in 2007. There are just too many unanswered questions surrounding "Fast and Furious," and the American people deserve to know more."
U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, the only other Minnesota Democrat in the House, joined Ellison in denouncing and skipping the contempt votes.
"This Tea Party Republican resolution is a shameful and shameless political witch hunt intended to destroy an honorable man's character," her statement read, in part.
Minnesota's U.S. Republican representatives -- Michele Bachmann, Chip Cravaack John Kline and Erik Paulsen -- all voted to hold Holder in contempt.
"While I had hoped the Attorney General would have produced the subpoenaed documents, I remain hopeful that these votes are a step forward as Congress continues its investigations into 'Fast and Furious,'" Bachmann said in a statement.
After years of languishing in legislative limbo, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz's STOCK Act picked up steam when President Barack Obama mentioned the bill during his State of the Union Address in January.
Obama urged Congress to pass legislation banning insider trading on Capitol Hill and, months later, they did, although it was a weaker version of the bill than Walz envisioned.
Now Walz is praising the president's call for a "Veterans Job Corps" to find work for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.Obama unveiled the outline for his plan during a visit to a Honeywell Inc. facility in Golden Valley on Friday. The Obama plan shares similarities with legislation that introduced in March that would make it easier for veterans to find work at home using skills they developed in the military.
Walz's legislation -- the Veterans Skills to Job Act -- would avoid redundant job training by speeding up the licensing process for veterans, a release from Walz's office said. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is co-sponsoring similar legislation in the Senate.
"There is no reason why a veteran who is certified to work on airplanes in Afghanistan should have to take redundant trainings to work on the same planes right here at home," Walz said in a statement. "I applaud the President for his work standing up for veterans and working to ensure the skills they acquired in the military can be used to find jobs ..."
State Rep. Joyce Peppin kicked off the candidate-filings season in Minnesota in her traditional way -- by pulling an all-nighter in a patio lounge chair outside the Secretary of State's Office so she could be the first to file in person Tuesday morning.
"It was better than tickets to Taylor Swift," Peppin, R-Rogers, said after paying her $100 filing fee to seek a fifth term in the House. It is also the fifth time she has camped out to file, which she views as a way of showing her level of excitement and interest in serving her district.
She was joined by johnny-come-latelys who arrived a few minutes before the office opened for business at 8 a.m. -- state Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, who is running for the 1st Congressional District seat held by Democrat Tim Walz; and former congressman Rick Nolan, a Democrat who filed for the 8th Congressional District seat held by Republican Chip Cravaak.
Dick Franson, an 83-year-old military veteran and perennial candidate, was among the early-filers, his 26th trip to the Secretary of State's counter. Franson, a Democrat, is challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. State Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, was also among the early-rising filers.
Tuesday marks the opening of the candidate-filing window for Minnesota's primary and general elections in 2012, in which all legislative seats, all congressional seats and one U.S. Senate seat are up for grabs in Minnesota. It is also a presidential election year, which likely means huge turnout, and two constitutional amendments will be on the general election ballot on Nov. 6.
The filing period runs through 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 5.
Peppin is a former legislative staffer who said she was inspired by the example of former Rep. Henry Kalis, a Democrat from Walters in southern Minnesota, who also camped out to be the first to file in person. She said she has now done so five times since she was first elected in 2004. Peppin chairs the House Government Operations and Elections Committee.
She said she does it "to show my constituents that I'm still excited to do the job, and I look forward to the campaign season." She set up her recliner in the hallway outside Secretary of State Mark Ritchie's office at 2 p.m. Monday and alternated between that lonely outpost and her legislative office on the fifth floor.
"I got carded by Capital security," she said of her vigil, which included a sign she placed on her chair when she was away that read "Reserved for Joyce Peppin." She has hopes that her energy translates into success for her party in retaining control of the House in November. "I think we're in good shape," she said.
Parry and Nolan face stiff challenges in battling incumbents, and showed a spirit of bipartisanship when Parry loaned Nolan his reading specs so Nolan could decipher the filing form. Parry says he's already walked in three parades and is receiving a good reaction.
Nolan is expected to face a competitive primary on Aug. 14 with two fellow DFLers, former state Sen. Tarryl Clark and former Duluth City Council president Jeff Anderson.
The candidates were jovial in this ceremonial opening day. One candidate who was not present, and never has been present, also was heard from.
The Secretary of State's office said they have received a mailed-in form from Jack Shepard, a fugitive felon living in Italy who always files and whose presence on the ballot has been upheld by the courts. He joins Franson and Klobuchar in the Democratic U.S. Senate primary.