President Obama today signed a disaster declaration today, ordering federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the southern Minnesota counties affected by a severe winter storm in early April.
Federal funding will be available to state and local governments and some nonprofit organizations in Cottonwood, Jackson, Murray, Nobles and Rock counties for emergency work and the repair of replacement of facilities damaged by the spring snow and ice storm that hit that region of the state during the second week of April.
According to a Federal Emergency Management Agency estimate, the storm caused more than $26 million in damages.
In the storm's aftermath, U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, who represents southern Minnesota, surveyed the damage and met with residents, business owners and government leaders. They sent a letter to the White House last month, urging the president to issue a disaster declaration.
U.S. Rep. Tim Walz won the third annual Minnesota congressional delegation "Hotdish Off" cooking competition, wowing the judges with his "Hermann the German" recipe.
"This is bragging rights in Minnesota. The hotdish is serious business," said Walz, who submitted a Spam-based dish in last year's competition. "We felt like maybe we got overlooked last year, but we came all out this year."
The recipe for this year's winner included a package of brats, a bottle of Schell's Brewing Co. beer, tater tots and cheddar cheese. Walz also displayed a "Hermann the German" bobblehead doll near his winning entry, drawing protests from the other competitors
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who won the first competition in 2011, finished second with her "Hormel 'I Can't Believe It's Not Spam' Pepperoni Pizza Hotdish."
"I do congratulate Congressman Walz," Klobuchar said. "Of course he had a prop and I wasn't aware that you could have props."
Walz's bobblehead is a replica of the 32-foot-tall statue "Hermann the German" that sits atop the Hermann Heights Monument in New Ulm, a town in Walz's southern Minnesota district.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken hosted the event, which he billed as a bipartisan, bicameral meeting "where we celebrate a Minnesota tradition."
"This year the recipes are just more sophisticated than ever," Franken said. "They're good."
Here's a link to the recipes, including Rep. Keith Ellison's "Juicy Lucy Hotdish" and Rep. Michele Bachmann's "Southwest Metro Hotdish."
Former Minnesota congressmen Vin Weber and Gerry Sikorski judged the competition.
"There are two keys to a successful hotdish: tater tots and lots of cheese," Weber said. "As long as you have those two things going for you, you can't lose."
Last year's cookoff ended in a tie between Franken and former U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, who lost his re-election bid in November.
"As Senator Klobuchar so graciously pointed out, winning the Hot Dish does not guarantee you'll win an election," Walz deadpanned.
In addition to bragging rights, Walz took home a trophy, a casserole dish inscribed with a fitting phrase: "Working together to improve the lives of Minnesotans -- one hotdish at a time."
U.S. Rep. John Kline was the lone member of the state's congressional delegation not to participate. His spokesman said he was testifying before the House Rules Committee on pending legislation. He declined to participate in the previous two competitions.
Before and after pictures of Walz's "Hermann the German Hotdish" are below.
Here's Rep. Erik Paulsen, right, enjoying a laugh with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, left, and Rep. Michele Bachmann, center.
Late last year, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann filed a 2014 campaign committee.
The existence of the committee doesn't necessarily lock the Republican into vying again for the Sixth Congressional District. It will allow her to raise campaign cash and do other campaign activities.
Bachmann won her last election by about 4,000 votes, just over 1 percentage point. Just a few weeks later, she filed the 2014 committee.
She is one of five sitting U.S. House members from Minnesota who has filed a statement of candidacy for 2014.
Democratic U.S. Reps. Tim Walz, Keith Ellison, Rick Nolan and Collin Peterson have also filed committees for the next election cycle, and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, has filed a committee for 2018, the next year she would be up for re-election. U.S. Sen. Al Franken, also a Democrat, has had a 2014 campaign committee on record since early last year.
U.S. Reps. John Kline and Erik Paulsen, both Republicans, and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat, have not yet filed re-election committees, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
The non-filing does not mean they will not run again, just as the filings do not guarantee a run.