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, Baird Helgeson, Patricia Lopez, Jim Ragsdale, Abby Simons, Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Allison Sherry, Corey Mitchell and Jim Spencer.

Posts about Minnesota legislature

Former Sen. John Howe withdraws from Secretary of State race

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: June 5, 2014 - 5:22 PM

Former Minnesota State Sen. John Howe said Thursday that he is withdrawing from the race for Secretary of State after failing to secure the GOP nomination at last weekend's convention in Rochester.

"I believe, and I've always said, that your word matters," said Howe, who pledged to abide by the endorsement but lost out to former State Rep. Dan Severson last Friday.

"When you think you're the best candidate for the race, it is very difficult to withdraw," Howe said. "You can talk about all the perceived injustices that you may have faced during the campaign," he said citing the fact that the Secretary of State endorsement race was moved up to before the Senate endorsement, something he considered a detriment to his campaign.

"But in the end, you need to stand by what you say. It is so easy to have situational ethics." he said.

Howe said he ran in part to give a broader understanding of what a Secretary of State does beyond elections, including focusing on the economy and jobs by serving on the State Board of Investments where $70 billion in state retirement money is invested. Because of his business acumen and time in the Senate, where he served before he was defeated in 2013, Howe believed he was the strongest candidate.

Howe stopped short of explicitly throwing his support to Severson, saying instead that "I'm going to support the GOP candidates."

"Certainly there are fences to mend and I think that hopefully he'll reach out or his campaign will reach out and we can mend those fences and move on.

Howe said he hopes one day to re-enter politics, saying running again for his Senate seat "is always an option."

Minn. Supreme Court blocks effort to stop Senate office building

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: June 5, 2014 - 4:07 PM

(Updated)

The Minnesota Supreme Court has denied a last-ditch appeal from a former state lawmaker trying to block construction of a new state Senate office building across the street from the Capitol, meaning construction of the controversial taxpayer-funded project could get underway soon.

The high court on Thursday refused to overturn a Court of Appeals ruling which held that Jim Knoblach was required to post an $11 million surety bond in order for his lawsuit to proceed. The state had asked for the bond as a financial cushion in the event Knoblach's lawsuit were to cause construction delays on the $90 million project, $77 million of which will be covered by taxpayers.

Knoblach's attorney, Erick Kaardal, said after the ruling that it meant an end to Knoblach's legal efforts to stop the building's construction. "We're disapppointed," Kaardal said. Knoblach said last week he did not have the money to post an $11 million bond. 

The office building will include offices for all 67 state senators, with state officials arguing it needs to be built quickly to house the lawmakers when they're displaced from the Capitol during its ongoing renovation. But Knoblach, a former Republican House member from St. Cloud, has criticized it as wasteful and unnecessary. He tried to argue in his lawsuit that the Legislature violated the state Constitution by including most of the construction funds in a tax bill, rather than a bonding bill.

But the Court of Appeals ruled that Knoblach had to post the bond in order to keep pursuing his case, and the Supreme Court refused to reverse that. The high court's brief order was signed by Chief Justice Lorie Gildea. 

Officials had been constrained from issuing construction bonds while the lawsuit was still alive. A Department of Administration spokesman said Thursday that the agency planned to proceed immediately with construction plans, but that a hoped-for July 1 groundbreaking may no longer be possible. Earlier timelines estimated construction would take 16-17 months.

Republicans have been heavily critical of DFL lawmakers for voting to approve the building, and vowed to try to make it an issue in fall elections for control of the state House. 

State Health Department looks for administrator of medical marijuana program

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: June 2, 2014 - 2:42 PM

The Minnesota Department of Health, which will administer the state's brand new medical marijuana program, is looking to hire someone who can run it. 

The agency posted a job ad at the end of last week for chief administrator of a new division, the Office of Medical Cannabis. Gov. Mark Dayton signed the medical marijuana program into law last week, with an expectation that about 5,000 patients with a range of maladies could have access to compounds of the cannabis plant starting in July 2015.

The words "cannabis" and "marijuana" are interchangeable in reference to the drug, but the plant genus is properly known as cannabis. Many advocates have adopted that word in an attempt to avoid the negative cultural and legal connotations of the word marijuana.

According to the job posting on the state of Minnesota's employment website, the administrator of the Office of Medical Cannabis will be responsible for developing the program's vision and staffing plan, managing its budget, and overseeing the private contractors that will grow and distribute cannabis to patients. Other job duties will include communicating with the governor's office and state lawmakers, law enforcement and the media. 

The administrator will report not directly to the commissioner of health, but rather an assistant commissioner for strategic initiatives. Pay for the position will be between $73,811 and $105,862 annually, according to the job ad, and the state is taking applications through June 20. 

Experts have described Minnesota's fledgling program as unique compared to 21 other medical marijuana programs around the country. Minnesota will be the only state that will prohibit patients from possessing plants and smoking marijuana. Instead, participants will have access to cannabis compounds in oil or liquid forms, and will consent to have their treatment closely monitored by the Department of Health. 

Dayton agrees to limit self-funding, campaign spending

Posted by: Baird Helgeson Updated: May 30, 2014 - 11:34 AM
Mark Dayton, center, and Tina Smith talk with Secretary of State Mark Ritchie

Mark Dayton, center, and Tina Smith talk with Secretary of State Mark Ritchie

Gov. Mark Dayton signed an agreement Friday that will sharply limit his ability to personally bankroll his re-election campaign.

Dayton agreed not to spend more than $20,000 of his own money in exchange for about $447,000 in public subsidy. The agreement also limits Dayton’s campaign to about $3.6 million.

That's a sharp contrast to 2010, when Dayton poured $3.7 million of his own money into the campaign and narrowly beat GOP rival Tom Emmer.

Now an incumbent with a list of accomplishments, the governor said the agreement will allow him to spend less time raising money and more time traveling the state meeting with Minnesotans.

The agreement has no bearing on what outside groups can spend defending Dayton or attacking his rivals.

Dayton, a department store heir, has already embarked on an active fundraising schedule, taking in more than $1.1 million.

Dayton and his running mate, Tina Smith, came to the Secretary of State’s office Friday to file the paperwork to make their campaign official.

The governor said the theme of his first campaign was to make Minnesota better.

“I think we’ve indisputably made Minnesota a better state,” said Dayton, noting new education investments, a balanced budget and progressive legislation, such as legalization of same-sex marriage. “That’s why I am running, not only to make Minnesota better, but to make it the best.”

Dayton and Smith will travel to Duluth this weekend to accept the DFL’s endorsement for governor and lieutenant governor.

Ample signs are already emerging that Dayton will have a heated and divisive race.

A GOP group that has criticized Dayton and Democrats for months parked a rented truck in front of the Secretary of State’s office displaying a huge banner criticizing the governor for the troubled rollout of MNsure, the state’s health insurance exchange.

The group, Minnesota Jobs Coalition, plans to park the truck outside the DFL State Convention in Duluth.

Truck greeting Gov. Mark Dayton outside Secretary of State's office.

Truck greeting Gov. Mark Dayton outside Secretary of State's office.

Dayton signs medical marijuana bill

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: May 29, 2014 - 10:13 AM

Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday signed the bill legalizing marijuana treatment of some medical conditions including cancer, other terminal and some chronic diseases, and to help reduce seizures in children with epilepsy. 

Dayton's signature officially makes Minnesota the 22nd U.S. state with a medical marijuana program. About 5,000 people are expected to be eligible , with the first legal access to compounds of the cannabis plant expected on July 1, 2015. 

"I thank everyone who worked together to craft and pass this legislation. I pray it will bring to the victims of ravaging illnesses the relief they are hoping for," Dayton said in a prepared statement.

The governor signed the bill privately, with no public ceremony as he often does with high-profile legislation. Dayton's insistence that law enforcement groups and some medical organizations sign off on the final proposal angered many of the private citizens who lobbied for the bill. That group included adult patients as well as parents of children with severe forms of epilepsy. 

The state Department of Health will manage the medical marijuana program, in which enrollees will consent to have their use and outcomes closely monitored. There are nine qualifying medical conditions, which besides those mentioned above also include HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, Tourette's syndrome, ALS and Crohn's Disease. Patients' medical providers will have to confirm to the state that they are eligible to participate. 

Minnesota's program will have a number of unique aspects compared to the other states. It will be the only medical marijuana program in the country that does not allow possession and smoking of actual marijuana plant material. Instead, patients will have access to oils and liquids that contain various plant extracts. Many doctors with experience in medical marijuana call that unusual, given that oil extracts are seen as much more potent that the plant. 

Police and prosecutor groups lobbied heavily against allowing plants or smoking in Minnesota's program, and Dayton made it clear for months that he was not willing to support a medical marijuana bill if it was opposed by law enforcement groups. 

Private manufacturers will bid with the Department of Health to produce and distribute the oils and liquids. The law authorizes to manufacturing and eight distribution sites around the state.

Most of the Legislature's Democrats and many Republicans approved the program in the closing days of the legislative session. 

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