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.

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Rep. Tim Walz appointed to House VA Conference Committee

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: June 18, 2014 - 5:22 PM

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Tim Walz was among six Democrats and eight Republicans tapped Wednesday on the House side to work out differences between passed House and Senate legislation to reform the Veterans Administration.

Walz, who served 24 years in the Army National Guard, is a member of the House Veterans Committee.

In a statement, Walz said, "My number one goal as a veteran myself and a member of this conference committee is to ensure our veterans and their families are able to get the care they need, and in a timely manner."

The differences between the House and Senate versions of the reform legislation are not great, staffers say, but both chambers are eager to get VA reform passed and sent to the president promptly.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar calls day background checks failed 'saddest day' as politician

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: June 18, 2014 - 5:05 PM

WASHINGTON -- In promoting legislation that would ban convicted stalkers from purchasing firearms, Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Wednesday Congress needs to be "honest and pragmatic" about tighter gun laws and she still has hope for national reform.

At an event sponsored by the Center for American Progress, Klobuchar, along with other advocates for tighter gun control, was introduced by Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly. Giffords, a former member of Congress, was shot in the head during a constituent meet and greet in her Arizona district in January 2011.

She and Kelly are now running Americans for Responsible Solutions, which advocates for tighter gun laws in states and at the federal level.

Klobuchar said she respected America's tradition of gun ownership and that she approaches stricter gun proposals with her Uncle Dick, who loves to hunt, in mind.

"I look at every bill here and say does this hurt my Uncle Dick?" she said.

She called the April 2013 failed Senate vote on expanded background checks one of the saddest days she's had in the U.S. Senate. She said she feels strongly about strengthening gun legislation for stalkers because of her days as a prosecutor, where a lot of heart-wrenching stories of abuse went untold.

"Every single day we have victims of domestic violence and stalking who then become victims of shootings," she said. "I've gotta continue my work in building Republican support on this bill."

Dayton, Franken lead over GOP rivals in new poll

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: June 17, 2014 - 2:59 PM

Incumbent Democrats Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken both lead all their potential Republican opponents in a new poll

Public Policy Polling released the poll Tuesday. It showed Dayton and Franken with leads of 10 points or more above the respective fields of GOP candidates vying to challenge them in November. In both races, the Republican challenger won't be set until an August 12 primary election. 

In the U.S. Senate race, Franken leads Republican businessman Mike McFadden, 49 percent to 38 percent. McFadden is the GOP's endorsed candidate in the race and seen as heavy favorite in the August primary.

Franken, running for his second term, holds similar leads over the other Republicans on the primary ballot: Jim Abeler (50 to 39), David Carlson (49 to 38), Patrick Munro (50 to 35) and Ole Savior (50 to 33). 

Dayton holds similar leads over his possible GOP rivals, though his support tops out slightly lower than that of Franken. In five possible matchups, Dayton is at 47 percent in all of them. Of the Republican candidates, Scott Honour is at 35 percent, Jeff Johnson at 36 percent, Marty Seifert at 36 percent, Kurt Zellers at 37 percent and Merrill Anderson at 35 percent.

Johnson is the endorsed GOP candidate, but none of the candidates has emerged as a clear frontrunner in the Republican primary. 

The poll found most voters still know little about the Republican candidates in either race. In the Senate race, 71 percent of respondents said they were "not sure" when asked if they had a favorable or unfavorable opinion of McFadden. That margin was even higher for the other GOP Senate candidates. 

The poll showed the party's candidates for governor are similarly not well known, with between 61 percent and 80 percent of respondents holding no opinion of them. 

There's much less gray area in voters' opinions of Franken and Dayton. Franken, elected by a razor-thin margin in 2008, has a 50 percent approval rating and a 40 percent disapproval rating. Dayton, who also won a close race in 2010, gets a 48 percent approval rating and a 41 percent disapproval. 

President Barack Obama got a 44 percent approval rating in the poll, with 50 percent disapproving. The state's other DFL senator, Amy Klobuchar, got a 56 percent approval rating with 32 percent disapproving. 

Public Policy Polling surveyed 633 registered voters in Minnesota from June 12-15. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3.9 percent. 

Rep. Nolan: US military help for Iraq would be a 'terrible mistake'

Posted by: Corey Mitchell Updated: June 13, 2014 - 4:06 PM

With Allison Sherry

As President Obama reviews options on ways the United States might help the deteriorating situation in Iraq, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan said today that any American military re-intervention would be a “terrible mistake.”

Less than three years after pulling American forces out of Iraq, Obama is weighing a range of military options, including airstrikes, to quell an al-Qaida inspired insurgency that has seized control of two Iraqi cities.

With Obama and his closest advisors mulling their options to aid the besieged Iraqi government, Nolan said he has hand-delivered messages to Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel urging the U.S. to steer clear of the conflict. Obama has ruled out sending troops to Iraq.

“U.S. military re-intervention into Iraq, whether by supplying troops, weapons, or support by air or sea, would be a terrible mistake – exacerbating the conflict and drawing us back into a war that has already cost our nation trillions of dollars and thousands of precious lives,” Nolan said in a statement.

“At this critical point, it is the leaders and people of Iraq who must step forward and reclaim their nation. America cannot do it for them, and we should not once again attempt to try.”

The office of GOP Rep. John Kline, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and 25-year veteran of the Marine Corps, declined to comment on the situation. Members of both the Senate and House Armed Services committees have been briefed on the situation by national security officials, according to news reports.

GOP group blasts Dayton over health insurance overhaul

Posted by: Updated: June 12, 2014 - 8:12 PM

A leading group opposing Minnesota Democrats has launched its first television advertisement attacking DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and the state’s health insurance exchange.

The 30-second ad ties President Obama’s health insurance overhaul with the troubled launch of the state’s health insurance exchange, MNsure.

"Barack Obama and Mark Dayton promised Minnesotans that Obamacare would help make things better,” said Ben Golnik, chairman of the Minnesota Jobs Coalition. “MNsure remains a mess defined by missed goals, lost policies and bonuses for executives who failed in their jobs. Dayton is so out of touch with Minnesotans he even claimed Obamacare was working 'phenomenally well.'"

Dayton’s campaign dismissed the ad as misleading.

"The reality is that today more Minnesotans than ever have access to quality healthcare at the lowest rates in the nation – with MNsure reducing the number of uninsured Minnesotans by 40 percent in its first year,” said Dayton campaign manager Katharine Tinucci, citing a new University of Minnesota study.

The ad is part of a larger strategy in which Republicans nationally are blasting Democrats over the health insurance overhaul. Democrats are starting to punch back hard with stories of Americans who have been helped by the program. They are also highlighting that Republicans have not unveiled an alternative.

“This is a reminder of the Republican approach that would bring Minnesotans back to the days of out of control healthcare costs, discrimination against preexisting conditions, and lack of coverage for basic services like mammograms," Tinucci said.

Golnik said they will spend somewhere around $50,000 to run the ad statewide on cable and digital broadcast. That is generally not enough money to give the ad significant statewide reach.

The head of Alliance for a Better Minnesota, the main outside group attacking Republicans, would not say when they will launch their first ad.

"When it's strategically smart" said Carrie Lucking, executive director of Alliance for a Better Minnesota.

She also jabbed Golnik's group, however, saying that the group would not run "an ad attacking Obamacare the day after we learn that it's reduced our uninsured rate by 40 percent."

Here's the ad:

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