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Tracking Minnesota’s political scene and keeping you up-to-date on those elected to serve you

If Ellison wins DNC post, State Sen. Dibble will run for Congress after all

First he was in, then he was out, but DFL state Sen. Scott Dibble of Minneapolis said he would run for Congress after all if U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison is selected chair of the Democratic National Committee next month and resigns his seat.

"Sometimes you have an idea, and you change your mind," Dibble said in an interview. "These are big decisions. It's a lot to take on. It's a huge responsibility. It's a big campaign. I needed to be prudent and thoughtful."

Dibble rejoins what is expected to be a crowded race to potentially replace Ellison, who is vying for chair of the Democratic Party. National Democratic party officials are still reeling after suffering major electoral defeats in the last election and are eager for new leadership.

Despite early stumbles over past views deemed by some as anti-Semitic, Ellison is still considered a top contender for the job. He faces stiff competition in outgoing U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, and there are a handful of other contenders for the party post.

Just elected to a fifth term, Dibble was most recently chair of the Minnesota Senate Transportation Committee. He has also served one term in the Minnesota House.

Dibble was legislative sponsor of several high profile bills that became law in recent years, including allowing same-sex marriage in Minnesota, an anti-bullying bill and the state's medical marijuana program.

Among other potential contenders is state Rep. Peggy Flanagan, DFL-St. Louis Park, who said recently she would run if Ellison resigned his seat to serve as DNC chair. Others considering running for the seat include DFL state Sens. Patricia Torres Ray and Jeff Hayden -- both of Minneapolis.

Minneapolis Council Member Alondra Cano and former GOP congressional candidate, Frank Drake, are also considering entering a race should Ellison step down.

House Taxes Committee considers tax cut on premium cigars

The House Taxes Committee considered a sharp reduction in the tax on so-called premium cigars Thursday. 

Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, the chief author of the bill, called it a "crushing" tax on local purveyors of fine cigars and their customers. 

Cigar store owners testified that their customers are fleeing to stores in neighboring states and the Internet to find better prices. 

Premium cigars, which do not include cheaper products like Swisher Sweets, are currently taxed at 95 percent of the wholesale price, topping out at $3.50 per cigar. The Nash bill would lower the tax to 50 cents per cigar.

The bill was met with resistance from anti-tobacco activists.

“Raising the price of tobacco reduced smoking to record lows in Minnesota by motivating smokers to quit and keeping kids from picking up the habit,” said Janelle Waldock, Vice President of Community Health and Health Equity at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and co-chair of Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation.

Adult smoking rates declined from 16.1 percent to 14.4. percent, while youth smoking dropped from 18.1 percent to 10.6 percent after recent tobacco tax increases, according to ClearWay Minnesota, an anti-tobacco advocacy.

Public health and economic studies have repeatedly shown that higher prices are correlated with lower rates of smoking.

The bill will be considered as part of a larger tax package later in the legislative session.