Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report
Minnesota Democrats are continuing their onslaught of criticism for GOP mailers that attack DFL House members for votes on an expungement bill and a drunk driving bill, pointing out that a pair of the Republican party’s own candidates this election cycle backed the same legislation.
In a news release, the DFL said that State Sen. Torrey Westrom, a Republican facing off against Rep. Collin Peterson in the 7th Congressional District, voted to pass an expungement bill criticized in the mailers as “allowing felons to work with our school children.”
Meanwhile, State Sen. Scott Newman, the state’s GOP Attorney General candidate, voted for an ignition interlock bill that the Republican Party is using to go after DFL House members.
Newman, R-Hutchinson, recalled that the measure had side support from law enforcement organizations. The measure passed unanimously in the Minnesota Senate, meaning that all Republican senators voted for it as well as all DFL ones.
The Republican Party claimed in its mailers that the drunk driving measure, “weakened penalties for dangerous drunk drivers.”
Newman said he would not vote for a bill that weakened penalties for dangerous drivers. Instead, he said the interlock bill allowed people who had been caught driving drunk to keep their licenses but only if they had a device installed that required them to be sober to start their cars.
“It may actually help get people off the road,” he said. Newman said he had not seen the mailer in question and was comfortable with his vote for the bill.
The mail pieces drew swift criticism from the DFL, who alerted the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Minnesotans for Safe Driving about the mailers. In response the nonpartisan organizations wrote letters criticizing the mailers and praising the legislation.
On Thursday, Minnesota Republican Party chair Keith Downey struck back, saying the DFL is just as guilty of using sensational imagery in its advertisements. Downey decried the "misleading and sensational mail from the Democrat party."
"Minnesota Democrats have to use these tactics because their ideas don’t work," Downey said.
DFL Chairman Ken Martin called on Downey to explain why he stands by the ads if they call out members of his own party.
“If Keith Downey and the Republican Party (are) standing behind these attacks, then they are standing behind attacks against Torrey Westrom and Scott Newman.” Martin said in a statement. “If Downey is not prepared to make those charges against Westrom and Newman, then we expect he will cease to make those charges against Democrats that took those same votes.”
Downey and Westrom did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Stewart Mills in Duluth.
Congressman Rick Nolan met with veterans in Duluth. He delivered the news that the Pentagon and VA had reversed earlier funding cuts for veterans, something Nolan said he fought hard for.
Volunteers worked the phones in Duluth GOP victory office.
Victory cupcakes in the Duluth GOP victory office.
Congressman Rick Nolan helped his wife Mary with her scarf then kissed her as they headed out on a chilly Duluth morning out for a day of campaign stops.
Still more money is flowing into campaigns during the final days, with a special emphasis on the battle for control of the Minnesota House.
The Minnesota Jobs Coalition, a Republican-aligned group playing in legislative races across the state, received $30,000 today from the Washington-based Republican State Leadership Committee, as well as $5,000 from the Minnesota Food Coalition.
WIN Minnesota, a funding arm of the Democratic Alliance for a Better Minnesota, received $20,000 Wednesday from Education Minn PAC, the political action committee of the teachers union.
See this earlier post for details on other large donations since last week.
For a complete list of late, large donations, see this page from the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board and click on the date to see the donations.
A Republican state representative from Elk River pleaded guilty in August to driving while intoxicated shortly after he was arrested driving 80 miles per hour on Interstate 94 in Maple Grove.
Nick Zerwas, who has represented House District 30A since 2013, was pulled over around 10 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 2, by a New Hope police officer whose radar clocked him at 80 mph in a 60 mph zone. He saw Zerwas “following in close proximity of other vehicles,” according to a probable cause report.
“I made an error in judgment,” Zerwas told the Star Tribune on Thursday. “It was a huge mistake, and very embarrassing, and certainly not something I ever plan on doing again.”
According to court documents, Officer Andrew Lamers spotted a convertible driving at a high rate of speed as it traveled west on Interstate 94 near the 494/694 split in Maple Grove.
After pulling him over, the officer “observed that Mr. Zerwas’ eyes were watery and bloodshot and his pupils were fixed,” according to the report. Zerwas failed field sobriety tests. He voluntarily submitted a breath sample, which revealed a blood alcohol concentration of .13. Minnesota’s threshold for driving under the influence is .08.
Zerwas, 34, said he was driving home after visiting friends in the Twin Cities. After his arrest, he was held at the New Hope Police Department until a family member picked him up.
On Aug. 21, Zerwas pleaded guilty to one count of fourth degree DWI.
Judge Thomas Fraser sentenced Zerwas to 30 days in the Hennepin County Workhouse, but stayed 28 days for two years provided he does not repeat his offense or other driving-related offenses. For the remaining two days he received a “sentence to service,” and performed 16 hours of community service.
In the Star Tribune interview, Zerwas apologized to constituents.
Zerwas is a newcomer to the Legislature, but made an impression with his stirring personal story, which he detailed in a 2005 autobiography. Born with a rare congenital heart defect, Zerwas underwent numerous surgeries beginning early in his childhood, including an experimental procedure at seven that left his vocal cords permanently damaged. He speaks with a deep rasp.
Zerwas faces DFLer Brenden Ellingboe on Tuesday, but his Sherburne County district is heavily Republican. Zerwas won 64 percent of the vote in 2012.
Jeff Johnson, the GOP nominee for governor, said during a forum Thursday hosted at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs that he would focus on comprehensive tax reform, the state's transportation infrastructure and education policy if he is elected governor.
The forum, moderated by political science professor Larry Jacobs, touched on a wide range of topics -- including the state's business climate and the creation of well-paying jobs -- but Johnson did not deviate from well-established positions on taxes and education.
Johnson told a small crowd of two dozen students that he would be an "engaged governor" and would work to reduce tax rates in Minnesota, including the corporate tax rate which he said discourages businesses from coming to the state.
The state's tax climate, Johnson said, needs a major overhaul. "We have a tax system that is decades old," he said. "It's about being competitive with other states."
On transportation, Johnson said he would oppose new forms of revenue, including a gas tax, and instead would pay for infrastructure maintenance through the issuing of state bonds. He said the focus would be on roads and bridges, not light-rail construction.
"I'm not an anti-train guy," he said. "I'm a cost-benefit analysis guy."
On education, Johnson favors more local control for schools and said schools should be able to follow best practices to work in narrowing the state's achievement gap.
With five days left until the election, Johnson will be busy meeting with voters. His schedule Thursday also included stops in Red Wing.