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, J. Patrick Coolican, Patricia Lopez, Ricardo Lopez, Abby Simons, Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Corey Mitchell, Allison Sherry and Jim Spencer.

Franken, Klobuchar back Obama’s plan to arm Syrian rebels

Posted by: Corey Mitchell under Minnesota U.S. senators, Democrats, Republicans, President Obama Updated: September 18, 2014 - 7:13 PM

With support from Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, the U.S. Senate approved President Obama’s plan to train and equip Syrian rebels Thursday, backing his strategy to confront the Islamic State militants.

The legislation, drafted as an amendment to a routine bill to keep the government funded past Sept. 30, grants the president authority to train foreign forces to confront the Islamic State.

Opponents in both parties framed the vote as a precarious step toward a wider conflict in a region where American troops have been fighting for more than a decade.

Less than 24 hours before the vote, Franken told the Star Tribune he was unsure if he would support the measure.

“While I do have real concerns about this strategy, I believe that training and arming the Syrian rebels is our best available option,” Franken said in a statement after the vote.

The U.S. House approved the measure Wednesday.

The authorization expires in mid-December with the spending bill it is attached to, ensuring lawmakers will revisit the issue before the end of the year. The bill language specifies that the measure is not a broad authorization of force against the Islamic State.

“There needs to be a full debate in Congress on an authorization to use military force,” Franken said. “What I don’t want is for this to be a slippery slope that leads to another protracted ground war in the region.”

The debate over how to respond to the Islamic State has emerged a flashpoint in Minnesota’s U.S. Senate race. Federal authorities suspect that at least a dozen men and women have left the state to join the terrorist group.

Seizing on the potential threat to Minnesotans as a key campaign issue, Republican nominee Mike McFadden has criticized Franken’s, accusing the senator of blindly supporting Obama’s foreign policy.

Independence Party opens MN headquarters

Posted by: Glen Stubbe Updated: September 18, 2014 - 5:25 PM
The IP Bison waved and got high-fives in the skyway.
 
Bob Helland IP candidate for Secretary of State talked with people outside the headquarters.
 
Hannah Nicollet IP candidate for Governor watched an early production version of the party's new ad.
 
Hannah Nicollet IP candidate for Governor talked with visitors as the Minnesota Independence Party held a grand opening for its campaign headquarters in St. Paul.
 
Independence Party candidates Pat Dean for State Auditor, Brandan Borgos for Attorney General, Hannah Nicollet for Governor and Bob Helland for Secretary of State posed for a group photo during the grand opening.

Johnson hits Gov. Dayton on health care

Posted by: under Health care, Minnesota governor Updated: September 18, 2014 - 2:58 PM

Jeff Johnson, the Republican nominee for governor, expanded his attack on Gov. Mark Dayton's record on health insurance and management of MNSure, the state's troubled health insurance exchange. 

He appeared at Mack Engineering -- a small Minneapolis manufacturing company of machined components for companies such as John Deere and Honeywell – where co-owner Jennifer Salisbury said her company was experiencing skyrocketing health insurance premiums for the company and its 28 employees. 

The company is an example of a small group insurance plan that is not in compliance with Obamacare because it does not meet mandated coverage requirements that are designed to give every person an adequate health plan. The Obama administration offered states more time to get small group plans in compliance, but Minnesota declined so that all employers would be treated the same, rather than having some in compliance and others not. Currently, 75 percent of small group plans are Obamacare-compliant.

Johnson said that by declining the extra time, Dayton had caused undue hardship on small businesses such as Mack Engineering.

“This is another example of Gov. Dayton hurting small businesses and their employees,” he said. “He wouldn’t stand up for the Mack Engineerings of Minnesota.”

Jeremy Drucker, a spokesman for Dayton’s re-election campaign, replied in a statement: “What Commissioner Johnson is proposing is to penalize the majority of Minnesota companies who are now providing improved health care coverage for their employees. They would be socked with higher insurance costs if the minority of employers…were allowed to continue to offer substandard plans.”

Drucker added that the cost increases cited by Johnson are due to improvements, such as requiring more comprehensive coverage and no longer allowing disqualification for pre-existing conditions.

Anne O’Connor, a spokeswoman for the Commerce Department, said an analysis showed that continued noncompliance would increase costs for groups in compliance between 6 and 10 percent. That's because the non-compliant plans would sweep up the healthiest, cheapest customers, thereby increasing costs for everyone else.

Johnson may sense an opening this week on health care related issues as MNSure faced another setback. PreferredOne, which offered the lowest rates and had signed up nearly six out of 10 consumers who shopped on the online marketplace, announced it was pulling out of the exchange, which led to speculation that rates could increase as its customers seek alternative coverage.  

Justice Department to expand outreach to Twin Cities in expanded effort to halt ISIS recruitment

Posted by: Allison Sherry under Morning Hot Dish newsletter, 5th District, President Obama Updated: September 17, 2014 - 9:19 PM

WASHINGTON -- The Twin Cities were one of three muncipalities in the country that will participate in a pilot program to boost outreach in the Islamic community in effort to combat recruitment of naturalized Americans by the terrorist group ISIL, Department of Justice officials said Wednesday.

The pilot project will "bring together important Minnesota law enforcement, religious, and community leaders to expand outreach to Minnesotans," according to Sen. Al Franken's office, which has urged the Obama administration to deliver additional resources to Minnesota.

Two men with Minnesota ties were killed fighting for ISIL, or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, in the Middle East.

Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat who represents Minneapolis, has also encouraged administration officials to work with the Somali community because they can be allies in identifying vulnerable young people who can become radicalized, he said.

US Attorney for Minnesota Andy Luger, issued a statement late Wednesday: 

"The Somali community in Minneapolis and St. Paul will benefit greatly from the additional resources we expect to receive as part of the pilot program," he said. "Our Somali friends deserve to prosper in Minnesota in peace and security, and this program seeks to make that happen, and create a blueprint for the country for how to prevent the radicalization of vulnerable youth."

Jury convicts Michelle MacDonald of test refusal, resisting arrest

Posted by: Abby Simons under Minnesota campaigns, Republicans Updated: September 17, 2014 - 5:06 PM

A Dakota County jury convicted Minnesota Supreme Court candidate Michelle MacDonald of refusing to submit to a breath test and obstructing the legal process in connection with an April 2013 traffic stop.

MacDonald was found not guilty of fourth degree driving while intoxicated, while her attorney vows to appeal both convictions. He does not contest a third conviction of speeding.

“She’s disappointed as anyone to get a verdict like this,” said MacDonald’s attorney, Stephen Grigsby. “She intends to pursue the next procedure which is an appeal on the basis of law that allows innocent people to be convicted.”

The jury convicted MacDonald after a daylong jury trial that began Tuesday and ended Wednesday. The jury deliberated for about three hours before delivering the verdicts Wednesday afternoon.

MacDonald, was endorsed by the Minnesota Republican Party at its May convention to run against incumbent Justice David Lillehaug, only to draw ire a month later when charges came to light that she was stopped for speeding, refused to exit her vehicle and did not take a breath test.

MacDonald remained steadfast, maintaining her innocence and appearing at the party’s Minnesota State Fair booth even when she was told she wasn’t welcome, and earlier this month filing a complaint against the party and several members, alleging that they attempted to coerce her into renouncing her endorsement. The complaint was dismissed by an Administrative Law Judge.

Grigsby said he has nothing to do with MacDonald’s campaign and only serves as her attorney in the criminal case. He said MacDonald’s conviction on the test-refusal count is based on a legal interpretation of civil law, which leads to confusion among a jury.

“It’s like asking somebody to find a squared circle,” he said. “It’s not a fact, it’s a legal conclusion and juries only find facts.”

Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 12. In the meantime, Judge Leslie Metzen ordered a psychological evaluation for MacDonald.

MacDonald did not answer a call to her cell phone, and her voice mailbox was full.

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