An assortment of possible Republican presidential candidates were in Iowa Saturday, trying to appeal to conservative activists at a Des Moines forum sponsored by U.S. Rep. Steve King.
Jan Mickelson, a conservative talk radio host, succintly summed up what was in store for several hundred conservative activists gathered Saturday for a forum that saw a baker's dozen of Republican presidential contenders line up to seek favor. "Let the pandering begin," Mickelson said.
Pander they did. Over nearly nine hours, high-profile Republicans that included Sen. Ted Cruz, governors like Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Chris Christie of Texas and Rick Perry, and media-driven stars like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump took turns ridiculing President Obama, sounding alarms about the country's future and promising a sharply conservative change in direction.
The Iowa Freedom Summit served as unofficial kick-off to the year's worth of politicking that will lead up to the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses in January or early February of 2016. That contest has been both launching bad and burial ground for presidential contenders: in 2008, then Sen. Barack Obama pulled an upset win over Hillary Clinton and put himself on a trajectory to the White House.
"Do you believe the next president of the United States is going to be speaking to you from this stage today?" asked U.S. Congressman Steve King, who co-sponsored the event. As the crowd applauded in agreement, King said, "As do I."
King, who represents northwestern Iowa including about half the counties along the Minnesota border, is a high-profile conservative with a penchant for generating controversy. His harsh critiques of illegal immigrants, in particular, have drawn derision from critics; the forum was interrupted several times by protests from supporters of the so-called DREAM Act, which grants citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants if they make certain educational achievements.
Walker, recently re-elected despite a tumultous first term where he survived a recall attempt, was something of a breakout star at the forum. He came onstage without a jacket, his sleeves rolled up, and delivered an energetic speech that leaned heavily on his successful effort to strip collective bargaining rights from Wisconsin public workers.
"We weren't afraid to go big and go bold," Walker said. "Maybe that's why I won the race for governor three times in four years, in a state that voted for Democrats for president every four years ever since I was in high school."
Cruz, who got a rock star-like welcome, delivering a rousing, deeply religious speech. Christie, seen as perhaps too moderate for Iowa's conservative Republican base, nonetheless seemed to win over many with a thoughtful speech and a touching story about his late mother.
But the event was nearly as notable for those Republican contenders who didn't show up, namely former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the party's nominee in 2012. For their absence and their perceived roles as establishment candidates, both men earned some scorn from the stage.
"We lose when we nominate RINOs," said New Hampshire state Rep. William O'Brien, another hero to conservatives (RINO is a conservative slur, directed at moderate Republicans, that stands for "Republicans In Name Only").
While the Republican field is wide and active, the Democratic contest is shaping up more slowly. Prominent Iowa Democrats said numerous potential candidates are in a holding pattern until Clinton decides whether to make another go of it, as most expect she will. Her decision is expected by April.
The key lawmakers behind the state’s push to legalize Sunday liquor sales unveiled their latest attempt to repealing the state’s 80-year-old ban, saying overwhelming public demand could bring success in 2015.
Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, and Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, said this year's bill is simple and straightforward. It’s a change from a spectrum of bills offered by the duo two years ago, which included giving communities the opportunity to opt in or out of Sunday sales. They went nowhere, so Reinert said the focus remains on a full repeal. It’s likely the shortest bill he’ll author this session, he said.
Both Loon and Reinert have been vocally optimistic about this year’s chances to make Sunday sales a reality, with the support of House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Gov. Mark Dayton, who said he would sign the bill. However, Dayton made clear Thursday that pushing Sunday liquor sales legislation was "not a high priority."
"I think to say you can have all the shopping you want on Sundays except for alcohol and automobiles just doesn’t fit the modern era," he said. Still, "It’s not something I’m going to expend a lot of political capital on".
Loon’s bill, one of many filed this session, has 20 co-authors from both parties. In a state where 75 percent of residents live within 30 miles of a neighboring state where Sunday sales are legal, they say it’s time for special interests to listen to overwhelming public demand.
“There are certain powerful forces on the other side of this. What is on the pro side of this is the people of Minnesota,” Reinert said. “Here we are in a state that in the last couple of years has made marriage equality law, has dealt with the issue of medical marijuana, but somehow liquor sales on Sunday is too much? That’s a bridge too far?
The effort continues to face staunch opposition from the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, who argue Sunday sales will simply spread six days of sales over seven days, resulting in higher overhead costs without the profit. But Loon and Reinert were flanked by four local liquor store owners who say being forced to close on Sunday cuts into their profits.
Louis Dachis, owner four Merwin Liquors locations in Minneapolis and Ace Spirits, a boutique liquor store in Hopkins, said a typical Saturday generates twice the amount of sales of a weekday. He expects Sunday to be the same. At his smaller store, he would likely cut hours on a slower weekday, such as Tuesday, to make up for the cost of being open on Sunday. No matter what, it should be up to him, he said.
“What we’re asking for is the opportunity to make those business choices and to better serve our customers and improve our business.”
David Hansen runs Hansen’s Liquor in Stillwater, “just a stone’s throw” from the Wisconsin border, where Sunday sales are legal.
“I am literally right on the border of Wisconsin,” he said. “This could literally mean the difference between success and failure for my store.
Mick O’Connell, owner of Booze Mart in St. Paul, said he pays the rent on Sundays, as well as the electricity bill to keep the coolers running and the beer cold.
Each month, he said, “You’re taking away four days that I can’t sell liquor. Literally 14 percent of the year, I can’t make a dime off my business.”
Tamra Kramer owns Vom Fass, a specialty liquor store in the Mall of America. Her customers want it, she would generate an additional $50,000-100,000 in profits annually.
Loon said the first step is attempting to get a hearing, so the bill might gain traction. They anticipate roadblocks in the DFL-controlled Senate, who blocked last year’s bid to allow the Sunday sales of “Growlers,” or refillable glass beer containers from taprooms, after concerns from the Teamsters union that they may have to work Sundays. Loon said she’s open to accommodating them by amending the bill, and is open to listening to other concerns.
“I will say publicly I am happy to put language in the bill that would make the Teamsters comfortable,” Loon said. “As I understand it, their concern is their members working on weekends to make deliveries. I know that liquor store owners can manage their inventory and operate in a way that would not be necessary. I am happy to write into the language of the bill that they would not be required to make deliveries on the weekend. If the Teamsters are listening, please come and see me.”
Photo: Tamra Kramer, Owner of Vom Fass, a specialty liquor store at the Mall of America advocates for Sunday liquor sales. Behind her are the bill's key legislative sponsors, Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, and Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie
WASHINGTON -- Less than 12 hours after President Barack Obama touted an idea to provide free community college to some students, the chairman of the House Education Committee had a message: No new federal programs.
Republican Rep. John Kline, who represents Minnesota's Second Congressional District and is at the helm of the Education Committee, said he wasn't interested in taking on the president's proposal to make community college free. Kline said he didn't agree with the how the White House planned to pay for it -- by increasing capital gains taxes -- and he didn't think a new federal program was the way to move forward.
In his annual address to both chambers of Congress, Obama proposed free community colleges to students on track to graduate and who had good grades. He said higher education was in the nation's interest and helped strengthen the middle class.
"Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy without a load of debt," Obama said.
But Kline noted existing Pell grants and federal financial aid packages were available for low-income students. In Minnesota, 130,048 people were undergraduates at community and technical colleges. Of those 63 percent sought financial aid and about 35 percent were eligible for Pell grants. The average community college tuition in Minnesota is $5,370 a year.
Kline called the idea too lofty and rhetorically questioned why the president stopped at community colleges. "Why not say all college is free?" he said, in a press gathering in his office Wednesday morning.
Kline said his first priority is getting a No Child Left Behind overhaul to the House floor within the next eight weeks. He said he is optimistic, with a Republican-controlled Senate this time, that they could find common ground and send a bill to President Obama this year.
The chairman also noted he wants to reauthorize the higher education act, but that "we can't just create a new program that we can't pay for."
Minnesota Senate Republicans unveiled a plan to eliminate the state income tax on Social Security in order to keep retirees from leaving the state.
The “Retire in Minnesota Act” would reduce Minnesota’s income tax on Social Security income by 10 percent annually until it is completely phased out in a decade. Although leaders acknowledge it will reduce seniors’ contributions to state’s coffers—by $127 million in the next two years alone—that loss will be made up by the seniors who stay in the state and contribute to the economy.
“When they (stay), they spend money on movies, restaurants, theaters, they take the grandchildren with them, they give to local charities and pay property taxes,” said the bill’s co-author, Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake. “There’s a lot of revenue, that if you don’t do this, you’re going to hear the great big giant sucking sound of the southern states pulling our boomer retirees.”
Minnesota is one of seven states that offer no Social Security tax breaks for retires. Senate Republicans say 70 percent of seniors would benefit from their proposal, saving $600 per person per year. They have not discussed the proposal with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, or Taxes Committee Chair Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook
Although they had no immediate estimates on state revenue lost by seniors who leave the state, the bill’s chief author, Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said they were confident that those who would stay because of the tax break would pay for the cost to state coffers—and it won’t be cheap. The proposal is projected to cost $398 in 2017, $437 million in 2018 and $477 million in 2019.
“Anecdotally, it’s real,” said Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester. “You don’t have to go to too many coffee shops to know that ‘So-and So is leaving.’ We hear it virtually every day. It’s real and I don’t think we can ignore it anymore.
Although he acknowledged that many retired Minnesotans leave for warmer climates, Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said so many others simply jump the border to Iowa or Wisconsin.
“You’ve got people who live in Rochester or Winona, all they have to do is move across the river, and they don’t pay tax on their Social Security, and they get to stay close to their family,” he said. “There are some states where they can just move a few miles and be in a place where they have much better financial security.”
Photo: Left to right: Minnesota GOP Senators David Hann, Mary Kiffmeyer, Dave Senjem, Carla Nelson, Gary Dahms and Will Phillips, state director of the AARP in Minnesota.
As many as 130,000 Minnesota families could receive state help to reduce the cost of child care and dependent care for the elderly under a proposal by Gov. Mark Dayton unveiled Tuesday.
Dayton, the two-term DFL governor, said the initiative would provide direct tax relief that could reduce the cost of child care and dependent care for working families.
"Rising childcare costs have put hard financial strains on many Minnesota families, making it increasingly difficult for working parents to hold their jobs while assuring quality care for their children," Dayton said in a statement. "My Child Care Tax Credit helps to provide Minnesota families with options -- so they don't have to choose between working and caring for their families."
The proposal would provide about $100 million direct tax relief. Under Dayton's plan, the average family would receive $481; the maximum benefit would be $2,100 for eligibile families.
Photo: Gov. Mark Dayton gives his inaugural address earlier this month at the Landmark Center in St. Paul. (Leila Navidi/Star Tribune)