Fresh off the close of the 2014 Congressional session, Minnesota Rep. John Kline said Monday that he expects more legislation to smoothly pass in Washington with a Republican-led House and Senate next year, including initiatives for education reform.
Kline, a Republican representing Minnesota’s Second District, sat down with reporters before taking a holiday break. The veteran Congressman was optimistic about 2015, saying a new GOP majority in the session will likely bring a sea change by allowing more bills to the floor.
“The Republicans are determined to overuse the term ‘Regular Order,’ Kline said. “I expect to see a very different process where legislation will move, contrary to the past six years.”
He called last week’s release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report that alleging torture against alleged terrorists “purely partisan.”
“This is created by Senate Democrat staffers to criticize the CIA and previous administration,” Kline said. “There may be things that are true concerning torture, and maybe not, but I don’t like a one-party report. There’s not one Republican drop of ink in that report.”
Torture, he said, “Should not be a partisan issue. We should not give (this report) objective credibility.”
Kline, who cruised to a seventh term last month, will continue chairing the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Along with his Senate counterpart Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Kline said his first priority is replacing No Child Left Behind and reducing the role of the federal government in K-12 education. Whatever the new act is called, the name “No Child Left Behind” is history.
“You can count on that,” he said.
Key components for reform will be reallocating money to fund special education, which he said is currently underfunded by half. Kline said they’ve set an ambitious timeline, getting the bill through committee by February and ideally passing it by summer. Beyond that, he said, the presidential campaigns begin their full swing, making it more difficult to pass legislation.
In higher education, Kline also said they’d like to simplify student loans and grants, while creating transparency about the true costs of college.
While Kline said he has a good working relationship with Duncan and U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, he didn’t’ pull punches when referring to President Obama.
“I just think this White House is more inept and less functional than anything I’ve seen in a long time,” he said.
Kline and GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen were the only two members of the entire Minnesota delegation who supported the continuing resolution to fund the federal government, which passed the House last week and the Senate over the weekend. Kline said he would rather vote on each of the appropriations bills separately, rather than a giant omnibus that funded all but the Department of Homeland Security through Sept. 30.
Kline said he had little opposition to the bill, other than that he believes Department of Defense cuts were too deep given the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. Kline disagrees with the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, saying “I think we’re going to have to show a greater presence on the ground at some point.”
Eye toward the future
Kline declined to say whether he would consider running for an eighth term in two years.
“Anybody can step away anytime,” he said, adding that at this point he has no plans to leave his seat.
Kline also said it too early to say which Republican he would back for a presidential run, and acknowledged the field would likely be large. Generally speaking, he said he would prefer the executive experience of a governor over a candidate who serves as Senator.
Turning an eye toward Minnesota, Kline mulled over why it’s so hard for Republican candidates to win statewide races.
“Dare I say Minneapolis?” he said, noting that GOP candidates who fare well outstate are often beaten in the metro. Kline said that a late primary process does candidates no favors when they must spend the duration of the summer facing off against one another instead of their Democratic opponents.
LAKEVILLE -- Despite Bill Maher, GOP Rep. John Kline feels good.
Kline canvassed neighborhoods here Saturday with state Senate candidate Jon Koznick saying he felt good about his odds of beating Democrat Mike Obermueller.
Kline's 2nd Congressional District was targeted by HBO liberal television host Bill Maher in his "flip a district" contest. Maher targeted Kline's conservative votes and that the bulk of his campaign contributions come from for-profit colleges. Kline is chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee.
"At a time of frustration and gridlock, I've been able to deliver and get legislation passed. People really like that message because they are frustrated with what they think is gridlock. People have more mistrust in their government than maybe any other time in my lifetime," Kline said, over burgers after canvassing. "I feel like I've been able to convey to them that they can trust me."
Maher visited Northfield in October to tout his "flip a district" contest and why he wanted Kline out. He hasn't been back to Minnesota for any public appearances.
Kline said over the weekend Maher's effort "seems to have fizzled."
"It may have worked in reverse because it turns out I've run into a lot of people who do not like Bill Maher," he said.
Obermueller's message is that Kline is too conservative for the district, which narrowly supported President Barack Obama in 2012. He says Kline's partisanship is to blame for the gridlock in Congress.
"You can't give Congressman Kline a pass on the problems he and his Republican colleagues have caused in Washington DC. Voters have 100% control over their own representation, and they can choose a better representative in November," an Obermueller spokesman said, in a statement.
With fundraising numbers in for U.S. House candidates, the disparities in fundraising are clear.
Incumbents, in both contested and safer seats, have far more cash at the ready for the final stretch before the election.
Explore the congressional map below to view the candidates' campaign cash.
Hover over the chart below to see the candidates' hauls arranged, by district.
Alejandra Matos contributed to this report.
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glenn Howatt
Absentee ballots are streaming to election offices across the state but very few of those early voters are new voters, according to a Star Tribune analysis.
Only 5.6 percent of the nearly 34,000 voters who have already had ballots accepted did not vote in the last midterm election year, 2010. Another five percent did not vote in 2010 or 2012, the last presidential election year.
The analysis indicates that despite pushes from both Democrats and Republicans, new voters are not yet availing themselves of the law that allows anyone to vote by absentee.
About 34,000 people voted by absentee ballot as of Oct. 14. Another 6,000, in small, rural precincts, voted by mail.
Of the people who cast absentee ballots, 29 percent also voted absentee in both the 2010 and 2012 elections. Another 31 percent went to the polls in both of those election years.
The analysis also shows that more voters who have already had ballots counted come from Democratic areas than from Republican areas. By county, by Minnesota House district and even by precinct, more ballots are flowing in from areas that lean toward Democrats than lean toward Republicans.
Nearly half of absentee ballots have been cast by voters who live in Democratic House districts, 32 percent came from those in Republican House districts and about 19 percent came from swing districts.
Minnesota voters do not register by party so the Star Tribune does not have access to the personal politics of voters.
Keith Downey, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party, and Ken Martin, chairman of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, have both been pouring over absentee voter list. Both parties have invested in identifying voters by party.
With that data, the DFL and the Republican Party have come up with different results.
Martin, the DFL chairman, said their numbers show that 59 percent of absentee ballots have been cast by voters they have identified as Democrats. Martin said many of those Democrats are infrequent voters -- exactly the demographic they have need to turnout if the DFL is to do well this year.
The Republican Party shows statewide 39 percent of absentee votes so far have come from Republicans, 36 percent came from Democrats and 25 percent came from independent or unidentified voters, Republican chair Downey said.
Across the state, significantly more voters are opting to vote absentee than had in the 2010 election, according to the secretary of state.
Compared to nearly 40,000 accepted ballots as of Wednesday, election officials had only accepted 23,000 absentee ballots by this point in the 2010 election.
This year for the first time, anyone who wants to vote absentee can do so regardless of whether they can show up at the polls on Election Day. Previously, voters would have to offer an excuse for why they needed to vote absentee.
Below, see the number of ballots already cast and accepted, by county.
Updated to reflect more specific numbers.
Wednesday was the latest filing day for U.S. House candidates and the cash is rolling in.
According to Federal Election Commission filings and information from campaigns, Republican Reps. John Kline and Erik Paulsen lead all candidates in how much cash they have left in the bank. Although neither of their suburban districts are targeted by national outside spending, both have more than $1.5 million in their war chests.
In the targeted western Seventh Congressional District, Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson has raised and spent more than his Republican challenger Torrey Westrom and has nearly twice as much left in the bank.
According to FEC files, independent groups have pumped more than $4.8 million into that district, a thousand-fold more than outside groups spent in 2012. The district which has a Republican tilt but has long sent Peterson to Washington by overwhelming margins.
Outside groups have already spent $6.6 million in the highly northern Eighth District, which has swung between Democratic and Republican representation in recent years.
In that race, the candidates -- Democratic U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan and Republican challenger Stewart Mills -- have kept competitive in fundraising but Nolan has more cash on hand going into the final stretch. Mills has added to his cash haul by lending his campaign $250,000 so far.
See the other numbers available below. The chart will be updated as more numbers become available.