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.

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Progressive think tank founded by Entenza shutting down

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: September 29, 2014 - 5:03 PM

Minnesota 2020, a progressive think tank that DFL politician Matt Entenza founded seven years ago, is shutting its doors. 

Stuart Alger, a Minneapolis attorney and board of directors chairman for Minnesota 2020, confirmed Monday that the board made the decision last week. Dave Colling, a veteran DFL operative who has frequently worked for Entenza, has been brought in to help the organization close down in an orderly fashion. 

Minnesota 2020 delved into many public policy questions facing the state, producing lengthy and deeply researched reports on everything from transportation and energy policy to education and taxes. The group also frequently sponsored public forums featuring high-profile politicians and other civic leaders. 

Alger said six to eight full-time employees would be laid off. He said most are writers, researchers and web specialists. 

The organization is a 501c3 non-profit, and was funded in large part by donations from organized labor, foundations and private sources. "The funding just hasn't been there as it was in the past," said Alger, an attorney at Stinson Leonard Street in Minneapolis. 

Entenza did not immediately respond to an interview request. 

Entenza is a former state House minority leader from St. Paul. He founded Minnesota 2020 in June 2007, about a year after an unsuccessful bid for state attorney general. 

Entenza tried to revive his political career in 2010 with a run for governor, but finished third in the DFL primary. He re-surfaced this year with a surprise primary challenge to DFL State Auditor Rebecca Otto, which he also lost. 

With that last race, Entenza incurred the wrath of many in the DFL establishment, most notably state party chairman Ken Martin. But Alger said he had received no indication that anger toward Entenza led to the drop in donor support. 

"We think Minnesota 2020 really provided a lot of good reliable content over seven years, and we're very proud of the work we've done," Alger said. 

More than $715K poured into political groups recently

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Updated: July 31, 2014 - 3:58 PM

In the last few weeks, more than $715,000 in political cash has changed hands in Minnesota politics.

According to reports filed in recent days, the Alliance for a Better Minnesota, Education Minnesota, Freedom Minnesota PAC and DFL auditor candidate Matt Entenza have gotten big cash infusions.

The Alliance, largely funded by unions and wealthy Minnesotans, received $275,000 on Monday from WIN Minnesota. The Alliance is the communications arm for Democratic causes, running ads and dealing with the media. WIN Minnesota is largely the funding arm.

The Education Minnesota teacher's union, one of the most politically active labor groups in the state, transferred $125,000 to its political PAC last week. The union derives money from member dues and the PAC spends money on politics.

The Laborers District Council of Minnesota and North Dakota also received a cash infusion from its parent union. According to a filing, the union's political arm received $64,000 from the union.

On Tuesday, the Freedom Minnesota PAC received a $25,000 donation from Daniel Loeb, a New York-based hedge fund manager.

Freedom Minnesota PAC was started to help state Rep. Jenifer Loon in her August primary fight. Loon is being challenged by a fellow Republican in large part because she voted to legalize same-sex marriage last year.

Loeb and his firm have been active supporters of same-sex marriage and gay rights.

Meanwhile, DFLer Entenza gave his campaign for auditor $227,000. Entenza is a state House member who ran for governor in 2010. He donated more than $5 million of his own money to that campaign.

This year, he is waging a primary campaign against DFL auditor Rebecca Otto.

State law requires candidates and campaigns to file reports within 24 hours of receiving big contributions since it is so close to the primary election day.

The cash on the recent filings is in addition to the fundraising the campaigns reported earlier this week.

Updated

Dayton touts passage of 1,200 government streamlining initiatives

Posted by: Updated: May 27, 2014 - 3:31 PM
Governor Mark Dayton, Pollution Control Commissioner John Linc Stine and IRRRB Commissioner Tony Sertich spoke about the Unsession at a state Capitol news conference.

Governor Mark Dayton, Pollution Control Commissioner John Linc Stine and IRRRB Commissioner Tony Sertich spoke about the government streamlining effort at a state Capitol news conference.

Minnesota campers, anglers and taxpayers will see improved services under a massive government streamlining effort passed by legislators and signed into law by Gov. Mark Dayton.

Dayton celebrated the achievements Tuesday, calling passage of nearly 1,200 measures to eliminate antiquated laws and improve government services “a phenomenal success.”

“Things don’t get undone in government very readily,” the DFL governor said. “I think we are off to a very good start.”

Dayton's signature streamlining initiative was to be a centerpiece of the last legislative session, but he saw it slip from legislators’ priority list due to a surprisingly large budget surplus and other attention-grabbing issues, like medical marijuana.

The governor’s team leading the initiative kept at it while other political battles flared overhead, unveiling more than 1,000 proposals and doggedly shepherding them through the committee process. With a database tracking each measure, Dayton’s team ditched some that became controversial and took on others pitched by legislators as the session wore on.

“The one thing that can unite us all, that we shouild agree upon, is that government should run better,” said Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board Commissioner Tony Sertich, who led Dayton’s initiative. “That has a hallmark of the Dayton administration and a hallmark of this initiative.”

Republicans criticized the effort for focusing on sometimes silly and otherwise common-sense reforms rather than giving a serious rethinking of the state’s troubled health insurance exchange and the new $77 million office building for state Senators and staff.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, criticized Democrats for not stopping the new office building. “Minnesotans are unimpressed,” he said.

Dayton said the changes will make it less time-consuming and aggravating for Minnesotans and business owners when they need to deal with state government.

The governor even signed an executive order that requires state agencies to do something seemingly so simple, but which has proven so hard – requiring communication with the public to be clear, concise and easy to understand.

As part of the effort, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources converted 92-pages of fishing regulations into a slick and easy to use computer application that works on mobile phones.

Legislators wiped out myriad antiquated laws that generated a chuckle around the Capitol. They eliminated telegraph regulations, repealed a law that made it a misdemeanor to carry fruit in the wrong sized container and eliminated a nearly 80-year-old law that made it illegal to drive in neutral.

But many of the changes were serious and substantive.

Dayton is seeking to shorten waiting times for business permit applications to 90 days, a dramatic drop from the current 150 days.

The administration is expecting that 11,000 of the 15,000 annual permits applications quickly reach this new standard.

The effort will make it easier for some Minnesotans to file taxes, eliminating an often confusing multi-step process to deduct student loan interest.

Zellers, running mate differ on taxes, minimum wage

Posted by: Updated: May 23, 2014 - 11:32 AM
Kurt Zellers, right, introduces GOP running mate, Dean Simpson

Kurt Zellers, right, introduces GOP running mate, Dean Simpson

GOP gubernatorial candidate Kurt Zellers has tapped former Rep. Dean Simpson as his running mate, selecting someone more moderate on issues of the minimum wage and taxation.

“He is what Main Street Minnesota is all about,” said Zellers, a former Minnesota House Speaker who served with Simpson in the Legislature. “We’ve been missing a good salesman and a good cheerleader for Minnesota for the last four years."

Simpson described himself as “a little bit on the moderate side” at a Capitol news conference to introduce the team. A former New York Mills mayor and four-decade grocery store owner, Simpson has voted in favor of tax increases before and said he supports looking at expanding the sales tax to include more items.

He also said he has no interest in repealing the minimum wage increase DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Democratic legislators passed earlier this year.

Simpson said his grocery store employees make more than the minimum wage and that once the new $9.50 hourly wage is fully implemented, he will probably give workers raises to make sure they are comfortably above it.

“I am certainly not going to try to do anything to repeal it, that’s for sure,” Simpson said.

Simpson’s position puts him at odds with the candidate at the top of the ticket.

After Democrats announced the deal to raise the base wage, Zellers pledged to work to rescind the wage increase if elected governor.

Zellers expressed skepticism about tax breaks that Dayton and legislative leaders agreed to as part of the successful bid to lure the Super Bowl to Minnesota in 2018.

Zellers was a prominent opponent of the state-backed portion of the new Minnesota Vikings stadium, but Simpson supported a measure to aid the new Twins stadium.

Of the tax incentives for the Super Bowl, “I always thing that is tenuous at best,” Zellers said. “You introduce a few guys from Florida to ice fishing, that’s a great day.”

If elected, Zellers would likely need to become a crucial leader in the effort to make sure the event is a success.

The candidate declined to say whether he'd support state involvement, but added: “I am going to be the best cheerleader and the best salesman for Minnesota as I can be."

Citing fraud, Rep. Rick Nolan to push for Afghanistan construction oversight

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: May 21, 2014 - 5:52 PM

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Rick Nolan is appalled that of the $100 billion American dollars spent on construction in Afghanistan, more than $60 billion is unaccounted for, according to an Inspector General's report.

The 8th Congressional District DFLer has a proposed amendment, which he got into the National Defense Authorization Act, that will prohibit funding for any new construction projects over $500,000, unless the U.S. government can physically inspect or audit those projects.

Nolan's amendment will get some floor time tonight and his staffers say a vote should come tomorrow.

The National Defense Authorization Act, an annual bill that sets policy and spending for the Pentagon, may get a full House vote as early as tomorrow. Nolan isn't on the Armed Services Committee, but GOP leaders let anyone submit amendments for a bill this big and Nolan's was approved overnight Tuesday by the House Rules Committee.

Staffers say the potential for corruption and fraud is high in Afghanistan and Nolan is disgusted with the abuse of taxpayer money there.

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