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.: Allison Sherry and Jim Spencer.

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DFL calls for ethics review into Ortman campaign's alleged payment for endorsement

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: December 19, 2014 - 5:42 PM

The Minnesota DFL is calling for an ethics probe into why State Sen. Julianne Ortman’s campaign cut a check to a onetime rival in exchange for his endorsement at the Republican Party’s state convention last May.

Ortman, R-Chanhassen, confirmed this week to Star Tribune blogger Michael Brodkorb that her U.S. Senate campaign wrote a check to a former competitor. Ortman, who failed to gain the party’s endorsement and eventually dropped out of the race, said the payment was unauthorized by the campaign.

On Friday, DFL Chairman Ken Martin called for an ethics complaint to be filed with the Minnesota Senate.

“Sen. Ortman admits to a wrongdoing that brings dishonor to the Senate,” Martin said. “She should be held accountable by her colleagues.”

Ortman did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Fellow Republican U.S. Senate candidate Monti Moreno first confirmed the payments in an interview with Brodkorb last month, saying he was approached by Ortman’s campaign manager, Andy Parrish, at the convention in Rochester. Moreno said Parrish offered to pay off up to $5,000 in campaign debt in exchange for the endorsement. Moreno accepted and said he later received a check for $400 from the Ortman campaign. Another U.S. Senate candidate, Philip Parrish (No relation to Andy Parrish) also confirmed to Brodkorb that he was approached, but that he turned down the offer.

Businessman Mike McFadden went on to win the endorsement.

Ortman reiterated to Brodkorb this week that the "check was not authorized by me or by the campaign." Ortman added that "the matter has been referred to [a Federal Election Commission] Compliance expert."

Earlier this year, Minnesota Senate Republicans filed ethics complaints against DFL state Sens. Jeff Hayden and Bobby Joe Champion for alleged abuses of power. A panel failed to resolve the complaints, which are now postponed indefinitely.

In his statement, Martin pressed Senate Minority Leader David Hann to back any complaints filed against Ortman.

“Sen. Hann has a track record of being concerned about the integrity of the Senate and actions of members of the Senate majority,” Martin said. “We’ll see if that concern includes the conduct of his caucus members, especially one who admits to questionable campaign practices or if Hann was using the Senate Ethics Committee only to score political points.”

Senate Republican Caucus spokeswoman Katie Fulkerson said Hann would not comment.

House GOP bounces Minneapolis' Wagenius from longtime post on natural resources committee

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: December 18, 2014 - 8:57 PM

State House Republicans have yanked Rep. Jean Wagenius, a Minneapolis DFLer and longtime ally of environmentalists, from her longstanding spot as lead House Democrat on the committee that oversees state spending on environment and natural resources. 

Republicans take over the House majority when the new legislative session convenes on Jan. 6. On Thursday, the GOP released its list of 2015-16 committee assignments. Wagenius previously chaired the environmenta and natural resources commitee in 2013-14, chaired it in previous sessions as well, and served on it since she first entered the House in 1987. 

A spokesman for House Democrats said when the caucus submitted its committee wishlists to incoming Republican Speaker Kurt Daudt, that it was made clear Wagenius was the party's choice to be the top DFLer on what will now be called the Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee. Instead, she was excluded from the committee altogether. 

Rep. Paul Thissen, the House DFL leader, described it as "unprecedented" that the minority party would not get to choose its own committee lead. "Rep. Wagenius is in her 15th term and is the 4th most senior woman in the Minnesota House," Thissen said in a press release. He went on to suggest it was because "House Republicans don't take climate change or protecting Minnesota's water and air seriously." 

A spokeswoman for Daudt said he was attempting geographical balance on the committee assignments, and noted the committee already has several members from Minneapolis and St. Paul. In place of Wagenius will be Rep. Jeanne Poppe, a Democrat from Austin. 

"We have put together a committee structure that is balanced and we look forward to rolling up our sleeves and getting to work on problems Minnesotans care about," Daudt said in a statement. He was not made available to answer follow-up questions. 

The 21-member committee will have 12 members from otustate Minnesota, six from the Twin Cities suburbs and three from Minneapolis and St. Paul. 

Wagenius was first elected in 1986 to represent a south Minneapolis House district that's centered around the Lake Nokomis area. She has associated herself with a number of environmental causes, including efforts a decade ago to ban the controversial herbicide atrazine. She once described herself as a "Mother Earth feminist" in a campaign bio, a term the state Republican Party later mocked in a press release. 

When Democrats took over the House two years ago, Wagenius's environment committee was expanded to also oversee state spending on agriculture. That led to howls from Republicans who were upset that a Minneapolis Democrat and environmentalist would be controlling distribution of money for ag programs. At the time, Democrats also denied several seats to several Republican members who wanted to be on the committee; but they did honor the GOP request to make Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, the Republican lead. 

McNamara said Thursday that he did not ask for Wagenius to be taken off the committee. "That was the speaker's call," he said, referring to Daudt. Asked about his relationship with Wagenius, McNamara said: "She's got her views and I've got mine. I think we've got a lot of respect for each other." 

Rep. Kline optimistic on education reform, calls torture report 'purely partisan'

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: December 15, 2014 - 3:56 PM

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.”

‘Purely Partisan’
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.”

Education reform
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.

Primary problems
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.

Cambridge man convicted of felony in gun dispute involving incoming Minnesota House Speaker

Posted by: Abby Simons Updated: December 3, 2014 - 5:45 PM

A man charged with pulling a gun during a dispute in Montana where Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt was present was found guilty of felony assault last month.

Daniel Benjamin Weinzetl, 25, of Cambridge, pleaded no contest to assault with a weapon in Park County District Court Nov. 17. In exchange for the plea, prosecutors dismissed additional felony charges of aggravated assault and criminal endangerment. A sentencing date has not been scheduled.

Weinzetl was charged in connection with a Sept. 7, 2013 incident after he and Daudt, R-Crown, traveled to Livingston, Mont. to buy a vintage Ford Bronco. Daudt, who was the House Minority Leader at the time, got into an argument with the seller that escalated, according to court records. While Daudt and the seller argued, Weinzetl pulled Daudt’s black handgun from the car and allegedly pointed it at the seller’s "entire family, including the children," documents said. Daudt was not charged in the incident.

The charges came to light in January after a report aired on KSTP-TV. Daudt acknowledged he was present during the incident but said he made every effort to defuse the situation. Daudt said earlier this year that he didn't tell the House Republican caucus about the incident because he wasn't charged with anything.

Daudt, 41, was elected Speaker of the House last month after Republicans regained control of the Minnesota House.

Weinzetl, a construction worker, was found guilty in 2010 of assaulting a police officer and obstructing the legal process after a March 2010 incident in which he punched a man outside his home. When an Isanti County Sheriff’s deputy arrived at the house, Weinzetl shoved and punched the deputy, breaking his glasses and tearing his uniform, according to records.

Bachmann urges Congress to defund Obama's immigration action

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: December 3, 2014 - 12:38 PM

WASHINGTON -- Calling President Barack Obama "lawless," Rep. Michele Bachmann said Wednesday that he had forgotten the voters' mandate a month ago and urged her colleagues to support a spending bill that would defund the implementation of his executive action on immigration reform.

"I want to know, have members of this body in the House of Representatives and the United States Senate forgotten the message that the American people loud and clear and unmistakably on Nov. 4?" Bachmann said. "Secure our borders, keep our families safe, uphold the laws of the land ... We stand in solidarity with the American worker and the American people and we are going to uphold ... the laws of the land."

The retiring congresswoman from the Sixth Congressional District shared a microphone outside the Capitol Wednesday with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, among others. The gatherings had the trappings of a small Tea Party rally, with several people dressed in period clothing and carrying "Don't Tread on Me" flags.

Bachmann's message arrives at a time House and Senate leaders are trying to hammer out a plan to fund the federal government through next September. Senate Democrats are hoping for a "clean" spending bill that doesn't defund any aspect of the federal government, which technically runs out of money Dec. 11. GOP House Speaker John Boehner earlier this week indicated support for a clean bill, as well, but he vowed they would take a closer look at the president's executive action on immigration next year.

Cruz urged Congress to use its "power of the purse" to defund the president's plan. Several people stood by and yelled "monarchy!" in chorus and said they think Obama has overstepped his bounds. 

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