A Republican legislative leader who supports same-sex marriage said she will run in a primary after failing to win her party’s endorsement over the weekend.
“This is a democracy and people are able to throw their hat in the ring,” said state Rep. Jenifer Loon, of Eden Prairie. “I don’t see this as a huge issue, honestly.”
Local GOP activist Sheila Kihne emerged to challenge Loon at their local convention, with neither candidate able to get enough votes to win the endorsement.
Kihne said she is weighing a primary run after her strong showing at the convention. Loon was one of four GOP House members who voted to legalize same-sex marriage last year.
“Here locally, it was an issue of trust or integrity,” Kihne said Monday. “We do not feel like we have good leadership.”
Activists who oppose same-sex marriage had worked behind-the-scenes to defeat Loon, a deputy minority leader.
“Life, marriage, and religious freedom are values for which there is no compromise,” said John Helmberger, CEO of the Minnesota Family Council. “Jenifer Loon tried to compromise these values-hurting the families in her district who trusted her to uphold them. And her constituents have spoken.”
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said he expects Loon will prevail and win a fourth term.
“Jenifer Loon—and I don’t know anybody who would dispute this—is very well-liked by the constituents in her district,” said Daudt, R-Crown. “I’m very confident that she will make it through a primary and easily win a general election again. She does a great job representing her community and I think that support will definitely be there for her.”
Just over 40 percent of voters in Loon’s district supported a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in 2012, a factor that Loon said she considered when she voted to legalize same-sex marriage last year.
Kihne said she is not a single-issue Republican, and noted that Loon is among several GOP leaders who have faced a challenge from within the party, including Daudt.
“It speaks to the fact that we are looking for more principled leadership and representatives who do what they are say they are going to do,” she said.
Of the four GOP House members who supported same-sex marriage, Loon is not the only one facing challengers.
First-term Rep. David FitzSimmons, R-Albertville, lost the endorsement at his convention and is considering a primary run.
Rep. Andrea Kieffer, R-Woodbury, is not seeking re-election.
Only Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington breezed through his convention without trouble.
Staff writer Abby Simons contributed to this story.
With just 140 characters at their disposal on Twitter, Minnesota lawmaker and their staff have found plenty of ways to get in trouble.
On Sunday night, Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo sent out a tweet linking NBA players to street crime. The tweet produced a firestorm of criticism and was called racist nationwide. On Monday morning, Garofalo said he sincerely apologized for the message.
The five-term state lawmaker had bipartisan company in his Twitter turmoil.
Last year, Democratic Rep. Ryan Winkler tweeted of U.S. Supreme Court's voting rights act decision, that the “VRA majority is four accomplices to race discrimination and one Uncle Thomas.” The reference to Clarence Thomas, the only African American member of the Supreme Court, with the racial epithet was shared around the country. Winkler, who had been contemplating a run for Secretary of State at the time, deleted the tweet and said he didn't understand the reference would be offensive.
The year before, then-Republican Senate staffer Bob Koss tangled with then-Republican state Rep. John Kriesel over same-sex marriage, shortly before a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage was on the ballot. Koss lost his Senate job in the wake of the late night tweeting.
In 2011, then-state Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, tweeted that Democratic Sen. Barb Goodwin called people with mental illness "idiots and imbeciles" during a Senate floor debate. Goodwin was, in fact, disparaging the historic terms used for people with mental illness. That incident resulted in an ethics complaint. The ethics panel met for five hours and decided the complaint would be dropped if Hoffman apologized, which she did.
And in 2009, as Twitter was dawning as a way for lawmakers to share their thoughts, Democratic Rep. Paul Gardner used the messaging service during a floor session to suggest that Republican Rep. Tom Emmer was nastier to women during debate than he was to men and that Republican Rep. Mark Buesgens had a black eye. Gardner, too, was brought up on ethics charges and issued a public apology.
Minnesota Senate Republicans failed Monday to rush a $500 million tax relief package to a final floor vote.
“Minnesotans are working on their tax returns right now, and they deserve clear a clear answer from the legislature on tax reform," said Senate Minority Leader David, R- Eden Prairie. "The House was able to move quickly on this issue. Senate Republicans think it’s vitally important to citizens of the state that we do the same. There’s no reason to delay.”
DFL Senate leaders said they need time to hold public hearings on a plan the House overwhelmingly approved last week.
“This is a very large proposal,” said Assistant Senate Minority Leader Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport. The Senate “does want to have hearings and hear from the public on the components that will go into it.”
Hann said he suspects the Senate DFLers are intentionally holding up the tax proposal to keep it as a possible bargaining chip for other measures, like the proposed $90 million Senate office building and parking ramp.
The building issue must resolved “before we have movement on these other major things,” Hann said.
The Senate taxes committee “isn’t trying to hold anything up,” Sieben said. “They are moving ahead as quickly as possible, keeping in mind that there is a process in the Senate.”
The proposal includes tax breaks for middle-income Minnesotans and would repeal new business sales taxes on warehousing services and telecommunications equipment and repair, changes strongly supported by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.
Dayton has asked legislators to pass the tax breaks by Friday, giving revenue department officials’ time to implement the changes before Tax Day.
Some of the changes would be retroactive for the 2013 tax year, like the working family credit, student loan interest deduction and tax breaks for consumers who lost their home to foreclosure.
The Dayton administration is not looking to make the elimination of the so-called marriage penalty retroactive, saying that it would be too cumbersome and expensive to adjust tax returns for 650,000 tax filers at the last minute.
Sieben said that legislators will probably not meet Dayton’s deadline, but the tax relief could get final passage soon after.
Sunday liquor sale supporters in the Minnesota Legislature are taking no chances this year.
The bipartisan, bicameral team of Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, and Rep. Jennifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, introduced seven different bills Thursday aimed at lifting or relaxing the state's longstanding ban on Sunday liquor sales.
"We are offering the Legislature a full spectrum of choices," Reinert, who pledged to have at least one of the bills out of Senate Commerce before the committee deadline, two weeks from now. "It is unreasonable to not make some progress on this in 2014, the 'unsession.' What better unsession issue than the repeal of a Prohibition-era ban that just does not fit in 21st Century Minnesota?"
The bills range from full repeal to proposals that would allow individual communities to decide for themselves whether they want to permit Sunday sales. There's also a proposal to place Sunday sales on the ballot as a constitutional amendment, and bills -- Reinert called them "baby steps" -- that would allow growler sales and allow tap rooms to open on Sunday.
Minnesota is one of only 12 states that does not allow liquor sales to open on Sunday. Every year, the issue comes up in the Legislature, and every year it either stalls in committee or gets resoundingly rejected by a floor vote.
The state's liquor lobby, and many small mom and pop liquor stores, have successfully argued that the ban could be bad for business. Instead of bringing in more sales, opponents say, it will simply spread six days of sales across seven.
Reinert countered that argument with a tongue-in-cheek bill that would ban Saturday liquor sales, as well as Sunday. Then, he said, liquor stores could concentrate six days' worth of business in just five.
"Now you have the same amount of expenses with just five days of expenses. Given the argument, I'm expecting a loud hurrah to come out of the (Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association), but somehow I don't think that's going to happen," said Reinert, noting that he has a list of 60 liquor stores around the state that support repeal.
"We know there's more momentum on this than we've ever seen at the Capitol," Reinert said.
"I have had members who have indicated to me that they are rethinking their position on the Sunday ban," Loon said. "And I think it's because of the range of options we've provided for members to consider."
The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association issued a statement blasting the repeal effort, warning that the only way stores will do more business is if Minnesotans do more drinking.
“When government changes the ‘rules’ that a private business is operating under it will have an effect on many businesses,” the statement said. “Some may do better, but we believe many businesses will see no benefit from the change and will experience increased costs in doing business. Unless alcohol consumption increases, our mom and pop stores will see increased costs without increased revenues.”
The statement continued: “The Legislature has overwhelmingly listened to the concerns of small business in the past and defeated attempts to change the rules. We hope they will continue to support the local business in their districts.
The Distilled Spirits Council, by contrast, praised the repeal plans. Seventeen other states have legalized Sunday sales since 2002.
“Nationally, states are repealing outdated Prohibition-era alcohol laws to increase consumer convenience and generate new revenue without raising taxes,” DISCUS Vice President Dale Szyndrowski said in a statement. “We urge Minnesota lawmakers to consider passing Sunday sales for consumers, small business owners and the treasury.”
For Loon, the issue boils down to a question of economic freedom.
"Some liquor store owners may not want to be open on Sunday, and I'm not here to tell you they have to be, or that I want them to be," she said. "What I'm saying is that there are liquor store owners who would like to be open on Sunday and there are consumers who would very much like to patronize liquor stores on Sunday, if that's when it works out for them to do their shopping. This is a change that is needed."
Gov. Mark Dayton wants to earmark a giant share of the state’s $1.2 billion projected budget surplus for tax relief and to build up the state’s budget reserves.
The DFL governor wants $616 million in tax breaks for businesses and middle-class Minnesotans, including the repeal of three new sales taxes on warehousing services and telecommunications equipment and repair. The proposal also includes tax relief for married couples, Minnesotans with student loan debt and working families.
“Our improving economy has greatly improved the state’s budget forecast – giving us the opportunity to put more money in the pockets of Minnesota families and businesses,” Dayton said. “I urge members from both parties to work together to pass these tax cuts quickly.”
The proposal now goes to the DFL controlled House and Senate, where legislators have their own ideas on how to spend the money. The Minnesota House is expected to give final passage to a $500 million package of tax relief Thursday afternoon.
Republicans have been generally supportive of the tax relief, but blasted Democrats for imposing more than $2 billion in new taxes last year and then wanting credit for giving some of it back now.
"It's Minnesotans' money," Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said recently. "Give it back."
About half of the proposed tax relief would undo tax increases Dayton and Democrats imposed last year to beat down a more than $600 million deficit, repay debt to public schools and increase money for education.
Dayton said those choices were prudent then, but the state's robust economic growth gives them the chance to make revisions that make the tax system more fair.
“For those people who say we are not using wisdom in our mid-course correction based on changing circumstances, they are not in touch with reality,” Dayton said.
The significant windfall is adding a dose of election-year drama to the legislative session as both Dayton the House face voters in November.
The state has emerged from the deepest recession since the Great Depression and has been able to refill depleted budget reserves and pay back nearly $3 billion owned to public schools. For the first time in more than a decade, legislators have their first true surplus to divvy up. The extra money offers many advantages, but brings a lot of headaches as legislative leaders feel growing pressure from cash-strapped activist organizations that rely on state funding.
"There are a lot of needs out there that I am not addressing and there are people who are going to be unhappy with that, and I regret that," Dayton said.
Dayton is proposing eliminating the so-called marriage penalty, which means 650,000 married will no longer pay higher taxes than singles making the same amount of money.
He also wants to expand the working family credit, which would save the average Minnesota family $334 a year.
The governor is also pushing a plan to expand tax credits for child care, saving the average taxpayer who qualifies $430 per a year.
College graduates with student debt would save an average of $140 a year, under the plan.
The governor is also proposing streamlining business taxes to make them square with federal laws, vastly simplifying recording keeping for small businesses.
Dayton’s plan includes additional tax breaks for seniors, teachers, homeowners and veterans.
The governor wants to do away with a much-criticized new sales tax on repair and maintenance of farm equipment. He is seeking greater tax breaks for start-up businesses and entrepreneurs.
The governor’s proposal also seeks to modify the estate tax and eliminate the gift tax, which has been widely criticized.
The proposal doubles the exemption on the estate tax, to $2 million. Minnesota would no longer be one of just a couple states to impose a gift tax, under the plan.
Dayton is urging legislators to act in the next couple weeks, giving the state time to implement the changes before Tax Day. Many of the proposed tax breaks would be retroactive to 2013, such as the adoption credit and an income tax break for people who lost their home to foreclosure or a short sale.
"Minnesotans should know if the Legislature doesn’t act, it will cost them some of the tax savings I am proposing," Dayton said.
Dayton is not proposing making the marriage penalty retroactive, saying it would be too cumbersome to implement in the final few days as Minnesotans file their taxes.
The governor is seeking some new spending, about $162 million. Much of that money would go for raises for state-paid health care workers and extra money for low-income heating assistance.
Dayton would devote an additional $30 million to retain critical corrections staffers and pay for the state’s growing prison population.
He wants to set aside an additional $3.5 million to ensure that low-income students get a hot school lunch.
An additional $3 million would be set aside to pay for additional borrowing to fund statewide construction projects.
Dayton wants to use the remainder, about $455 million, to increase the state’s existing budget reserves of about $661 million.
Elected leaders have generally been comfortable with the existing reserve levels, but the last downturn showed that the amount was not nearly enough.
Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter has said the larger reserve would give the state more cushion when the economy slides again.
The measure could also please the state’s credit agencies, which lowered the state’s credit-rating in recent years as the state relied on one-time accounting shifts and borrowing to nurse the state through the rough patch.
House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, praised the proposed revisions to the state budget.
“Minnesota is headed in the right direction and the way to continue building on our progress is to expand middle class economic opportunity,” he said. “Governor Dayton’s supplemental budget has the right priorities to continue growing our economy from the middle out.”