While President Barack Obama moves to reduce the federal student loan debt burden for up to 5 million Americans, a Minnesota state senator is pointing to other steps this year by the Legislature to make college more affordable.
Specifically, the Legislature directed the state Office of Higher Education to come up with its own plan for refinancing student loans. By 2015, the goal is to give students carrying loan debt with interest rates up to 12 percent the chance to get that as low as 3 percent.
That tracks with Obama's executive order, issued Monday, that will cap federal student loan payments at 10 percent of the borrower's monthly income. It's estimated up to a half-million Minnesotans could be helped.
State Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, called Obama's move "one way to help." But she said the Minnesota refinancing plan, along with several other legislative initiatives this year, would also bring relief to people with heavy college debt burdens.
Minnesota has the nation's fourth-highest level of average student debt, with an average debt load in 2010 at $29,800. Democrats in Washington and nationwide have recently stressed their efforts at reducing college costs, as this year's election heats up.
Bonoff, who chairs the Senate's Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee, also noted a pilot project approved by lawmakers this year that will seek companies with specific workforce needs that will help fund the education of specific students aiming for careers in those fields. Another bill lawmakers passed this year compels the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to be more flexible with its credit transfer policy so that fewer students who shift among institutions will be forced to pay for redundant courses.
Abby Simons and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger
Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson will likely become the endorsed Republican candidate to take on DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, but faces a four-way primary first.
Moments after the third round balloting showed Johnson in a 10-point lead over Minnesota Sen. Dave Thompson and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Marty Seifert, Thompson took the stage to withdraw, imploring delegates to support Johnson.
"I could keep going but I see no reasonable path to victory and I don't want to attempt to lock this convention up," Thompson said to wild cheers from delegates. "I would implore my opponents to think about whether running in a primary is for the good of the cause or for the elevation of self."
The message was intended for Rep. Kurt Zellers and businessman Scott Honour, who skipped the convention to run in a primary. Immediately afterward, Seifert took the stage and said he too would run in a primary and released his delegates.
"Instead of dragging things out," he said. "I am going to decide that my delegates can be released to go home."
The decision was met by boos and jeers from much of the crowd. If more than half of the 2,000 delegates leave, there can be no endorsement.
"Where's the integrity?" shouted Jacquelyn America of Minneapolis, throwing down a sign she was carrying. "This does not help our cause. It's maddening."
Seifert's speech enraged others as well.
Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey addressed the riled crowd and asked them to stay. He called Seifert's speech "uncalled for" because it was essentially an attempt to force the convention not to endorse. He said when Seifert was permitted to speak to the convention crowd, officials had expected him to withdraw, not outline a strategy of his own.
"I call shenanigans," said Neil Lynch, a Wayzata delegate with the Republican Liberty Caucus. He said those around him were disappointed, upset and yelling at Seifert as he left the stage.
Jennifer DeJournett, president of Voice of Conservative Women said: "I'm extremely disappointed in the poor sportsmanship of Marty Seifert." Her group had previously endorsed Seifert's running mate Pam Myhra when she ran for House. Now, DeJournett said, she suggested Myhra should quit his campaign.
Here are the Round 3 numbers:
Jeff Johnson: 811 votes, 44.5%
Marty Seifert: 503 votes, 27.6%
Dave Thompson: 504 votes, 27.6%
Friday's Republican endorsement for U.S. Senate in Rochester will involve political and real fireworks.
A host of candidates will vie to get their party's nod to face Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken in the fall and their battle will be laid bare in a Rochester convention hall.
The contest could rival any the GOP has seen for years -- and, it appears, will involve pyrotechnics. A copy of a fireworks permit application candidate Mike McFadden's campaign filed was provided to the Star Tribune. The permit indicates the fireworks are timed for the endorsement.
While the McFadden campaign did not confirm the plans, it did provide this groan-worthy quote.
"Our campaign does want to give away too much except to say that Mike's presentation will spark excitement among the delegates who are looking to support a political outsider with the ability to ignite the right kind of change in Washington," said McFadden spokesman Tom Erickson.
McFadden rival Julianne Ortman, a state senator from Chanhassen, had some announced supporters backing her, as well.
The Conservative Campaign Committee announced it had launched cable and radio ads promoting Ortman.
"Our strategy is simple. We want to energize and motivate Minnesota Republicans to support Julianne Ortman, and show them why it is clear that Julianne Ortman is the best candidate to take on and defeat Al Franken," Lloyd Marcus, chairman of the Conservative Campaign Committee, said in a release.
Ortman also announced on Wednesday that added Jann Olsten, a former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, to her campaign as a senior consultant.
Meanwhile, Duluth lawyer and GOP Senate hopeful Chris Dahlberg has spent the week canvassing the 8th Congressional District trying to meet with delegates. He recently embarked on a 1,200-mile “front porch” listening tour where he rode around on an actual mobile front porch.
The St. Louis County commissioner claimed Franken “has been rather AWOL on leadership."
“I know with county government and state government and federal government it doesn’t get done in a day, but he’s had six years,” Dahlberg said from his law office in Duluth Wednesday.
Dahlberg, who, like Ortman, says he will abide by the delegates’ choice and drop out if he isn't selected this weekend.
The trio will face off on Friday along with state Rep. Jim Abeler, and other, less well-known candidates for the chance to face Franken in November.
Both Abeler and McFadden have said they will run in an August primary with or without the party's endorsement.
Star Tribune reporter Allison Sherry contributed to this post.
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Abby Simons
As Republican Senate candidate Mike McFadden was striding in to the Secretary of State's office to declare his candidacy on Tuesday, Republican rival Julianne Ortman was telling the media she had released her first television ad.
The two, joined by a crowded field of other Republicans, are jousting to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken this year. A win would give the GOP its first statewide victory since 2006 and would allow the party to oust a sitting Democrat for the first time in a generation.
In her ad, Ortman, a state senator from Chanhassen, says: "I'm a runner. I'm not fast. I'm not an athlete. But when I start, I finish." For Ortman, who campaign spent just $20,000 on the media buy, the finish line could come as soon as Friday.
She has vowed to honor the Republican Party's endorsement, which means she will drop out of the race if someone else nabs the nod at the state party's Rochester convention on Friday.
McFadden has said repeatedly that he is hoping for the party's nod but will primary if he does not get it.
"Being able to be down in Rochester in front of 2,200 Republican delegates is a great opportunity to just once again talk about our message and how we are going to beat Al Franken," he said. He said he had previously attended one state convention as an observer decades ago.
"I'm really excited about our chances," McFadden said fresh off of signing his name to on his filing for the office. "I look forward to that election in November."
Meanwhile, state Rep. Jim Abeler, who is also vying in the senate race, released a list of legislative supporters over the weekend that includes veterans and newcomers alike.
"In my nine campaigns, I have made only two promises to my constituents: to work hard and do my best, and to tell the truth.," Abeler said in the note about his supporters.
Six of the Republican Senate candidates also debated before a crowd of about 50 Chisago County Republicans last Friday at Stars & Strikes bowling alley in Wyoming. The candidates agreed on a number of issues. Among them, the Affordable Care Act and the economy are among the state’s most pressing issues and Minnesota’s greatest asset is its people.
Candidates also took a few swipes at one another.
St. Paul schoolteacher and Marine Corps veteran David Carlson, who reportedly is sitting out the convention, repeatedly referred to McFadden’s campaign as “McFadden Island,” suggesting it’s out of touch with reality. Ortman and Abeler also warned that Republicans will have to change tactics if they wish to successfully take on Franken.
“"We can't do the same things that Norm Coleman and Kurt Bills did in the last two elections and expect to win." Ortman said. Coleman narrowly lost his seat to Franken six years ago. Bills, then a one-term state House member, was drubbed in 2012 when he vied against Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
Like Ortman, St. Louis County Commissioner Chris Dahlberg and Washington County farmer Monti Moreno are abiding by the endorsement at this weekend’s state party convention in Rochester.
Here's Ortman's ad:
With Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature, Minnesota became the first state in the nation to enact a law giving dogs and cats used in laboratory testing the opportunity to be adopted once research is complete.
Part of the Omnibus Supplemental Budget Bill, the Beagle Freedom law authored by Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, links taxpayer-funded laboratories and educational institutions that use dogs and cats for research with nonprofit animal rescues. The animals can be placed for adopted when they are no longer needed for research.
According to the Los Angeles-based Beagle Freedom Project, which sponsored the legislation, nearly 65,000 dogs across the country are used to test cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and household products. Nearly 96 percent of the dogs are beagles, one of the top five most popular family dog breeds in America, said Shannon Keith, founder and president of the Beagle Freedom Project.
“We are overjoyed that Gov. Dayton signed this bill into law ensuring that countless dogs and cats have a chance to go to forever homes when their research experience is over,” Keith said in a statement. “We expect that this is the beginning of many celebrations as other states follow suit.”
Last month, a similar measure in California passed the Assembly Higher Education Committee and headed to the Appropriations Committee.
Read more about the Beagle Freedom Project here.