The south-of-the-border-themed commercial marriage of Minnesota Republican Party boss Tony Sutton has ended in an "amicable" divorce from banker Bill Cooper, who headed the Republican Party a decade ago.

Cooper and Tony and Bridget Sutton bought the Baja Sol chain, in which the Suttons were franchisees, in 2006.

"Bridget and I are no longer a part of the ownership of Baja Sol," Sutton said in an e-mail. "Our separation was amicable."

Tony Sutton left Baja Sol a few months ago to join a public affairs firm. Sutton's wife, Bridget Sutton, succeeded him. She left Baja Sol last month.

"The agreement between Tony Sutton and Bill Cooper was ended and the Suttons are no longer minority owners," said Dan Edward, a 35-year Cooper associate who has taken over Baja Sol and invested alongside Cooper. "I was here on a consulting basis for three months before I succeeded Bridget."

The Suttons and Cooper, CEO of TCF Financial, bought Inver Grove Heights-based Baja Sol in 2006. The Sutton breakup followed expansion and contraction and an ill-fated foray into a full-service bar at a since-closed Baja Sol "cantina" in Eden Prairie.

"It was a venture that did not work," Edward said. "We had a bar and we were asked to add hamburgers -- and all of a sudden it looks like a sports bar, and that's almost a different business."

The traditional business is stable and starting to grow, Edward said. The company just opened a new store in Maple Grove. Another will open in Oakdale in April.

The company operates 11 corporate-owned and franchised stores, about the same number as when the Cooper-Sutton team invested in 2006.

THE SENATOR AND THE APP

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar says she had a hand in getting Apple to change its billing practices for "in-app sales" to require users to submit a password in order to make purchases on newly downloaded applications. 

Apple had previously allowed users to make "in-app" purchases without a password for 15 minutes after installing the software on a device. This led to big-time phone charges, including a media report of an 8-year-old racking up $1,400 in charges while playing the iPhone game "Smurfs' Village."

Last month, Klobuchar urged Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Jon Leibowitz for more oversight of "in-app sales." 

The senator and consumer advocates say phone companies offer free-to-download applications for smart phones, and then sometimes charge users for other products and services once the application is launched, without a warning about implicit charges.

"While smart phone applications have unlocked a world of new markets and innovative revenue streams for newspapers and other businesses, we need common sense safeguards to ensure that in-app sales are not misleading and gouging consumers," Klobuchar wrote Leibowitz.

SECURIAN BUCKS A TREND

Securian Financial Group said it grew in 2010 as the U.S. group life insurance industry shrank.

To wit, Securian's direct premium revenue rose 11 percent to $1.37 billion. And total group insurance in force grew by $65 billion, 13 percent more than 2009.

"The ability to retain existing clients is the foundation of our growth and a large part of our success in 2010," said Von Peterson, a Securian senior vice president.

Since the Great Recession began in 2008, Securian said its group life sales rose by an average of 15 percent.

LIMRA, a life insurance industry trade association, said 2010 was a down year for the U.S. group life industry as a whole.

Securian, a mutual company owned by its policyholders, is based in downtown St. Paul.

AGRICULTURAL RECOGNITION

An innovative farmer who's known worldwide for his conservation practices; an agribusiness leader, and a longtime voice of agriculture in southwestern Minnesota have been honored by the University of Minnesota's College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

•Wally Nelson, original superintendent at what's now the Southwest Minnesota Research and Outreach Center near Lamberton focused on ag research for farmers. He led the research center for nearly 40 years, contributing to important breakthroughs in corn management, hail damage, soils and drainage.

•James (Tony) Thompson, who farms near Windom, focuses on conserving soil and water. Hundreds of researchers have studied his ecological approach.

•Paul DeBriyn, CEO of AgStar Financial Services, took over a struggling agricultural lender in the 1980s and built it into an industry leader. He also focused on leadership and scholarship programs to help rural economies.

Recipients of the Siehl Prize get $50,000 each. The prize was created in the early 1990s by a New Ulm-area livestock breeder and businessman, Eldon Siehl, a philanthropist concerned that achievements in agriculture be recognized.