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Get to the appoint: Chaska Ward 1 looking for a new councilor and other news

Chaska City Councilor Scott Millard resigned his seat effective at the end of the May 20 City Council meeting, and the Council has chosen to appoint a replacement to hold the seat through the end of Millard’s term.  The seat will be up for election in 2014.  Ward 1 residents who are interested in the position are welcomed to pick up an application package at City Hall (inexplicably, there’s no information on this process on the city website’s homepage).  Applications are due back by June 12, and applicants will interview with the Council on June 17.  The appointment will be made at the July 1 City Council meeting.  Don’t know if you live in Ward 1 (the southwest ward)?  Check out this map to see where to fall among the city’s four wards.  Per the Chaska Herald, former Ward 1 Councilor Gino Businaro has indicated he intends to apply.

In other news:

  • State Senator Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen) is attending the 2013 National Security Seminar at the U.S. Army War College this week.  Certainly such news can (and will) be viewed within the prism of other rumors.
  • Last week was a crazy week for politics in the Sixth Congressional District (which covers Carver and central and western Carver County) as both U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and DFL challenger Jim Graves pulled out of the 2014 race.  Former State Representative, current talk show host, and 2010 governor’s race loser Tom Emmer seems poised to jump in the race, making him the leading contender for the GOP nomination.  Meanwhile, no names have emerged on the DFL side thus far.  The Sixth is the strongest Republican district in the state, so there’s a thin bench of state legislators to pick from.  St. Cloud’s Tarryl Clark, who lost to Bachmann in 2010 before failing to secure the DFL nomination in the Eighth Congressional District in 2012, is sure to come up as a possibility.  State Auditor Rebecca Otto also lives in the Sixth, but is considered unlikely to run.  Graves would have likely stood a stronger chance to win the seat given the fundraising he’s already accumulated, which makes his decision curious.  Politicians who fear defeat are unlikely to make a difference in the long run, so perhaps Graves’s decision is less of a loss to Democratic hopes than thought.
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Senate passes marriage equality; Ortman votes no

The Minnesota State Senate today passed the marriage equality bill by a vote of 37-30, following four hours of debate.  State Senator Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen) voted no on the issue.  Only one Republican, Senator Brandon Petersen, voted in favor of the bill, while three DFL Senators voted no (Dan Sparks, Leroy Stumpf, and Lyle Koenen).

senatemarriage

Governor Mark Dayton has indicated he will sign the bill, and a signing ceremony is planned for 5 p.m. Tuesday afternoon on the South Side Capitol Steps.  Minnesota will be the 12th state to institute marriage equality.

Rumors were swirling before the vote that Ortman, who had been consistently opposed to marriage equality in recent sessions, may be reconsidering her position.  At times during the debate, she was spotted conferring with Senator Scott Dibble, the bill’s author.  Hanging over Ortman’s vote was the notion that she might be a candidate for higher office in 2014.  Recent speculation has indicated that she may be looking at the race for U.S. Senate against Al Franken.

 

The Republican base is strongly opposed to marriage equality.  Polling from January shows 79% disapproval among Republicans, which likely makes the path to endorsement difficult for a marriage equality supporter.

Leidiger catches Agenda 21 and Tenther fever

Bills filed in the waning days of the odd-year legislative session are often considered throw-away bills — filed weeks after deadlines for committee hearings and passage in the current year, most of them are left in the dustbin when the even-year session comes around.  But they can provide some useful insight into the workings of the minds of the legislators who file them — in terms of what their ideology is or who they feel they need to appease.

Mayer’s State Rep. Ernie Leidiger was listed as an author on two bills to be introduced today — H.F. 1833 and H.F. 1834 — which are, well, interesting.  Both bills are chief authored by freshman Rep. Jim Newberger (R-Becker).

H.F. 1833 is designed to protect Minnesota from the scourge of United Nations Agenda 21.  To most of the world, Agenda 21 is a non-binding, voluntarily implemented United Nations effort to encourage sustainable development practices.  The practical impact of such efforts have been uncontroversial and common-sense things like state or county level requirements for comprehensive land use plans for local governments and ENERGYSTAR ratings for applicances.  But to a few, it’s something far more sinister: the end of America as we know it.  Glenn Beck, for instance, has turned Agenda 21 resistance into its own cottage industry — tying all his media platforms to it.  And, sadly, it’s not just talk radio blowhards getting in on the act.  Bluestem Prairie’s Sally Jo Sorensen has been on Minnesota links to this movement — see here and here.  Newberger himself has long been a proponent of such ideology, as documented here.  Even State Rep. Cindy Pugh (R-Chanhassen) has gotten in on the act, back in her SW Metro Tea Party days.  (Incidentally, the SW Metro Tea Party will be holding another Agenda 21 session next week –postponed from April.)

Meanwhile, H.F. 1834 is a resolution designed to restore what proponents see as the rightful purpose of the federal government as limited by the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution.  Followers of this ideology — known by some as “Tenthers” — believe that many of the things the federal government does today, including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, veterans programs, and federal drug enforcement, are not valid.  This is milder version of legislation from last session that sought to give the state the right to nullify federal laws that were judged by the Legislature to be outside of its purview.  The nullification issue, though, has long been settled from a legal perspective, however, and was settled once and for all by the Civil War.

After a fairly quiet session that seemed to start productively with his working with county elected officials on transportation issues, it’s too bad that Leidiger hasn’t been able to contains these extreme urges and find ways to work to move productive legislation through the House.

[Photo courtesy Wikipedia, of recommended headgear for Agenda 21 conspiracy buffs and Tenthers.]

Meet Your “New” Republican Party!

State Rep. Ernie Leidiger will be holding his annual hog roast fundraiser next month.  This year’s event is themed “Meet The New Republican Party”, and features a pulled pork dinner, silent auction, activities for kids, karaoke, and a bonfire.  On-site camping is also available if needed.  Lots of special guests are also invited, like these fresh faces:

Hog Roast Emcee and failed gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer

U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann

U.S. Representative John Kline

U.S. Representative Erik Paulsen

Radio talk show hosts Jason Lewis and Sue Jeffers

State Senator Julianne Ortman

State Representative Joe Hoppe

Of course, these aren’t “new” faces at all.  These are just the same faces we’ve been seeing and hearing from for years now.  Keep looking down the list and — aha! — here are the new faces we’ve been looking for!

State GOP Party Chair Keith Downey

State GOP Deputy Party Chair Kelly Fenton

State GOP Secretary Chris Fields

Of course, of these folks, only Fields really qualifies a “new” face.  Heck, Fields hasn’t even lived in Minnesota for two years and he already has lost a race for Congress by 49 points.  Downey is a two-term former state representative who was heralded as an ideological leader behind the Republican House majorities that got routed in 2012.  Fenton, meanwhile, is a longtime party activist.

Even more to the point, though, is that while you can theoretically argue some of the faces are “new” — the ideas are the same old stale ones they’ve been peddling for years.  Let’s hope the pulled pork is fresher than the ideology.

[Picture above is 2010 gubernatorial loser and voice of the “new” Republican Party Tom Emmer]

Leidiger goes “nucular” over House energy bill

It’s been a fairly quiet session for State Rep. Ernie Leidiger thus far.  Being in the legislative minority has limited his already meager ability to shape legislation.  He’s chief authored just three bills so far (all transportation-related) — only 15 House members have been less ambitious — and has kept a low profile this session with no Bradlee Dean sightings or campaign finance kerfuffles.

Tuesday night, the House debated H.F. 956, the omnibus energy bill.  The key point of contention in the bill was an ambitious solar energy mandate included in the bill.  Under the terms of the bill, investor-owned utilities (Xcel Energy, Minnesota Power, Otter Tail Power and Interstate Power & Light) would be required to produce 4% of their electricity via solar by 2025 on top of the existing renewable energy mandates.  Cooperatives and municipal utilities would be exempted from this requirement.  Additionally, investor-owned utilities would be required to subsidize solar installations for residential and commercial customers.  Mining companies and paper mills receive protection from potential rate increases that would result from the mandate, and the bill would continue and expand incentives for solar equipment manufacturers in the state.

There’s a lot to chew on in those provisions.  Very real questions can be raised about the necessity of setting a mandate for solar, when the state is currently in the midst of a boom in wind production (up to 14% of the state’s electricity in 2012) and the reality that such a solar mandate may be quite costly for utilities to comply with.  Adding a 4% solar requirement on top of an increase in the  existing renewable energy standard from 25% to 40% would give Minnesota the highest renewable and solar energy mandates in the nation at 44% in total.

As an aside, the Senate version of the bill, S.F. 901, had a much smaller (and in my opinion, more responsible) set of provisions related to solar energy.  The mandate in the Senate bill was only 1%, and it removed the requirement that utilities subsidize solar installations.  Unfortunately, the House bill was chosen by DFL leadership as the baseline version of the final omnibus bill.  The House bill deserved a no vote, in my opinion, based on the solar mandate issue.

So there’s a lot in this bill that could be criticized.  Of the many provisions listed above, which does Leidiger choose to criticize?  Well, none of them, exactly.  Check the video out for yourself (the video will jump to the start of Leidiger’s speech, nearly six hours into debate on the bill):

First off, let’s get Leidiger’s charming Bush-like pronunciation of the word nuclear as “nucular” noted for the record. (Sometimes, a word really is pronounced the way it is spelled.)  It’s also telling that Leidiger’s rant is met midway through by chuckles.  Even Rep. Mary Franson, who enjoys a good rant as much as anyone in the House, appears to go from mild bemusement to indifference to apparently checking her e-mail.

Next, let’s talk about some of Rep. Leidiger’s facts.  Leidiger is certainly correct that China has been building nuclear power plants in the last decade, and is continuing to construct them (although scaled back significantly since the Fukushima reactor issue in Japan).  However, to imply that nuclear is the core of China’s “baseline power” isn’t true.  Nuclear power only represents 1% of China’s electric production today, and will only represent 6% by 2020.  However, the growth in nuclear is only half of that expected in renewable energy in China.  Wind power in China is booming — to the extent that today wind power in China produces more power than nuclear — and that trend is expected to continue.

energy

It should be pointed out that both Minnesota and the United States are currently and will continue to be larger users of nuclear power than the Chinese.  It’s not clear, and Leidiger certainly doesn’t specify, what it is exactly about Minnesota solar mandates and the Chinese construction of nuclear power plants that constitutes the threat to our national security.

Is it the fact that China is the leading manufacturer of solar panels?  If Chinese manufacturing is now a source of national security distress, we’re in a whole world of hurt.  The fact of the matter is that both political parties in this country have largely backed trade and economic policies that have encouraged the off-shoring of American manufacturing jobs — prioritizing the ability to buy low-priced products made elsewhere (like from — ahem — certain office furniture companies) and breaking the power of organized labor ahead of nurturing solid middle-class jobs and promoting critical industries.

And let’s not forget that Leidiger in the past has criticized government programs like the stimulus that sought to boost the American solar industry.  Neither Leidiger nor his party (nor Democrats, for that matter) have produced any meaningful reforms designed to reverse those trends.  The horse has left the barn on this issue, sadly.

Besides, dependence on foreign oil has proven to already be a national security risk.  Yet, Leidiger and his cohorts want us to continue on the fossil fuel bandwagon, despite the potential domestic drilling areas like ANWR  aren’t going to be long-term solutions to the problem.

Or maybe that’s not what he’s getting at.  The argument in its totality makes about as much sense as pronouncing nuclear as “nucular”. If you can figure out what Ernie’s talking about, let me know in the comments.

[h/t to the anonymous tipster who alerted me to Leidiger’s speech]

House passes marriage equality; Carver County Reps vote no

The marriage equality bill passed the Minnesota State House of Representatives today 75-59.  Four Republican Representatives voted in favor of the bill:  Jenifer Loon (Eden Prairie), Andrea Kieffer (Woodbury), Pat Garofalo (Farmington), and David FitzSimmons (Albertville), while two DFL Representatives voted against it:  Patti Fritz (Faribault) and Mary Sawatzky (Willmar).

Carver County Representatives Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska), Ernie Leidiger (R-Mayer), and Cindy Pugh (R-Chanhassen) all voted no, even after FitzSimmons’s amendment to rename all references to “marriage” in Minnesota statute as “civil marriage”, thereby providing additional reassurance that religious institutions would not be impacted by approval of marriage equality.

As previously noted, voters in both Hoppe and Pugh’s districts voted against the marriage amendment last November  so they are swimming upstream in this regard.  Pugh’s vote is a distinct contrast from her district, as 33B voted against the marriage amendment by 17 points – -the third largest margin of the 21 House Republican districts that voted against the amendment.

[Picture of the voting board above courtesy of Leanne Kunze’s Twitter stream.]

Survey says: District 112 evaluates referendum options

The Eastern Carver County School District (District 112) School Board has begun weighing potential referendum questions for this fall’s ballot.  This would be the first ballot question since 2011’s failed technology levy, as the District passed on putting any questions on the 2012 ballot.

It’s a virtual certainty that there will be one referendum question on the ballot, as two operating levies representing $8.7 million in annual funding (or just under 10% of the District’s general fund) expire after the 2013-14 school year, meaning that they must be extended this year, or significant cuts would be required.

But it’s the potential for other questions is where it gets interesting.  As noted in this week’s Chaska Herald, the District has surveyed residents on a number of possible referendums in recent months, including:

  • A $2.3 million technology levy (54% support/strongly support in the survey)
  • School security facility improvements (64%)
  • Dedicated facility for early childhood education (55%)
  • Purchase land for a new elementary school in Chaska or Carver (46%)
  • New swimming pool (38%)
  • Theater facility at Chaska High School (38%)
  • Construction of a domed athletic facility (38%)
  • New soccer/lacrosse fields (28%)

The last four items on the above list are dead on arrival.  And, despite the favorable survey results for the technology levy, going back to that well again may not prove to be wise.  That leaves us with three items for consideration, and let’s look at the case for and against each of them:

School security facility improvements:  FOR: These changes would largely update some of the older schools in the District to reconfigure and update entrances and other security features.  An example of such a change would be at Jonathan Elementary, where the front entrance of the school would be changed to funnel visitors through the office instead of into the school’s main floor hallway. AGAINST: Since Newtown, District schools have made staffing adjustments as required to help monitor entrances that are antiquated in their design.  Could these processes be continued less expensively than making facility upgrades?

Dedicated facility for early childhood education:  FOR:  Today, early childhood programs are spread across multiple facilities in the District (including Chaska High School and Bluff Creek and Chanhassen Elementary Schools).  The District’s E-8 Task Force has been looking at different options for siting early childhood programs, but the enrollment crunch at the elementary schools and the possible changes in high school boundaries puts these programs in the lurch.  A dedicated facility would provide stability for these programs, which could increase utilization and improve efficiency (staff today frequently has to travel between buildings). AGAINST:  Having multiple locations for early childhood programs can also be an advantage, as it can also drive enrollment.  A Chanhassen resident, for instance, may not be interested in driving their child westward in the morning to a centralized facility but could take advantage of programs currently in Chanhassen elementary schools.  Also, if a new elementary school is built, might existing space (like the Kindergarten Center) be adapted instead?  This is also a potentially expensive project, depending on location and size.

Purchase land for a new elementary school in Chaska or Carver:  A new elementary school in the western portion of the District is inevitable at this point, based on the sudden burst of new residential development in Southwest Chaska, Carver, and Victoria this year as well as legislative actions like the move to universal all-day kindergarten.  And while the District can likely muddle along with the current facilities for three to five more years, the right time to buy land for a new school may be now.  Why?  Historically low interest rates and low property values.  Waiting to buy the land until the school must be constructed could cost District taxpayers millions in increased expense and interest.  It’s also fairly standard practice to secure land before securing the funding for construction, so as not to be delayed when you actually do need to build the school.  For instance, the District acquired the future Chanhassen High School property via a levy passed in 2004 — five years and an additional referendum before the building was built and opened.  AGAINST:  Why spend a significant amount of money on buying land until it is absolutely necessary to do so?

It’s unlikely, of course, that District would put all three of these items on the ballot in addition to the operating levy renewal.  How should the School Board and Superintendent Jim Bauck proceed, then?

The reality is that none of the referendum questions is likely to succeed without a coordinated and coherent presentation of the facts behind the need for the referendum.  The District failed on that count with the 2011 technology levy.  From that perspective, the security upgrades have the easiest story to sell.

But if we’re truly interested in financial responsibility, the notion of buying land for the new elementary school needs to be on the table as well.  Being able to acquire land now at favorable terms makes sense, since we know that the school will need to be constructed at some point in the short- to medium-term.

Past School Boards have been very cautious about putting referendum questions on the ballot, even those that do show majority support.  Even though the concept of buying land for a new elementary school shows mixed support in the survey, it may well be the right thing to do.  And the District should fight for doing the right thing by its citizens and taxpayers.

[Photo is Family Feud host Richard Dawson, from back in the day.]

To the Woodshed We Go

 

Sometimes, it’s not just the weather that makes you cranky.  Sometimes, it’s the politicians that drive you nuts.  Let’s take some folks out to the woodshed for some well-deserved constructive criticism.

Legislative Republicans:  For Digging the Hole Even Deeper

A few days ago, we talked about how Legislative Republicans were engaging in some rather remarkable rhetoric about the state budget — and that their promises were unlikely to add up unless they introduced substantial cuts to all areas of the budget outside of K-12 education and health and human services.  Well, yesterday, it got worse.  House DFLers introduced their K-12 education bill, and Republicans (Rep. Kelby Woodard again) added to their audacious promises.  Already faced with the prospect of coming up with nearly $1.5 billion in cuts, Woodard signed the GOP up for a 2% increase in the basic formula ($300 million) and fixing the special education funding gap (another $475 million on top of the DFL proposal).  Doing all of what Woodard and the GOP claim can be done with “existing resources” would now take over $2 billion in cuts to other areas of the budget, or nearly a 20% across-the-board cut.  Again, remember these numbers the next time a Republican legislator bloviates about how everything can be done with “existing resources” without offering any details of how they would make it happen.

Governor Mark Dayton and House DFLers:  For Bonding Bills That Need Some Changes

This week, Governor Mark Dayton and the House DFL caucus released their proposals for odd-year bonding packages.  Such requests are somewhat uncommon, as bonding is usually done in even years only, although additional bonding has become a frequent point of negotiation during budget stalemates in recent years.  While I agree with DFL logic that we should take advantage of low interest rates to invest in infrastructure, an odd-year bonding package should imply that we’re doing some special things here.  Too much of both proposals is taken up with the same old local projects (many of which have been already rejected in previous cycles), which can easily wait for inclusion in the usual even-year bonding package.  The House bill has some stronger elements to it — particularly its increased emphasis on transportation and higher education projects.

It’s also inconceivable to me that you can have two $800 million bonding bills, none of which make any commitment to the Mayo Clinic “Destination Medical Center” proposal.  As a state, we have an opportunity to support nearly $6 billion in private investment in the state with a maximum of $585 million in infrastructure improvements.  We should be jumping at this opportunity to help create thousands of long-term, good-paying jobs in Southern Minnesota by including a substantial investment towards this project (between $75 and $150 million as called for in the stand-alone legislation).

I’d like to see a more focused bonding bill that focuses on transportation, higher education, State Capitol renovation, and the Mayo project — less expensive and more appropriate for an odd-year bonding package.

While we’re at it, let’s also deliver a kick-in-the-pants to the Democratic majorities in the Legislature for the leisurely pace of their budget bills so far.  Last session, the Republican majorities had already passed through the first version of all the budget proposals by this point (to be fair, they then languished for a long time in conference committee before coming back for final approval).  It’s time to shift the budget process into a higher gear, folks.

Minnesota Vikings Stadium Supporters:  For Not Facing Reality

Here’s another issue where on the merits, Governor Mark Dayton and other Minnesota Vikings stadium supporters are right.  In the whole scheme of things, the shortfall in e-pulltab revenues is a problem, but not a crisis.  And stadium opponents are indeed grandstanding (here’s looking at you, Sen. Sean Nienow).  But, guess what?  This problem was foreseeable at the start — maybe not to this extent — but it was hardly a secret that there were serious concerns over the revenue projections.  If you want to shut Nienow and the like up, the answer is simple:  fix the bill and put in place a better backup plan.  Trying to wait this thing out in the hopes the revenue situation will improve is only going to make this issue grow and grow and grow.

It would also help matters if the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Sports Facilities, which will have oversight of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority budget was more balanced from an ideological perspective.  Of the 12 members, 10 voted for the stadium bill, one voted against (Rep. Jim Davnie) and one is a freshman (Sen. Karin Housley).  Having some legislators with a more skeptical eye would be useful to the process.

Carver County GOP:  For Wallowing in Sleaze and Extremism

Our good friends over at the Carver County GOP have taken to the Twitter.  So far, they’ve managed to find links to just about every cheap and baseless conspiracy theory out there.  Here are a few examples:

One would have thought that official Republican party bodies would have given up birtherism and bogus voter fraud nonsense by now, but I guess not.  But if tinfoil hats are your thing, you should follow them.

Hoppe hears it from Carver County GOP Executive Committee

This week’s Chaska Herald features a letter to the editor by Carver County GOP Chair Vince Beaudette on behalf of the group’s Executive Committee.  The letter, titled “An open letter to Rep. Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska)”, calls out Hoppe for his support of H.F. 1083, which would institute judicial retention elections.

Scan of letter from March 28, 2013 edition of the Chaska Herald

Scan of letter from March 28, 2013 edition of the Chaska Herald

While I agree with Beaudette and the GOP Executive Committee on the merits of the judicial retention elections issue, this is a somewhat unusual step.  It’s not as if Hoppe has a long history of straying from party principles, although his vote in favor the the Vikings stadium did result in a poorly-organized challenge to his endorsement last year.  Perhaps it was prompted by supporters of State Sen. Julianne Ortman alleging something of a double standard regarding treatment of local legislators when they back bills seen as insufficiently conservative.

Either way, it’s an interesting side note to what has been a relatively quiet session thus far for Carver County’s House delegation.

Waconia pastor goes viral with inaccurate HIV/AIDS testimony at Legislature [UPDATED]

Mike Frey, the pastor at Northern Lights Baptist Church in Waconia, emerged as the viral celebrity of yesterday’s hearings on the marriage equality bills at the State Legislature thanks to his colorfully inaccurate testimony in the House Civil Law Committee.  Here are some key excerpts, where Frey attempted to argue public health concerns:

When there is ejaculation into a vagina, there is a barrier there, as in your packet it states there, of a cellular tissue that doesn’t allow the sperm — that has an enzyme at the head of it, to penetrate the blood flow. It is designed to go to the egg — that enzyme is designed to burn the outside membrane of the egg cell — go inside the egg, and then deposit the DNA. We call that conception.

When ejaculation occurs inside of a colon it is a highly absorbent material, the cells do not have a barrier for the sperm and those enzymes to enter into the bloodflow. When the enzymes enter into the bloodflow and a continued, prolonged, um, environment to that happens these enzymes into bloodflow it causes what we know as AIDS — acquired immune deficiency syndrome. …

There is an example in Los Angeles County, California, where among the gay community a rash almost like boils, and a very raw skin broke out on the hands, feet, butt, mouth of these gay communities and they couldn’t find a cure for it for a long time.

Frey’s medical information here isn’t exactly correct.  Let’s set the record straight.

First off, the vagina doesn’t have a barrier that prevents HIV/AIDS transmission.  In fact, because there is more surface area in the vagina and the fact that sperm can stay in the vagina for hours or days, women are about twice as likely to be infected from unprotected heterosexual sex than men are.

Frey’s California anecdote appears to be referring to an outbreak of community-acquired MRSA in 2005-2006.  There’s nothing gay-specific about MRSA, as it most typically occurs in hospital settings, while other breakouts have occurred in places where folks live in close quarters (prisons and military barracks), and among folks who frequently get small scrapes and cuts (football players, for instance, are 17 times more likely to get MRSA than a person in the general population).

[UPDATE]:  Sally Jo Sorensen at Bluestem Prairie follows the money behind Frey and Northern Lights Baptist Church.

[Image is a screengrab from MN House video feed]

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