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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.

It’s not news when the train doesn’t wreck

With the central element of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — the health care exchanges — slated to go online in October, there’s been a lot of concern about how these exchanges will be implemented.  17 states (including Minnesota) have elected to build their own exchanges, 27 states are defaulting to the federal exchange, and seven states are doing a hybrid model based on the federal exchange.

Opponents of the law, naturally are going all gloom-and-doom on the implications (even going so far as to take a quote by Democratic Senator Max Baucus where he worried about a “train wreck” out of context to further their cause).

But what if it doesn’t turn out to be a train wreck after all?  There have been some interesting developments in recent weeks that lead one to believe that strong, proactive management of exchanges by states can lead to positive results.

In Maryland, the largest insurer in that state (Care First) proposed a shocking 25% increase in premiums for 2014, which was widely cited as a troubling statistic for the ACA.  But nearly every other insurer in the state has proposed premium increases below 10%.  Care First either stands to lose a significant amount of market share, or they’re going to have to lower their rates.

In California, meanwhile, proposed premiums on their health care exchange have come in significantly lower than predicted.  2009 Congressional Budget Office projections anticipated that a “silver” plan (one that covers 70% of expected health care costs) would have a yearly premium of $5,200, while an actuarial firm projected an annual premium of $5,400.  When the actual prices were released yesterday, the actual average yearly premium for a “silver” plan is going to be about $3,300, or 35% lower than the CBO projection.

Oregon’s health care exchange is seeing similar patterns to Maryland.  After releasing the costs for all of the plans that will be on its exchange earlier this month, two large insurers have asked to come back and lower their prices after discovering that some competitors were pricing the same coverage for less than half the cost.

Meanwhile, we’ve seen evidence that health care inflation has been slowing substantially.  Provisions of the ACA have contributed to this trend and further policies, such as increased use of competitive bidding for Medicare-paid medical equipment slated to roll out between now and 2016, should only continue it.

These sorts of things should provide us here in Minnesota with hope that our health exchange — named MNSure — will be able to deliver coverage to citizens at a reasonable cost.  Minnesota has always worked hard to give our citizens access to health care and that should only get better under the ACA.

From a political perspective, we too should also remember that what voters tend to value about these sorts of programs is the real-world impacts on their lives.  Opponents of Medicare thought that implementation problems (that did happen) would end up undermining the program and resulting in its repeal.  Opponents of Medicare Part D thought the same thing.  In both cases, what opponents of those programs discovered is that voters ultimately liked the fact that they were guaranteed health care as a senior citizen and that they liked programs that helped them pay less for their prescriptions.  Outright repeal of these programs today is essentially unthinkable.

Ultimately, I think we’ll find the fact that the ACA ensures that you’re always going to have access to our health care system in a reasonably affordable way is going to outweigh any implementation problems at the beginning of the program. In fact, if states that are actively managing their exchanges end up producing better results, it may become a political liability for states that have chosen to actively fight implementation of the law.  After all, if dysfunctional California can build a working exchange with lower-than-expected health insurance premiums, why can’t Texas?

[Image courtesy of the Alexandria Echo Press, is of a 1904 train wreck in Osakis.]

Carver County House Vote Tracker – 2013

With the 2013 Legislative Session in the books, here’s a look back at how Carver County’s House delegation, Rep. Ernie Leidiger (District 47A – central and western Carver County), Rep. Joe Hoppe (District 47B – eastern Carver County), and Rep. Cindy Pugh (District 33B – northeast Chanhassen) voted on the key bills that the chamber took action on this year:

votetracker13

[CORRECTION, 5/21: Pugh voted “Yes” on the SF 541 Sunday sales amendment, not “No”.]

Data sourced from the House archive of roll-call votes.

It’s totally not about that

State Senator Julianne Ortman held a press conference today to try and finger U.S. Senator Al Franken for playing a role in the current controversy over the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) giving unwarranted scrutiny to certain conservative 501(c)(4) groups.

In 2012, Franken and a group of other Democratic Senators sent two letters to the IRS, requesting that they give added scrutiny to 501(c)(4) groups.  Both progressive and conservative organizations had been setting such groups up because they are tax-exempt and not subject to campaign finance disclosures.

You can see the letters at the links below:

February 2012 letter

March 2012 letter

In each, the Senators in question ask the IRS to scrutinize all 501(c)(4)s.  Ideology doesn’t come up in either letter.

So, let’s sum up the argument here.  Ortman is asking us to believe that the letters from 2012 which called for additional scrutiny to be applied to all 501(c)(4)s are significantly responsible for IRS misbehavior that began in 2010 and was actually uncovered and stopped after the letter was sent.  Not even the reliable conservatives at Powerline are buying that one.

Why, then, would Ortman go to the trouble of calling a press conference to highlight this non-news with no real relation to her role as a State Senator?  Oh, yeah:

When asked about such a thing, Ortman played the “who me?” card.

Uh-huh.  It’s totally not about that.

And let’s not forget that Ortman has never exactly been shy about sending letters of her own demanding action by other parts of government.  Earlier this session, she asked Attorney General Lori Swanson to break from usual practice and preemptively give a ruling on whether legislation was constitutional or not.  Last session, Ortman demanded that the Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court investigate the handling of family cases in the First District.

So it seems that Ortman’s outrage over legislative letter-writing is rather subjective.  Just remember, though, about those 2014 rumors:  it’s totally not about that.

Senate passes care workers unionization bill; House vote expected Saturday

The Minnesota State Senate voted 35-32 today to pass S.F. 778, which would enable independent day care operators and personal care attendants who serve customers that receive state subsidies to organize unions.  All Republicans in the chamber, including Sen. Julianne Ortman of Chanhassen, voted against the bill as did four DFL Senators (Terri Bonoff of Minnetonka, Melisa Franzen of Edina,  Greg Clausen of Apple Valley, and Bev Scalze of Little Canada).  The bill now moves to the House; which is expected to take up the bill on Saturday.  It appears that there are sufficient votes in the House to pass the bill, which Governor Mark Dayton has indicted he would sign.

Republicans in the Senate subjected the bill to 17 hours of debate, reflecting the highly controversial nature of the bill.  Unionization of such persons would be a different model than the traditional form of labor union, where employees organize and collectively bargain with their employers.  If the union were to be approved in this case, independent day care operators and personal care attendants — who generally function as small businesses of their own or independent contractors — would have a union to work on their behalf in St. Paul, bargaining with state agencies on work rules and regulations and lobbying legislators on reimbursement rates.  Care workers who provide services to clients that receive state subsidies but who vote against the union would be subject to “fair share” dues to cover a portion of the costs of the union’s representation as they would benefit from whatever changes the union negotiates.

Republicans have objected to the redefinition of the traditional union relationship introduced by this bill.  Additionally, they point out that in some cases AFSCME Council 5 — which is seeking to represent the day care workers — would end up negotiating with other AFSCME employees over work rules.

These are indeed valid concerns — and that’s coming from someone who generally finds themselves in labor’s camp on these sorts of issues.  The much-derided federal Employee Free Choice Act had a number of good reforms in it, for instance — such as equalizing the standards for certifying and decertifying unions and improving enforcement of certification elections.

But S.F. 778 feels like a step too far.

That’s not to say, though, that independent day care operators and personal care attendants don’t have valid concerns.  Day care subsidies were cut by 2% in the last budget cycle, passing increased bills to strapped working class families and forcing hard decisions on providers of day care services.  Personal care attendants, meanwhile, are besieged by low pay, long hours, and physically demanding work.  They deserve better from state government than what they have received in recent years.

DFL majorities in the Legislature should focus on passing those reforms into law this session as opposed to passing a bill that looks like political payback.  There’s no reason that we can’t increase reimbursement rates and address a number of the work rule issues that would be of great benefit to these vital workers.  And if Republicans come back in the future and want to undo those changes, it shouldn’t be politically difficult to hammer them for it.

[Picture is S.F. 778 author Sandy Pappas.]

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]

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