Tag Archives: Featured

A balancing act for District 112?

The Eastern Carver County School District (District 112) has put its E-8 and high school facility task forces on hold until fall, as the two groups wait for a refresh on demographic projections for the next decade.  A faster than expected recovery in residential construction as well as the Legislature’s recent approval of all-day kindergarten for all students may spark discussions of new facilities earlier than anticipated.

While specific decisions on boundaries and possible new school construction will now wait until 2014, the issues the task forces were wrestling with remain.  On the elementary school level, a permanent home needs to be found for La Academia (the District’s rapidly growing Spanish immersion program) and the Family Learning Center, overcrowding in the three western schools (Victoria, Clover Ridge, and East Union) has to be addressed, and a likely shortage in kindergarten rooms resulting from the Legislature’s approval of all-day kindergarten must be resolved.  At this level, the issues boil down to a numbers game — finding a way to make sure that there is sufficient building capacity to meet enrollment and then drawing boundaries in a way that make the most sense for the District as a whole.

On the high school level, the issue is more difficult and more philosophical.  There’s enough capacity in both high schools to last the District for the next decade.  Chanhassen High School has (and is projected to continue to have) higher enrollment than Chaska High School by 200-300 students and Chaska High’s population is significantly more diverse (on a percentage basis, there are nearly three times as many non-white students and students receiving free or reduced lunches compared to Chanhassen High).

Although the Chanhassen facility is newer, the two schools now essentially provide the same amenities, with the exception of a “black box” theater, after the District has invested nearly $3 million in renovations to Chaska High since 2011.

The feeder system for the two high schools is based strictly on city lines — something that was strongly promoted by city leaders in both Chanhassen and Chaska and is easy to explain and understand.  Could this change?  Well, it’s possible.  The unbalanced enrollment and demographics between the two high schools is an issue which some feel should be addressed.  Does drawing boundary lines based on city limits do the best service to all of the children served by the District?

How could things change?  Well, some have suggested moving away from city boundaries for the high schools and moving to an elementary-school based feeder program (3 or 4 elementary schools could be designated to feed into each high school).  Other thoughts on balancing include using different geographical boundaries to split the District among the two high schools.  But there’s also plenty of folks who would favor keeping things just as they are today.

What do you think?  Take the polls below, and leave your thoughts in the comments.

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Ortman faces uphill climb in potential race against Franken

Public Policy Polling released the first detailed polling on the 2014 U.S. Senate race today.  It shows that U.S. Senator Al Franken is — as of today, anyway — in pretty good shape 17 months out from the election.

Franken currently holds a +9 in his job approval ratings (51% approve vs. 42% disapprove) which is a solid rating for an incumbent heading into a re-election campaign.  Franken also currently holds at least a 15-point lead against any of the possible challengers polled.  Businessman Mike McFadden (the only potential candidate who has publicly expressed interest in the race) and Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek trail Franken by 15 points, while State Senator Julie Rosen trails by 16 and U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann, radio talk show host Jason Lewis, and Chanhassen’s own State Senator Julianne Ortman trail Franken by 17.

There’s not a lot of good news in the polling data for Ortman.  Ortman’s name recognition is low (80% didn’t know who she was), but among those who did know her, almost four times as many had an unfavorable opinion as had a favorable opinion.  Those numbers gave her the lowest favorability numbers among the potential candidates in the poll.  Worse, she had an unfavorable opinion among Republicans and self-identified conservatives who knew who she was.  Franken leads Ortman by 29 points among women and by four points among men (even though Franken polls -8 in job approval among men).  However, her low name recognition does give her the opportunity to introduce herself on her own terms to voters.

Numbers like these help explain why Ortman may have felt the need to take time from the end-of-session rush last week to try and blast Franken over the IRS investigations of Tea Party groups.  If she intends to run, she needs to drive name recognition and establish herself as a credible contender because based on the polling numbers and Franken’s formidable fundraising — it’s going to be an uphill battle.

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.

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.]

Session endgame heats up with marriage equality vote Thursday

The Minnesota House of Representatives will vote on H.F. 1054 — the marriage equality bill — on Thursday.  The movement of this bill to the floor is a signal from leadership in the DFL majority that they have the necessary 68 votes to pass the bill, as Speaker of the House Paul Thissen has indicated he would not bring the bill up for vote unless there was sufficient votes to pass it.

In recent weeks, there has been substantial movement among rural DFL legislators towards the bill, including Hinckley’s Tim Faust and Crosby’s Joe Radinovich just within the last few days.  With passage seemingly assured at this point, the interesting thing to watch will be if any suburban Republicans vote yes on the bill as well.  21 House Republicans — including Chaska’s Joe Hoppe and Chanhassen’s Cindy Pugh — represent districts that opposed last November’s marriage amendment.  As of now, none of them have publicly indicated their support for marriage equality.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk says he has sufficient votes in his caucus to pass the bill in that chamber as well, but does not intend to bring the bill to the floor until after the House vote.  Governor Mark Dayton has indicated he will sign the bill if it passes both chambers.

Ten states currently have marriage equality, and Delaware’s legislature is also voting on the issue this week (with passage expected).

Meanwhile, negotiations designed to produce a compromise budget between the House, Senate, and Governor are ongoing.  As noted previously, untangling the three tax plans is likely to biggest source the most difficult challenge faced by the negotiators.  With less than two weeks left in the session, the pace is likely to be rather hectic to get through all the necessary business by then.

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