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Sen. Rod Skoe addresses Beltrami County Democrats Sunday at their annual county convention. Brad Swenson | Bemidji Pioneer

Beltrami County DFLers criticize Republican social agenda at convention

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Not willing to solve a pending state budget deficit with raising taxes, Republicans instead are focusing on a social agenda that ignores Minnesota's financial problems and fails to create jobs, says Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook.

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Skoe was the first politician out of the chute Sunday afternoon as the Beltrami County DFL held its convention at the Bemidji State University Beaux Arts Ballroom. The 82 delegates elected nine delegates and nine alternates to carry the county banner into congressional district conventions and the state DFL convention, June 2-3, in Rochester, Minn.

Skoe said the Republicans push for no new taxes over the last decade has hampered every attempt at seeking government efficiency even if the proposal raises a miniscule amount of revenue from taxes. He cited examples where efforts to extend cigarette tax rates to small cherry-flavored cigars to help keep them away from children failed because it would raise several hundred thousand dollars in revenue.

Similarly, a proposal would create efficiency in the auto industry by charging tax on paint used for cars in a commercial setting at a wholesale rather than retail level, he said. Everyone was in favor except the Republicans refused to carry the bill because it would raise a small amount of revenue in the process.

"They don't want to compromise, they don't care about governments; when they can't get their way, they moved to the constitutional questions," Skoe said. Already, voters this fall will face a question affirming that marriage is between a man and a woman. So the approach is another question requiring that a person show a government issued photo ID in order to vote. Debate rages on another question asking voters to make Minnesota a "Right to Work" state in the Constitution, meaning that union membership would become voluntary.

"So this is the group that wants to get government out of our lives, and along the way they're going to take away our rights and they're going to take away people's right to vote," he said. The state faces at least a $1.2 billion deficit and apparently Republicans don't want to deal with it.

"We couldn't raise any income taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans, not even 2 cents on the dollar, but we could eliminate the market value homestead credit, which raise everybody's property taxes by significant numbers," Skoe said. "It's just not fair what they did in the last session."

Other legislators who spoke Sunday agreed with Skoe.

"Rod gave you a pretty good flavor of what's happening at the Capitol," said Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids. "We are now in the seventh week of the second year of the biennium and so far the only thing that Republican leadership has only really done is pass a constitutional amendment on photo ID."

He was speaking of the constitutional amendment asking that a photo ID be used to vote. Saxhaug said he used a floor statement to point out that three of the four counties he represents use mail-in ballots and asked Republicans how absentee ballot and mailed-in ballots will be verified under a photo ID law. He said he was told that "the next Legislature will take care of it."Saxhaug also blasted Republican efforts for a constitutional amendment question to have Minnesota become a "Right to Work" state, making union membership voluntary.

Saxhaug currently represents Senate District 3 which includes the Grand Rapids area, going south to Aitkin County and north to Lake of the Woods County. In the new redistricting, a new district was created that pits Saxhaug against District 4's Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji. District 5 will include both Grand Rapids Bemidji, posing an interesting matchup between Carlson on the west and Saxhaug to the east, and between Republicans and Democrats.

"There is a 12-step process to recovery," Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, told delegates about Republican efforts to gain economic recovery, and referring to the Alcoholics Anonymous recovery program. "The first thing is to acknowledge that you have a problem. Last year we get away with the homestead tax credit and you think you learn, going out and talking to folks on Main Street. I talked to mine and they're mad as heck."

Persell blasted Republican efforts this session to do away with the renters credit in favor of funding more tax relief to businesses. He said he opposes the effort for a "Right to Work" amendment, saying it is nothing but "union bashing."

Redistricting will have Persell in a new District 5B with an expansion south to Walker in the ground Leech Lake, including the Leech Lake Reservation. It also means that Persell will be facing Republican Rep. Larry Howes, who now represents the Walker area.

"The issues in my campaign brochure in 2008 are as applicable today as they were in 2008," Persell said, citing the need for a fair and balanced budget and in establishing values in government services.

Redistricting also creates a new District 2A, which will include most of Beltrami County except the Bemidji area. Represented now by Rep. David Hancock, R-Bemidji, three Democrats presented the credentials of two delegates.

Those seeking the nomination, which will be determined April 14 in Mahnomen, are Sean Peterson, a Bagley High School teacher and son of U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District; Mark Edevold, Bagley mayor, who has run before for the House 2B seat; and Roger Erickson, a retired elementary school teacher from Baudette.

Also speaking to the group was Rick Nolan, a former U.S. House member from the 6th District who is coming out of retirement to seek the 8th District seat held by freshman U.S. Rep Chip Cravaack, a Republican. Nolan is one of three Democrats seeking the nomination in that race.

"We need to turn things around and we need to turn them around now," Nolan said. "The simple truth is ... The rich are getting richer in this country in degrees that are unparalleled. And the fact is the poor are getting poorer in this country, something we haven't seen in generations. And the middle class is getting crushed in the process."

America needs to end wars such as in Afghanistan in order to help cut federal deficits, he said. Also, an end needs to be found for the Bush-era tax cuts and tax loopholes. Social Security and Medicare also have to be secured and protected.

In convention business, elected as delegates to congressional and state conventions in the 7th District were Roy Nelson, Gary Fuller, David Landcaster, Arlys Stillday, Rita Albrecht and Stephanie Cobenais. Alternates are Matthew Havumaki, Linda Lemmer, Roger Wire, Ryan Frank, Annette Fremgren and Jackie Ryder.

Elected as 8th District delegates were Mike Simpkins, Pam McCrory and Soren Sorensen. Alternates are Louise Mengelkoch, Chris Brown and Paul Brown.

The group also elected 11 people to the county party's board of directors.

BRAD SWENSON is retired after spending more than three decades at the Pioneer, including as political editor.

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