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Capitol Chatter: The Minnesota ‘L’ gets lots of political attention

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Don Davis

Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Few people other than politicians think about the Minnesota “L.”

But the L is very important this election year as statewide offices and state House seats are up for election. Politicians are eager to get votes from rural Minnesotans who live in the southern and western parts of the state, areas that when looked at on a map resemble the letter L.

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About half a half dozen House races in the L appear at this still-early date up for grabs. That could be enough to decide which party controls the chamber.

As Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Sen. Al Franken face Republican challengers this year, traditionally Republican rural areas also could make the decision.

Republicans have taken notice.

“It’s time to fairly balance the needs of greater Minnesota with the metro area,” the state GOP announced in the lead-up to its state convention in Rochester. “Republicans focus on fairness for every area in Minnesota, not just those with the most powerful politicians.”

The Republican Party promised to focus on restoring the city-rural balance this year.

“Areas of the state and even specific communities are treated unfairly depending on who is most powerful at the time,” Republican Party Chairman Keith Downey said. “It’s wrong. This political gamesmanship has gotten out of hand and needs to end.”

The importance of rural votes became clear early this year when House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, invited a Forum News Service reporter to his office to discuss rural issues. It was the first time any speaker, or any Minneapolis politician, issued such an invitation.

Every step of the way during the recently completed legislative session, Republicans and Democrats alike tried to look rural friendly. The competition helped produce a compromise at the end of session that funded completion of the Lewis and Clark water system in southwestern Minnesota.

Minnesota, insurers settle

The Commerce Department has settled a case with Transamerica and MetLife over life insurance policy benefits.

Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said the settlement requires the two companies to pay benefits that Minnesotans were not paid. It also requires MetLife to pay the state $1.5 million and Transamerica to pay $2.5 million.

“The proceeds from the life insurance policies and annuities purchased by Minnesotans are expected to go to their loved ones upon their passing to provide financial security and peace of mind, not remain in the accounts of insurance companies,” Rothman said. “The thorough examination conducted by the Commerce Department not only rectifies the past practices of the companies, but puts in place important consumer protections to ensure Minnesotans are protected from these practices in the future.”

‘Fish for a lifetime’

Sen. Amy Klobuchar stood on the side of the Mississippi River a few days ago promoting a provision she got into an overall federal water bill to fight invasive carp.

“If you catch an invasive carp, you can eat for a week,” she said, adding that if the country can get rid of the invasive fish, “you can fish for a lifetime.”

Franken vs. stalking apps

U.S. Sen. Al Franken continues his fight against technological intrusion into Americans’ lives by hosting a Wednesday hearing about stalking apps.

Those are the smartphone applications that track movements without the phone owner’s permission. Most smartphones have global positional system connections that follow the phone whenever it is turned on.

The Senate privacy subcommittee hearing will take testimony Wednesday from a variety of witnesses, including Anoka County (Minn.) Detective Brian Hill, an expert in fighting GPS stalking.

“Most Americans have smartphones now,” Franken, D-Minn., said. “And the companies that make the software on your phone, including apps, can access extremely sensitive location data that reveals where you live, where you work, where you drop your kids off at school, the church you attend and the doctors you visit. I believe that Americans have the right to control who can collect that information, and whether or not it can be given to third parties.”

Dayton signs data bill

A law Gov. Mark Dayton signed Thursday requires some private businesses with state contracts to release information.

The bill makes public the data private firms use when doing government work. The state Supreme Court last year ruled that under state law a company did not have to publically release data about a school construction project.

The Timberjay newspaper in St. Louis County had sought information from Johnson Controls, which was involved in a school construction project.

DEED appoints two

Two men with rural Minnesota roots have been appointed to top Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development positions.

DEED Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben announced that Jeremy Hanson Willis and Blake Chaffee will be deputy commissioners.

Hanson Willis will be in charge of workforce development. He is an Ada native who went on to become former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak’s chief of staff.

Chaffee, who will be DEED’s chief operating officer, grew up in Cloverdale and graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He has been a communications advisor to Gov. Mark Dayton and U.S. Rep. James Oberstar’s political and communications director.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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