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Capitol Chatter: Minnesota political conventions provide interesting about-face

Don Davis

Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — People attending next weekend’s Minnesota state political conventions may wonder if they are in the right place.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor party delegates meet in Duluth, while Republicans are packing their bags for Rochester. But once in place, delegates may discover the feeling in the two convention halls to be very different than usual.

Democrats, known for boisterous conventions that often end with Democrats challenging other Democrats in primary election contests, could have a peaceful time of it. There is no doubt that U.S. Sen. Al Franken and Gov. Mark Dayton will be crowned for second terms.

Two legislators are running for secretary of state, but otherwise the convention could be less exciting than usual.

In Rochester, however, Republicans could have the weekend’s raucous convention.

Candidates will fight for U.S. Senate and governor endorsements. But in a rarity for the GOP, several candidates plan to take their races to the Aug. 12 primary election regardless of who delegates pick.

Some candidates for the two offices pledge to abide by delegates’ votes and some are not certain even less than a week before the convention begins.

The thing to watch will be how Republican faithful react to candidates who plan to ignore the convention vote. In some activists’ minds, that is very un-Republican.

Two who plan to compete in the primary are Senate hopeful Mike McFadden and governor candidate Scott Honour. Both are wealthy businessmen who can provide plenty of campaign money.

Mark Dayton, another wealthy candidate, was not allowed on the DFL convention floor four years ago because he planned to challenge the delegates’ pick in a primary. After the primary, Democrats embraced him and he won a narrow November victory over Republican Tom Emmer.

Will the same happen this year for Republicans who ignore the party tradition of going through the caucus and convention process? That is what politicos will watch.

Minimum wage to rise

Minnesota’s minimum wage goes up to $9.50 an hour for large businesses and $7.75 for smaller ones in 2016, but many may not realize the march toward higher wages starts in about two months.

The Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry is reminding employers that as of Aug. 1, large employers must pay $8 and small firms $6.50. Small businesses are those with sales less than $500,000 a year.

Current wages are $6.15 for large businesses and $5.25 for smaller ones.

Most employers are required to pay the higher of the state or federal minimum wage. While President Barack Obama wants a $10.10 minimum wage, Congress likely will not go along with that for now.

Current federal minimum wage is $7.25.

Dayton happy now

Gov. Mark Dayton hosted a conference call with greater Minnesota reporters recently and one opened with a Minnesota nice question: “How you doing?”

Dayton did not hesitate with his reply: “Much better now that the Legislature has gone home.”

It was an interesting comment considering the Legislature is dominated by fellow Democrats.

Oberstar name pushed

U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, both Minnesota Democrats, are trying to get the U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters named for the late Jim Oberstar.

“Rep. Oberstar’s fingerprints can be found on just about every major federally funded transportation project during the last five decades: roads, bridges, tunnels, rails, locks and dams, bike paths,” Klobuchar said. “Every American who flies in an airplane or drives our federal highways can thank Jim Oberstar. Every American who bikes their bike trails, who hikes places like the beautiful Lake Superior trail in northern Minnesota or drives on our national highways and bridges should remember him. It is only fitting that the Department of Transportation building would honor his legacy.”

Oberstar died May 3. During his long congressional career he was best known as a transportation leader. At his peak, he was chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Bicycling was his transportation passion, and he was deeply involved in aviation issues, but he dealt with nearly everything transportation.

“By the time Jim rose to chairman of the House transportation committee, he knew more about transportation than anyone in this country,” Franken said.

Before he was elected to the House, Oberstar was a transportation committee staff member for a dozen years.

No more growling

People who want to fill their beer bottles on Sundays no longer can growl.

Known as growlers, the refillable bottles soon can be filled at breweries and tap rooms on Sundays.

“While there remains much more work to be done in Minnesota on the Sunday sales issue, these small provisions are a step in the right direction and will lead to greater economic opportunity for our booming craft brew industry,” Senate bill sponsor Sen. Roger Reinert, D-Duluth, said.

His bill was signed into law, but it was far cry from what he wants. Reinert long has fought for allowing liquor stores to be open on Sundays.

New laws signed

Gov. Mark Dayton has signed many bills into law since the Legislature adjourned for the year on May 16, including some in the past few days:

• A somewhat reworded bill that passed a year ago to put the power to raise legislators’ pay into the hands of an independent body instead of the Legislature. Voters will decide whether to establish the salary council in November of 2016.

• A crackdown on synthetic drugs, giving the state Pharmacy Board power to order stores selling the drugs to stop.

• A prohibition on insecticides being labeled as “beneficial” to pollinators such as bees if they actually can kill the insects.

• Increased penalties for killing or assaulting a prosecuting attorney or judge.

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.