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Capitol Chatter: White House touts new rural investment fund

  ST. PAUL —The Obama administration says it is trying to connect people with money to those in rural America who need funds.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, announced that the administration is setting up a $10 billion fund to jump-start investments in rural areas.

“This fund represents a new approach to our support for job-creating projects across the country,” Vilsack said in announcing the fund at a White House Rural Council meeting.

Encouraging private investment could help stretch what Vilsack called “finite” federal aid.

“We know where investment opportunities exist, so we are in a position to help promote these projects among investors,” the secretary said. “With new efforts like this we can move beyond existing programs and help encourage substantial private investment in projects that grow the economy and improve quality of life for millions of Americans.”

Many investors in urban areas do not know about opportunities for rural investments. Some areas where the fund could help, Vilsack said, include housing, healthcare, education, water and wastewater systems, energy and broadband projects.

“Meeting the world’s needs for food and farm products, as well as the growing demand in areas like renewable energy, local food and the bioeconomy will require continued investment in rural places,” Vilsack said.

While the fund begins at $10 billion, the administration wants it to grow with private additions. President Barack Obama aides suggest that pension funds, for instance, could invest.

The White House used the announcement as a chance to tout other rural initiatives, including a 2012 executive order Obama signed to make it cheaper to lay high-speed Internet cable on federal land and along roads. That and other initiatives are meant to make broadband more available in rural areas.

Also, the Federal Communications Commission is investing $2 billion in the next two years to “dramatically expand high-speed Internet connectivity for America’s schools and libraries,” the White House reported. The investment would help rural schools bring in classes they cannot offer themselves.

Nolan education?

The Roll Call political publication says that U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan, a Democrat who represents northeast and east-central Minnesota, is not changing along with the district he serves.

In an article entitled “The re-education of Rick Nolan,” Colin Diersing reports:

“The Gopher State Democrat returned to Congress in 2012 after a three-decade hiatus. This November, Nolan faces first-time candidate and wealthy businessman Stewart Mills in a historically strong Democratic district that encompasses Minnesota’s Iron Range.

“But the district has become increasingly competitive in recent years, and sources from both parties question Nolan’s willingness to adapt to the requirements of a high-stakes, 21st century re-election campaign.”

Roll Call and others point to Republican Chip Cravaack’s 2010 victory over long-time congressman Jim Oberstar as one example of how the district is changing from the former Democratic dominance.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has put Nolan on its most-vulnerable list and its Republican counterpart named Mills one of its “young guns.”

GOP challenger Mills raised $60,000 more than Nolan during the most recent quarter, repeating his performance in previous reporting periods. As Roll Call says, it is unusual for a challenger to outraise an incumbent.

Campaign updates

• Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton released his 2013 tax returns, showing he earned $352,601 and gave 10 percent to charity. He paid about 30 percent of his earnings in taxes.

• Republican governor candidate Jeff Johnson has been in the hospital after surgery for a peptic ulcer. He tweeted: “After strict 4-day no food/water policy at hospital, nothing seems more important than DQ announcing Chips Ahoy as Blizzard of month.”

• The state Office of Administrative Hearings dismissed a complaint by Matt Entenza’s state auditor campaign that alleges incumbent Auditor Rebecca Otto, a fellow Democrat, lied when she claimed that she had not voted in favor of requiring voters to show photo identifications. The Entenza campaign claims the issue was dismissed on a technicality while the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party maintains the decision was “a complete victory” for Otto.

• Republicans picked up on media reports indicating that U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., employs his son as campaign treasurer. Elliot Peterson, who lives in Tennessee, has been paid nearly $56,000 since the beginning of 2013. The congressman said his son knows him well and does a good job, but Republicans accuse him of nepotism.

• A professor widely quoted on politics has moved the Minnesota race between U.S. Sen. Al Franken and probable Republican nominee Mike McFadden from “likely Democrat” to “leans Democrat.” Professor Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia said: “While polling doesn’t really support such a move, history suggests this race won’t be a cakewalk for Sen. Al Franken,” pointing out that the Democrat won by just 312 votes six years ago.

• Independence Party governor candidate Hannah Nicollet failed to raise enough money on her own to earn a $178,000 state subsidy for her campaign. The money she would have received now will go to other candidates.

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.