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Capitol Chatter: Politicians roll with fair punches

Bob and Jan Benson of Floodwood talk to Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk in the Minnesota Senate state fair booth during the 2013 event. Don Davis | Forum News Service

FALCON HEIGHTS — The Minnesota State Fair is a place for political leaders to offer their ideas, and occasionally to suffer a few punches, at least figuratively.

House Speaker Paul Thissen of Minneapolis and Tom Bakk of Cook sat at the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party booth answering softball questions from the party’s communications director, but when she began taking audience questions, things changed.

Farmer Dave Werner from near Montevideo delivered a speech attacking the DFL’s increased taxes.

"How are you going to get young people back out in the country?" he asked.

"They are slapping taxes" on farmers, he added, such as a new sales tax on farm implement repairs. "Overtaxing does not solve the problems."

Thissen said Republicans raised agriculture property taxes when they removed the market value homestead credit a couple of years ago. But he added that since Democrats took control of state government this year, there has been little property tax relief specifically aimed at farmers.

Later, Bakk, a former union leader, said he favors raising the state’s minimum wage, but there are issues such as how that affects communities near states with lower wages. He was heckled by a woman who wants the wage raised.

Bakk said he expects a higher wage to come out of the 2014 Legislature.

The DFL booth interaction was not the norm at the 2013 fair.

During election years, especially, there often are strong partisan exchanges. But that did not appear to be the case this year.

Long-time Senate fair booth curator Scott Magnuson said the mood was calmer this year. Perhaps voters are more content, he speculated, or maybe the hot weather stifled arguments.

Bilking seniors fought

A group of mostly senior citizens stood around Peggy Hiestand-Harri during a state fair appearance in which she talked about her mother losing $47,000 to con artists.

"I am a fraud fighter," the Duluth woman declared, to the cheer of those assembled.

She told the story of her mother, then 82, who received a call in 2010 saying she won $2.5 million and a Mercedes Benz car. After a series of calls, she sent the money to the con artists, who said they needed the funds before she could get her winnings.

"It is much too embarrassing and law enforcement can do little," Hiestand-Harri said, so few such incidents are reported.

She has testified in front of Minnesota legislative committees and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., suggested she also should go to Congress to testify for a bill Klobuchar supports to crack down on con artists who target the elderly.

"More bad actors are coming out of the woodwork" as the population ages, Klobuchar said.

The bill Klobuchar supports would increase education so the elderly and their families are warned about such dangers.

Office break-ins reported

Five Republican state legislator and staff offices were broken into early in the week.

The Public Safety Department reported that it is investigating the theft of $15 from a fund-raiser envelope, blood pressure medication and keys to offices on the State Office Building’s second floor. Locks are being replaced on the floor, a House spokesman said.

A House Republican spokeswoman said there is no evidence the burglary was political.

Facing reality

Politicians sometimes think everyone follows their every move, but a state fair episode proves that is not always the case.

Gov. Mark Dayton was walking through the Education Building when a couple of elderly women came upon him. One quietly asked the other: "Who is that politician?"

When asked why she thought he was a politician, the woman said that she had seen his picture many times. When told he was Gov. Dayton, she walked on, saying she would have no further comment.

The elderly woman’s comments came minutes after Dayton read "Llama Llama Red Pajamas" to a dozen children at the Education Department’s fair booth.

Dayton, who suffers hip problems, got on all fours to talk to kids on their level, asking each one: "My name is Mark, who are you?"

Short job notice

Potential secretary of state candidate Kent Kaiser was not thrilled to see a state agency giving little time for people to apply for a state job.

He tweeted about a job offered by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which posted a job as being open on Tuesday, with applications due the following day.

The job, a top information officer position, would pay up to $50,550.

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.