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Capitol Chatter: The health care shoe is on the other foot

ST. PAUL — House and Senate Democratic budget outlines surprised few in the Capitol, but proposing to cut $150 million from health and human services programs was the exception.

In fact, it was a shocker to many, coming from the party that spent years blasting Republican efforts to chop programs for the poor, elderly and disabled.

Health care advocates were thrilled when Democrats took control of the governor’s office and the House and Senate this year, thinking that would bode well for them getting back some of the money they lost in the past decade.

House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he wants this year to be known as the year of education in the Legislature, and Democrats propose increasing education spending by $700 million. At the same time, the speaker said unspecified cuts are possible in the massive health care budget, the state’s second-largest spending area behind education.

The news was not well-received by the two health and human services finance chairmen: Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, and Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth.

One report indicated Huntley thought about resigning as committee chairman after learning about the cut. While he did not tell Forum News Service he could have resigned, he did not mince words: “We have a very bad target we got from leadership.”

In an interesting exchange of positions, Republicans who have called for less state health care spending in the past were critical of the DFL plan to cut.

Rep. Jim Abeler of Anoka, who led GOP House health care efforts when Republicans were in charge, said Republicans did not so much cut as just did a better job of managing health and human services programs.

That area of the budget is the fastest growing and most difficult to control as health care costs have soared for years. Gov. Mark Dayton praised Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson for managing the budget and finding savings in many programs, but said more is needed.

Dayton shows emotion

Anyone who knows Mark Dayton even a little realizes his attachment to his German shepherd dogs run deep, so it was no surprise that emotion flowed when one died.

“My wonderful dog, Mesabi, died suddenly and unexpectedly this afternoon,” the bachelor governor wrote on his Facebook page Thursday night. “He was two months shy of his 11th birthday.”

Dayton told about Mesabi being diagnosed with cancer a few days before dying and undergoing surgery.

“I was told that the surgery went fine and that there were no visible signs of the cancer having spread,” Dayton wrote.

Mesabi returned to the veterinarian Thursday, and the governor was told “he checked out fine. When he returned to the residence, however, he just lay in the driveway.”

The dog was carried upstairs in the governor’s official residence and Dayton worked next to him. Mesabi died suddenly an hour later.

“Mesabi was a terrific dog,” Dayton said. “Everyone who knew him, adored him. He loved to sit in the front yard and quietly watch people walk by on Summit Avenue.”

While saying he is fortunate to still have the younger Wanamingo and Itasca German shepherds, the governor said he will miss Mesabi:

“He was a loyal, devoted friend. He and his sister, Dakota, who passed away two years ago, brought so much joy into my life. As I wrapped him in a blanket, I thought of a line from a long-ago song by Blood, Sweat, and Tears. ‘And when I die, when I’m gone, there’ll be one child born in this world, to carry on. Carry on.’”

Al and Conan

The invitation was simply signed “Conan,” but everyone who received it knew who it was from.

“I’m having my friend Al — and some of his best supporters — over for brunch on Sunday, April 7,” the email said. “And I’ve got room for you and a friend.”

Late-night television star Conan O’Brien is helping U.S. Sen. Al Franken raise money for his 2014 re-election bid.

“Al’s a funny guy, a good friend, and a great senator who always stands up for Minnesota,” O’Brien wrote.

People who contribute to Franken’s campaign by Sunday are eligible to be in a drawing for dinner with O’Brien.

“So if you’ve always wanted to eat eggs with me, well, that’s kind of a weird lifelong dream,” O’Brien wrote, “but this could be your chance to make it come true.”

One warning came with the invitation: “Please don’t steal any silverware.”

Seeking MNsure board

Gov. Mark Dayton wants a few good people to run a new health insurance marketplace.

Hours after he signed a bill setting up MNsure, he began to seek members of a seven-person board that will run the effort. The board will pick insurance plans MNsure offers and govern the mostly online place to buy insurance.

Dayton is seeking regular consumers and those to represent the interests of small businesses and health care programs. Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson is an automatic member.

More information is at

‘Dems want more’

Rep. Pat Garofalo said Democrats are not showing their true stripes in their budget proposals.

“The Democrats aren’t doing what they want to do, they are doing what they think they can get away with,” the Farmington Republican said.

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.