April 23, 2010
Democrats Are Headed North
DFLers are off to Duluth this weekend to endorse a candidate for governor at their state convention. The list of candidates include Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Senator John Marty of Roseville, former Representative Matt Entenza, and Representatives Tom Rukavina and Paul Thissen. Entenza does not plan to abide by the party's endorsement and will run in the August primary along with former U.S. Senator Mark Dayton and Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner. Kelliher and Rybak were the clear leaders in straw polls conducted at the February precinct caucuses but the race is still fair game. Over one-third of the 1,390 delegates claim to be undecided.
Other constitutional offices are up for endorsement as well. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, State Auditor Rebecca Otto and Attorney General Lori Swanson, who are running unopposed, will stand for endorsement by the DFL party for re-election. The Minnesota GOP will host their state convention at the end of next week. They too will endorse for Governor and constitutional offices. It appears to be a two-man race for the Republican gubernatorial endorsement between former House Republican Minority Leader Marty Seifert from Marshall and three term Representative Tom Emmer from Delano.
Governor Pawlenty outlined a new plan for education reform after Minnesota failed to receive funding in Phase One of "Race to the Top" (RTTP), a federal incentive program created to encourage progressive K-12 education reform. Grant applications are scored on criteria including great teachers and leaders, state success factors, and turning around the lowest-achieving schools. Forty states and the District of Columbia applied for the grant in Phase One of the competition. Tennessee and Delaware were the lone winners, receiving $500 million and $100 million respectively. Minnesota scored in the middle, ranking 20 out of the 41 applicants. Phase Tof the program allows RTTP contenders to revise applications and compete for a portion of the remaining $3.4 billion in the RTTP fund. Minnesota could be awarded as much as $175 million over four years.
Governor Pawlenty pointed the finger at Education Minnesota, blaming the teachers union's unwillingness to change as the reason Minnesota did not score higher. Pawlenty, the Legislature, and Education Minnesota are hoping to find some middle ground. The State will score higher if the proposal has the support of the teachers union. Pawlenty's plan includes, amongst other criteria, tiered licensure for teachers and principals, authority by the Commissioner of Education to intervene in consistently low-performing schools, and allowing successful charter schools to open additional sites. Phase Two applications must be submitted by June 1; winners will be announced in September.
Efforts to find compromise went too far, according to many legislators, when Tom Dooher, lobbyist and Education Minnesota President, and Alice Seagren, Education Commissioner, sat side-by-side with legislators at a committee table in Committee Tuesday afternoon. House Republicans were especially critical of the unconventional move because of Dooher's history of Democratic campaign contributions. Representative Marty Seifert (R-Marshall) introduced a new rule prohibiting registered lobbyists from sitting at committee tables. After a heated debate on the House floor, the rule was approved on a 128-2 vote.
GAMC Fix May Not Be A Fix After All
The last minute General Assistance Medical Care compromise is turning out to be rather unsuccessful. The compromise says that the state will no longer pay hospitals for treating GAMC patients, but will instead provide a block grant for up to 17 hospitals around the state provided the hospitals opt in to the Coordinating Care Organization program. Hennepin County Medical Center recently announced they would not take part after seeing the lack of interest from other hospitals. HCMC's concern is that they would have a disproportionate amount of GAMC patients and the funds allotted by the state would not cover their costs. Some DFLers are proposing abandoning the GAMC deal completely to apply for coverage for the GAMC population under the new federal health program. Republicans say doing so would cost the state more than it can afford right now. GAMC was cut last year as part of a number of unallotments made by Governor Pawlenty. The legislature drafted many proposals before reaching this compromise with the Governor just hours before the program was set to dissolve.
Next week, House Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee Chair Tom Huntley (DFL-Duluth) has announced he will roll out the House supplemental budget bill for HHS. Senate Chair Linda Berglin (DFL-Minneapolis) will begin hearings on bills to be included in the Senate HHS omnibus bill which will likely be the vehicle for the Senate HHS supplemental budget.
The Supreme Court heard arguments on Tuesday from an attorney who says voters, not the Governor, should decide who will replace Chief Justice Eric Magnuson. Supreme Court Justices have made a trend of stepping down from their role, allowing the Governor to select a replacement. The three latest additions to the Court have been filled by Governor Pawlenty by appointment. Supreme Court Justice positions are on the election ballot every six years unless a Justice steps down mid-term. Magnuson announced earlier this year he was stepping down, effective June 30, to return to private practice. His seat is not up for re-election until 2012.
Representative Steve Simon (DFL- St. Louis Park) has a different solution. He is proposing a constitutional amendment that would let voters choose to keep a sitting Justice or hold an election for a replacement. Justices would appear on ballots unopposed and if voted out, an open election would be held. A hearing on the bill is expected next week.
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