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Capitol Chatter: Justice retirement sets off political fireworks

ST. PAUL — Most Americans don't think twice when they hear that an 81-year-old U.S. Supreme Court justice is retiring.

But those in the political know realize Anthony Kennedy's departure has huge consequences.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, running for election to fill the last two years of Al Franken's term, told supporters: "Republicans rewrote the rules and stole one Supreme Court seat in 2016 when they denied a vote to Merrick Garland. Now, with the sudden retirement of Justice Kennedy today, they are looking to take another."

Smith took a theme that often was heard from Democrats. They say that Republican senators denied Garland a vote as Democratic President Barack Obama's term was ending.

Smith said she fears the high court could overturn court rulings such as those allowing abortions, permitting gay marriages and give corporations more power.

Kennedy's retirement announcement convinced Democrats to look for ways to delay any justice confirmation votes until next year, hoping they can win control of the Senate.

On the other hand, Republicans are eager to get a nomination in front of the Senate, so they know the justices will lean their way on most votes.

"President Trump has an excellent opportunity to appoint a true constitutionalist to the court," said Republican Jim Newberger, who is running against Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Minnesotans have a special interest in the nomination. Former state Supreme Court Justice David Stras is on Trump's list as potential justice nominees.

Broad broadband funding

Minnesota cannot just rely on federal funds to expand broadband high-speed internet service, a Blandin Foundation report shows.

CenturyLink, Consolidated Communications, Frontier Communications and Windstream Communications have received $86 million from a federal program to bring internet service to 170,355 rural homes and businesses. The report says even those who get the higher speed service will be at a slower than speed the state considers to be the minimum.

"Minnesota has set ambitious broadband speed goals that position our communities for future success," said Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement at Blandin.

Joselyn said that public officials need to understand that federal, state and local funds all are needed to build adequate broadband networks. Doing otherwise, she said, "will hold rural communities back from reaching the potential they imagine for themselves."

Johnson: 'Overthrow the status quo'

Republican Jeff Johnson is trying to look like an outsider in his bid for governor.

He has announced visits, mostly around greater Minnesota, on what he is calling an "Overthrow The Status Quo Tour."

"Talking to Minnesotans face-to-face and looking them in the eye to tell them how we're going to change government and make their lives better is how we're going to win in August and November," Johnson said.

His first challenge is the Aug. 14 primary election in which he faces former Gov. Tim Pawlenty in a fight for the party's nomination. The winner of that race goes on to the Nov. 6 general election.

Johnson may want to change how government works, but he is not a new face. He served in the state House, ran for governor four years ago, lost a state attorney general election and now serves on the Hennepin County Commission.

Making hay at forums

Most major Minnesota candidates plan to appear at Farmfest forums this year.

Long-time forum organizer Kent Thiesse says all major candidates for governor and U.S. Senate have confirmed they will attend, as well as most from four U.S. House races.

The annual all-things-agriculture event near Redwood Falls will feature a U.S. Senate forum (for Sen. Tina Smith's seat) at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 7; U.S. House forum at 1:15 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 7; governor forum at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 8; and U.S. Senate forum (Sen. Amy Klobuchar's seat) for Thursday, Aug. 9 at 10:30 a.m.

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.
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