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Capitol Chatter: Democrats seek to stop rural legislative losses

ST. PAUL — Minnesota Democrats hope the flip-flopping of state House control continues through one more election.

Democrats mostly dominated the House for years, until Republicans held control from 1999 to 2006. Since then, Democrats controlled two two-year sessions, Republicans won the House back in 2011 before Democrats took it in 2013.

Republicans control the current two-year Legislature after 10 seats flipped in last year’s election, mostly in rural areas.

Many of those rural legislators who lost in 2014 hope to be back on next year’s ballot, saying that Republicans did not fulfill their promise to help greater Minnesota in 2015.

The Hill newspaper branched out from its regular congressional and national political coverage to look at the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party’s Minnesota Rural Initiative, which has enrolled 30 candidates in training sessions about how to run rural campaigns.

Running a rural campaign is far different than one in an urban area. An urban House district could be as small as 10 square miles, while in rural Minnesota districts can stretch to as big as 3,500 square miles, The Hill tells its heavily Washington, D.C., audience.

Writer Matt L. Barron quotes House Deputy Minority Leader Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth, about a national Democratic report that shows the party lost more than 900 legislative seats countrywide, many in rural districts, during the President Barack Obama years.

“I saw no strategy to turn around the decline of rural America, let alone rural Minnesota,” Marquart said.

Bemidji native Mike Simpkins, who ran Secretary of State Steve Simon’s campaign, added: “(National Democrats) don’t even seem to acknowledge they have a problem.”

Good time for Franken

U.S. Sen. Al Franken was a happy man in recent days.

In an interview, he regularly tossed out the word “bipartisan” when discussing the just-passed education policy reform bill that he watched President Barack Obama sign Thursday. The Minnesota Democrat, who placed several provisions in the bill, said its passage shows that Congress can work.

“I think this means that it is very possible to get things done,” Franken said. “When I look at the provisions that I have in this, which I say are very impressive, if I do say so myself, are very bipartisan.”

He gives some credit for his provision to expand American Indian language immersion programs to his Jewish heritage.

“Hebrew was a dead language until Israel came around,” Franken said, and knowing some of the language helps him in his religion. The same could be true for Indians, he said.

The bill was a big deal to Franken.

“I think it will make it in the memoir, yes,” he said to a question about a book he plans to write, a project that has received quite a bit of national attention.

Franken also took part in a television promotion before the Minnesota-Arizona National Football League game Thursday night, “debating” the teams with U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. They both succeeded at being funny, but McCain struggled a bit.

While Franken remained in character, McCain could be seen cracking a smile when he should have looked serious. Of course, Franken carried an advantage into the comedy skit, having earned his stripes as a comedian, especially known for his work on “Saturday Night Live.”

Twin Cities the difference

Minnesota officials love to compare their state to Wisconsin.

The two states used to be equal on many levels, but the Twin Cities area has given Minnesota an economic advantage, Rick Barrett of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

Taking his information from a Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance report, Barrett reports that the Minneapolis-St. Paul area is thriving, driving Minnesota’s economy upward.

About two-thirds of the Minnesota economy is driven by the Twin Cities, while Wisconsin’s economy is fragmented.

“Since 2000, Wisconsin has increased employment faster than Minnesota in only three years: 2004, 2007 and 2008,” Barrett reports. “During 2004-2014, Minnesota’s job growth was more than double Wisconsin’s.”

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.