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North Dakota's economy stealing headlines in Twin Cities, New York

There's nothing like a $1 billion surplus and an energy boom to attract a little attention from an envious nation - or even an envious neighbor.

New York Times reporter and frequent North Dakota visitor Monica Davey's latest story on the state is headlined "A Placid North Dakota Asks, What Recession?"

She visited downtown Fargo, DMI Industries' wind tower plant in West Fargo and talked to legislative leaders. She also touched on Microsoft's Fargo expansion, thriving car sales statewide and Gov. John Hoeven's generous budget.

Meanwhile, Fargo native and Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist James Lileks proposes the way out of Minnesota's $5.3 billion shortfall is to annex North Dakota, saying Minnesota would then be bigger, richer and "the weirdest-shaped state in the nation and (would) cement our stature as the state with the greatest number of old guys named Elmer."

Fighting for funds

Minnesota's judicial branch appears set to battle for money like never in the past.

With the state facing a $5.3 billion budget deficit, organizations of all stripes are trying to save their funds from the budget knife. But judges and others in the judiciary often stay out of the public eye. Not so this year.

Chief Justice Eric Magnuson issued a rare statement after Thursday's budget announcement, reminding Minnesotans that crime - and, thus, court activity - usually rises during down economic times.

"The very last thing we can afford during a time of unprecedented national and state financial crises is a further cut in funding to the court system," Magnuson said. "The consequences for public safety, our constitutional obligations and the people we serve are too great."

The state's public defenders got into the act, too.

The Minnesota Board of Public Defense distributed a news release on its request for the coming two-year state budget. It includes funding to bring back 53 full-time attorney positions lost in the past two years. Public defenders represent in court people who cannot afford to pay for a private attorney.

Pomeroy and pensions

U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., long considered a national expert on pension issues, is among those in Congress looking at ways to assist American companies with relief from pension requirements that could further threaten jobs. He's been quoted in several national and international publications on the issue recently.

His expertise was noted when Delta Airlines President Ed Bastian visited Bismarck on Thursday.

"Congressman Pomeroy, I understand that you are talking about pension funding, and that's certainly something that would be helpful to us as we're looking at our pension requirements going forward," Bastian said.

The changes Congress would make would tinker with the Pension Protection Act of 2006 to take some of the immediate pressure off companies whose pension plans have been hurt the same way individuals' 401(k) accounts have.

Pomeroy is quoted in Medill Reports Washington last week as saying, "If we don't provide some relief in the funding of pensions, I believe thousands of jobs, maybe tens of thousands of jobs, will be lost."

War room

Minnesota Republicans criticized Al Franken's campaign for holding a recent recount-related news conference at Senate Democrats' campaign headquarters in Washington, instead of in Minnesota.

"They have clearly given up hope of achieving a victory through the recount, and have now established their war room in the highest levels of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee," state GOP Chairman Ron Carey said.

Franken lead recount attorney Marc Elias said he talked with reporters from Washington because he lives in northern Virginia and had gone home for a few days.

Clark moving on up

North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Tony Clark was elected vice president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners during its recent 120th annual convention in New Orleans.

Peterson in Times

The Financial Times of London featured U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson discussing his European trip, which was designed to establish international regulation of a complicated financial dealing.

Peterson, a western Minnesota Democrat, just wrapped up a three-country swing in an attempt to find common ground in how to deal with credit default swaps, a quasi-insurance policy on some credit transactions.

"Everybody seems to be very focused on coordinating what we do here," Peterson told the Financial Times.

The Times' story explains Peterson's involvement in the situation as House Agriculture Committee chairman: His panel has jurisdiction over the Commodity Future Trading Commission, one of four entities vying to become the United State credit default swap regulator.

'Right' direction

Rep. Gary Sukut, R-Williston, presented the new House Majority Leader, Al Carlson of Fargo, with a gift from the GOP caucus on the first day of the 2009 Legislature's organizational session. Similar in size and lettering to a parking sign, it shows a red silhouette of an elephant and the warning, "Keep Right."

GOP team filled

House Republicans filled their leadership roster for the coming legislative session.

House Minority Leader Marty Seifert of Marshall named Rep. Carol McFarlane of White Bear Lake as an assistant leader. That was Seifert's lone selection; the caucus elected three other assistants.

Seifert's deputy will be Rep. Steve Smith of Mound. The caucus whip will be Rep. Dan Severson of Sauk Rapids, replacing Rep. Denny McNamara of Hastings.