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Capitol Chatter: GOP criticizes, Franken apologizes for ‘thoughtless moment’

A serious U.S. Sen. Al Franken listens to a Minnesotan talk about her federal policy concerns at the State Fair. FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- U.S. Sen. Al Franken's election opponent is trying to make a campaign issue out of a video shot two years ago showing the senator holding two traffic cones to his chest, apparently to imitate a woman's breasts.

"It was a thoughtless moment and I regret it," Democrat Franken told Forum News Service of the 2012 incident, which he did not know was being videotaped.

Republican challenger Mike McFadden said the incident is proof that Franken should not be re-elected.

"We can do so much better with our leaders..." McFadden said, adding that Franken has made other "sexist and outrageous and offensive" statements.

When he was first running six years ago, Franken apologized for "Saturday Night Live" skits in which he participated or wrote.

"As a father, as a coach, as a business leader, as a Minnesotan, I expect so much more out of our leaders and our U.S. senators," McFadden said.

However, Franken said that voters should not make a decision based on his "thoughtless moment."

"I think you have to judge me on my record on women with what I have done as a senator," he said, adding that he has "fought" for equal pay for women, to make sure women are not charged more for health care and against the Hobby Lobby court case that means "bosses can determine whether or not a women gets contraception."

The McFadden camp also has criticized Franken for ducking the media, as reported in a National Journal article, but he was on radio and talked to reporters at the Minnesota State Fair late in the week. Franken also was on the road and held media availabilities in several communities.

Since he began campaigning for office before the 2008 election, Franken has made a point of avoiding most national media to focus on Minnesota issues instead of talking about his comic and satirist past like many national reporters would prefer.

Age, Internet problems

An aging workforce with inadequate Internet connections is hurting rural Minnesota, the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities says.

They are issues voters must consider when picking the next governor, said Glencoe Mayor Randy Wilson, the coalition's president. “These are really tough and complex problems, and it is imperative that whoever the next governor is, he has a vision and a plan for greater Minnesota and will work with us to resolve these issues."

Politicians have talked for years about the need to improve greater Minnesota's workforce and Internet connections, as well as transportation, but relatively little has been done.

The coalition, an organization of 85 cities outside of the Twin Cities, discussed the issues at a recent conference in Rochester.

One striking figure is that just 45 percent of greater Minnesota homes "are connected at speeds needed for present-day applications," the coalition reports. That compares to 92 percent of Twin Cities homes.

This year's Legislature approved an initial contribution to improving rural broadband, otherwise known as high-speed Internet. But it was just a drop in the bucket of what rural leaders say is needed.

Sen. Matt Schmit, D-Red Wing, is leading a statewide tour for the second year to discuss the broadband issue. Since next year is when lawmakers and the governor compile the next two-year budget, rural leaders hope they can get more funding.

In greater Minnesota, the number of workers younger than 55 has shrunk from 85 percent in 2000 to 79 percent in 2012. And the age is expected to continue to rise.

The aging, and retiring, workforce means there are fewer workers to fill jobs. Some rural manufacturers have started busing people from larger cities to fill their jobs. More than half of the rural job vacancies are hard to fill, the state Department of Employment and Economic Development reported, compared to about a third in the Twin Cities.

Pot may reduce deaths

A new study shows that in the 23 states where medical marijuana use is legal, deaths from drug overdoses have fallen by nearly 25 percent.

Reuters news service reports that deaths from drugs such as morphine, oxycodone and heroin fell each of the first several years medical marijuana was allowed. Minnesota officials this year approved its use, with the first sales expected next year.

“Most of the discussion on medical marijuana has been about its effect on individuals in terms of reducing pain or other symptoms,” said lead author Dr. Marcus Bachhuber. “The unique contribution of our study is the finding that medical marijuana laws and policies may have a broader impact on public health.”

'A butter Minnesota'

Minnesota Republicans took a shot at Democrats, including Gov. Mark Dayton, who approved a new Senate office building.

They carved a likeness of the facility, which is just under construction, in butter for the Minnesota State Fair. It sat in a glass-walled refrigerator in the GOP booth. Young Republicans did not want the "Pepsi" logo that was on the refrigerator, so came up with "a butter Minnesota" sign to cover it.

The building and related facilities will cost nearly $90 million. Construction has just begun on the site north of the Capitol.

2 days in Moorhead

Gov. Mark Dayton, in a re-election campaign, is taking the unusual step in spending two days in Moorhead.

He plans to discuss rail safety, rail grain shipments, flood diversion and other issues Tuesday and Wednesday. It is rare for a governor to spend two straight days in a greater Minnesota community other than at events such as the Governor's Fishing Opener.

'Decide where you reside'

Students starting college should "decide where you reside," Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said.

In other words, they should decide where they will vote, at their college address or at home.

Minnesota law requires voters to use the address where they live. "Residence is the place eligible voters consider their home and from which they have no current intent to move," Ritchie's office reported.

Residency laws vary by state, so Ritchie advised students going to schools elsewhere to learn those states' laws.

“It’s important our college students register to vote using the correct address to ensure they receive the correct ballot,” Ritchie said. “And as they will be our next generation of leaders and policy makers, it’s critical for them to be informed and civically engaged.”

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.