Capitol Chatter: Are Otto win, Nolan retirement linked?
ST. PAUL—Rebecca Otto won the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party's straw poll for governor in the 8th Congressional District.
Three days later, U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan announced he would not seek re-election.
There could be a thread connecting the two.
The 8th is a massive district, stretching from Canada to the northern Twin Cities suburbs, covering northeastern, north central and east central Minnesota.
On Tuesday night, Feb. 6, Democratic precinct caucus attenders in the 8th favored State Auditor Otto 1,072 to 729 in a governor race straw poll. It may have been the only congressional district U.S. Rep. Tim Walz did not win in his effort to become governor (the party reported Friday with most, but not all, votes counted that Walz led Otto by three votes in the 6th District, in the northern Twin Cities suburbs and northwest to St. Cloud).
From all accounts, many of the DFL caucus sites were heavy with environmentalists who backed Otto. The same type of liberal may not be as happy with Nolan, who supports mining in the district.
If Nolan saw the more liberal wing of the party making decisions in his district, and knowing that in any case he faced a tough and pricey race, it would make sense for the 74-year-old to step aside.
For years, candidates who win Democratic endorsements often are in the more liberal side of the party, while more conservatives get Republican support. That is because moderates often are less active in both major parties.
Walz is perceived by many within his party as a moderate.
In the Republican governor straw poll, Keith Downey's last-minute attacks calling Jeff Johnson a two-time loser did not appear to help him.
The day before caucuses, Downey, a former GOP state chairman and state representative, sent party members an email that started: "It's time we talk about it. Jeff Johnson has run statewide twice and lost."
Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner and Detroit Lakes native, responded in his own email, saying that Republicans must win in November and the only way to do that is to unite.
Downey's campaign reminded Republican activists that Johnson lost an attorney general race in 2006 and a governor campaign four years ago, thinking to pin the "loser" label on him.
Johnson responded: "Unfortunately, one of my opponents — Keith Downey — has turned almost solely to attacks against me in the desperate hope of scoring higher in the caucus straw poll tonight. I won't respond in kind (though it would be pretty easy) because we won't win in November by tearing down other Republicans."
Such a division is unusual among Republican candidates.
Johnson won the poll with 45 percent. Nearly 16 percent of voters were undecided and Downy finished with 15 percent.
Forum News Service reporters say that the Tuesday night caucuses did more than pick favorite governor candidates; they also discussed issues they would like to see in party platforms.
Republican Chad Briard said he attended the caucus at Farmington High School mostly to learn about what issues concern other Republicans in his district. He hadn't voted in an election until the 2016 presidential race.
"I was just done with everything being the same over and over and over," he said.
His wife, Jessica Briard, said her top priorities are eliminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA, establishing term limits for lawmakers and setting pay caps for politicians.
Politics, she said, should not be a career. She criticized Democrat lawmakers as well as Minnesota Republican Party Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan for seeking pay raises.
"We need to bring America back to where we started," Jessica Briard said. "They're making millions off of us and it's not right."
Early childhood education was among the top priorities Rosemount resident and Democrat Misba Rehman hoped to discuss.
He said that although there was little discussion on the topic, but he hopes to see more in the future.
"Right now, a full day of education is not available for a lot of kids," he said. "They really need to get a head start to get to elementary school."
Democrat Sumaira Zarrin of Rosemount said she was especially interested in discussions about candidate donations.
"All that money that flows in from corporations and, eventually, from lobbyists and whatnot needs to stop," she said. "I feel like that creates an unfair ground."
While issues were a major focus at some caucuses, there was no such discussion at others.
Speed limits on several rural Minnesota highways are rising from 55 miles per hour to 60.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation says new signs are being posted on Minnesota 34 from Detroit Lakes to Park Rapids, Minnesota 64 from highway 200 to highway 87, Minnesota 172 from Baudette to Wheeler's Point, Minnesota 310 from Roseau to the Canadian border, Minnesota 9 from Highway 10 to Sunburg, Minnesota 28 from Browns Valley to Sauk Centre and Minnesota 34 from Barnesville to Dunvilla.
Gov. Mark Dayton plans his final State of the State speech for 7 p.m. March 14.
Dayton will deliver the address in front of a joint session of the Legislature. He is serving his second and final term.