1.) Republican gubernatorial candidates are in no hurry to differentiate themselves or attack one another, despite the looming Feb. 4 precinct caucus date, according to the Pioneer Press, which covered a Saturday GOP candidate forum in Roseville. Former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert said after the debate that activists are not looking for policy distinctions, so much as they are judging candidates on their electability in a statewide race. That’s a departure from last time around, and Seifert should know better than anyone: He lost the 2010 endorsement contest to Tom Emmer, who went on to lose against now-Gov. Mark Dayton in an otherwise hugely successful year for conservatives. In selling their value on a GOP ticket, Jeff Johnson said he had convinced Democrats and moderates to vote him onto the Hennepin County Board; Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said his background in radio means he is an expert communicator, and would be the best candidate to get his point across to undecided Minnesotans.
2.) Gov. Mark Dayton does not understand all the fuss about his administration’s brief misuse of a state-issued airplane, according to Minnesota Public Radio. In an Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) report issued last week, Dayton was criticized for mixing official business travel with campaign events in 2012, which auditors found to be in violation of a somewhat vague state law on the use of public resources. Speaking to reporters on Friday, Dayton said too much attention had been paid to the matter, acknowledging he should not have included campaign staffer Julie Hottinger on one of those subsidized flights. “One time, one campaign employee was on a trip, two-thirds of which was paid for by the campaign,” he said. Dayton also reiterated a point made by Chief of Staff Tina Smith in her official response to the OLA, saying past governors had likewise chosen to use the state plane and retroactively pay back expenses out of a campaign fund.
3.) Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, is being sued for failure to pay back a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan in the amount of $613,000, the Star Tribune reports. The loan, taken out jointly by both Nienow and his wife, has evidently gone unpaid for more than three years running. Nienow and his wife run the National Camp Association, Inc., a consulting business that helps parents choose the right summer or sleep-away camp for their children. The Nienows now owe a total of $748,000 on the loan; the lawmaker, now in his third term, did not respond to requests for comment that newspaper made over the weekend.
COMINGS & GOINGS
- Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, will face a GOP endorsement challenge in House District 8B from Sue Nelson, chair of the Otter Tail County Republican Party. The news (via the Bluestem Prairie blog, which caught wind of an email to local GOP activists) is no particular surprise, as Franson managed to turn her relatively safe GOP-leaning district into a recount nail-biter in the 2012 re-election. The outspoken second-term legislator won that contest over DFLer Bob Cunniff by just 12 votes, and later admitted she had failed to campaign hard enough in Alexandria.
- Republican Jeff Backer announced Friday morning that he plans to run against Rep. Jay McNamar, DFL-Elbow Lake, whom Backer immediately saddled with the monicker “Metro Jay,” owing to his votes in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage and changing the funding formula for education. Backer, a former mayor of Browns Valley, said his priorities would include lowering taxes and honoring a “pro-life, pro-family” and pro-Second Amendment agenda. McNamar barely eked out a victory in 2012, winning the House District 12A seat by about 250 votes.
- Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, will hold a Capitol press conference at 10:00 a.m. tomorrow to discuss legislation he authored that would end traffic diversion programs, and remunerate any past participants who had paid into that system.
- Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Marys Point, is turning 50 today, and has invited supporters to celebrate the occasion with a patriotic themed fundraiser on Sunday, Feb. 9. Attendees are encouraged to wear red, white and blue to Housley’s event, which will also feature her husband, NHL Hall of Famer and Olympic silver medalist Phil Housley. The event page says a $50 donation to Housley’s Senate re-election campaign would be “appreciated.” More information here.
- Metro Republican Women is holding a meet-and-greet with gubernatorial candidates over pizza and beer at the Bloomington VFW Club on Wednesday, Jan. 30. The cost is $10, which pays for dinner, and the event includes a cash bar. More details, including RSVP information, available here.