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Status Report: Civil War paintings keep prime spots

Civil War paintings: Several Civil War paintings will return to prominent spots in the Capitol when it reopens next month, a historical panel involved in the years-long renovation said Thursday.

The Minnesota Historical Society’s unanimous decision ends a debate that flared last week. Gov. Mark Dayton walked out of a meeting shortly before a separate panel overseeing Capitol renovations recommended the paintings stay put. Dayton had wanted to replace some Civil War paintings to better reflect the state’s entire history, while veterans groups and some lawmakers fought for them to remain in the Governor’s Reception room. Dayton accused Republicans of distorting his position for political gain.

The final decision rested with the Minnesota Historical Society, which voted to return six paintings to their original spots in the Capitol — four to the reception room, and two to its anteroom. An official said they could be reinstalled within the next month or so.

“It’s their decision to make and I accept their decision,” Dayton said in a statement.

It was one of the final details to iron out as a three-year, $310 million renovation wraps up.

Civil War paintings weren’t the first flare-up on Capitol artwork. Following months of debate, the historical society decided earlier this year that two paintings, “Father Hennepin at the Falls of St. Anthony” and “The Treaty of Traverse des Sioux,” should be moved from the reception room “and interpreted more robustly elsewhere in the Capitol to share more fully the …. perspectives of American Indians and others.” Two other paintings, “Attack on New Ulm” and “Eighth Minnesota at the Battle of Ta-Ha-Kouty,” will be removed from exhibition at the Capitol.

Also, rather than exhibiting all 38 of the governors’ portraits at one time, portraits will be grouped “with added interpretation” and rotated on exhibit.

Marriage law challenged: The owners of a St. Cloud video production company filed suit in Minnesota’s U.S. District Court on Tuesday seeking to block enforcement of Minnesota’s same-sex marriage and human rights laws.

They want the laws overturned, the suit says, so that the couple can shoot weddings exclusively for heterosexual couples without being punished. Carl and Angel Larsen, who own Telescope Media Group, say in the federal suit that current Minnesota law violates their religious liberties.

The suit names as defendants state Human Right Commissioner Kevin Lindsey and Attorney General Lori Swanson.

The couple ask the court to overturn Minnesota laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including both 2013’s gay-marriage legalization law and the 1993 Minnesota Human Rights Act.

Minnesota’s law doesn’t actually force businesses to offer services to same-sex marriages. However, it does ban them from denying wedding services, and violators could be found guilty of a misdemeanor.

The filing indicates that the suit was prepared by lawyers for Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal nonprofit based on Scottsdale, Arizona, that reportedly has been at the forefront of the national battle over LGBTQ bathroom access.

In a Dec. 6 written statement on the Human Rights Department’s website, Lindsey said that he was still reviewing the lawsuit, but expects to prevail in court.

“This lawsuit is part of a pattern of nationwide litigation that is now aimed at eroding the rights of LGBTQ Minnesotans,” Lindsey’s statement reads. “The Dayton-Smith Administration is committed to ensuring that all individuals within the LGBTQ community are treated fairly and with respect.”

Senate recount: A recount in a St. Cloud-area Senate seat gave the edge to the Republican candidate on Wednesday, sealing a long-presumed outcome: The GOP will control the Minnesota Senate — and therefore the entire Legislature — next year.

Senate Republicans shocked Democrats in November’s election, winning eight DFL seats while losing just two to queue up a slim, 34-33 majority for 2017. But two of those elections were well within the half a percentage point margin that triggers state-funded recounts.

After three days of hand-counting nearly 40,000 ballots at an Elk River voting center, county officials determined that Jerry Relph, R-St. Cloud, maintained his lead over Dan Wolgamott, DFL-St. Cloud. Attorneys for both candidates were on hand as judges went through ballots from three counties one-by-one, flagging ballots with issues or discrepancies for later review.

Relph’s lead shrunk from 148 votes to 141, according to unofficial data from the secretary of state’s office. A previous recount in a close Plymouth Senate race also held up the GOP candidate as the winner.

The state’s canvassing board will certify the recount results next. Even with a handful of challenged ballots, it’s unlikely the final result will change much.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., listens Dec. 2 during a Denver forum on the future of the Democratic Party. Ellison said Wednesday that he’ll resign his seat in Congress if he’s picked as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. (AP file photo)

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., listens Dec. 2 during a Denver forum on the future of the Democratic Party. Ellison said Wednesday that he’ll resign his seat in Congress if he’s picked as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. (AP file photo)

Ellison would resign: Rep. Keith Ellison said Wednesday he’ll resign his seat in Congress if he’s elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “Whoever wins the DNC chair race faces a lot of work, travel, planning and resource raising,” Ellison said in a statement. “I will be ‘all-in’ to meet the challenge.”

The liberal Minnesota congressman, an early favorite in the race, has faced vocal resistance from prominent Democrats who have questioned past comments about Israel, his defense of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and his commitment to the Democratic Party.

Ellison is trying to put such worries to rest, saying that he’d listened to the concerns of activists and DNC members and would be a chair with “only one full-time commitment.”

The race to replace DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has divided top Democratic leaders, placing President Barack Obama’s team at odds with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and his replacement, Chuck Schumer, whose early support for Ellison was seen as an effort to shore up the liberal flank in Congress. The contest is taking shape as a proxy war for the future of the party, with backers of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders throwing their support behind Ellison as some supporters of Hillary Clinton search for an alternative.

What’s ahead: Legislative Commission on Metropolitan Government, chaired by Rep. Tony Albright, R-Prior Lake, will meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 13, in Room 10 of the State Office Building. On the agenda is a review Metropolitan Council’s budget. The commission provides oversight of the Met Council’s operating and capital budgets, work program and capital improvement program.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

About Kevin Featherly

Kevin Featherly, who joined BridgeTower Media in mid-2016, is a journalist and former freelance writer who has covered politics, law, business, technology and popular culture for publications and websites in the Twin Cities and nationally since the mid-1990s.

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