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Janell Cole and Don Davis, Published December 29 2008

Wefald got 15-minute warning before PSC appointment

Judge Robert Wefald said at last week’s reception marking his wife Susan’s retirement from the North Dakota Public Service Commission that he remembers Gov. Ed Schafer’s office calling him on Dec. 15, 1992, Schafer’s first day in office.

“Where is Susan?” asked Schafer’s legal counsel, Bob Harms. In Fargo, he told Harms. Schafer’s office tracked her down and put the governor on the line.

“I’m holding a press conference in 15 minutes. Would it be OK for me to announce that I’m appointing you to the Public Service Commission?” Schafer reportedly asked.

A seat on the PSC had opened because Commissioner Dale Sandstrom won election to the Supreme Court.

Also at the reception, Judge Wefald wore a nametag that said “Mr. Susan Wefald.” He had it made up to campaign with her. After all, he explained, when he campaigned years before (twice for attorney general), she had worn a similar tag, “Mrs. Robert Wefald.” He was elected attorney general in 1980 and was defeated for re-election in 1984.

Marty enters gov race

Minnesota’s 2010 race for governor continues to attract candidates.

The latest is state Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, who barely got a third of the votes in 1994 when he lost to Republican Arne Carlson.

Marty is best known for his fight for legislative ethics and campaign reform. His bill to strictly limit gifts to lawmakers is credited with removing a taint from the system, but legislators also say it means lawmakers, lobbyists and others no longer talk very much socially since dining and drinking are limited.

The senator announced he is considering a gubernatorial run, but has not joined Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner as an official candidate. Another dozen names are tossed around as potential DFL governor candidates.

Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook is making the most public exploration of a run for governor. Big names like House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and former U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton also are considered contenders. But the line goes far beyond those people, including many state legislators.

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has not said whether he will seek a third term.

WSI changes sought

North Dakota House Minority Leader Merle Boucher, D-Rolette, says a jury’s verdict Dec. 19 convicting Sandy Blunt of misspending money, combined with voters’ decision last month to return the Workforce Safety and Insurance to the governor’s Cabinet, will spur legislation to make the agency more accountable to North Dakotans.

The vote and conviction also is a repudiation of the WSI board, legislators and business officials who defended Blunt’s “cavalier and defiant attitude and behaviors” for years, Boucher said.

He said he opposes an idea by some lawmakers to turn WSI into a private company instead of a state agency.

Boucher spelled Blunt’s name “Blundt” four times in his prepared statement. Maybe he was eating a Bundt cake when he was writing it up.

He also said the measure voters passed Nov. 4 to turn WSI back to the governor was Measure 3. It was, in fact Measure 4. Measure 3 was the tobacco prevention initiative, which also passed.

Unemployment help

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development is opening its unemployment insurance program’s Internet operation on Sundays through Jan. 18.

The self-service system generally is closed for maintenance on weekends, but officials announced the site at www.uimn.org will be open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.

“The slowdown in some sectors of the economy, combined with typical seasonal increases in unemployment, has meant that the unemployment insurance program is busier than normal,” Economic Development Commissioner Dan McElroy said. “Nevertheless, we are meeting the needs of Minnesota’s unemployed workers.”

Power pun

Former North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Bruce Hagen, who retired in 2000, told the group at Wefald’s retirement reception that he met former Minnesota Gov. Karl Rolvaag when Rolvaag later served on the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, from 1970-75. He was also been ambassador to Iceland for three years earlier.

Why run for the PUC? Hagen asked Rolvaag.

“I finally found out where all the power was,” Rolvaag said.

Bridge to be replaced

Two legislators say they have assurances that one of Minnesota’s worst bridges will be rebuilt beginning in 2011.

The Lafayette Bridge, on U.S. 52 over the Mississippi River in St. Paul, is to include a bicycle-pedestrian lane, bus lane and will be constructed so passenger rail trains can use the structure.

“We’ve been waiting a long time to get this done, but the good news today is that it’s going to be done right,” said Sen. Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, said. “The current Lafayette Bridge has served us for decades, but it’s clearly time for a better way to cross the river and it sounds like MnDOT is committed to doing it right.”

The bridge is among Minnesota’s busiest as one of the main connections between growing Dakota County and downtown St. Paul.

ND commodores

Honorees at the recent Joint North Dakota Water Convention and Irrigation Expo in Bismarck included former Sen. Herb Urlacher, R-Taylor, who retired from the Senate on Dec. 1. He was inducted into the state Water Users Hall of Fame for his work to advance water issues, including the building of the Southwest Pipeline Project that brought Lake Sakakawea water to the southwest part of the state.

Former Sen. Joel Heitkamp, D-Hankinson, and Bob Valeu, who was Sen. Byron Dorgan’s state director from 1991 until retiring in May 2008, were among several men commissioned as commodores in the Governor’s Mythical Navy.

Heitkamp, also retired from the Senate Dec. 1. Long before he was a radio talk show host, he worked for rural water systems in the southeast part of the state – including helping merge several systems into one.

Election talk

The 2009 Minnesota Legislature, which begins at noon Jan. 6, may include a bit of election talk to go along with much discussion of how to solve the state’s budget woes.

“The 2008 election season brought forward some interesting electoral issues,” Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, said. “We will look at possible changes in election law that could make voting easier and more transparent for Minnesota voters. I look forward to the challenges of this committee assignment and serving as chair.”

Sieben is the new chairwoman of the Senate subcommittee on elections.

One of the topics expected to arise is a change in the state’s absentee voting law to make it more of an early-voting statute.