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Janell Cole and Don Davis, Published January 05 2009

State Canvassing Board did its job, member says

The state Canvassing Board has carefully handled its duties in the U.S. Senate recount, a board member and Minnesota’s top judge said.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, who sits on the board responsible for declaring an election winner, said regardless of the outcome, citizens and the candidates – Sen. Norm Coleman and Democrat Al Franken – need to be assured “that everything’s been looked at and looked at carefully” by the five-member board.

Magnuson was satisfied that occurred, particularly during the board’s inspection of nearly 1,500 votes that the campaigns challenged during the statewide recount.

“It’s apparent that everybody’s worked really hard on this and if there were any nits to be picked, they’ve been picked,” he said.

Time to report

More than 400 political officeholders, various candidates from last year’s races, political parties, committees that opposed or supported ballot measures and political action committees have been reminded that they must file year-end financial reports for 2008.

North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger’s office mailed 465 notices on Wednesday. The reports are due Feb. 2.

Normally the reports are due Jan. 31, but the day falls on a weekend.

State law says reports must be filed even if the candidate, office-holder or organization received no contributions.

Surprising problem

When U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar recently convened a roundtable discussion on broadband Internet service, many in attendance were aware of Internet problems in parts of rural Minnesota.

But not everyone.

Democratic state Sen. Jim Carlson said the difficulties experienced in some areas of Minnesota where broadband service is limited or not available were new to him. Carlson represents the St. Paul suburb of Eagan, which he called the “Silicon Valley of Minnesota” because of its high-tech firms.

“I didn’t realize some of the challenges we’re seeing in rural Minnesota,” he said.

She’s stepping out

... On to the hiking trails, that is. Former Public Service Commissioner Susan Wefald said on her last day in office last Wednesday that with the spare time she’ll now have, “I’m looking forward to some hiking in all parts of the state,” including the Badlands’ Maah Da Hey Trail. “That’s my personal goal.”

And, she said, “Of course, family is very important to me, and I have a new granddaughter.”

Wefald served 16 years on the commission. She did not seek re-election last year.

The other person whose last day at the commission was Wednesday was the newborn daughter of PSC staffer Tom Rafferty. She was born Sept. 24 and spent the days at the Capitol in Rafferty’s office, a perk that the state allows Capitol employees. Newborns can be with their parents at work for the first few months only.

“I think she’s been a morale booster,” Wefald said, as the baby cooed in Rafferty’s arms in the back of the room. Except for Wednesday, the little girl has been very quiet during meetings.

Elect, not appoint

Two state lawmakers say Minnesotans should vote to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy, not let the governor make an appointment.

Democrats Sen. Ann Rest and Rep. Ryan Winkler will push a bill during the 2009 Minnesota Legislature that removes a governor’s authority to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy by appointment. They said special elections are held to fill U.S. House and state legislative vacancies, and open Senate seats should be handled the same way.

“Minnesota voters have a right to expect that they will decide who represents our interests in Washington,” said Winkler, of Golden Valley.

They said this is a good time to discuss the issue because of the attention being given to Minnesota’s Senate recount.

Election law case

North Dakota officials have taken notice of an Arizona election law case that may go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down two elements of the Arizona election law, one that created a June petition deadline for independent candidates and a ban on out-of-state residents collecting signatures. Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader sued Arizona officials.

Arizona is appealing the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court and Montana officials have filed a friend-of-the-court brief asking the high court to take the case. Montana’s election laws have similar features to the ones at issue in Arizona, as does North Dakota.

North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger said he and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem discussed the Arizona case and whether North Dakota should join. Stenehjem said Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath asked North Dakota to intervene as well.

North Dakota officials decided not to because the state already has had a favorable ruling on similar issues from the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Pool standards

Tougher public swimming pool regulations are among a handful of new state laws that went into effect Jan. 1.

Shallow public pools must have safety drain covers installed, or they face possible closure. The requirements stem from the death of a 6-year-old Edina girl, who was severely injured in a pool drain accident.

Another new law requires automobile manufacturers to provide information about the amount of refrigerant that leaks from a vehicle’s air conditioner. Supporters of the law say leaked refrigerant can contribute to global warming.

Lobbyists listing

Last week, there were already 281 lobbyists registered at the secretary of state’s office for the legislative session that starts Tuesday. In the 2007 session, 661 lobbyists registered, representing 1,043 organizations.

Names of the lobbyists are posted and updated daily at www.nd.gov/sos/lobbylegislate/ as more of them register.

Road projects

A top lawmaker on transportation said Minnesota’s slumping economy could affect road and bridge projects.

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said the economic downturn may result in less revenue from the gasoline tax and vehicle fees. Those funds are dedicated to transportation projects, so the effect could be a slowing of construction plans in 2009, he said.

“It’s not like those projects are going to be canceled,” said Murphy, Senate Transportation Committee chairman. “They’re just going to be delayed.”

Inaugural lottery

President-elect Barack Obama’s inaugural committee is holding a raffle and 10 winners from around the country will be flown to Washington, D.C. for the inaugural ceremonies on Jan. 20.

To enter the raffle, participants must make a $5 or larger donation to the Presidential Inaugural Committee by Thursday.

The inaugural festivities are being funded by individual donations.

“Unlike past inaugurations, this year’s event will not be paid for by Washington lobbyists,” the committee said. “The Presidential Inaugural Committee is not accepting donations from PACs, federally registered lobbyists or corporations.”

Davis and Cole work for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum Davis can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com. Cole can be reached at (701) 224-0830 or forumcap@btinet.net.