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Don Davis and Janell Cole, Published March 16 2009

Political Notebook: Dorgan supports Limbaugh

The news service founded by conservative media watchdog L. Brent Bozell III interviewed Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., recently, during which Dorgan said, “I think Rush Limbaugh is successful because he has a good show people want to listen to.”

Cybercast News Service, aka CNSNews.com, was interviewing Dorgan about why he and other Democratic senators voted for legislation directing the Federal Communications Commission to not revive the Fairness Doctrine it dropped in the 1980s, and to, instead, “promote diversity in communication media ownership.”

Conservatives are suspicious that Democrats have something else up their sleeves to muzzle conservative talk radio.

Not so, Dorgan told CNSNews.com: “Look, I am not in favor of shutting down any talk-show hosts anywhere. I think whatever their political interests are, they ought to be on the air. I don’t know of anybody who is suggesting that anybody be shut down on the radio.”

First big bills ahead

Minnesota legislators could pass some of the biggest bills yet this year today, but budget work awaits more information from Washington.

Senators expect to debate a $367 million public works bill today. The bill easily floated through two committee hearings, and is expected to find equally easy passage in the full Senate.

The House, however, continues to work on its equivalent measure, so no one knows when the measure – known as the bonding bill – will be sent to Gov. Tim Pawlenty for his signature.

Also today, senators probably will debate a bill that Pawlenty helped launch that requires school districts to share services in an effort to save money.

While Senate Democrats have released their budget outline, Assistant Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, on Friday said it is doubtful major specific budget decisions will be made in the coming days because many questions remain about how $2 billion in federal funds may be spent.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said he expects the numbers to change until a budget finally is passed, in large part because of unanswered federal questions.

The House is expected to announce, probably on Friday, its budget outline. But like in the Senate, committees will decide specific numbers.

Pawlenty also is expected to announce changes to his first budget proposal in about a week.

Alibi accepted

Doug Prchal is finally off the hook.

When Prchal, director of the state Parks and Recreation Department, testified to Senate Appropriations last week about his budget, he was armed with an alibi from the Highway Patrol. It was the finale of a two-year-old “mystery” and in-joke between Prchal and Sen. Tom Fischer, R-Fargo.

Seems that during the 2007 session, when Prchal presented his budget, including a request for a new Lake Metigoshe State Park maintenance building, to Appropriations, the committee ran out of time and Prchal had to return the following Monday to finish.

In the intervening weekend, fire destroyed the Lake Metigoshe building. Fischer jokingly accused Prchal of starting the fire and has teased Prchal in public several times about whether he has an alibi.

When Prchal came to Appropriations last Monday, he handed Fischer an affidavit from Col. Mark Nelson that read, in part, “(Prchal’s) location at the time of the fire is unquestionably confirmed from numerous witnesses, none of which are present or former employees, immediate family or relatives. Having confirmed this verification … the matter of the whereabouts of Doug Prchal … the night of Feb. 4, 2007, related to the above referenced fire is officially closed.”

Nelson also wrote that the fire marshal determined the fire was accidental, probably caused by an overworked electric panel providing power to a heater running on a subzero night.

Fischer, the committee and Prchal all had a good laugh, and that’s apparently the end of that.

LGA fight continues

Greater Minnesota cities continue to take on Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s proposed local government aid cuts.

The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities has enlisted a pair of moderate former lawmakers of different political parties to argue that cuts in aid –which generally will have less impact on suburban communities – is a matter of tax fairness. They say aid cuts equal higher property taxes, which hit many greater Minnesota cities hard.

“The property tax catch is this: If a city has lower valued homes, they have a lower property tax base and are forced to charge each homeowner a higher rate in order to gather enough money to pay for essential services, like police officers and firefighters,” ex-Reps. Frank Moe of Bemidji and Dan Dorman of Albert Lea wrote in an editorial-page submission.

Dorman, a Republican, and Moe, a Democrat, said everyone agrees that Minnesotans are entitled to some basic services, such as police, fire protection, safe roads, libraries and parks. They claim Pawlenty’s proposed cuts are so deep that all of those services are in danger.

ND delegation honored

A coalition known as the North Dakota Healthcare Access Network has thanked the state’s congressional delegation for voting “yes” on the recent reauthorization and expansion of the state Children’s Health Insurance Program, known in North Dakota as Healthy Steps. It’s a federal program that pays for health insurance for low-income children whose families aren’t poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.

The network is the American Lung Association, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Arc of Bismarck, North Dakota Healthcare Association, North Dakota Insurance Department, Family Voices of North Dakota, North Dakota Long Term Care Association, AARP and PhRMA.

Vets set to party

Minnesota veterans’ organizations plan to gather June 13 for the largest-ever state Vietnam veteran event.

Vets, their families and other supporters are to meet on the state Capitol grounds. The free event will feature speakers, music from the period and Vietnam memorabilia.

Weatherization coming

The federal economic stimulus package provides $131 million to Minnesotans who need to weatherize their homes.

The program would provide thousands of families 32 percent savings on energy bills, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said. Some public buildings also would receive energy upgrades.

Information on how to apply for the program is available at www.staywarm.mn.gov.

Readers can reach Forum Capitol Correspondents Janell Cole at (701) 224-0830 and Don Davis at (651) 290-0707