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Don Davis and Janell Cole, Published March 30 2009

North Dakota power couple join for flood

Bismarckers are used to Connie and David Sprynczynatyk as a local power couple.

Connie “Spry” (as the name is frequently abbreviated), has been a Bismarck city commissioner for nearly 20 years. She has the emergency management portfolio and also runs the North Dakota League of Cities.

David “Spry” has advanced through Gov. John Hoeven’s administration from state engineer at the Water Commission to director of the state Transportation Department and is now adjutant general.

The couple’s jobs merged last week on the issue of south Bismarck flooding, prompting joking at live broadcasts of news conferences.

After Mayor John Warford introduced Connie to the viewing audience, U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy quipped, “She also works in close consultation with the adjutant general.”

Dealing with jobless

Federal and Minnesota state leaders are looking at how to deal with growing unemployment, with much of the discussion centered on manufacturing and other jobs that are more common in urban areas.

However, a new report shows rural counties are in worse shape than their more populated cousins.

The Center for Rural Strategies reports unemployment in rural counties was 9.4 percent in January, far more than the 8.25 percent city unemployment rate. Minnesota rural unemployment reached 10.1 percent, with 10,715 rural jobs lost in January alone.

Adjoining states fared far better than Minnesota. North Dakota’s rural unemployment was 5.7 percent, Wisconsin’s 8.8 percent, Iowa’s 6.7 percent and South Dakota’s 5.3 percent.

Get up here

Lots of people in the Bismarck area blamed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the flooding last week, saying it should have shut off flows out of Garrison Dam earlier. It was shut down Tuesday, for the first time since it was completed in 1954.

Hoeven said he was notified Monday afternoon of the ice jam on the Missouri River that caused flooding in south Bismarck and Mandan.

He related how he almost immediately called the Corps of Engineers in Omaha: “I want an ice jam expert up here, and I want him up here now. And (the corps) said, ‘Well, gee whiz we don’t have a plane,’ and I said, ‘That isn’t a problem, because one’s on the way.’ ”

The corps official was in Bismarck by Monday night, the governor said.

Energy help

The Obama administration plans to give Minnesota and its cities and counties nearly $37.4 million to save energy.

Those grants come on top of $186 million in weatherization and other energy grants announced March 12.

“These investments will save taxpayer dollars and create jobs in communities around the country,” said Vice President Joe Biden. “Local leaders will have the flexibility in how they put these resources to work – but we will hold them accountable for making the investments quickly and wisely to spur the local economy and cut energy use.”

Funds come from the economic stimulus package and are designed to reduce total energy use, especially that of fossil fuels.

The state will receive $10.6 million to distribute to a variety of projects. Among cities receiving funds are Duluth, $850,300; Moorhead, $146000; and Woodbury, $503,900. Counties getting funds include Dakota, $658,400; St. Louis, $467,800; and Washington, $963,300.

“Our emerging energy economy holds enormous potential for Minnesota,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. “By investing in energy-efficiency projects, we can create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. And at a time when millions of families are struggling to make ends meet, these projects will help cut energy costs for families.”

Conrad vs. Grassley

Politico.com’s “Shenanigans” column Friday recited a strange exchange Thursday between Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, during a Senate budget markup session.

Grassley reminded Conrad that a few years ago, Grassley had bowed to a request from Conrad that a vote not be taken on some issue. Grassley hoped that now “you would return the favor.”

According to Politico, “Conrad looks shocked and laughingly replies, ‘I used to like you … Oh, you are good.’ ”

Grassley shot back, “Your wife said the same thing.”

Conrad defused “what could have been an even more awkward moment,” Politico writes, by telling Grassley, “She said you were the biggest hit of all the speakers at the event.”

Dressed for Senate

Rep. Torrey Westrom was the rare Minnesota House member who found himself testifying in a Senate committee recently.

Westrom, who is blind, was asked to speak in favor of legislation that would make state documents and Web sites more accessible for blind people.

The occasion required a wardrobe check, joked the Elbow Lake Republican.

“I will respect the rules of the Senate, and I did wear a tie,” Westrom told senators, who have a stuffier

dress code than do representatives. “I did forget the wig, but I consciously made sure I brought a tie because some days I wear shirts that don’t allow me to wear ties in the House – because of the (legislative) body we purport to be.”

Collecting attention

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., continued to collect attention in all sorts of venues last week, some of it for his 10-year-old prediction that if banking and investment laws were relaxed with passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, taxpayers would end up funding huge bailouts.

He was featured and interviewed on MSNBC’s “Rachael Maddow Show” Wednesday about his prescience. The Businessfacilities.com blog lauded him in a column as “the man who saw the future,” but referred to him as “a plain-spoken, little-known” senator.”

The blog also suggested President Barack Obama fire Lawrence Summers as his chief economic adviser and hire Dorgan. Summers was a backer of Gramm-Leach-Bliley as Treasury secretary in 1999.

Minnesota State Capitol reporter Scott Wente contributed to this report

Davis and Cole work for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. Davis can be reached at (651) 290-0707 and Cole can be reached at (701) 224-0830