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Don Davis, Published October 05 2009

Political notebook: Franken shying away from media in Washington

ST. PAUL – National news reporters are at least a little frustrated with new Minnesota Sen. Al Franken.

First, he seldom displays the humor he used as a comedian. Second, he doesn’t talk to them.

The Hill, a respected newspaper covering Congress, updated its readers about the Democrat who joined the Senate on July 7 after a long election and post-election battle with Norm Coleman.

“As a senator, the former ‘Saturday Night Live’ star has delivered only one speech on the floor, introduced low-profile legislation and declined many media interview requests,” reporter J. Taylor Rushing wrote before Franken spoke on the floor a second time the other day. “It is not unusual for a freshman senator to adopt a deferential approach in a chamber that is high on decorum and seniority. But the former entertainer has gone out of his way to deflect attention away from himself.”

Right after The Hill story, Franken introduced his biggest bill, one that requires at least 90 percent of health insurance premium dollars to go for health services, not profits. He was also one of 25 senators to ask Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to buy

$100 million in pork from U.S. farmers to help ease a financial crisis the industry faces.

Then, he and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., introduced legislation to expand the country’s free school lunch program, which would give 54,000 more Minnesota students free lunches.

Tax, cuts eyed

A dozen former Minnesota political leaders released a statement saying that tax increases and spending cuts are needed to balance the state budget.

Ex-GOP Gov. Al Quie and former DFL House Speaker Martin Sabo (later a congressman) said budget work needs to continue in 2010, even though 2011 is the next time the Legislature is supposed to pass a budget.

Sabo, Quie and the 10 others who issued the statement emphasized that the state should follow a strict policy of only spending revenues it has available during the budget cycle, not borrowing money from future budgets.

Pawlenty flip-flop?

A St. Petersburg, Fla., Times Web site calls Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty a flip-flopper on the environment.

“Back in 2007, Pawlenty was positioning himself as an environmental leader, pushing for aggressive reductions in greenhouse gases and a regional cap-and-trade plan,” PolitiFact.com reports. “Fast-forward to 2009, and he’s writing letters to Washington calling a Democratic plan to curb climate change, ‘overly bureaucratic, misguided’ and ‘very burdensome on our economy.’ ”

Pawlenty says he is not running for president and does not know what he will do when he leaves office early in 2011, but most political observers think he is mapping out a presidential run.

Marquart backs Kelliher

Rep. Paul Marquart is a supporter of House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher’s bid to be governor.

The Dilworth Democrat sent a letter to 23 rural newspaper editors stating: “Speaker Kelliher’s unwavering commitment to rural Minnesota is no surprise to me. Her strong values and work ethic were nurtured by growing up on a dairy farm near Mankato in rural Minnesota.”

Marquart, who is among the House’s most outspoken rural advocates, also pointed out that Kelliher is the first House speaker to have been a county dairy princess and a state 4-H president.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com