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Don Davis, Published December 07 2009

Political notebook: Minnesota lawmakers point fingers over budget deficit

ST. PAUL – Minnesota’s budget deficit announcement Wednesday resulted in lots of finger-pointing, most notably from Democrats blaming Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty for what could be a nearly $7 billion shortfall over the next three and a half years.

But Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, pointed his fingers in every direction, including back at himself.

“At this point, we are not seeing the leadership that we need, from anyone,” Juhnke said during a House Ways and Means Committee meeting, talking about his own Democratic-Farmer-Laborite leaders as much as anyone. “There were a lot of mistakes made.”

Pawlenty himself went to great lengths to point out that all states other than North Dakota and Montana are facing deficits.

The budget figures upset the normally unruffled Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, especially when he learned a health care fund would run out of money sooner than expected. Huntley is the House’s top health care finance lawmaker.

“From raiding the fund to help balance the budget to recently shifting close to 30,000 of the poorest and sickest non-working Minnesotans into MinnesotaCare, his policies have hastened its demise,” Huntley said. “At least Sarah Palin told the people of Alaska she was quitting as their governor; Tim Pawlenty quit on Minnesota a long time ago, and working families are paying the price.”

Entenza support

Former Rep. Matt Entenza has not been in the news as much as some of the 10 other Democratic Minnesota governor candidates, but he apparently has the support of many out-of-state politicians.

Elected officials from neighboring states, and elsewhere, hosted a Washington fundraiser for the candidate, costing $100 or $250 per person.

Hosts included U.S. Sens. Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota, U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin and U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota. Former U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota also hosted the event.

The only major Minnesota politician on the host committee was Rep. Keith Ellison of Minneapolis.

Willmar, Minn., native Tom Erickson, with the National Republican Congressional Committee, reminded neighboring state politicians that Entenza dropped out of Minnesota’s 2006 attorney general race because he was investigating then-Attorney General Mike Hatch. Both are Democrats.

Erickson’s statement about Pomeroy resembled those he also sent to Wisconsin and South Dakota media: “North Dakotans should be asking themselves what their congressman is doing hosting a fundraiser for an ethically challenged ex-lawmaker like Matt Entenza while unemployment remains in the double-digits. It looks like Earl Pomeroy is so busy lending a hand to disgraced Democrats that he isn’t able to focus on the important issues like getting the economy back on track.”

Pawlenty punts

Gov. Tim Pawlenty admits he does not know how to keep the Vikings football team in Minnesota, but says it is an important goal.

“If you want to keep the Vikings, you are going to have to work together as a state,” Pawlenty said. “I don’t know how we are going to do that.”

The governor said he is working with the Vikings but would not reveal how.

“We will see if there are some creative solutions,” Pawlenty said. “We will see if there are private-sector solutions.”

One caller to his weekly radio show asked why he did not support Rep. Tom Hackbarth’s proposal to expand gambling, with proceeds going to a new stadium. The governor said the National Football League does not want to be associated with gambling, so the league might not accept such a revenue raiser.

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf says he will not move the team, but Pawlenty added his voice to those of many Vikings fans who are concerned that he may sell the team, which then could move to a city such as Los Angeles.

“We have to find a way for them to stay here, complicated by this budget deficit that we have,” Pawlenty said.

One caller to his radio show pleaded: “Please take leadership yourself. ... Make it a priority. We need the Vikings.”

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