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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published September 22 2012

Minnesota Political Notebook: New Pawlenty job changes Minnesota politics

ST. PAUL - Scratch Tim Pawlenty’s name off the potential candidate list.

At least for two years.

The former Republican Minnesota governor accepted a job at The Financial Services Roundtable, a key Washington lobbying group that paid its last leader

$1.8 million a year. In taking the job as president and chief executive officer, Pawlenty also said he would leave as GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign co-chairman, not accept a Cabinet position and stay out of elective politics for at least two years.

After Pawlenty ended his short presidential run last year and Romney skipped over him as running mate, Minnesota speculation was heavy on Pawlenty challenging U.S. Sen. Al Franken in 2014. That now appears unlikely to happen, and if all goes well for Pawlenty he could stick to the lucrative Washington lobbying scene after twice losing out as a vice presidential candidate.

Speculation now turns to who Republicans could put up as a Franken challenger.

Funny Franken

While Republicans look over names of possible Al Franken challengers, the first-term Democratic U.S. senator is laying groundwork for his 2014 re-election run.

And he is using more humor than we heard when he first ran four years ago.

In a fundraising email, Franken claimed to have hired a Republican fact-checker to help his campaign. Franken added comments to an email “Scott” supposedly wrote. Excerpts:

Scott: He must raise $14 billion by the end of September.

Franken: We actually only need to raise $25,000. But I guess I like the ambition? (Youcanhelpbyclickinghereandmakingacontributionof $10 ormorerightnow.) I had to change the link; it originally led to a video of a baby sloth eating a banana, which I’ll admit I watched for a while because it was pretty adorable.

Scott: If we hit the fundraising goal this month, Al gets to decide the Senate’s lunch menu for a whole week!

Franken: Really? That doesn’t sound right. But, hey, let’s find out (clickheretohelpreachourSeptemberfundraisinggoal!).

Franken avoided over-doing the comedy bit during the 2008 campaign and early in his tenure, apparently not wanting to overemphasize his time as a comedy writer and comedian, including on “Saturday Night Live.”

He has avoided comedy so much that fellow Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a lawyer, has garnered more comments for jokes than Franken.

Absentee voting open

Minnesotans may cast absentee ballots now, and may go online for a sneak peek at how those ballots will look. Absentee voting continues until the day before the Nov. 6 election. State law limits the use of absentee ballots for specific cases, such as a voter being gone on Election Day.

Voters may cast absentee ballots in person at county auditor offices, and in some city clerk offices. Or they may request mail absentee ballots.

“Almost 300,000 Minnesotans will vote by absentee ballot this election,” Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said. “Absentee voters, including military personnel deployed overseas, may now track their ballots online to make sure that their ballots arrive on time and are counted.”

Voting information, including how to track absentee ballots, is at www.mnvotes.org. The website also provides a look at each voter’s ballot by clicking “my ballot.”

A gasoline issue

Republicans strongly disagree with a federal Environmental Protection Agency requirement that customers must buy at least four gallons of gasoline at some pumps.

Gasoline tanks on some motorcycles and other small engines do not hold four gallons, they say.

“The EPA has no business telling Americans how much fuel they must purchase,” GOP House members Chip Cravaack of Minnesota and Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin wrote in a letter to the EPA chief.

The new rule applies to pumps that use the same hose for the newly approved 15 percent ethanol blend, known as E15, and the long-available 10-percent blend. The EPA instituted the rule because if a customer buys just one gallon of E10, for instance, there may be enough E15 left in the hose to give the fuel a higher concentration of ethanol than small-engine manufactures say is safe.

Some gasoline stations may have dedicated hoses for E15 and would not fall under the EPA mandate.

Cleaner fracking?

The University of Minnesota is looking into how to clean up water used in hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking, a controversial method of extracting oil and gas from shale.

Headed by Larry Wackett, a professor in the College of Biological Sciences, the team is examining ways to purify water used in the process. It has received $600,000 from the National Science Foundation’s Partnerships for Innovation.

University scientists are using naturally occurring bacteria, an idea first used to remove pesticides from soil and water. Fracking is a process forcing water, sand and chemicals deep into the ground, creating fissures so natural gas and oil may be recovered.

“The University of Minnesota is not taking sides in the fracking debate, but as a land-grant research institution, it is uniquely positioned to carry out necessary and beneficial research,” Wackett said. “There are many efforts ongoing to improve the treatment of water used in fracking and we feel that biotechnology can play a significant role in the overall effort.”


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Don Davis reports for Forum Communications