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Does GOP really want to run on its record of support for Xcel?

Does GOP really want to run on its record of support for Xcel?

It’s no surprise that Republicans have decided to contest the re-election campaign of Rep. Julie Bunn in Minnesota House District 56A, which extends all the way from Stillwater’s South Hill to the northern reaches of Woodbury.

And it’s no surprise that the GOP has made Bunn its No. 1 target, statewide, for the current election cycle — well, aside from the six so-called Rogue Republicans that they also want to defeat.

Nor is it surprising that the governor, who is also the leader of one of Minnesota’s political parties, sometimes uses the power of his office to enhance his party’s political prospects.

What’s surprising is that Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Republicans would want to remind voters in 56A about the fly ash landfill that Xcel Energy wanted to build in West Lakeland Township — a landfill that the Lower St. Croix Valley community and Bunn opposed, and the governor supported.

But that’s what the governor has done. He has raised the visibility of the issue, and of Bunn’s work on the issue, by appointing Bunn’s opponent, Kathy Lohmer, to the Citizen’s Board of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

Route to enviro qualifications?
“It sounds to me like it could be that (Republicans) are trying to get Rep. Bunn’s opponent some qualifications in the environment area,” Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, told a reporter from the Pioneer Press. Indeed, environmental issues currently are not listed among Lohmer’s top five issues on her campaign website.

“Longtime political observers,” the Pioneer Press added, “said they had never heard of someone being appointed to (a) state board while seeking a legislative post.”

The governor’s spokesman, Brian McClung, disagreed. “The situation is not unusual,” he told the Pioneer Press. “There are a number of state representatives,” McClung said, “who are appointed to boards, so it is not that rare for board or commission members to be running for office.”

This is disingenuous, however, because in this case state law explicitly prohibits double-dipping. State law says that no member of the MPCA Citizen’s Board, other than the MPCA commissioner, “shall be an officer or employee of the state or federal government.”

Couldn’t continue if elected
Lohmer is not now an officer or employee of the state, of course. But it’s clear that if she is elected in November, she will not be able to continue to serve on the MPCA board.

Not only that, but claims that Lohmer’s appointment was motivated by considerations of geographical balance don’t hold up either. The MPCA board has four Greater Minnesota members, all from a triangular-shaped area of north-central Minnesota running from the Bemidji to Duluth to St. Cloud areas. One of the three metro members, Dr. Daniel Foley of Woodbury, already hails from Washington County. Geographical balance might have been served by an appointee from Anoka County, or Mankato or Rochester, but not Lake Elmo.

Still, critics’ claims that the appointment is illegal or unethical would appear to be overstated. Rather, the appointment may be a political miscalculation, and that’s something that the voters will decide — not the courts.

The MPCA website says, “The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) Citizens’ Board considers and makes decisions on varied and complex pollution problems that affect areas of the state.”

One such issue was the adequacy of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed West Lakeland landfill. The Citizens’ Board voted 5-1 to find the EIS to be adequate — and to allow the landfill project to go forward — May 20. Among the “yes” votes were the governor’s appointee as MPCA commissioner, Brad Moore, and citizen member Dennis Jensen of Duluth, whom the governor re-appointed to the board last week along with Lohmer.

Governor, Xcel objected to legislation
Meanwhile, Bunn introduced legislation that prohibits the siting of landfills in areas that are highly susceptible to groundwater contamination, which most observers believe the West Lakeland site to be. Bunn’s legislation became state law last month over the objections of the governor and Xcel. This was yeoman legislative work by any standard — but especially for a freshman lawmaker.

Bunn’s district is a traditionally safe Republican district. The GOP may feel that they lost the district in 2006 more than Bunn won it, because they simply didn’t take Bunn’s challenge to incumbent Mike Charron seriously enough. So observers expect Lohmer to run a strong challenge to Bunn’s re-election.

Still, there is every indication that Bunn’s opponent would have been a “yes” vote for the West Lakeland landfill project had she served on the MPCA Citizen’s Board a month ago. And there can be no question that Lohmer would not have authored legislation designed to prohibit landfills in gravel soils such as are found in West Lakeland.

It’s hard to imagine why Republicans wanted to run all of that up the flagpole.

Marc Hugunin lives in Grant, Minn. This piece originally appeared in the Stillwater Gazette and is reprinted with permission.

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