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Getting closer to funding U.S. defense in 2022, Rep. Pete Stauber has a challenger and Rep. Dean Phillips channels his inner grumpy old man.

REUTERS/Tom Brenner
Rep. Dean Phillips introduced a resolution this week called the “Our Lawn Act” which would prohibit the use of federal property for political purposes.

Hello and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. This week you can find me still doing nothing but working and attempting to train my puppy. He mastered stairs this week, which is a big feat for a tiny corgi with the stubbiest of legs. In just slightly less wholesome news, here’s what we’re looking at this week in the Memo: Getting closer to funding U.S. defense in 2022, Rep. Pete Stauber has a challenger and Rep. Dean Phillips channels his inner grumpy old man.

NDAA passes the House

The National Defense Authorization Act, which determines the military’s budget and policy changes for each fiscal year, passed the House Tuesday night with an overwhelming 363-70 margin. 194 Republicans backed the measure, with 19 Republicans voting no. The NDAA authorizes $770 billion in defense funding for 2022. This bill was one of the priority items for Congress to complete before the end of 2021, and now it just has to get through the Senate (though that’s not as easy as it may sound).

In a press release from Third Congressional District Rep. Dean Phillips, the lawmaker took credit for the passage of several priority provisions to the NDAA “with an eye toward helping Minnesotans” by improving the lives of servicemembers and military families, and strengthening national security. Phillips highlighted his amendment that “strengthens the case” to have a substantial number of C-130s aircraft in the Minnesota Air National Guard and another amendment to the bill that would “support cleanup efforts in former military sites like the one in Watertown, MN.”

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As chair of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Fourth District Rep. Betty McCollum also played a big role in passing the NDAA. McCollum led the bill through the House and pushed hard for several provisions to be included in the bill, including one that would make big changes to the way that the U.S. military handles accusations of sexual assault and harassment.

Going after the Eighth District

It’s not even 2022 yet, but congressional hopefuls are already starting to announce their plans to run against Minnesota’s current representatives. A Democratic candidate from Chisholm, Theresa Lastovich, will run for Minnesota’s Eighth Congressional District seat, which is currently held by Republican Rep. Pete Stauber.

The Duluth News Tribune reports that Lastovich filed a statement of candidacy and a statement of organization for “Theresa Lastovich for Congress” on Nov. 10, according to the Federal Election Commission. Lastovich is so far the first and only candidate besides Stauber to file a statement of candidacy for the Eighth District.

According to Stauber’s July campaign filing with the FEC, he had already raised $1 million for the 2022 campaign and has nearly $740,000 on hand.

In a Facebook post by Ashlie Castaldo, a Duluth City Council member, Castaldo said the following about Lastovich: “As someone who has gotten to know her and call her a friend, I can tell you that she has what it takes to bring the people’s voice to Congress. She is all business, no BS.”

Stay off our lawn

Third District Rep. Dean Phillips wants people to get off our lawn. He introduced a resolution this week called the “Our Lawn Act” which would prohibit the use of federal property for political purposes. This has already pretty much been a thing under the Hatch Act, which provides a clear distinction between public servants and electoral candidates — basically, any employee that is part of the Executive Branch except for the President or Vice President is prohibited from taking part in any political campaign activities.

Phillips says the Hatch Act doesn’t go far enough, though. His resolution would prevent politicians from using the White House grounds and other federal property as a staging area for political events or other campaign tactics.

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“The White House lawn belongs to Americans – not to a politician or political party, no matter who occupies the Oval Office,” Phillips said in a press release issued with the bill. “The Our Lawn Act isn’t about protecting a patch of grass – it’s about sending a message to the world that we are a nation of laws.”

Though he doesn’t say it overtly, Phillips is probably referring to a campaign event held by former President Donald Trump on the White House lawn last year. Aside from questionable ethics on behalf of the former president, his campaign also had to pay to replace sod on the White House South Lawn and in the Rose Garden after the heavy equipment and crowds at the event tore up some of the area’s greenery.

Phillips also introduced this resolution in 2020, but it didn’t gain much ground in Congress.

Ethics questions

First District Rep. Jim Hagedorn’s ethics are once again under the microscope. A newly released ethics report raised concerns about John Sample, a part time staffer for Hagedorn, “in questionable spending on taxpayer-funded constituent mail,” according to the Star Tribune. Hagedorn’s spending on constituent mailers during his first term in the House brought up questions last year ahead of his 2020 re-election.

The ethics issue surrounded two companies that Hagedorn’s congressional office spent large amounts of money on: one linked to Sample and another to the brother of Hagedorn’s chief of staff at the time, Peter Su. Hagedorn fired Su shortly after the ethics concerns were brought to light.

The Office of Congressional Ethics found “there is substantial reason to believe that John Sample was involved in and benefited from the use of official funds to procure services from companies owned or controlled by congressional staff members, including himself.”

CD2 in limbo

Second Congressional District Rep. Angie Craig made an appearance in Bloomberg Government’s “Ballots & Boundaries” newsletter this week: “Rep. Angie Craig’s congressional future may be decided by a five-judge panel appointed by the Minnesota Supreme Court. Craig, you may recall, had two whisker-close victories, by about 18,000 votes over incumbent Rep. Jason Lewis (R) in 2018 and by fewer than 10,000 votes over Tyler Kistner (R) last year. So a little change in the district lines could matter a lot.”

Although the 2020 Census decided that Minnesota is keeping its eight congressional districts for the next 10 years, this year’s redistricting process will still shuffle voters around in each district. This could be really important for Craig, who came very close to losing the election last year to Kistner. Kistner has announced that he’s running again.

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Redistricting also has the potential to make the Second District a little more blue, which would be in Craig’s favor especially if the upcoming race is as close as it was in 2020.

The Minnesota Legislature convenes Jan. 31, and the two chambers have to agree on a redistricting plan and get it to Gov. Tim Walz in time for him to sign it into law by a Feb. 15 deadline. If lawmakers miss the deadline, the courts take over.

“Redistricting will most likely be decided by the courts here in Minnesota,” Craig told Bloomberg, signaling that she believes the Legislature won’t come to an easy bipartisan compromise in time.

What I’m reading

  • “Why you might love Hallmark movies, even if they’re ‘cheesy,’” The Lily. For years, there has been a holiday tradition when I come back to spend time with family in Minnesota: My mom watches a lot of Hallmark movies during the holiday season, and I sit there and watch too, making fun of the cheesy acting the whole time. But I have to admit that there’s some kind of addicting quality to these films, and now we have psychologists telling us why this is. If you’ve wondered about the intoxicating qualities of these poorly acted movies, this article will help you understand why we come back to them year after year.
  • “Democrats are losing the culture wars,” The Atlantic. The term “culture wars” has always seemed pretty nebulous to me, a buzzword that gets thrown around by pundits trying to make their point about this social issue or that trend. But the Atlantic’s Ronald Brownstein gives a pretty high-level (and high-brow) overview from the Clinton administration to today of  how the left has been steered off track on cultural issues today. Brownstein argues that Democrats are losing voters because aggressive social liberalism (like defunding the police) has alienated not only white voters but now nonwhite working-class voters as well. This is a pretty dense read, but gives one much to think about.

That’s all from me this week. Thanks for reading. As always, please feel free to send any questions, comments or lawn advice to ahackett@minnpost.com, or follow me on Twitter at @byashleyhackett.