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D.C. Memo: We’re number one … at least that’s what the DFL hopes

Minnesota DFL formally pitches to DNC in bid to be first primary state, federal gas tax stalls, guns and insurrection and a first-class dust-up in the 2nd over travel.

Minneapolis residents shown casting ballots at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
Minneapolis residents shown casting ballots at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park.
REUTERS/Nicole Neri

WASHINGTON – To Prince’s upbeat “Let’s Go Crazy,” a delegation of Minnesota’s top DFL leaders strutted into a hearing Thursday that will help determine if their state wins the honor of hosting an early presidential primary in 2024, maybe even the first in the nation.

The gambit was appreciated by the more than three dozen members of the Democratic National Committee’s rules and bylaws panel who will recommend to the full DNC which states should go first in that presidential contest. A shakeup of the current lineup – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada – is expected. There is plenty of competition for those early primary slots.

Minnesota’s delegation, composed of DFL Chairman Ken Martin, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, state Attorney General Keith Ellison, Secretary of State Steve Simon and Rep. Angie Craig, D-2nd, were ready for questions about the state’s diversity. Iowa’s lack of diversity is one reason the DNC is thinking to stripping the state from its first-in-the-nation status.

Minnesota’s population is more diverse than Iowa’s, but with only 7% Black residents and 5.2% Latino residents, it is much less diverse than the nation as a whole and its closest competitors, Michigan and Illinois.

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Minnesota’s presentation, dubbed “Democracy’s North Star,” began with a video, which also featured a soundtrack by Prince. It showcased the state’s diversity in both its population and elected leaders like Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-5th, who was born in Somalia.

“We are going to disabuse you of the notion we’re just a bunch of Scandinavians with no diversity,” Martin told the DNC panel.

The delegation pointed to its own ranks. Ellison is Black, Flanagan is a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe and Craig is gay. The Minnesota delegation also said there is high voter participation in the state’s minority communities.

“There are more states that are more diverse on paper, but what matters is whether people show up (to vote,)” Martin said.

Minnesota’s DFL leaders also touted the state’s large union membership and robust LGTBQ community, as well as voting laws that Simon said provide “a low barrier to voter participation.”

But one of those voting laws may pose a problem. Early voting in Minnesota begins 46 days before an election. A rules and bylaws committee member pointed out that voting for a Feb. 15 primary in Minnesota would then begin in December of the previous year. DNC rules mandate that primary voting occur in the year Democrat’s hold their national convention.

Flanagan said Minnesota does not have to win approval of the state legislature to change the date of primary election, now set for “Super Tuesday” in early March. An agreement among the major parties is all that’s needed, she said.

But while some former Minnesota Republican Party chairmen and other state Republicans – including former Gov. Tim Pawlenty – said they support the DFL’s efforts, current GOP party chief David Hann has said not where he stands.

Flanagan told the DNC panel “I believe we can resolve that.” Martin said he is optimistic Hann will go along.

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“Minnesotans typically come together on election reform in a bipartisan manner,” he said.

The DNC panel also questioned whether presidential candidates could freely travel and campaign during Minnesota’s harshly cold and snowy winters.

“Because we have a cold weather state, our infrastructure is prepared for that,” Martin said.

Craig said “We turn out … cold weather is not a factor.”

Other rules and bylaws panelists pointed out that Iowa and New Hampshire are also cold-weather states.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia made presentations to the DNC’s rules and bylaws panel this week.

After Minnesota completed its 15-minute presentation, Martin said “we put our bests foot forward.”

“Now it’s up for the committee to decide,” he said.

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Biden gas tax idea sputters

President Joe Biden this week called on Congress to suspend the federal gas tax for three months, an effort that has almost no chance of passing and was aimed at putting pressure on states like Minnesota to enact their own gas tax holiday.

But even Democratic allies, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, were opposed to the idea. There are concerns an artificially lowered price of gas would mean more driving, putting pressure on gas prices to climb. There was also concerned that oil companies might not pass on the discount and that a suspension of the tax would mean a substantial loss of revenue to the federal highway trust fund just as the Biden administration is ramping up infrastructure construction.

Biden wants Congress to lift the federal taxes — about 18 cents per gallon of gasoline and 24 cents per gallon of diesel — through the end of September, just before the fall midterm elections.

Three states, Maryland, Georgia, and Connecticut have enacted gasoline tax holidays. Twenty more states are considering various measures to provide gasoline tax relief after gasoline prices hit record highs in recent weeks. Gas prices are expected to rise even more sharply through the summer.

Suspension of a gasoline tax – whether at the state or federal level – would only bring temporary relief, said researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. They recently found that the suspension of gas taxes in Maryland, Georgia and Connecticut were, in fact, “mostly passed onto consumers at some point during the tax holiday in the form of lower gas prices,” but that the lower prices “were often not sustained.”

Some of the alternatives states are considering, besides the suspension of a gasoline tax, are distributing gasoline cards and public-transport vouchers or providing a gasoline tax rebate.

Minnesota’s state gasoline tax is 28.5 cents per gallon. Revenue from the state fuel tax may be used only for roads and bridges, according to the Minnesota Constitution.

Guns and Jan. 6 hearings, continued …

Meanwhile, in a workweek that was shortened by the Juneteenth holiday, Congress moved on the first gun legislation in decades.

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The Senate’s bipartisan gun control bill was backed by 15 Senate Republicans after language related to the “boyfriend loophole,” and a “red flag” provision was weakened.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has for years sought to close the boyfriend loophole. Currently, federal law prevents domestic violence offenders from purchasing firearms only if their victims were either their spouses or partners whom they had lived with or had children with.

Klobuchar and other proponents of closing the loophole wanted to expand the prohibition to dating partners, but Republicans wanted a narrower ban. An agreement was as reached to ban firearms from misdemeanor domestic-violence offenders who have “current or recent former dating relationship with a victim.”

Klobuchar called the provision “an important step forward.”

 “As a former prosecutor, I’ve seen firsthand the serious emotional and physical toll domestic violence can take on victims, particularly when a gun is involved,” the senator said in a statement.

The U.S. Senate was expected to pass the gun package late Thursday or Friday and the U.S. Houses planned to act immediately afterwards. Biden said he is eager to sign it into law.

Meanwhile, the Jan. 6 hearings continued this week, with a focus on the pressure then-President Donald Trump and his allies put on state voting officials and the Justice Department to help overturn the 2020 election.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the head of the special House panel investigating the attempts to overturn the 2020 elections, said the rest of the hearings will be postponed until July.

“We have looked at the body of work that we need to get done, and we’ve taken in some additional information that’s going to require additional work,” Thompson said. He also said adding more hearings to the schedule is “always a possibility.”

A Craig-Kistner skirmish

Minnesota’s hottest congressional race between Rep. Angie Craig, D-2nd, and GOP challenger Tyler Kistner is turning more antagonistic. Kistner tweeted photos of Craig sitting in comfy seats on an airplane.

“This is literally you having your constituents foot the bill for you to fly in first class and comfort plus, while Minnesotans in the Second District are paying record-high gas prices and struggling to put food on the table due to inflation,” Kistner tweeted to Craig.

That really got to Craig, who tweeted back:

“Tyler, I didn’t spend a dime of taxpayer money upgrading any of these flights. And I’ve got the receipts to prove it!”

Craig again tweeted back: “Can you say the same about your mileage reimbursements? In the spirit of transparency, how about we both release our logs and settle this? What do you say?”

The Star Tribune in November reported that Kistner “reimbursed himself nearly $7,000 for mileage in his latest campaign finance report, an unusually high number for his mostly suburban district that campaign finance watchdogs say raises questions about his spending and the campaign’s transparency.”

Federal Election Commission rules allow challengers far more leeway than incumbents on using campaign funds on what could be deemed personal expenses.

Kistner’s campaign did not return calls and emails requesting comment.

Meanwhile, Craig provided MinnPost with her airline receipts. They show that in May and early June Craig took one-way flights that cost between $105 (which her campaign said was a discounted fare) and $227.40. Most of the flights cost $208.24.

Craig pays for her flights from Minnesota to Washington D.C. – and back – from her “member representational allowance,” an amount of money each congressional office receives to pay for official expenses including staff, travel, mail, office equipment, district office rental, stationery and other office supplies.

But as a frequent flyer, Craig is eligible to free upgrades. Her campaign said those upgrades were “comfort plus,” not 1st class.

As far as the Craig-Kistner matchup goes, it’s going to be a long, hot summer.