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Bipartisan-ness in front of and behind closed doors

PLUS: Stadium news about the Vikings and the Dome Dog.

Bi-partisan summits are all the rage today. President Obama and the Republicans in D.C. over health care, Gov. Pawlenty, the DFL and interested parties here in Minnesota to discuss GAMC funding and the “cooling off” bonding bill Pawlenty has already said he’ll veto. The D.C. action will be televised, so any citizen can watch how sausage is made.

The Minnesota business will be conducted “in private,” which elicited some new semantic sleight-of-hand from Pawlenty’s communications guy, Brian McClung. Responding to an amusing inquiry from MPR’s Tom Scheck, and posted on the station’s Polinaut blog, McClung sees a difference behind this “private” meeting and the darkly suspicious “behind closed doors” the gov accused the DFL of holding only last week.  “When I asked McClung whether Pawlenty’s meetings with lawmakers would be in private, he e-mailed this response: ‘The meetings will be held in the Governor’s office with invited legislators and staff. Unlike the behind-closed-door bonding meetings on Sunday, these meetings will be conducted during regular working hours, the attendees will be known to the media and others, and the public discussion would occur immediately afterwards and not at 1:00 a.m’.”

But the doors will be closed and the governor will be behind them, right?

Meanwhile the Minnesota Vikings have loaded up with a guy considered one of the top lobbyists in the state … and six more … to convince the Legislature… in an election year, with a $1.2 billion deficit and pot holes the size of lunar craters opening in every street of every village … to find taxpayer support for, at minimum, $670 million to build a new stadium. Jason Hoppin at the PiPress writes: “Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has not taken a leadership role on the stadium drive, and he recently suggested DFL lawmakers come up with their own plan. With Pawlenty mulling a race for the White House, several legislators running to replace him and a $1.2 billion deficit, this session was not expected to be easy. And it has turned acrimonious unusually quickly.”

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Is there really anyone who will miss the Dome Dog? No offense to the great and wonderful people at Hormel, but the average Dome Dog usually arrived on the bun “heated” by what felt like a two-second dip in tepid water, and its ingestion set off ominous rumblings by the seventh inning stretch. Yesterday’s announcement — such significant cultural news that everyone in town jumped on it (and wouldn’t we like to see our favorite TV news anchor actually eat one of those things?) — that Hormel and the Twins are parting ways included a report by Chris Newmarker in the Business Journal, with corporate mumbo jumbo by Hormel. “‘After reviewing the change in cost for sponsorships at the new stadium, we decided to focus on different marketing initiatives in 2010,’ said Julie Craven, Hormel’s vice president of corporate communications.”

The actual “scoop” on this story goes to Tim Ruzek in the Rochester Post-Bulletin. As he reported, “Hormel hot dogs won’t be available at Twins home games in 2010, Craven said. A final decision is pending on what Hormel products will be offered at Target Field, she said, adding that Hormel has a ‘robust portfolio of products that are sold at sports venues throughout the United States.’ Hormel hot dogs have played a prominent food role at Twins home games in the Metrodome, including Hormel Dollar-A-Dog Night on Wednesdays and the Hormel Hot Dog Row of Fame, which featured a jingle that proclaimed a ‘wiener winner’.” So now the question is: Is it really baseball if you don’t have five soused frat boys sitting behind you singing a chorus of “Be a Wiener Winner”?

Barbara Jones, reporting for Finance and Commerce, has a piece on juries voting for heftier damages in brain injury cases during the recession. “All personal injury cases with real objective damages that strike a chord with jurors still have the potential for high damage awards, according to defense attorney Mark G. Pryor of Minneapolis. St. Paul defense attorney Terry Votel agreed, adding that catastrophic injuries are particularly invulnerable to the ups and downs of the economy. There are several reasons the damages in brain injury cases remain high, attorneys say. One is the skyrocketing costs of medical care. In fact, [Woodbury attorney Bill] Harper said, the legal system’s method of awarding damages cannot keep up with the cost of lifelong medical care because jurors are instructed to reduce the verdict to a present value amount. But medical costs don’t ‘reduce,’ Harper said.”

God knows we love a good “Denny Hecker sued again” story as much as anyone, but even we think there’s something bizarrely repetitive about them. For example, another day and another suit, this one charging Hecker and his ex-father-in-law of hiding money from the bankruptcy trustee. As usual, Dee DePass reports for the Strib. “Using cash from the hidden account, Prohofsky [the ex-wife’s father-in-law, did I mention that?] steered money to Hecker and his girlfriend, Christi Rowan, the trustee’s lawsuit alleged.”

Elizabeth Mohr writing in the PiPress tells of a cold case murder arrest of a man, Thomas Patraw, currently living in Woodbury. The man was 16 years old when his older sister was strangled to death in California. “Chandler was 18 years old when she was found strangled to death in her bedroom on Jan. 11, 1988, according to local news stories at the time. There was initial speculation that she had been sexually assaulted or that her murder happened during a burglary. Her father, also named Thomas Patraw, was questioned and ruled out as a suspect, as was her boyfriend, according to an Orange County Register article from Jan. 13, 1988.”

This one was twisted when it was reported last summer. But now, the AP is reporting that the 19-year-old Wisconsin kid, Anthony Stancl, who duped 30 other males into sending him naked pictures of themselves (thinking he was a girl) and then turned around and blackmailed them for sex has been sentenced to…15 years in prison. What, you ask, is going on here? The kid’s attorney is quoted saying, “… an openly gay student with whom Stancl formed a romantic relationship outed Stancl at school before he was emotionally ready. Stancl’s classmates shunned him and his grade-point average plunged from 3.7 to 1.8, Kuhary said. Those events drove him to act out, he said. ‘It doesn’t happen in a vacuum, judge’, Kuhary said. ‘He didn’t do this for the sake of doing it. He did it because he felt cornered and he was isolated from the rest of the group’.” But then there’s the part of having had sexual contact with a 3-year-old, the actual sex acts with the blackmail victims (including the taking of more photos) and, oh, a bomb threat against the school.

Another Finance and Commerce story, this one off the Dolan Media Newswires, covers a bit of niche marketing that probably has never before caught your attention … a start-up company offering banks consulting and management services for all the likely-to-be-bankrupt hotels and motels piling up on their balance sheets, including smaller Minnesota cities. “While many national real estate companies offer asset-management services, [co-owner Robin] Hunden said they remain focused on major markets. Those first-tier regions experienced far more problems than smaller Midwestern markets over the last decade, although [partner Paul] Coury expects more banks in the region to face that challenge this year. He pointed to data suggesting 85 percent of hotels tied to commercial mortgage-backed securities are now valued below their loans. ‘We think a lot of the hotels that have managed to hold on so far will have trouble and they will be turned back into their lenders this year,’ said Hunden. ‘Things have not turned out as they expected. The assumptions that many hotel properties undertook over the last two years were unrealistic in any market. The assumptions never matched the fundamentals.’”

Even the most jingoistic Minnesotan is looking at all the heaped-up, hardened snow and ice dams pulling at gutters and thinking, “When will this stuff melt?” MPR’s Paul Huttner, on his Updraft blog, writes that we’ve had 78 days of continuous snow cover of five inchesor more…a long ways from the record of 121 days. (1978-79). But a couple days in the 30s aren’t going to do much to this stuff. Says Huttner, “it’s going to be a slow process this year. One reason may be the type of snow layers we have deposited on the ground this winter. There are several different layers with ice layers in between from freezing rain events. Ice is harder to melt away than snow. It may take a while, or a good hard rain to melt away some of the ice layers present in the snow.” Great. I feel better.