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New poll shows 2-to-1 disapproval of GOP

AFTERNOON EDITION ALSO: Centerpoint pricing plan challenged; another high-flying fraudster; Sen. Limmer gets a journalistic working over; and more.
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Interesting stuff in the latest Public Policy Poll. Mark Zdechlik at MPR breaks out some of the main items. “Just 28 percent of Minnesota voters think former Gov. Tim Pawlenty should seek the White House, and just 14 percent think Rep. Michele Bachmann should run for president, according to a new Public Policy Polling survey. Of the Republicans surveyed, 57 percent said they thought Pawlenty should run for president. And more GOP Minnesota voters want Bachmann to run for Senate than president: 43 percent compared to 26 percent, according to the poll.” (Among all voters the poll says only 23 percent would prefer that Bachmann run for the Senate, while 47 percent would prefer she ran for “no office” at all.)

Also worth noting: Disapproval/approval on the GOP majority is a hefty 1:2, 29 percent yea, 58 percent nay. The DFL rates a more normal 39%/45%.

Al Franken gets a 48 percent favorable, 40 percent unfavorable rating. And in a theoretical do-over Gov. Mark Dayton would win a landslide 48%-36%-13% over Tom Emmer and Tom Horner.

A pricing plan by Centerpoint, allegedly designed to encourage conservation by charging consumers more for natural gas as they consumed more is being challenged by Minnesota AG Lori Swanson. Paul Walsh’s Strib story says, “The company agreed to the pricing strategy with regulators and saw it as a way to encourage people to conserve energy by charging higher-use customers rates up to double those charged to lower-use customers. It was launched in Minnesota on July 1, 2010, as a three-year experiment. The attorney general’s office is contending, however, that the program appears to have ‘unintended ramifications’ on many customers, such as those being charged higher rates even though they’ve done all they can to be energy efficient. In addition, some consumers were pushed into higher rates because CenterPoint increased the length of its billing cycles beyond 30 days.” If I didn’t know better I’d say that sounds like the old “game the billing cycle” trick.

Has someone done a study correlating private plane ownership to scam artists? Walsh (again) has a story about the guilty plea in a long line of high-living, high-flying fraudsters. “Travis M. Scott, 34, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in St. Paul to wire fraud and money laundering. In total, Scott admitted he is responsible for losses to insurer Zurich North America of between $7.1 and $10 million. According to the plea agreement: From from mid- to late 2008, Scott submitted false claims to Zurich North America on behalf of his business, Security Management Technologies. The policy covered both the property of the business, which included supercomputers, and business interruption. If the property was damaged, Scott could either take the cash value of the damaged property, as determined by Zurich, or replace the property up to his policy’s $9.5 million limit. … Law enforcement searched Scott’s home and airport hangar last November. They also searched and seized bank accounts and other property. IRS investigators seized three planes, a boat, three vehicles and more than $5 million from various bank accounts. The federal government is seeking forfeiture of all of these items.” Apparently Mr. Scott won’t need any of his toys for about 20 years.

GOP Sen. Warren Limmer, the natty, otherwise low-key sponsor of the gay marriage referendum bill, gets a working over in a column by Aaron Shuler in the St. Paul edition of “Limmer successfully shepherded his proposal for a ballot initiative asking to enshrine a ban on marriage equality into the Minnesota Constitution. He did so with a questionable mandate in the face of polls that suggest he is on the wrong side of the inevitable, making him reminiscent of the Black Knight in Monty Python’s “The Holy Grail.” The Black Knight kicked when he had no arms, threatened to bite when he lost his legs. The arguments against marriage equality similarly ring hollow. ‘Marriage is for reproduction to perpetuate the human race.’ This can be true but it is by no means an exhaustive statement of marriage. We do not foreclose marriage to people that cannot or will not bear children, whether they are older citizens, infertile couples or those who simply do not wish to be parents. Moreover, plenty of people are still having children in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and Iowa. The idea that couples make their reproduction decisions based on whether two men they have never met can get married is one of the more ridiculous canards circulated. ‘Tis but a scratch.’ “

This one could go real nasty real fast. Dave Chanen of the Strib reports, “In a move that veteran court observers say they cannot recall seeing before, a Hennepin County judge this week found a highly regarded defense attorney in contempt for failing to show up to the start of her client’s trial and referred the case for possible criminal charges. The strained courtroom relationship between Judge William Howard and attorney M. Tayari Garrett started months ago when he repeatedly denied a variety of pretrial motions in the mortgage-fraud case, and she claimed he violated state trial-procedure rules in several instances. This led Garrett to ask for Howard’s removal from the case on grounds of judicial misconduct and racial bias against her and her client, both black women.”

More outstate editorializing on the budget standoff. This one is from the Willmar West Central Tribune via the Park Rapids Enterprise. “The bigger challenge facing state leaders today is the House’s Republican freshmen class of legislators. These legislators — including Rep. Bruce Vogel, R-Willmar — believe they were elected by a mandate of the voters. These freshmen legislators have never been through a complete session to this point, but they are driving the House GOP Caucus leadership. These legislators have never been through a government shutdown. These legislators have never walked a summer parade during a budget deadlock and government shutdown. These House Republican freshmen need to remember how fast the public opinion can turn. Their 2010 caucus victory was a margin of only 1,500 votes across a handful of House districts.

According to Andy Birkey at The Minnesota Independent, Limmer’s legislative underwriters are revving up the cash engines to drive voters to the polls next year in support of his amendment. “The National Organization for Marriage and the Minnesota Family Council have registered with the state campaign finance board to actively encourage voters to support an anti–gay marriage amendment on the 2012 ballot. The organizations are the target of an investigation by the Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board following a complaint that both groups failed to disclose lobbying efforts in the 2010 election. MFC and NOM created Minnesota for Marriage and registered it as a ballot question committee late last week, a designation that will allow it to begin fundraising. John Helmberger, CEO of the Family Council, is listed as the chair of Minnesota for Marriage as well as its treasurer. Brian Brown, head of the National Organization for Marriage, registered as a lobbyist with the campaign finance board in early May, less than two weeks after the Minnesota Independent reported on a pending investigation with the board over alleged lobbying violations. Common Cause Minnesota filed a complaint with that board this spring alleging that a series of ads put out by MFC and NOM violated lobbying rules.”

Dan Olson of MPR has a good story about birds dying after crashing into buildings. “Different nationwide estimates put the number of birds killed when they collide with buildings at between 100 million and 1 billion. An early strategy to try and reduce the toll was to encourage owners of tall downtown buildings to turn off lights at night. Bright night-time building lights appear to confuse migrating birds. Amy Wimmer, general manager for the 57-story Wells Fargo Center in Minneapolis, said five years ago, the building’s owner, Hines Interests, started turning out lights at night during spring and fall bird migration. Now, Wimmer said, they’re keeping the lights off at night all year. ‘It really doesn’t take a lot more effort for us for the lights to come off earlier, and anything we could do to help the environment, it’s something that we had seen in other cities such as Chicago,’  Wimmer said. Researchers say it’s too early to show results from the so-called lights-out program in the Twin Cities. However, University of Minnesota professor Robert Zink, curator of birds at the university’s Bell Museum, said the Chicago lights-out effort reduced bird deaths by 75 percent.”

Not only good-looking and above average, but danged tough, too. Amy Pearson of the Winona Daily News reports, “A Winona woman was injured Tuesday morning when she fell from a third-story apartment window and landed on several potted plants. The 82-year-old woman was conscious but disoriented, according to initial police reports. She was transported by ambulance to Winona Health. Kay Schafer, a first-floor resident at the Winona Arms apartment complex at 150 Pleasant Hill Drive, said she heard a ‘thud’ outside of her window at about 10:30 a.m. When she looked outside, she said, she saw the woman lying on her side covered in potting soil.”