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Top legislators deny — and demur on — Capitol affairs

Brodkorb case gets national attention; DFL senators want Crystal sugar ban; state does well in health rankings; and more.

Rachel Stassen-Berger of the Strib pursues an unusual line of questioning with prominent legislators. “ ‘Not me,’ said Steve Sviggum, who replaced Brodkorb. Sviggum served as the House Republican leader and then speaker for more than a decade, until 2006. Asked whether he knew of a single lawmaker other than Koch who had an affair with a staffer, he said: ‘We are going to let the attorneys handle this. You are pushing me in a way I don’t want to go.’ Roger Moe, a DFLer who served as the Senate majority leader for two decades, also demurred about whether he knew of lawmakers who had sexual relations with staffers during his time. ‘If I did, I wouldn’t tell you,’ said Moe, now a lobbyist. Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, referred all questions to the attorney the Senate hired to deal with the Brodkorb matter. Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he doesn’t know of any current lawmakers who have had affairs with staffers. Bakk is married to a current Senate staffer but noted that she worked in the Senate at that time and he was a House member.” I guess I missed the categorical “nos” in all that.

At the semi-satirical Wonkette site, Rebecca Schoenkopf explains the soapy goings-on in Minnesota to her national audience: “When Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch resigned superfast last December, she tried to pull the Sarah Palin Special “I didn’t want Minnesota to suffer a lame duck leader” total tripe and utter nonsense. Hey it was worth a shot! She was rather cut off in the knees on that, though, when the new majority leader immediately held a press conference and went on record as saying no, actually, it was totally because she’s a slut. Now the presumed object of her affection, Michael Brodkorb — a staffer who was fired at the same time (the married) Koch resigned — is making the whole leadership plotz with, get this, a sex discrimination lawsuit. Ladies who were [seduced] by their freaky old legislative bosses were not fired, he claims, but men who [seduced] their hot-to-trot legislators, were! Oh lucky Minnesota press corps, what fun you are having you betcha also too.” Yeah, it doesn’t get much better than this, unless someone can bring back Jon Grunseth.

In “Today’s Question,” MPR asks if there is a double standard for office affairs? A couple of responses:

“Yes, there is a double standard in that men are rarely viewed as victims of sexual harassment and rarely do men press charges when they are victims. It’s as though a man is supposed to be flattered if his female boss comes on to him, but I don’t see the difference. A person with workplace power over you making sexual advances shouldn’t be tolerated regardless if you’re male or female.

And: “It used to be that when a powerful man had an affair with a female underling, the female was scapegoated for ‘seducing’ the otherwise fine, upstanding citizen. It seems equal rights have progressed to the point where the shoe can now be on the other foot.”

A group of DFL senators is trying, barely, to legislate a boycott of Crystal sugar. Don Davis of the Forum papers writes: “Ten Democratic-Farmer-Labor House members introduced a bill Thursday to forbid the state from [buying] sugar from American Crystal until the firm ends a lockout that’s lasted more than seven months. The bill was introduced just before today’s deadline for a bill to pass its first committee, so it has little chance of getting a hearing. Its prime sponsor is Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul. Moorhead-based American Crystal Sugar Co. has locked out more than 1,300 workers since Aug. 1 in a labor dispute.”

Also, a group of college kids want a law removing immunity for legislators who drive drunk. Danielle Nordine, also of the Forum papers, writes, “Legislators who drink and drive should face the same consequences as everyone else, a group of college students argues. In Minnesota, legislators get what some deem a ‘get out of jail free’ card protecting them from arrest for certain crimes. Some students from Concordia University in St. Paul were not happy when they discovered that legislative immunity could shield lawmakers from drunken driving arrests. A House committee passed the students’ proposal Thursday to allow legislators to be arrested for drunken driving, sending it to a full House vote. The experience has taught the students a lot about the legislative process.” Who knows, maybe these kids have some “job creating” ideas? They couldn’t have fewer.

The Duluth News Tribune picks up a commentary from GOP Rep. Kurt Bills asserting that Gov. Dayton should follow the Republican lead and start paying off that school shift debt. Says Bills: “We recently passed a bill (H.F. 2083) that not only would completely repay the extended K-12 shift enacted last year but makes strides in repaying the shift we inherited as a new majority in 2010. This is outstanding news and yet another byproduct of the fiscally responsible budget we constructed last year. … It is not appropriate for the state to sit on surplus funds as schools borrow money. Beyond doing what is right for our kids, reducing our long-term debt would help restore our state’s credit ranking, saving taxpayers interest costs associated with state borrowing.” Mr. Bills is now also running for U.S. Senate.

St. Paul is No. 1! Says Christopher Snowbeck in the PiPress says: “A national health policy group gives the St. Paul area top ranking in its first-ever scorecard on the quality of health systems across the country. More broadly, state officials said that Minnesota looks especially good in the report from the New York-based Commonwealth Fund. Rochester, Minn., holds the No. 3 spot, followed by Minneapolis at No. 4 and St. Cloud at 7. ‘Minnesota did extremely well with four of the top 10 health care system areas in the nation being in Minnesota’, Scott Smith, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health, wrote in an email on Thursday … Communities in Louisiana and Mississippi were among the lowest-scoring regions in the country, according to the report, which was released Wednesday.”  Of course, these numbers could take a hit the morning after St. Paddy’s Day.

Will a quarter-million bucks really cover it? Emily Gurnon of the PiPress reports: “A federal judge has ordered former St. Paul teacher Gregg Alan Larsen to pay $240,000 to a man who was once his foster son for using him in the production of child pornography. Pierre Larsen, a foster child who was 11 when Larsen adopted him, won the judgment on Wednesday … It was only the second time a plaintiff has successfully used the federal ‘Masha’s Law’ to obtain restitution for a victim of child pornography, said Pierre Larsen’s attorney, Patrick Noaker of Anderson and Associates. The law was named for a 5-year-old Russian orphan adopted by an American man who began abusing her the night she arrived at his home and recorded the abuse for distribution. … Larsen, 50, of Minneapolis was convicted in 2010 of possession and production of child pornography, which he also put online. He was sentenced to 25 years in federal prison.”

What are they supposed to do? Fly first class? David Shaffer of the Strib reports: “Two executives for Xcel Energy regularly commute by corporate jet from their homes in Colorado to the utility’s Minneapolis headquarters, and ratepayers are being asked to pay part of the tab. Regulators in Colorado have questioned the 268 round-trip commutes, typically one per week, that the unidentified Xcel executives have taken since 2009. They traveled on the company’s leased Learjets, which cost $4,600 per flight hour to operate, regulatory filings say. ‘The company’s ratepayers do not benefit by these two employees commuting via the two corporate jets to their primary place of employment’ in Minnesota, said Abel Moreno, a rate analyst for the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, in testimony challenging a $142 million electric rate hike request.” What if they took a half dozen “ratepayers” with them on each trip?

You hear this story every so often, but this time it sounds dire. Up on Isle Royale (one of my favorite places) the wolf population is on the brink of extinction. John Flesher of the AP says: “Isle Royale National Park’s gray wolves, one of the world’s most closely monitored predator populations, are at their lowest ebb in more than a half-century and could die out within a few years, scientists said Friday. Only nine wolves still wander the wilderness island chain in western Lake Superior and just one is known to be a female, raising doubts they’ll bounce back from a recent free-fall unless people lend a hand, Michigan Tech University wildlife biologists Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich said in a report obtained by The Associated Press. There were 24 wolves — roughly their long-term average number — as recently as 2009. ‘The wolves are at grave risk of extinction,’ Vucetich said in an interview.”