Judge orders 35 random ballots tossed in tight House race

What century is this? WCCO-TV’s Pat Kessler reports on the rather medieval approach to House District 8B’s mangled election: “A Minnesota judge has ruled that election officials must randomly cancel 35 ballots in a tight legislative race due to a counting error. The law says judges must close their eyes, reach into the pile of votes and pull out excess ballots at random. The action has ramifications for the unresolved contest between Republican Rep. Mary Franson and Democratic challenger Bob Cunniff. Franson is ahead by a single vote pending a probable recount. A Douglas County judge sided Tuesday with Franson and ordered that the county canvassing board remove the ballots before a tally is certified on Wednesday.” How about we throw a dead cat over a nun’s left shoulder and see if it floats?

Once derided as “a giant salmon loaf,” the main building of Minneapolis’ City Center has been sold … again. Says Janet Moore in the Strib: “Terms were not disclosed, but sources have previously put the price at about $207 million. Formerly known as the International Multifoods Tower, the 50-story 33 South Sixth building occupies an entire city block bordered by Nicollet Mall, Hennepin Avenue, 6th and 7th streets. The 29-year-old building, which was sold by Brookfield Office Properties Inc., spans 1.6 million square feet of commercial space, including 1.1 million square feet of Class A office space on top of City Center, which spans 489,000-square-feet. The deal also includes a 687-stall, three-story parking garage, and a ground lease for the adjacent 583-room Minneapolis Marriott City Center Hotel.”

Echoing a national trend, Minnesota’s home sales took a healthy upward tick in October. Jim Buchta of the Strib says: “Minnesota home sales last month got a healthy boost from record low mortgage rates and strengthening consumer confidence, but the gains weren’t felt evenly across the state. That’s according to a monthly report from the Minnesota Association of Realtors (MAAR), which said that during October there were 7,662 closings, an 8 percent increase from last year. … In six regions the number of closings was either flat, or had fallen compared with last year. In the Southwest Central Region, for example, sales were down 21 percent, and in the Headwaters sales were off a whopping 26 percent.”

Veteran Iron Range DFLer Tom Rukavina got a farewell roast. John Myers of the Duluth News Tribune reports, “More than 400 people crammed into the Community Center here Monday night to munch on brats and Polish sausage, sip beer and tell stories about retiring state Rep. Tom Rukavina, most of which probably were true. … The feisty, vertically challenged DFLer announced in May he wouldn’t seek re-election. ‘Tommy Rukavina knows the Range. Tommy Rukavina speaks for the Range. Tommy Rukavina is the Range. I begin my remarks with those three quotes from Tommy Rukavina,’ Franken joked. Rukavina countered that he and Franken, who is nearly as short, were really twin brothers, separated at birth. ‘I was the runt of the litter,’ Rukavina claimed.”

Being thrown out of the state is one thing, but having to actually cough up cash is another. Christopher Snowbeck of the PiPress says: “Attorney General Lori Swanson’s investigation of collection tactics at Fairview Health Services reached a milestone on Tuesday, Nov. 20, with the distribution of $364,000 in awards split among 90 people who claimed they were wrongly pressured for payments while receiving care. The money comes from a July settlement in which a Fairview vendor called Accretive Health paid $2.49 million to resolve allegations that the company broke state debt collection and consumer protection laws. … Checks were sent to claimants on Monday and Tuesday, said Ben Wogsland, a spokesman for Swanson. Individual awards vary in size from $1,000 to $7,000, with the average award about $4,000.”

Thirteen of Minnesota’s 87 counties are going to get the most DUI patrols over the weekend. Says Alejandra Matos of the Strib: “The counties, selected because they have the highest combined totals of drunken-driving deaths and alcohol-related serious injuries, include the state’s population centers of the Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester and St. Cloud. But other counties don’t fit that description. … two new counties on the list, Becker and Meeker, had unusually high numbers of fatalities and injuries compared to the ‘miles traveled’ in those areas.”

To protect and serve, fine. But don’t talk to us. Madeleine Baran of MPR writes: “ Our newsroom received an interesting press release today from the Minneapolis Police Department. Apparently, reporters around town have been acting like — get this —journalists. And the police department isn’t too pleased. From the release: During recent months, members of the Minneapolis Police Department have received telephone calls directly from various members of the media. This practice needs to discontinue immediately. Unless you are directed to do so, please do not contact them directly. The statement, titled ‘Message to the media,’ instructs reporters to contact one of the two official spokespersons for the police department to ‘discuss any media related interviews with any City of Minneapolis police employees.’ … I called the Minneapolis Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Stephen McCarty to find out what sparked today’s news release and left a voicemail. If I hear back, I’ll update this post.
Update: Sgt. McCarty called me back. He said there wasn’t one specific call from a reporter that led to the statement. I asked him why he issued it. ‘We just don’t want everyone talking to the media, that’s why,’ he told me.” Hey, someone has to decide what the public has a right to know.

It was a kind of Black Tuesday for Best Buy. The Wall Street Journal’s Ann Zimmerman and Joan E. Solsman wrote: “Best Buy Co.’s BBY -13.02% third-quarter financial results, which came in even weaker than the company had warned, underscore how difficult it will be to turn around the consumer electronics giant and suggest its holiday selling season will be gloomy indeed. The news prompted a selloff of the Richfield, Minn., retailer’s shares, which touched a 10-year low of $11.74 before closing off 13%, at $11.96 on Tuesday. The stock is down almost 50% so far this year. Retail experts said investors were particularly spooked because the company lowered its forecast of annual free cash flow by as much as $500 million, to a range of $850 million to $1.05 billion. Just three months earlier, it predicted it would have $1.25 billion to $1.5 billion in free cash flow. For retailers, dwindling cash flow is a problem because it can rattle suppliers, who may worry that they won’t get paid.”

Mark Sommerhauser of the St. Cloud Times has a good piece on a half-million in outside money poured into two state races in his area: “Two local legislative campaigns that attracted big bucks were in Senate District 14, the [John] Pederson-[Jerry] McCarter race, and in House District 14B, where DFLer Zachary Dorholt ousted GOP Rep. King Banaian. The figure of more than $540,000 spent in those races doesn’t include the final days of the campaign or certain types of spending by outside groups that doesn’t have to be reported. Most spending wasn’t by the candidates’ campaigns, which face strict limits on what they can spend in Minnesota, but by political party units or outside groups allied with various interests. A leading outside group that shaped the Dorholt-Banaian race, the pro-DFL Alliance for a Better Minnesota, was bankrolled by groups funded by a wealthy donor who supplied more than $800,000 for the cause. … Alliance for a Better Minnesota — the pro-DFL group funded by groups bankrolled in part by Gov. Mark Dayton’s ex-wife, Rockefeller heiress Alida Messinger — was the biggest outside player in the Banaian-Dorholt race, spending more than $70,000 against Banaian. Minnesota’s Future, a pro-Republican group, was Banaian’s chief outside ally, spending more than $50,000 for Banaian and against Dorholt. Pro Jobs Majority, a group created by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, loomed large in the McCarter-Pederson race, forking over nearly $40,000 in support of Pederson.”

As a chaser, you might want to reader conservative blogger Gary Gross’s take on this matter. It concludes with this semi-classic threat: “What this means is that Gov. Dayton’s words, Pat Kessler’s words and other biased media’s words didn’t have a hint of truth to them. It’s worth noting that ABM didn’t hesitate in using them in their statewide smear campaign against GOP candidates. It’s time for Mr. Sommerhauser and other reporters to blister Alida Messinger, Gov. Dayton and the Twin Cities media for telling the whoppers that they told. If he won’t, citizen journalists like Mitch Berg and myself will expose the DFL for the corrupt political party it is.” Hey, guys, can I see your “citizen journalist” badges?

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Comments (18)

  1. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 11/21/2012 - 07:03 am.

    Bad policy is bad policy…where next?

    ” WE don’t just want anybody talking to the media”

    Wow this may be the start of something not too great, like classified Cop-Gate?

    Any local police force shouldn’t be dressing up policy-wise, like the CIA, which it isn’t…and even that no longer ‘too respectable institution’ has its problems, leaks whatever?

    Question, challenge bad policy before it becomes embedded in the system and no one questions it any more?

    No public institution that exists for-the-public-good should not cancel out its own credibility by questionable restrictions on the right to speak, the right to know?

    ‘Question’ is an active verb and any professional reporter should question such potentially devious restrictions on the right to know.

    Every small bird may become a giant turkey…and then where next? Happy Thanksgiving…

    • Submitted by Harris Goldstein on 11/21/2012 - 10:25 am.

      I “smell a rat”, or not

      There both proper and improper reasons why any organization, including the police, want to limit access by reporters.

      It may be that they don’t want the unvarnished truth coming out.

      But it may also be that that the Mpls police don’t want:
      an active investigation interfered with
      legitimately confidential information leaked
      non media savvy employees saying something that is out of context
      employees being “pestered” on duty or at home

      Particularly now that anyone with a keyboard and internet connection is a “citizen journalist” (as noted elsewhere in the column). And “Geraldo Rivera” journalism is becoming more and more the norm (Minnpost excepted).

      Every organization I’ve worked for restricted media access. Granted, public institutions have a much greater obligation to be open, but that doesn’t mean unfettered access. There is an inherent – and largely healthy – tension between journalists and institutions. Journalists should always push for greater access and disclosure (especially with public institutions), but that doesn’t mean that it should always be granted.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/21/2012 - 07:25 am.

    Sadly, it’s not unusual

    When I worked for a big-box retailer, we got written instructions – on pain of losing our jobs – that any and all requests for interviews from local media were to be “immediately” directed to the store manager, who had no idea what kind of feedback workers on the sales floor were getting. It’s a common, autocratic threat in organizations run by conservative egomaniacs.

    Unfortunately, the Minneapolis Police seem to have adopted the same attitude. “To protect and serve, fine. But don’t talk to us,” indeed. And after that nice write-up in the ‘Strib about the new police chief and how she wants to do the best job she can. Heavens, we can’t have reporters talking to actual police officers. Ordinary cops might not provide the media with the approved story line… It’s an interesting concept of the 1st Amendment that’s being advocated by the Minneapolis Police – one that serves supervisory and perhaps departmental interests, but not the public. Sergeant McCarty needs to brush up on both his people skills and the Constitution, and perhaps remember that he works for the public, first and foremost.

    • Submitted by Robert Owen on 11/21/2012 - 11:19 am.

      Any organizaton wants a consistent message

      It’s not unusual for any organization to insist that public comments come from a select group of people within the organization. Be it a big-box store, a charity, a church or a government agency the message must be consistent and that can’t happen if tens or hundreds of members can speak freely and who might not have complete information.

      You say its because the organization is run by “conservative egomaniacs.” Find a liberal or progressive organization and I’m sure you’ll find the same sort of control about publicly speaking for the organization. Even the folks who “organized” the Occupy movements tried to put out a consistent message. The White House is a liberal place today but not just any employee can speak on its behalf.

      Not all constitutional rights apply in the employer-employee relationship. For example, are you bothered that many employers do not permit guns on their premises despite that being a constitutional right?

      The odd thing about what the MPD did was to (try to) tell reporters who they can or cannot talk to. The MPD can dictate to its employees about speaking to reporters but the MPD can’t dictate to reporters who they may or may not seek for comment.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 11/21/2012 - 11:58 am.

      It’s one thing to have employees told to direct all media questions to a certain person within the organization. It’s quite another to tell the media that they can’t contact anyone else. Even if it is a good policy to restrict communications to a single person, it’s like waving a red banner at a bull for the media.

    • Submitted by Jackson Cage on 11/21/2012 - 03:39 pm.

      A jesse Ventura conspiracy??

      I don’t see the Cops telling reporters who they can talk to. The message was (1) our employees aren’t supposed to talk to you; and (2) if you do want to talk to us, here’s who you call. Reporters are still free to try other avenues, they just may be blocked. it’s really not all that sinister.

  3. Submitted by James Hamilton on 11/21/2012 - 09:36 am.

    There may be good reasons for the MPD’s policy

    including a desire to avoid messing up an investigation/prosecution with an ill-considered statement by an officer. (BTW, the press is not the only group asked to go through channels. When I needed to interview an officer, I had to go through the department and then pay for the officer’s time.)

  4. Submitted by Pat McGee on 11/21/2012 - 09:44 am.

    Incoming Chief Stumbles

    Or is it the front office of the upper ranks of MPD jockeying for position under the incoming chief? MPD’s Public Information Officers aren’t going to send out something stupid like this on their own. Look above.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/21/2012 - 10:13 am.

    Channeling Nate

    This approach may doom Fransen in the end. Apparently the concern was that these 34 ballots came from a more democratic leaning block of voters. If that’s true, throwing out random ballots might actually magnify that effect because the odds that even one of those ballots will be randomly selected is astronomical. More likely 34 ballots from the republican leaning block will be thrown, hence it more likely that that Franson votes will be tossed. With a one vote margin that could cost her the election.

    • Submitted by Jim Camery on 11/21/2012 - 11:55 am.

      The odds are are right, but they’re only odds

      You’re right about the odds being that over a number of draws, but Fransen only has to win once. Sometimes the customer wins at roulette.

    • Submitted by David Mensing on 11/23/2012 - 04:35 pm.

      Franson’s Wise Move

      Franson apparently knew what she was doing when she pressed for the 35 ballots to be taken out of the count. It must have gone 22-12-1, because her lead was upped to 11 votes. I think this will take the vote from a near dead heat to be about 90-10 in her favor. Overturning a one-vote deficit is quite possible, 11 much less likely.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/21/2012 - 10:22 am.

    Free speech and the police

    I assume every journalist will ignore this “directive”. The police cannot tell the public or journalists who they can and cannot talk to, that is a bizarre, unenforceable, and illegal demand. What a police department CAN do is direct it’s own personnel to refer all calls and inquiries to certain individuals. Whether or not their own personnel follow that policy is their problem.

  7. Submitted by Sally Sorensen on 11/21/2012 - 10:29 am.

    Let Winter Ring

    Gary Gross has emerged from his den and seen Alida Messinger’s shadow in the Environmental Quality Board, St. Cloud Time’s reporter Mark Sommerhauser, and nearly everything.

    Experts say this means we’ll see the arrival of winter sometime in the next six weeks.

  8. Submitted by Tommy Johnson on 11/21/2012 - 11:20 am.

    Too funny!!!

    Gary Gross claiming he & Mitch Berg are “citizen journalists”??!?

    “journalists”??!? Too funny!!!

    FOR THE RECORD: I make no claims to being a “journalist” myself. “Pundit” – yes; “journalist” – no.

  9. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 11/21/2012 - 03:20 pm.

    It Won’t Matter Whether Cunniff or Franson Wins

    There will be a recount and perhaps even a court case. I can only hope that the Secretary of State’s office has interviewed the good folks who staffed the multiple-precinct voting site at the local “Living Waters” church (where I voted, and they really WERE good folks),…

    and have discovered how it was this messy mix up of ballots happened and how it can absolutely be prevented in the future.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 11/22/2012 - 08:48 am.

      One idea

      Not sure what factors would affect this (i.e need for legislative approval, counting machine compatibility, etc.), but perhaps in situations where there are multiple precincts in one site, the ballots could be different colors. Even a very pale pastel color (hopefully still readable by the machines) could differentiate one precinct from another.

      Sometimes it just takes a little “human factors engineering”. Finger-pointing is all well and good (well, actually it’s not!) but as you say, the real take-home message here is “How do we learn from this and keep it from happening again?”

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/22/2012 - 09:18 am.

    Police conspiracy?

    The directive that journalist stop calling or interviewing police officers isn’t a huge conspiracy. It IS somewhat disturbing in that an agency responsible for enforcing the law would issue a clearly unconstitutional decree regarding behavior it has no lawful authorization to control, i.e. who journalist attempt to interview. Communications is a perfectly valid concern, but that these people of all people would attempt to control communications with an unlawful demand is ironic, troubling, and embarrassing. These are supposed to be professionals, and they’re supposed to understand the limits of their own power. when the only people in our society who are legally authorized to use deadly force on our behalf appear confused about the nature and extent of their power I get a little nervous.

  11. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 11/25/2012 - 08:00 am.

    ..and second thoughts on forboding copgate, whatever…

    The public relations voice of any public agency could be viewed as the bastard child of communications and the public’s right to know – in this instance, law enforcement Minneapolis style?

    Tea pot in a tempest: …And any time public information is restricted; limited to one voice, one department within a security agency – here being the local police department – then it is wise I assume, to qualify that policy/position with more than a brief memo to establish its legitimacy… so that any the scope of understanding or misunderstanding is clarified with more than a slap on the wrist…call it an insult to the journalist and the profession; and the people’s right to know?

    Or as IF Stone may have said …”What in Sam Hill do they think they’re doing!”, and so much more.

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