Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.


Senate’s Brodkorb legal bill fueled by ‘settlement efforts’

Health program off to slow start; moose decline worrisome; eighth-graders gain in tests; new tree products eyed; granddaughter mistakenly shot as “prowler”; and more.

You have to wonder how different things would be if some GOP benefactor had simply handed Michael Brodkorb  $200K months ago. Brian Bakst of the AP reports: “Legal costs associated with a Minnesota Senate scandal involving a former Republican leader and her top aide have nearly doubled, a new invoice made public Tuesday showed. The Associated Press obtained the invoice — prepared by the Senate’s private attorney — that contain $90,000 in new expenses. That brings overall cost to just less than $200,000. A Senate official familiar with the matter but not authorized to speak for attribution says the spiking costs reflect aggressive efforts to settle or dismiss the case. … Most of the billing by the firm Larkin Hoffman Daly and Lindgren cover legal research, brief preparation and conferences involving key players. There also are charges for reviewing footage of interviews Brodkorb granted to media outlets in mid-October.” So, in other words, it costs taxpayers every time Brodkorb gives an interview.

Directly related to Monday’s story about influential GOP legislators operating in both private insurance and legislative health “reform,” Tom Scheck of MPR says today: “The Healthy Minnesota Contribution Program was supposed to shift 4,200 people from the MinnesotaCare program to a voucher system. But the program itself is having a hard time getting off the ground. Judie Nyholm has not had health insurance since July, when the 61-year-old Brooklyn Center resident was dropped from MinnesotaCare. “One month came up, and I had $52 a month too much for one month, so they dropped me and told me that I could go on the Healthy Minnesota Contribution Program. … The Healthy Minnesota Contribution Program was a top priority for GOP legislative leaders when they took control of the Legislature in January 2011. They initially pushed to give vouchers to nearly everyone enrolled in MinnesotaCare. Their efforts were scaled back when Republicans reached a budget deal with Gov. Mark Dayton in 2011. The move is expected to save taxpayers $36 million over the next three years. Republican state Sen. David Hann of Eden Prairie is chief author of the Senate bill that created the new program and also sits on the board for the Minnesota Association of Health Underwriters, which lobbied for the bill.” You gotta love that wholesome, earnest “Healthy Minnesota” branding …

There’s a move afoot to nudge Minnesota’s moose up the ladder of concern. The Pioneer Press says: “The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is highlighting concern about the state’s declining moose population by proposing a change in the animal’s status. The DNR wants to list moose as a ‘species of concern.’ The status wouldn’t limit hunting — that would happen only if the moose moves up on the list from ‘species of concern’ to threatened or endangered status. ‘It doesn’t do anything for the species legally. But it means they (DNR) are paying attention to what’s going on. It’s an official heads-up that something is wrong, even if they aren’t endangered yet,’ said Ron Moen, a wildlife biologist studying moose at the Natural Resources Research Institute of the University of Minnesota Duluth.”

The GleanThis week’s survey says Minnesota eighth-graders are doing really, really well. Megan Boldt of the PiPress writes: “Minnesota eighth-graders continued to make gains in math when compared with their peers worldwide, and their science performance remained near the top internationally. Those findings are in the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study results, released Tuesday, Dec. 11. The largest study of its kind tested students in 57 countries, provinces and states. Minnesota scores in eighth-grade math increased from 532 in 2007 to 545 in 2011. The average score in the U.S. was 509 and internationally was 500. Five countries and the state of Massachusetts posted significantly higher scores than Minnesota on eighth-grade math, about the same when Minnesota participated in the test in 2007.”

Article continues after advertisement

Rayon … from trees? Adam Belz of the Strib says: “The future of the paper industry is not necessarily paper. Even here [in Cloquet], where Minnesotans have made paper since 1898 and Sappi Fine Paper’s white cloud of steam pours into the sky above the St. Louis River valley, industry leaders are casting about for new products to make from trees. The South African owners of the state’s largest mill have an idea: rayon. Sappi is spending $170 million to convert the mill into one that refines wood into fiber that can be turned into thread. Come springtime, the mill will stop making its own pulp. ‘Paper is declining, has been for 10 years and most likely will continue,’ said Rick Dwyer, the mill’s manager. Paper mills are looking hard at the chemical business, trying to figure out where trees fit into global demand for biomaterial. Researchers want to make bulletproof vests, nail polish remover, dish detergent and even airplane wings from chemical components of wood.” Inevitably: Ye Olde Founding Father Classic Dentures …

The latest adventure in “Fire, Aim, Ready” … Kay Fate of the Rochester Post-Bulletin says: “A 16-year-old girl is in critical condition today after police say she was shot by her grandfather late Monday night. … The man said the couple had been asleep when they heard a noise outside, the report says. The man grabbed his 9 mm handgun and told his wife to call the police as he went to investigate, according to Rochester Police Capt. Brian Winters. The homeowner saw a figure at the back door and fired at least two shots, one of which struck the 16-year-old girl in the upper torso, Winters said. Preliminary reports from medical staff indicate she’ll survive her injuries, he said. The teenager has been living with her grandparents for a couple of months, Winters said. … The homeowner told officers he recalled there had been a burglary recently at the Rochester Recreation Center, and that was on his mind, Winters said. The facility is less than a mile north of the residence.” Close enough for The Castle Doctrine.

The Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board is going to meet and, supposedly, offer the Legislature some ideas to deal with the opaque mess that is Citizens United. At MPR, Catharine Richert says: “To the average voter, it’s difficult to distinguish between express advocacy ads and the issue advocacy ads the board may want more information about. The former ads tells voters to support or oppose a specific candidate and are paid for by a political fund, which has to report how much it has spent on the ads and where the money comes from. The latter ads may come in the form of a voter guide or a flier that criticizes or praises a candidate for their voting records, but don’t go so far as to use the words ‘vote for’ or ‘vote against.’ As a result, groups don’t have to say how much they’ve spent on such ads or where there money has come from. Groups don’t have to give the board information about so-called electioneering communications either, which typically tell voters to thank their lawmakers for supporting specific policies. During this past election season, several groups influencing Minnesota legislative races took advantage of these nuances in the state’s campaign finance rules.” If you can take a high level of infuriation, dial up Kai Ryssdal’s Frontline piece on the same games-playing in Montana.

In Mankato, Dan Nienaber of the Free Press reports on the guy who killed two women while having sex as he drove: “Saying he would trade his life for the lives of his two victims “in a heartbeat,” Mark Chalin sobbed Monday as he begged a judge to not send him to prison for a 2011 crash that killed two women. … Chalin’s attorney, Jacob Birkholz, asked District Court Judge Bradley Walker to issue a sentence below the 48 to 58 months recommended by sentencing guidelines. Birkholz said Chalin should receive 10 years of probation with the condition he serve one year in prison with work release privileges. That way he could start paying restitution through earnings from his minimum wage job at a fast-food restaurant, Birkholz said. … His brother, Steve Chalin of St. Peter, told Walker he used to work at the prison in Stillwater. He said prison isn’t the place for Mark because nothing good ever happens there and ‘he’s not as dumb as he was when he did this.’ ”

Power Line just hasn’t been as much fun since Election Day. We all miss the fanboy giddiness over Mitt Romney’s campaigning chops. But, John Hinderaker has a post up saying: “Knowledgeable observers have always known that the U.S. cannot come close to balancing its budget by increasing taxes on the rich, for the simple reason that we have nowhere near enough rich people, and our rich people have nowhere near enough money. … In a closely related phenomenon, Democrats are changing their tune on the Bush tax cuts. For 20 years, they have told us that the Bush tax cuts only benefited the rich. Now that they are about to expire, Democrats are having to execute some fancy footwork, and the American Enterprise Institute explains: … if the Bush cuts actually were just ‘tax cuts for the rich,’ then their expiration couldn’t hurt the middle class. On the other hand, if their expiration would hurt the middle class, then characterizing them as ‘tax cuts for the rich’ was a false message all along.’ ” Go ahead, read that again (or dial it up and read the whole thing). Then ask yourself if either of these guys would buy a used car from the other?