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Rural issues expected to play key role in 2016 legislative session

Plus: Petters’ victims may start to see some money; St. Paul puts apartment complex on the block; move to restore elk gains traction; and more.

Well, somebody better do something for Greater Minnesota pretty soon, because the next election is only 10 months away. At the AP, Kyle Potter says, “All 201 legislators are up for re-election, but the fight for control in both the House and Senate likely will depend on a handful of rural districts. Majority House Republicans will look to fend off Democratic attempts to regain the 10 rural seats they lost in 2014’s midterm elections. In the Senate, minority Senate Republicans will aim to unseat incumbent Democrats in five Republican-leaning districts that voted for Mitt Romney in 2012’s presidential contest. That fight will color the upcoming legislative session, in debates over boosting state aid to local government, grants for broadband Internet development in rural areas and repairs to highways in greater Minnesota. And advocates for rural interests aren’t shy about seizing the electorally driven spotlight.”

Some Petters money may soon start to roll back to investors. In the Star Tribune, Jeff Meitrodt says: “Court records filed this month show the payments will not come close to the $1.9 billion pumped into Petters’ long-running scam by hundreds of investors … . So far, more than $450 million has been collected by liquidating the property of Petters and his key associates. But after paying off Petters’ lenders and other creditors, less than $200 million remains for investors. .”

You don’t have to see the movie “Election” to know that the one person you don’t tick off is the janitor. In the Pioneer Press, Will Ashenmacher says, “One of the Twin Cities’ largest janitors unions voted Saturday to authorize a strike if a contract isn’t reached by Valentine’s Day. Service Employees International Union Local 26 says it represents 4,000 janitors and 2,000 security officers, window cleaners and other property service workers. Its three-year contract expired Dec. 31. The SEIU negotiates with subcontractors who provide services to large property owners.”

Some more on the city of St. Paul hoping to make a quick buck on its Penfield apartment complex. Frederick Melo writes in the PiPress, “ … the Penfield is St. Paul’s ode to urban living. [Jonathan Sage-Martinson will] sell it to you for at least $62 million. And that’s a starting price, at least in the minds of some St. Paul officials, who hope the city will get back the kind of investment they put into it. The city placed the 254-unit building up for sale this month and expects to review offers before the end of February. The building opened less than two years ago.”

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Hard times in the steel biz. Bill Hanna in the Mesabi Daily News writes, “Minnesota added 42,485 jobs in 2015. The state’s economy was humming. … Flip that coin and you will find the Iron Range, where about 2,000 steelworkers were laid off at some time during 2015. And currently there are about 670 mining-related workers whose unemployment benefits have expired, with that number to exceed 1,000 by the time legislative session convenes on March 8.”

A defense of Jason McLean in a Strib commentary from Olive Allen. “The Loring Pasta Bar and Varsity Theater — just like the old Loring Bar and Cafe and Kitty Cat Klub — are bigger than Jason McLean. Whatever you may think of the man (who, let’s not forget, is still only accused in lawsuits stemming from the Children’s Theatre Company sex abuse scandal of the 1980s), let’s not undervalue the profound impact he’s had on Minneapolis art and design culture and ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’ by boycotting his venues. McLean, through his artistic vision, has provided a home for artists, seekers and romantics for nearly three decades. Without his vision, the Loring Park and Dinkytown neighborhoods would look and feel much different than they do today. And we, the good people of Minneapolis, would be poorer for it.”

That move to bring elk back is picking up some steam. Says Steve Karnowski for the AP, “The Ojibwe name for elk is ‘omashkoozoog,’ or ‘prairie moose.’ Tribal officials and other supporters say restoring them could open up new opportunities for nature tourism, since they’re looking at an area that’s only a couple hours’ drive north of the Twin Cities. Success also could allow for elk hunting eventually. That’s important to a tribe with a heritage of subsistence hunting, but tribal officials envision even non-Indians eventually getting the chance to hunt the elk, too.”

There’s this news of entrepreneurship in MadisonGeorge Hesselberg of the Wisconsin State Journal writes, “An investment plan hatched among a group of high-achieving Madison high school and college friends has begun to pay new dividends: federal prison sentences. That’s because the plan, administered by UW-Madison business students or graduates, involved driving to California at least 19 times with bundles of cash to buy hundreds of pounds of marijuana for sale to customers and ‘investors’ in Madison, according to federal prosecutors.”

Also from next door, Silke Schmidt of the Capitol Times reports, “ … arsenic is a major concern in Outagamie and Winnebago counties. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources designated an arsenic advisory area in these counties in 1993 and implemented stricter regulations for testing and well construction in 2004 and 2014. But arsenic problems are not confined to northeastern Wisconsin. Levels above the federal standard have been detected in 51 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, according to a 2006 Wisconsin Groundwater Coordinating Council report.”

Finally, from our eastern neighbors: Who moved the cheese? In the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Jesse Garza reports, “A 54-foot long trailer containing about $70,000 worth of cheese was stolen Friday from a Germantown trucking company, according to Germantown police. … A semi-tractor used to steal the trailer was recovered later Friday and the empty trailer was found in the Milwaukee area about 10 a.m., according to police.”