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Nine Washington stories that will matter for Minnesota in 2020

Sen. Amy Klobuchar speaking at the Iowa State Fair on August 10.
REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s presidential run is banking on a strong showing at the Iowa Caucuses.
Gone is the news-devoid year of 2019.

Now, we move on to 2020, where we’ll deal with a presidential election, several congressional races, and a reshuffling of congressional leadership. Minnesota has a big role to play on the national stage. Here are the nine stories I expect to play a big role in our coverage from Washington in the coming year.

1. Win, lose, or retire? Then what? 

As the saying goes, “When Collin Peterson retires, so go the sugarbeets.”

That’s almost certainly not a saying, but the sugarbeet industry is extremely worried about an impending retirement from Chair of the Agriculture Committee. Peterson has guided the sugarbeet industry through several Farm Bills, the definitive Ag policy bill.

Sugarbeet industry executives are committing to a Super PAC in order to protect Peterson from any potential challengers. Peterson losing his seat means Minnesota will lose its only member currently chairing a committee. And should he lose, it also means there will be a new member representing the Seventh District: either someone being supported by Republican officials out in Washington D.C. or someone else.

Peterson still hasn’t committed to running for re-election in 2020. If Peterson stays on and defeats his Republican challengers, does he wait to write the next Farm Bill? Will his seat even still exist? Should the 2020 Census should Minnesota’s population growth as slower than the rest, then the answer could be no.

2. Betty McCollum’s rise to power

While Minnesota could lose its only current committee chair, it could also gain one. Rep. Betty McCollum serves as the Chair of the Interior-Environment Appropriations Subcommittee. But Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-IN), the current Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, has said he will retire next year. McCollum is the next in line on that committee, in terms of seniority, to take his place. Defense means managing a large and often more contentious funding allocation.

At the same time, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the current Chair of the entire Appropriations Committee, is set to retire. McCollum has also indicated she may seek out the position of Appropriations Chair, one of the most critically important in the House. That means negotiating (and preventing) government shutdowns and managing the entire process of Federal funding bills.

3. America’s Boundary Waters

The Boundary Waters was supposed to be a local issue. Was. This year, almost every Democratic presidential candidate in the race has weighed in on it, saying copper-nickel mining in the region should be banned. At the same time, Minnesota’s own home state senator has not made that same declaration. The granddaughter of an iron ore miner, Klobuchar’s own story hinges on supporting miners and she’s been cautious in not running up against potential copper-nickel mining projects in the area. 

MinnPost photo by Greta Kaul
The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

4. Al Franken’s return to the public eye

Sen. Al Franken was accused by nine women of sexual harassment and groping. He’s since resigned, but he hasn’t faded into obscurity. With a podcast and a speaking tour around the country, Franken is doing what he said in his resignation speech: “I’m not giving up my voice.”

But this raises questions. What will Franken do with all of the money sitting in his Leadership PAC? And for those most impacted by Franken’s actions, what would forgiveness and a return to the public eye actually look like?

5. Tom Emmer NRCC postmortem 

The Sixth District’s Rep. Tom Emmer is the Chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). Theoretically, House Republicans win or lose with his support (or lack of it). 2020 means we get to see how his strategy is paying off. For one, the NRCC has been calling Democrats names like “deranged.” They’ve also been implying Jewish candidates in competitive districts are antisemitic. 

At the same time, what questions will be left for Emmer once he’s finished out the 2020 cycle? If he’s successful in winning Republicans some House seats, that may mean moving up in Republican leadership. And if not, well, that could well mean the opposite.

6. A rematch in the First District

Rep. Jim Hagedorn, Dan Feehan
Rep. Jim Hagedorn, challenger Dan Feehan
Rep. Jim Hagedorn of Minnesota’s First won in 2018 by 1,300 votes. His previous challenger, DFLer Dan Feehan, is running again. And for the most part, for a district that’s hinging on a very small number of votes, Hagedorn has not moderated his positions. At most, he’s tried to handle a balancing act: supporting the district’s industries that are hardest hit by the trade war, but remaining steadfastly supportive of President Trump.

Does the First District want someone like Hagedorn, who strongly backs President Trump, possibly to the point where it might go against the interests of the district? Or do they want a Democrat who criticizes the president, but without as much access to the White House (should Trump win re-election)? What other factors are at play in the race? For example, what will the ethanol and agriculture industries in the district decide?

7. Which Republican will take on Angie Craig? 

Rep. Angie Craig in Minnesota’s Second is supposedly in a very competitive district this cycle. So why haven’t Republicans in the state and in Washington come out swinging for a challenger?

Rick Olson, the only Republican currently running in the district, told MinnPost he believes in finding solutions to climate change. He also says he would have voted to impeach President Donald Trump.

Republicans have not coalesced around a specific candidate in the district, but they have been spending a lot of money like they’re going to. Who exactly is going to run against Angie Craig? And why have Republicans waited so long to announce that person?

8. All eyes on Minnesota

In 2016, the Trump campaign only spent $30,000 on Minnesota. The end result was Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton eking out a win with 46.44 percent to Trump’s 44.92 percent. Put in raw votes, that’s 1,367,716 to 1,322,951.

This time around, the Trump campaign has said it intends to spend tens of millions of dollars to win the state. A Republican hasn’t won at the top of the ticket in Minnesota since 1972 (Richard Nixon). How about this time around? If Trump can flip the state, does that mean he brings Republican candidates lower on the ballot, like Jason Lewis who is running for Senate, along with him?

President Donald Trump
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
President Donald Trump departing a rally in Duluth, Minnesota, on June 20, 2018.
At the same time, Democrats seem poised to spend big. Sen. Bernie Sanders won Minnesota in 2016. Of the few polls that have been done in the state, Sen. Elizabeth Warren is currently polling at the top. And Sen. Amy Klobuchar, it can be assumed, still wants to win her home state in a Presidential election.

9. The Senator Next Door 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s presidential run is banking on a strong showing at the Iowa Caucuses. She has the majority of her campaign staff there. A significant number of offices. And perhaps more poignantly, she has very little investment in other states. Iowa may not make or break her campaign, but it’s certainly the state she’s betting on.

While her Iowa poll numbers have improved over time, as of publication they were sitting (on average) at around 6 percent. Can she seek out a more significant placement in the Caucus or is the state South of Minnesota at the end of the campaign trail for Minnesota’s Senior Senator?

Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 12/28/2019 - 10:48 am.

    With respect to Rep Mccollum, I cannot see the Democrat leadership giving her a hugh visability position what ever the outcome of the election.

    Anyone that has listened to Rep. Mccollum speak does not come away impressed with her intelligence or grasp of important issues.

    With AOC and Omar out there running wild, I don’t believe the Dems will want to give the GOP another foil.

    • Submitted by richard owens on 12/28/2019 - 04:40 pm.

      Your post does seem to be a complaint against Betty McCullum and two of the most famous of the new faces in the House.

      “Anyone listening to her comes away…?” She’s unintelligent? She doesn’t speak to the issues?

      You’re missing out on some of Minnesota’s best answers to the future of our country. Your assessment of these women could not be more vague or less repellent.

      What’s your real beef with these women? Surely it is not about their intelligence. Betty McCollum is a workhorse with a track record that matches that of any good Representative. Her work on the requiring boundary waters analysis came recently in the must-pass budget bill.

      As for AOC and Ilhan Omar, they are mere “kids” but well-educated, well-spoken representatives who bring youthful experience and insight to a Congress filled with fat white men in their 70s.

      I think it is tacky to smear people without even a clear criticism, but I think it is an example of “shared psychosis” mannerisms of Donald J. Trump. It is a style we are seeing more and more.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 12/30/2019 - 08:35 am.

      You will find it a continuing useful foil to glump AOC in with whoever else you can because if you watched her perform in televised House Oversight Committee questioning it was clear to see she was smart, prepared and focused. More so than most of her D colleagues and way, way beyond Ranking Member Jim Jordan.

      https://www.gq.com/story/aoc-cohen-hearing

      She will be driving the Rs crazy for another 40 years. Lookout for eventual Speaker Cortez…

      • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 12/30/2019 - 02:19 pm.

        Thank you sir, that performance had been completely ignored by, well everyone.

        Rarely have I seen someone read a script better. You’re right, she’s a real Democrat star.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/30/2019 - 11:40 am.

      I’ve been listening to McCullum for years, If you don’t recognize her talent and intelligence the fault lay in the beholder, not McCullum. There’s not a Republican in the House that’s her match.

      • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 01/02/2020 - 05:41 am.

        Well sir, I will agree that coaxing people to detect intelligence in her specious, inchoate rhetoric is a talent!

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/02/2020 - 08:22 am.

          Anyone who’s capable of recognizing coherent discourse needs no coaxing in this scenario. If you think Trump is a master of coherence, you’re probably having trouble in this regard.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/28/2019 - 11:02 am.

    I don’t actually see most of these stories as much more “important” than other stories, but at least they didn’t use the word: “Takeaways” in the title.

  3. Submitted by Mark Voorhees on 12/30/2019 - 06:47 am.

    You bring up some good points Gabe.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/30/2019 - 11:43 am.

    I’m not sure why the Emmer story hasn’t been important for months now? We keep seeing references to the “leftism” of Warren, Sanders, Omar, and AOC, but Emmer seems to remain classified as just a “Republican”.

  5. Submitted by Tom Wilson on 12/31/2019 - 10:31 pm.

    Agreed Paul, the dems should label their opponents with the appropriate handle!

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/01/2020 - 10:22 am.

      Tom, sure but it’s not the Democrats but the media that do the labeling and “framing”. How many stories have we seen about contrived Omar “controversies” and her “Leftism” here on Minnpost for instance compared to coverage of Emmer’s extremism?

      The media seem to have backed off on Omar somewhat, but we’re still not seeing Emmer stories.

      And I hate to say it but, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Emmer does a routine every year at Minnroast. I’m not saying one way or the other, and I don’t know, but I have a hard time watching media buddy-up to the elite and then expecting them to cover the elite critically. I’m not accusing anyone of unprofessionalism but I have a hard time getting past the optics on this. How do you use politicians to raise money that pays your salaries… and then write critical stories about them?

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 01/02/2020 - 10:26 am.

        I have always been uncomfortable with things like the White House correspondents dinner, with the press buddying up to the president they cover. But at least its the press as a whole.

        But the Minnroast – a single news outlet doing this – is unconscionable. The journalistic ethics at Minnpost are no better than Fox News. Of course Emmer (and others who appear) get less critical coverage.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 01/02/2020 - 12:33 pm.

          Ouch. I wouldn’t say Minnpost is AS bad as Fox, but I can’t deny the comparison entirely.

          I was thinking about this the other day for some reason, (building on Pat’s opinion) and in a weird way, this direct link between politicians and funding could be seen as a bigger issue with Minnpost that other news outlets, which is kind of ironic given their independent non-profit status.

          Looking at the press club scenario for instance, sure they’re buddying up, by they don’t rely on the President for funding. When Trump snubs them, it doesn’t effect their revenue. But if folks like Franken, or Emmer etc. snub Minnroast, it could effect their fundraising. In theory this could give participants more leverage than they’d otherwise have.

          I see a lot of professionalism at Minnpost and I respect their coverage and integrity, but I think we can ask some legitimate questions around this. But we’re a little off topic I suppose.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 01/03/2020 - 08:46 am.

          This is why there is such a term as “the courtier media.”

  6. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 01/02/2020 - 05:20 pm.

    1. Rep. has bailed on Farm Bill talks many times so his presence isn’t vital.
    2. Betty! may well get the top slot on a subcommittee after two decades but it is unlikely that she chairs Appropriations.
    4. Al who?
    8. No matter what Minnesotans think, we are still a flyover state and a Democrat lock.
    9. Mercifully, Iowa will return the Senator back to the job she should be doing while she waits for Biden’s call for V.P.

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