WASHINGTON, D.C. — By 9 a.m. this morning, Sen. Al Franken’s office in Washington, D.C., was already overflowing with nearly 100 Minnesotans.
The occasion happened to be the junior senator’s third official “Minnesota Breakfast with Al.” But many in the crowd had come for more than just the Mahnomin Porridge and a photo-op with Minnesota’s famous politician.
“We’re out here to talk to the Minnesota delegation about the cap and trade legislation,” said Joel Johnson, the government affairs representative for the Minnesota Rural Electric Association.
Johnson, who works in Maple Grove, was joined by 22 Minnesotans seeking to shape the climate and energy legislation in the Senate to benefit rural electric co-ops.
Franken’s breakfast, which brought legislative staffers together with constituents, provided Johnson and his team an opportunity to make their case.
Steven Due, another breakfast-goer who happens to be president elect of the Minnesota Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, also had legislative matters on his mind.
Among other things, Due said that he came to Washington to discuss the implementation of electronic health records with Minnesota’s lawmakers.
“I just wanted to put out there, to get support for maybe getting a study in place, at least looking at what the costs are going to be [to integrate] all these [health records] systems” across the country, Due told Franken. “I think people may be underestimating the cost it is going to take and the effort.”
Franken acknowledged that the issue was “something that we obviously need to work at.”
But Franken stressed that Minnesota was already ahead of much of the country on health IT.
“This is one of the things that is so impressive about Minnesota,” Franken said.
Health care and hazardous products
Sitting on the edge of his office desk, Franken also spoke to the gathered crowd about some of the key aspects of the Democrat’s health-care reform package, including barring insurance companies from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions, eliminating lifetime caps on what insurance companies will pay out on a policy and pushing preventative medicine.
“We are going to get comprehensive health care reform that is going to give people a lot of security that they didn’t have,” said Franken.
Franken also mentioned that he will be introducing his second piece of legislation later today. The bill will address hazardous products in household cleaners and will require that the makers of household products list all ingredients on their labels.
“Right now, all that has to be labeled are things that are immediately hazardous and not things that are hazardous over a long period,” Franken said. “[So] this makes you put in everything that is in the product.”
But despite the serious nature of some of the breakfast banter, the mood of the morning was mostly jovial.
Minnesotans idled around the office, looking at pictures and eating the Mahnomin Porridge — a Franken family favorite — served up by Franken’s Chief of Staff Drew Littman.
“We call it hot dish,” said Bud Stone, president of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, who used to harvest wild rice in Minnesota. “This [porridge] is really sweet compared to the wild rice hot dish we make. We put a lot more garlic in it.”
Franken’s wife, Franni, and his daughter, Thomasin, were also at the event, which drew about double the people of the previous breakfast.
“We are absolutely delighted [with the turnout],” said Franni. “It’s another opportunity to meet more Minnesotans.”
And, if nothing else, it was another opportunity for Minnesotans to meet their new senator.
“We didn’t get in to the White House for tours, so I was like, I want to see Al,” said Cindy Schwie of Roseville, who came to D.C. on a family trip, and left the breakfast wholly satisfied.
(Also, if porridge isn’t your thing, or you just want the full Minnesota breakfast experience, Sen. Amy Klobuchar serves potica at her open breakfasts on Thursday mornings.)
Cynthia Dizikes covers Minnesota’s congressional delegation and reports on issues and developments in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at cdizikes[at]minnpost[dot]com.