poligraph-accurateIn the vast 7th Congressional District, it can take hours to get from one place to the next.

That’s why DFL Rep. Collin Peterson has long defended his use of an airplane to get around.

But Peterson’s preferred modes of transportation are a sore spot with the National Republican Congressional Committee, which is targeting Peterson’s taxpayer reimbursed cars and mileage in its latest six-figure ad buy.

“It was bad enough when Peterson charged taxpayers for one leased car. Now he has two. Minnesota Senators don’t even have two. Worse? We also reimburse Peterson for gas and mileage – more than double any other Minnesota congressman.”

The ad is essentially correct, but Peterson argues he has unusual circumstances.

The Evidence

The NRCC has been honing a single talking point about Peterson for months: the group argues that Peterson, who has served in Congress for more than 20 years, is out of touch with his district. The group is working to help state Sen. Torrey Westrom defeat Peterson in November.

So this ad, which opens with a picture of a much younger Peterson, is meant to portray the long-serving representative as living high-on-the-hog off taxpayer dollars.

Senators aren’t allowed to pay for rental cars with taxpayer dollars, but U.S. House members are and Peterson is among them.

Back in 2001, Peterson’s office leased one car. But as the district got bigger, Peterson said he decided to rent two vehicles for staffers whose jobs required traveling long distances.  That way, they don’t put wear and tear on their own cars.

Democrats like the rental car talking point, too. In 2011, when Republican Rep. Chip Cravaack was running for reelection in the 8th Congressional District, the Democratic House Majority PAC ran an ad targeting Cravaack for renting an SUV.

The reason Peterson’s personal mileage reimbursements are so high is because he often flies his airplane around the district to save time. Last year, Peterson was reimbursed for more than $15,000 in personal mileage, according to finance reports. That’s much higher than other members of the Minnesota delegation, though some members may account for transportation charges differently – for instance, by reimbursing a staffer who drives them around their district.

Peterson argued that the money he spends on transportation reflects the size of his district, and that other members representing large areas face the same issue. For instance, GOP Rep. Kristi Noem of South Dakota was reimbursed for more than $5,200 for transportation in the first quarter of 2013.

For his part, Peterson said the NRCC’s ad misrepresents what he’s trying to do, which is visit as many constituents are possible.

“I don’t know how I’d cover the district without that airplane,” Peterson said. “[The ad] makes it look like we’re up to something. They’re attacking us for doing our job.”

The Verdict

Peterson’s travel expenses are high, and the numbers prove that.

But the ad needs some context: unlike most other members of the Minnesota delegation, Peterson has a lot of ground to cover to visit constituents.

And as to whether Peterson’s travel costs show he is out of the touch with his district, that’s for the voters in the 7th to decide.

Good morning!

In Minnesota

PreferredOne, the insurer with the lowest rates and most customers on Minnesota’s health care exchange, is pulling out of MNsure. (MPR News)

Republican Jeff Johnson says DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s recent handling of the health insurance exchange MNsure and the state’s sex offender program show why he should be removed from office. (MPR News)

Gov. Mark Dayton called Vikings player Adrian Peterson’s arrest for alleged child abuse “a public embarrassment” to the Vikings and the state of Minnesota. The team later put Peterson on indefinite suspension. (AP via MPR News)

Sen. Amy Klobuchar is making yet another trip to Iowa, this time to headline a big, pre-election fundraiser. (MPR News)

National Politics

The nation’s top military leader told Congress that if President Barack Obama’s expanded military campaign to destroy Islamic extremists fails, he would recommend that the United States consider deploying American ground forces to Iraq. (AP via MPR News)

Despite lingering reservations on both sides of the aisle, a coalition of Republicans and Democrats is coming together behind proposals to arm Syrian rebels and fund the government beyond Sept. 30. (Roll Call)

The Democrats’ strategy of making an increase in the minimum wage and other pocketbook issues a midterm election rallying cry has been drowned out by world events. (New York Times)

It’s not just local police departments that have received surplus, military grade equipment. School districts and universities have also gotten some powerful gear, courtesy of taxpayers. (Washington Post)

Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson held  a news conference to criticize Gov. Dayton over his handling of MNsure and the  state’s sex offender program. Tom Scheck/MPR News

Republican Jeff Johnson says DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s recent handling of the health insurance exchange MNsure and the state’s sex offender program show why he should be removed from office.

During an afternoon news conference, Johnson harkened back to rhetoric he used during the Republican primary, calling Dayton “incompetent.”

“Mark Dayton is not competent to lead this state,” Johnson said. “We have seen it in the last 24 hours in two ways unlike anything we have seen before.”

Johnson’s news conference came just hours after PreferredOne announced it would no longer offer coverage through MNsure. The HMO has the largest number of customers in MNsure and offered the lowest rates.

Johnson said it was just the latest example of dysfunction at the health insurance exchange.

“Six out of 10 Minnesotans who have gone through the nightmare of trying to get insurance through the MNsure exchange learned this morning that they’re going to have to go through that same nightmare all over again,” Johnson said.

Johnson and other Republicans have been hammering Dayton and Democrats on MNsure. Over the past year, the website was plagued by crashes and long waits for people seeking insurance, and the organization’s top executive resigned.

Johnson said if he is elected he will work to remove the entire MNsure board and fire top MNsure executives. He also said he would petition the federal government to exempt Minnesota from the federal program.

Dayton has called MNsure the “biggest disappointment of his first term,” but said the website is working better. He also praised the program after a study found that the state’s rate of people without health insurance dropped dramatically after the exchange began operating.

As for PreferredOne’s decision, Dayton issued this statement:

“MNsure is a marketplace, where insurers price their products to compete for business. A year ago, PreferredOne chose to offer its coverage at rates well below other plans on MNsure, and gained significant market share from doing so. The question now is whether PreferredOne can afford to continue to offer such low rates. If not, its continued participation in MNsure would distort the Exchange’s average rates, which last year were the lowest in the nation.”

Johnson also criticized Dayton for his administration’s handling of the possible release of a convicted rapist who is currently in the Minnesota Sex Offender Treatment program.

Thomas Duvall was appealing his commitment in the program to a judicial panel, a move backed in 2013 by Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson and a review board within her agency.

But Duvall dropped that petition this week after Jesson reversed course and opposed his release.

Johnson criticized the Dayton Administration over how it handled the case.

“This matter was so mismanaged without any regard for the victims or the victim’s families of this guy that it just takes your breath away,” Johnson said.

Dayton has not said anything publicly regarding the about-face. Jesson issued a statement saying her goal is to protect public safety while maintaining the rights of clients.

“ I review these cases carefully, taking into consideration criminal history, the evaluation of our clinical staff and the review of numerous independent experts,” Jesson said. “In the case of Thomas Duvall, I changed my position based on new information and recently issued expert reports. The court determines how much of that information is public.”

A federal judge is weighing whether the sex offender program violates the constitutional rights of the 697 people indefinitely held in Moose Lake and St. Peter. Most have served their prison sentences.

Dayton dropped efforts to change the program earlier this year because there wasn’t bipartisan agreement on the issue. Johnson said Dayton was unwilling to step up and lead.

Johnson, however, offered little in terms of a solution.

He said he supports life sentences without parole for the most violent sex offenders. Johnson added that he would sit down with Republicans and Democrats to come up with a solution to solve the problem of patients currently in the program.

There was one issue where Dayton and Johnson agree.

They both say Vikings running back Adrian Peterson should not play in any games until the legal situation involving allegations of abuse of his son is resolved.

Vikings owners announced earlier this week that Peterson will play on Sunday.