Good morning, and happy Friday. What a week it’s been.

1. Wetterling document release highlights law enforcement split. Stearns Country Sheriff Don Gudmundson delivered a brutal assessment Thursday of the cascading errors and internal friction among law enforcement that let Jacob Wetterling’s killer stay free for decades even as the clues pointed overwhelmingly to Danny Heinrich. In sometimes heartbreaking detail, Gudmundson described multiple points early in the Wetterling investigation where it was clear Heinrich should have been the prime suspect, but that basic errors in policing allowed him to elude justice as key evidence and tips went unnoticed or unattended. At least one investigator from that time disputed Gudmundson’s characterization of a failed probe. Former Wetterling task force head and FBI agent Al Garber called the analysis unfair. “Don wasn’t there. He didn’t see the day-to-day operations,” Garber told reporters Thursday. “… He doesn’t know.” (MPR News)

2. Poll confirms Trump will be on voters minds in November. Donald Trump is not on the ballot this year, but seven in 10 Minnesotans said he will still be top of mind when they head to the voting booth in November. A survey of 800 likely voters in the MPR News/Star Tribune Minnesota Poll found 43 percent want their vote in the 2018 midterm election to change the direction that Trump is leading the nation, while 29 percent want their vote to support Trump. Twenty-seven percent said their vote in November doesn’t have much to do with Trump, while only 1 percent of respondents said they were not sure. A majority of younger, metro-area voters said they are motivated to vote against the direction of the president. Sixty-one percent of 18 to 34-year-olds said their vote this fall is to support a change of direction in the nation, as did 52 percent of people from Hennepin and Ramsey counties, the state’s two most populous counties. More women than men — 47 to 39 percent — want their vote to change the direction of the president. (MPR News)

3. Early voting starts today. Although Election Day is more than six weeks away, Minnesota voters can cast early ballots starting on Friday. Minnesotans will be able to vote in person at county election offices throughout the state or vote from home by mailing in “no-excuse absentee” ballots. Early voting will be open until Nov. 5, the day before Election Day. Secretary of State Steve Simon expects another large voter turnout this year, in part because early voting makes it easier to cast ballots. “More Minnesotans turned out to vote in this year’s primary election than any year since at least 1950,” Simon said in a statement. “People across the state are fired up to vote, and our 46-day early voting period, one of the longest in the nation, gives every Minnesotan ample opportunity to be a voter and help keep our state number one in the nation for voter participation.” (Pioneer Press)

4. Political handicappers give edge to Phillips over Paulsen.  Two major election forecasters said this week that it’s more likely than not that Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen will be out of a job next January. The Cook Political Report and the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics are two of the most prominent outlets that assess the competitiveness of U.S. House, Senate, and governor’s races. To this point, they had rated the contest between Paulsen and Democratic challenger Dean Phillips as a “toss-up,” along with about two dozen other House races around the country. As of Thursday, each outlet had shifted the CD3 race into the “leans Democratic” column — putting Paulsen in a small group of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents up for re-election in a midterm cycle that is expected to be very favorable to Democrats. (MinnPost)

5. A deep dive on Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. election. For many Americans, the Trump-Russia story as it has been voluminously reported over the past two years is a confusing tangle of unfamiliar names and cyberjargon, further obscured by the shout-fest of partisan politics. What Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel in charge of the investigation, may know or may yet discover is still uncertain. President Trump’s Twitter outbursts that it is all a “hoax” and a “witch hunt,” in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary, have taken a toll on public comprehension. But to travel back to 2016 and trace the major plotlines of the Russian attack is to underscore what we now know with certainty: The Russians carried out a landmark intervention that will be examined for decades to come. Acting on the personal animus of Vladimir Putin, public and private instruments of Russian power moved with daring and skill to harness the currents of American politics. Well-connected Russians worked aggressively to recruit or influence people inside the Trump campaign. (New York Times)

Thursday’s here, and so is your daily recap of some of the top political stories.

1. Poll shows Trump’s approval in Minnesota has slipped. A majority of Minnesotans are unhappy with President Donald Trump’s performance in office and think he’s untruthful, according to a new MPR News/Star Tribune Minnesota Poll. Of 800 likely voters in Minnesota, 39 percent said they approve of his job performance while 56 percent said they disapprove. Five percent were unsure of how the president is doing at his job. That’s a drop from a Minnesota Poll in January of 2018 that showed 45 percent of Minnesotans approved of the president’s performance compared to 47 percent who disapproved, with 8 percent unsure. The latest numbers show stark political polarization over the president: more than 85 percent of the people who voted for Trump in 2016 think he’s doing a good job, while 95 percent of people who voted for Hillary Clinton disapprove of the job he’s doing. Sixty-six percent of self-described independent voters did not approve of his job performance. (MPR News)

A reminder, if you’re looking for a deeper dive into those poll numbers, our friends at the APM Research Lab have it for you here.

2. Candidates for governor debate education. Republican Jeff Johnson and DFLer Tim Walz challenged each other’s approach to education during a Minnesota governor’s race forum Wednesday focused on developing the next-generation of workers amid a feared labor shortage. The debate, which took place during the TwinWest Talent Symposium, was the first since the release of a pair of independent polls showing Walz in front of Johnson. The two were asked about the state’s nagging achievement gap between white students and students of color. Johnson called it a significant moral issue that has gone unsolved for too long. “We wring our hands about it and we say it’s terrible, but nobody changes anything,” Johnson said. “And that has to change because we are failing thousands of kids every single year.” The Hennepin County commissioner said parents deserve more chances to use public resources to send their children to private schools. Or he said they should be able to force restructuring of their public schools and to weed out subpar teachers. Walz, a former teacher, took issue with Johnson’s proposals. “You’ve got children 15 percent who are homeless, many of whom are living in cars or tent cities,” Walz said.  And you’re going to give them a scholarship or a voucher where they don’t have transportation, they don’t have housing.” (MPR News)

3. Supreme Court upholds release of sex offender. The state’s highest court has upheld a lower court’s decision to release of serial rapist Thomas Ray Duvall, who has spent more than 30 years locked up for a series of brutal rapes of teenage girls in the 1970s and 1980s. In a one-sentence ruling Tuesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court declined to review a petition by the Minnesota Department of Human Services to review the case of Duvall, whose petition for conditional discharge from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program  had been approved in July by a three-judge state appeals court panel. The decision brings to a formal close a five-year legal battle over the future of Duvall, 63, one of the most violent and high-profile sex offenders in state history. (Star Tribune)

4. Ellison accuser releases medical document. U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison’s former girlfriend Karen Monahan has posted a medical document on social media that shows she told a doctor in 2017 that she had been in an abusive relationship with Ellison. Monahan, who said Ellison domestically abused her in 2016, shared the patient progress notes from Nov. 2017 on Twitter several times this week. Ellison, who is running for Minnesota attorney general, has denied the allegation, which emerged in August. Monahan’s son first told the story on social media, and she later confirmed what her son said. During a fight, Ellison pulled on her legs and feet while she was lying on a bed, Monahan said. The document states that she told the doctor she had been in a very stressful environment for years and experienced emotional and physical abuse from a partner with whom she had since been separated. “She did not have any physical injuries that required a physical examination in the past. She identifies the individual she was involved with as congressmen [sic] Ellison, and she is worried about retribution if she identifies him publicly,” according to the patient notes from Park Nicollet. (Star Tribune)

5. Cities seek bee-friendly farm bill. The new federal farm bill could force several Minnesota cities to stop banning a pesticide that can harm bee populations. A final version of the farm bill, which would replace the one expiring at the end of September, is still under debate in a House-Senate conference committee. But the House version of the bill included a provision that would bar cities from placing stricter regulations on pesticides. Shorewood, Eden Prairie, White Bear Lake, South St. Paul, Minneapolis, Andover, Lake Elmo, Maplewood, Mendota Heights and others have banned the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on public property following University of Minnesota research showing the pesticides can harm bees. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also said the pesticides can harm bees in some cases. Shorewood, located in the western Twin Cities suburbs, is among 60 cities that signed a letter, including five in Minnesota, urging congressional leaders to reject the provision in the final version of the farm bill. The letter-signing effort was organized by the environmental group Friends of the Earth. (MPR News)

Republican Jeff Johnson, middle, speaks with debate moderator Nick Halter while Tim Walz claps at the introduction. Brian Bakst | MPR News

  1. Listen Story audio

    Sept. 19, 2018

Republican Jeff Johnson and DFLer Tim Walz challenged each other’s approach to education during a Minnesota governor’s race forum Wednesday focused on developing the next-generation of workers amid a feared labor shortage.

The debate, which took place during the TwinWest Talent Symposium, was the first since the release of a pair of independent polls showing Walz in front of Johnson.

The two were asked about the state’s nagging achievement gap between white students and students of color. Johnson called it a significant moral issue that has gone unsolved for too long.

“We wring our hands about it and we say it’s terrible, but nobody changes anything,” Johnson said. “And that has to change because we are failing thousands of kids every single year.”

The Hennepin County commissioner said parents deserve more chances to use public resources to send their children to private schools. Or he said they should be able to force restructuring of their public schools and to weed out subpar teachers.

Walz, a former teacher, took issue with Johnson’s proposals.

“You’ve got children 15 percent who are homeless, many of whom are living in cars or tent cities,” Walz said.  And you’re going to give them a scholarship or a voucher where they don’t have transportation, they don’t have housing.”

Walz said public schools are better equipped to connect children with other public services — from health care to housing programs — that can improve their quality of life and learning capacity. He said investing in all of those programs will save in the long run.

Johnson wasn’t buying it.

“Empowering parents is not going to solve the problem alone, but it will help for those parents who want something different,” Johnson said. “The answer always is, ‘We need to spend a little more money or maybe a lot more money.’ That hasn’t worked.”

The candidates agreed that post-secondary education was in need of an update. Each said he would promote vocational programs and two-year degrees to better match up students with employers searching for trained welders, electricians and trades professionals.

Walz used his 11-year-old son as an example.

“If Gus comes home and tells me he wants to be an electrician, it’ll be the happiest day of my life,” Walz said. “Because I know there’s employability, I know there’s a skill set, I know it’s where his intelligence lies.”

Johnson referenced his high-school aged son. He said there shouldn’t be a social stigma if he opts against a four-year degree.

“I know if he chooses something other than a four-year college, which is a possibility for him, we’re going to have a bunch of people in my community who will feel sorry for me as a parent, which just makes my heart sink,” Johnson said.

The debate also highlighted the opposite views of the nominees on whether the gas tax should go up to build and maintain roads.

Johnson said it’s not an option for him. Walz said he’s willing to bump the fuel tax up to avoid taking the money from other programs or letting infrastructure crumble.

He said local dollars are already being pulled in to make road upgrades and said poor highways cost motorists in businesses in other ways, including time lost in congestion.

Walz said he’s open to an increase in the dedicated tax “to have an honest conversation about it. It’s about the targeted use of it and having honest budgeting that makes a difference.”

Johnson said Minnesotans already pay enough.

“It’s not just going to be the gas tax, folks. And you’ve said you are open to lots of other tax increases. I think we know what that means,” Johnson said. “And that is a very different than where I believe we need to go.”

Johnson and Walz are lining up additional debates as the November 6th election draws near. People who have already made up their minds can cast ballots starting this Friday.