Good morning and welcome to Wednesday. I forget to mention yesterday that were broadcasting President Trump’s State of the Union address last night. If because of my negligence you forgot he was making a speech, you can hear a rebroadcast today at noon on MPR News. In the meantime, here’s the Digest.
1. Stras gets seat on federal appeals court. A U.S. Senate vote Tuesday landed David Stras a coveted seat on a federal appeals court while also affecting the makeup of the Minnesota Supreme Court he’s leaving behind. Stras was approved on a 56-42 vote about nine months after he was nominated by President Trump. It’s an indefinite appointment to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, although Trump has also listed Stras among the candidates he’d consider for any opening on the U.S. Supreme Court. But his judicial promotion leaves a vacancy on Minnesota’s highest court. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton gets to fill that slot, and his office immediately set the selection process in motion. This pick will further solidify Dayton’s imprint on the seven-member Minnesota Supreme Court, where four of the current justices are his picks. (MPR News)
2. Gov. Mark Dayton Tuesday appointed Jan Malcolm as the new commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Malcolm previously held the position from 1999 to 2003 under then-Gov. Jesse Ventura. She is currently an adjunct faculty member at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Malcolm takes over a state agency working to overcome significant failures in its system for investigating elder abuse complaints. Malcolm said her priority and the governor’s is to fix the broken system. “I’ve got a lot to learn about the details of how we got here and what we’re doing. That will be job one, just really talking with all of the stakeholders and getting their perspectives and enlisting their help in working to build a stronger system.” (MPR News)
3. Republicans draw a scolding after warning of Muslim “infiltration” of caucuses. State Rep. Cindy Pugh and a local Republican Party official warned on Facebook this week of a plot to “mobilize Muslims to infiltrate our Republican caucuses on Feb. 6” — drawing a swift rebuke from fellow Republicans, the League of Women Voters and an interfaith religious group. Pugh, a third-term Chanhassen Republican, and Dave Sina, the chair of the Fourth Congressional District GOP, posted to Facebook a lengthy report saying that “a friend” went to a caucus training held at a local mosque, where he witnessed Muslim-Americans being taught to “penetrate” and “infiltrate” American politics to enact a Muslim political agenda. Jennifer Carnahan, chairwoman of the Minnesota GOP, said Muslim-Americans are welcome to caucus with the Republicans. (Star Tribune)
4. Michelle Fischbach’s lawyer argues she can serve both as a state senator and lieutenant governor. Fischbach, who as senate president ascended to the office lieutenant governor when Gov. Mark Dayton appointed Tina Smith a U.S. Senator, responded formally to a constituent’s lawsuit that challenges her attempted dual role. Destiny Dusosky of Sauk Rapids is asking the court to order Fischbach to resign her senate seat. But Fischbach argues an 1898 Minnesota Supreme Court decision allows her to do both jobs, and “neither the constitution nor the lieutenant governor’s duties have materially changed” since then. Fischbach’s attorney, Kevin Magnuson, argues the Senate is the “sole judge” of its members eligibility. Magnuson writes that the injunction sought by Dusosky would throw out a duly-elected senator. Magnuson also argues that there has been no conflicting constitutional powers, as Dusosky claims, because Fischbach has “not taken the oath of office of lieutenant governor,” has “not exercised a single duty as lieutenant governor” and the legislature is not currently in session. (MPR News)
5. The state will debut a road map Wednesday for how to fix its new vehicle licensing system, along with estimates of how much the repairs will cost. Minnesota officials spent the past month traveling the state and developing the plan to fix the glitchy Minnesota Licensing and Registration System, called MNLARS. “We could throw a road map together that just talks from a technology perspective about what we can do,” said Minnesota IT Services spokeswoman Cambray Crozier. But she said gathering stakeholders’ input helped them come up with a better plan. The state spent a decade preparing to overhaul Minnesota’s aging licensing system. But when officials rolled out the changes in July, they ran into a variety of problems and paperwork began to pile up. (Star Tribune)