Daily Digest: Low turnout for GOP, new frontrunners?

Good morning, and happy Wednesday. Here’s the Digest.

1. Walz and Johnson top caucus night straw polls. DFLer Tim Walz and Republican Jeff Johnson won the first governor’s race scrimmages in their parties. But Tuesday night’s caucus straw poll results also showed both party nominating contests are far from over, with many caucus goers marking themselves down as undeclared. And Minnesota voters didn’t exactly beat down the caucus doors this year. About three thousand fewer Republicans showed up than the last time the party was in search of a candidate for governor. Democrats fared better in that department, topping the number who attended the last time the governor’s mansion was without an incumbent. “I do realize it’s a pretty small sample size. There’s an awful lot of folks that are in bed, getting ready to go to work tomorrow who have no idea what a caucus is. But it’s just kind of a snapshot,” Walz said. Johnson also was careful not to read too much into the results. “It’s a snapshot in time. I never get too high or low based upon polls, but I think the spread is better than I can remember a straw poll being. So that is helpful,” he said. (MPR News)

2.  Tim Pawlenty quit his Wall Street lobbying job. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has been testing the waters for another gubernatorial run, is leaving his Wall Street lobbying post. Pawlenty announced Tuesday that he will resign as head of the Financial Services Roundtable, a trade group that represents the interests of banks, credit card companies and lenders. The former governor — the last Republican to win statewide office in Minnesota — and his allies have been reaching out to donors, trying to gauge support for a possible third term. Pawlenty will step down from from the Financial Services Roundtable in March. As of 2015, he was pulling down a $2.6 million salary as the group’s CEO. (Star Tribune)

3. Some GOP resolutions target Muslims. A local GOP leader urged fellow Republicans to introduce a resolution at Tuesday precinct caucus meetings that would require attendees to “denounce sharia law, swear to support and defend the United States Constitution and prohibit the use of the Qur’an in the taking of this oath.” Other resolutions were also floating among Republican activists, including one that would prohibit an Islamic leader from giving an invocation at any Republican convention or event. Another called for an end to what it called “Islamic indoctrination” in public schools. “Posting such a bigoted comment on caucus day is clearly intended to send a signal as to who is, and is not, welcome in Minnesota’s Republican Party,” said DFL party chair Ken Martin.  Jennifer Carnahan, chair of the Minnesota Republican Party, said anyone can offer up anything as a resolution at their precinct caucus, so she said did not want to prematurely judge the situation. She added: “The Republican Party of Minnesota is open and welcoming to anyone and everyone who shares our values and wants to be involved, and we would never shut our doors to anyone who wants to be involved.” (Star Tribune)

4. The dispute over Republican Michelle Fischbach’s attempt to serve as both lieutenant governor and state senator went to a Ramsey County courtroom Tuesday. The lawsuit filed by a resident of Fischbach’s Senate district, Destiny Dusosky of Sauk Rapids, contends that the Republican lawmaker is violating the state constitution’s separation of powers clause and a revision from the 1970s that prohibits legislators from holding other offices. Dusosky’s lawyer, Charlie Nauen, argued before Judge John Guthmann that the language in the constitution is clear. “She can’t have one foot in the executive branch and the other foot in the legislative branch.”  Fischbach’s lawyer, Kevin Magnuson, argued that the court should not be deciding who can be a state senator. “The real power to make that determination lies with the senate, solely with the senate. So, I don’t think that you can enjoin the senate, I don’t think you can order them not to seat Sen. Fischbach.” The case has critical implications for control of the Minnesota Senate. (MPR News)

5. Former St. Paul mayoral candidate faces criminal charges. St. Paul City Council member Dai Thao faces criminal charges for allegedly taking an elderly woman to a polling place in November and helping her cast her ballot, authorities say. Thao, who was running for mayor of St. Paul at the time, was charged Tuesday with unlawfully marking a ballot, misconduct in or near polling places, and unlawful assistance of a voter, according to the criminal complaint filed against him in Ramsey County District Court. The first charge is a gross misdemeanor. The other two are petty misdemeanors. Thao’s attorney said the council member was trying only to help a disabled senior get to the polls and that such conduct is not against state law. (Pioneer Press)

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