Daily Digest: All eyes on Minnesota in 2018

Good morning and welcome to Friday. Unlike last week there’s no snow in the forecast, which works for me. Here’s the Digest.

1. Is Minnesota the best chance for Republicans in 2018?  Four of the nation’s most competitive House races are in Minnesota. Both Senate seats are on the ballot. A former presidential candidate is running for governor. The state offers a clear look at how voting patterns in rural and suburban Midwestern areas are rapidly changing — just two years after Donald Trump nearly became the first Republican presidential candidate to win there since 1972. “We truly are the epicenter of the 2018 elections, which is both exciting and terrifying at the same time,” said Ken Martin, chair of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. The terrifying part for Democrats is that Minnesota appears to be an anomaly right now. Republicans in other states are at risk of being dragged down by an unpopular president and a national electoral climate that’s expected to be brutal for their party. But Trump’s numbers have not cratered in Minnesota like they have elsewhere. And Republicans have a real chance to flip two House seats in rural parts of the state — the only two Democratic-held seats in the country that the election forecasters at the Cook Political Report consider toss-ups. (Buzzfeed)

2. Walz releases 10 years of taxes. U.S. Rep. and Democratic candidate for governor Tim Walz released his 2017 personal income tax returns Thursday, using the occasion to urge Republican candidates, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, to do the same. Johnson, as well as Walz’s top Democratic rivals in the field — state Rep. Erin Murphy of St. Paul and state Auditor Rebecca Otto — have pledged to release their personal tax earnings, but haven’t done so yet. It’s unclear if Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens, who’s running as a Republican, has been asked whether she plans to release her information; a spokesman couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday. Pawlenty, who entered the race earlier this month, has not committed to releasing his returns. When asked, Pawlenty noted that much of his income since leaving the governor’s office in 2010 is already public. Between 2012 and earlier this year, Pawlenty served as CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable, a Washington, D.C., group that represents the financial industry. According to tax filings from the group, Pawlenty was paid $2.6 million in 2015 and $2.7 million in 2016, the two most recent years for which data was available. (Pioneer Press)

3. Endorsing conventions in the 1st District Saturday. With DFL U.S. House Rep. Tim Walz retiring to run for governor, Republicans see a chance to flip Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District. On the Republican side, 2016 candidate Jim Hagedorn and state Senator Carla Nelson are running. Nelson says she intends to go to the primary if Hagedorn gets the GOP endorsement. Regional Democrats will meet Saturday in Le Sueur hoping to endorse a candidate who can hold the seat. On the DFL side there are six announced candidates, including Dan Feehan, Joe Sullivan, Rich Wright and Vicki Jensen. All four say they will abide by the endorsement. (MPR News)

4. House votes to bail out deputy registrars. The Minnesota House has passed a $9 million bailout for local licensing offices that were harmed by failures in the computer system known as MNLARS. Lawmakers voted 123-1 Thursday for the bill. The measure would reimburse 174 deputy registrars for overtime and other expenses linked to MNLARS problems, which began after last summer’s launch of the new vehicle licensing and registration system. Republican Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, said the payments are based on the number of transactions in each office. Baker said the payments would will average about $60,000. “It gets them the first step of reimbursing them for the losses financially, but it doesn’t even touch emotional strain on these poor people,” Baker said. “They are working so hard to give good customer service in a system that was never going to work right because of the way it was built.” The House bill taps Department of Public Safety reserves rather than the general fund. (MPR News)

5. Senate approves penalties for fake service animals. The Minnesota Senate on Thursday passed legislation that would make it illegal to misrepresent a service animal. Under the measure, people who falsely claim an animal is a trained service animal would face a petty misdemeanor for a first offense and a misdemeanor on a second offense. All 67 senators voted for the bill. The use of fake service animals is harmful to people with real needs, said state Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids. “Fake service animals pose significant safety risks to legitimate service animals, customers and businesses,” Eichorn said. “For example, if a fake service animal bites a legitimate service animal that service animal could be rendered unusable, and people spend tens of thousands of dollars in order to get these service animals.” A growing number of states are cracking down on people passing off pets as trained service animals. And high-profile incidents have brought public attention to the issue. (MPR News)

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