Daily Digest: Pre-conventional thinking

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

1. Rebecca Otto and campaign manager go separate ways. Days ahead of this weekend’s DFL state convention, Rebecca Otto has parted ways with the manager of her gubernatorial campaign. Otto Tuesday declined to give a reason for the departure of Jim Niland, which she said happened within the past week. “He is no longer with the campaign,” Otto said. Niland joined Otto’s campaign last fall. He’s a former Minneapolis city council member who previously ran the DFL Party coordinated campaign and worked for AFSCME Council 5. Last year, Otto said Niland would be able to build a large grassroots organization and get the campaign’s message out statewide. Now she says she’s not concerned about the change. “We are really excited for the convention and we’ve got a really strong team and we’re in a strong position,” she said. (MPR News)

2. Johnson a favorite for endorsement, but primary challenge looms. Republican candidate for governor Jeff Johnson heads toward one of the most important weekends of his political career knowing he can’t offer the fundraising power or name recognition of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, nor is he a fresh face like Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens. But the longtime Hennepin County commissioner, who is banking his statewide political ambitions on winning the GOP endorsement at this weekend’s state Republican convention in Duluth, is convinced that he’s the best candidate to win over voters and clinch the pivotal governor’s race for Republicans. “I really think that most Republicans, and most Minnesotans, are looking for frankness and honesty,” Johnson said. “Carefully poll-tested messaging and pretending you didn’t hear the question … People see through that and they’re just tired of it. And they’re unwilling to elect politicians who do it.” (Star Tribune)

3. Klobuchar wants new rules for online plane ticket sales. Congress is weighing measures designed to address complaints about online travel sites, including one that Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar is backing. The proposals, which vary in scope, would require travel sites like Expedia and Travelocity to give customers more information and control over tickets. The requirements would extend to matters such as seat assignments, refunds and baggage fees. The big online ticket agents may not display baggage fees, for example, but the expense can add up. So what initially looks like the cheapest fare could be the most expensive after those charges are applied. “No matter where consumers shop for flights online, they shouldn’t be saddled with unexpected seat changes, outdated or incorrect travel itineraries, or hundreds of dollars in unknown fees that can mean the difference between a family trip being affordable or unaffordable,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “Increasing transparency will help consumers make more informed travel decisions up front.” Travel sites worry Congress will impose requirements they’re unable to fulfill, because the airlines control baggage fees, schedule changes and other policies, and may not fully share the information. “These proposals would put ticket agents in an untenable position where they simply cannot comply because they don’t have access to the information,” said Steve Shur, president of the Travel Technology Association, whose members include Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline. “They may have access to some of it, not all of it. There’s no guarantee that they’re going to have.” (MPR News)

4. Painter releases financial information. Richard Painter, the ethics attorney running in a Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, made hundreds of thousands of dollars the past couple of years from speeches, expert witness testimony, book royalties and articles. The combined $370,000 in payments to Painter are outlined in a required disclosure for federal candidates, which he submitted this month. They are in addition to a $200,000 salary as a law professor at the University of Minnesota, where his wife also works. Painter, who was a White House ethics lawyer in George W. Bush’s administration and who until recently identified as a Republican, is challenging Democratic Sen. Tina Smith for the party nomination.  Some of his appearances have come without compensation, but he has also delivered speeches for up to $8,000 each and received payments for articles written for the New York Times and Politico as well as for two appearances on Bill Maher’s Real Time Politics program. He reported total payments of $75,000 for service to the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation, a philanthropic organization with a broad mission of promoting “a strong national defense, a free society and a vibrant economy.” Painter has also served as an expert witness for insurance companies, mutual fund shareholders and corporations involved in various disputes. His fees for those services ranged from below $2,000 to as much as $28,000. One is Valeant Pharmaceuticals, which not long ago was under federal scrutiny for increasing the cost of its prescription drugs. In the filing, Painter describes his role for Valeant as an “expert witness in securities litigation case.” (MPR News)

5. Howe announces run for Fischbach seat. Republican state Rep. Jeff Howe on Tuesday entered a special election race that will determine which political party controls the Minnesota Senate. Former Sen. Michelle Fischbach previously held the St. Cloud-area seat, but resigned last week and was sworn in as lieutenant governor. That left the Senate with an even split of 33 Democrats and 33 Republicans. A special election for her old seat will be held Nov. 6, the same date as the general election. Howe, who lives in Rockville, is the first person to announce his candidacy for the post. It will be the only state Senate seat on the ballot this November. Howe has served in the State House for three terms. He has 38 years of military experience and spent 27 years serving at several fire departments in various positions, from firefighter to chief, according to a news release. “My whole career has been about service and today I am taking the knowledge and experience gained in the Minnesota House to a broader level of service in the Senate,” Howe said in a statement. (Star Tribune)

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