Daily Digest: TGIF debate edition

Good morning and happy Friday. A reminder I’ll be at the State Fair at 11 for a debate with gubernatorial candidates Jeff Johnson and Tim Walz. Show up at Dan Patch Park near the grandstand if you’re at the Fair or listen on the radio or online. Here’s a quick look at the Digest before I head to the fairgrounds.

1. Pence stops in Minnesota for speech, fundraiser.  Vice President Mike Pence told American Legion members Thursday that the nation was experiencing “nothing short of a great renewal of American strength at home and abroad.” Addressing the Legion’s 100th national convention on its closing day, Pence said the Legion has a clear ally in the White House with President Trump and ticked off what he said were increased protections for veterans and a firmer resolve on the global stage. “Over the past year and a half with the strong support of the American Legion, our administration has replaced weakness with vigor, doubt with confidence and timidity with leadership,” Pence said in his nearly 30-minute speech. “And under President Donald Trump and together with all of you, we are forging a new century of American strength.” After the Legion speech, Pence headed to Bloomington for a high-dollar fundraiser for the state Republican Party. (MPR News)

2. ‘The state all comes to you’ Democrat Tim Walz’s sixth day at the Minnesota State Fair was all about agriculture — a staple of his rural congressional constituency. The southern Minnesota congressman and gubernatorial candidate toured the Miracle of Birth Center with Future Farmers of America members on Thursday morning, competed in a celebrity butter carving contest around noon and poured milk at the all-you-can-drink milk stand in the afternoon. His Republican gubernatorial counterpart, Jeff Johnson, has also made several appearances at the Fair. Aside from radio interviews, Johnson admits he’s mostly been marooned to his campaign booth, engaging with countless fairgoers on issues like taxes and health care. “The beautiful thing about the Fair is you don’t have to travel around the state because the state all comes to you and is in one spot for 12 days,” said Johnson, a Hennepin County commissioner. (Pioneer Press)

3. Paulsen gets help from Kochs. The political network created by the billionaire Koch brothers announced plans to support eight House Republicans on Thursday, pledging financial resources and activists to help re-elect several vulnerable congressmen deemed “principled” conservatives. The first wave of endorsements includes a handful of sometime-critics of President Donald Trump, particularly on immigration and spending. The announcement comes a month after Trump assailed the Koch brothers as “a total joke in real Republican circles.” Days earlier, network patriarch Charles Koch had condemned the increased government spending under the Republican president’s leadership and Trump’s push for import tariffs. Despite the clash with the White House, the Koch network remains one of the most powerful political organizations in the country. The sprawling organization is on pace to spend as much as $400 million on politics and policy ahead of November’s election. And its coalition of trained activists across 36 states has no rival. The candidates backed by the network’s political arm, Americans for Prosperity, include eight men from seven states: Reps. Rod Blum and David Young of Iowa, Dave Brat of Virginia, Ted Budd of North Carolina, Steve Chabot of Ohio, Will Hurd of Texas, Erik Paulsen of Minnesota and Peter Roskam of Illinois. For each of the candidates, Americans for Prosperity “will fully activate its grass-roots infrastructure through phone banks and neighborhood canvassing, as well as deploy targeted digital, mail and radio advertising,” according to a statement. (AP via Rochester Post Bulletin)

4. Student test scores show little progress. The latest round of test scores from Minnesota schools show no improvement in math and reading and little movement in the state’s persistent achievement gap for students of color — but state education officials are downplaying the results, saying they don’t provide a full picture of student or school performance. Despite years of work to boost test scores and reduce disparities between student groups, statewide reading scores remained flat for the third year in a row, with 60 percent of students meeting state standards for proficiency in the 2017-18 school year. Math scores declined, with 57 percent of students meeting state standards, down from 59 percent a year earlier. Meanwhile, the gaps between students’ performance on tests improved slightly but remained stark: a 35 percentage point gap between white and black students in reading and a 38 percentage point difference in math statewide, with even bigger divides for students in Minneapolis and St. Paul. (Star Tribune)

5. After initial victory, state may continue suit over health care. Even as Minnesota officials celebrate the restoration of $85 million in federal health care funds this week, they are considering whether to continue suing the federal government. In December, the Trump administration abruptly withdrew subsidies which the state expected to use to fund MinnesotaCare. Just over 70 percent was returned Wednesday. Minnesota Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper said her staff is discussing what to do next. “We have until September 21 to decide whether or not we are going to re-open the lawsuit, to continue to litigate,” Piper said. “What the federal government has done is develop a new methodology to pay states, which is a reduced methodology from what it was before, but resulting in the federal government paying back some of the subsidies they should have paid in the first place,” the commissioner explained. (MPR News)

I’m off Monday. The Digest will resume on Tuesday. Have a good Labor Day weekend.

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