Daily Digest: Court fight could be expensive for taxpayers

Good morning, and happy Tuesday. I guess it just isn’t the Vikings’ season. Oh well, there’s always the Digest.

1. Fight over lieutenant governor job was expensive.  Taxpayers could get stuck with a nearly $147,000 legal bill accrued earlier this year during a court battle over Minnesota’s lieutenant governor.  Former state Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, was billed for the legal fees Monday, after she argued in court that she could remain a senator and serve as the state’s lieutenant governor at the same time. The Senate is considering whether to absorb the legal costs. Law Firm Kelley, Wolter & Scott defended Fischbach’s position in court. Attorney Kevin Magnuson said the firm gave Fischbach a rare, 50 percent discount on their normal rates.  Fischbach, the Senate president, ascended to the role of lieutenant governor in January after Gov. Mark Dayton appointed former Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to the U.S. Senate. She stayed in the senate until later in the year, preserving Republicans’ one seat majority. The Minnesota Constitution says  when there is vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office the Senate president gets the job.  Republicans argued Fischbach could serve in both roles at once, but Democrats said that violated the constitution and one of her constituents, Destiny Dusosky, challenged her position in court. It’s not clear what Dusosky’s legal bills were or who will pay them. (MPR News)

2. Finalist for U of M top job in Minnesota. Joan Gabel, the only finalist for the president’s job at the University of Minnesota, will meet a lot of people over the next week as she makes a big swing through all five U campuses in the state. She says as she does so, she wants to be as open as possible. Gabel was selected in a process where she was the only candidate identified publicly. During a public forum, Gabel said the University is already well positioned in research and partnerships, on top of a good reputation for academics. She sees the role of the next president as improving on those strengths. “I think that there are tremendous opportunities to address what system might be in terms of meeting different gaps across the state, achievement gaps, inclusion gaps, and what that could mean in terms of instruction and in terms of research, discovery and service,” Gabel said. (MPR News)

3. Survey finds many encountered sexual harassment at state Capitol. Results of a recent survey on sexual harassment at Minnesota’s Capitol show one in five respondents had experienced or witnessed it. The anonymous survey was conducted in October and was completed by about 230 House members and staff. Fewer than half of House members completed the survey. But of those who did, 20 percent said they’ve been the victim of or witness to sexual harassment. That was about the same rate as staff. The House Task Force on Workplace Safety and Respect is expected to discuss the findings Friday. The survey information comes a year after two legislators — Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, and Sen. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park — resigned amid sexual harassment complaints. (MPR News)

4. Ellison well into transition to AG. Keith Ellison thinks his campaign for Minnesota attorney general took off when he was furthest behind. Just weeks before election day, the DFL nominee was trailing his GOP rival Doug Wardlow in public opinion polls. But that moment, Ellison said — and the prospect that he could lose the election — caused both activists and regular voters to really consider what they might be getting in a new AG. “When the polls started showing me up four, down four, down seven, it really sorta kickstarted people’s evaluation, thinking, ‘If it’s not going to be Keith, who is it going to be?’” Ellison said last week. “And when they answered that question, a lot of people — from moderate independents and moderate Republicans and on to the left — got pretty worried.”  He is doing a listening tour of the state to hear from residents about what they want him to start working on. He has already gone to Duluth and has meetings set next month in Albert Lea and north Minneapolis. “We know that people are concerned, very concerned, about health care, drug prices, educational prices, student loans,” he said. “People are concerned about how do they afford their lives given the pressures, given that their wages are stagnating, given that everything seems to be going up in price. And this is beyond just dollars and cents. It’s actually into issues of dignity, respect, expectations about society and life.” (MinnPost)

5. Outside spending fueled expensive campaign in Minnesota. Minnesota’s top congressional races cost more than $72 million this election cycle, with most of the spending coming from outside political and advocacy groups. These organizations spent more than $43 million trying to flip key competitive congressional seats in the Twin Cities suburbs, southern Minnesota and the Iron Range, according to federal election reports compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign finance. Political-action groups contributed more in Minnesota than 40 other states, underscoring the intensely competitive races in the state. Minnesota’s congressional races cost millions more than they did four years ago, a number boosted by the special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat held by Al Franken, who resigned last year after several women alleged he groped or tried to kiss them. (Star Tribune)

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