Good morning, and happy Thursday. Here’s the Digest.
1. Simon lays out proposal for presidential primary privacy. Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said Wednesday he has been consulting with local elections officials, political parties and state lawmakers about changing the rules for the 2020 presidential primary so a voter’s party preference won’t be made public. A vote conducted through mail ballots only is also under consideration. Simon said he’s responding to concerns about a law regarded by some as backdoor party registration in a state where voters don’t have to declare a party. To vote in the 2020 primary, people would have to express a preference and that roster would be deemed a public record. “There’s a lot of justifiable anxiety out there about privacy, about having that information in the hands of a neighbor, a friend, an employer,” Simon said. “There will be some percentage of people who will say, ‘I would love to vote in a presidential primary but not at the cost of having my political party preference be public,” Simon said. “Keep in mind, Minnesota has never had party registration.” The plan Simon will put before lawmakers would still give parties some access to data about which party ballot a voter picks, likely through a sign-in roster. But the broader public couldn’t obtain it. Simon said party officials are insistent that the information be collected or their national parties won’t recognize the primary as binding for the purpose of awarding convention delegates. (MPR News)
2. Saudi Arabia and UAE target Omar, other elected Muslims. Ever since the midterm election, conservative media in the United States have targeted with special zeal Ilhan Omar, an incoming Somali-American Democratic congresswoman and a devout Muslim who wears hijab. In response to Democrats’ push to remove a headwear ban on the House floor to accommodate Omar, conservative commentator and pastor E.W. Jackson complained on a radio show that Muslims were transforming Congress into an “Islamic republic.” The Democratic Party has several rising political stars with Arab or Muslim backgrounds, all of whom have become objects of such conspiracy theories. But it’s not only American conservatives who have been indulging in this culture war. The organized attacks have also been coming from abroad—specifically, from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The midterm elections have amplified an existing suspicion in Middle Eastern media of Muslim political activism in the United States. Academics, media outlets, and commentators close to Persian Gulf governments have repeatedly accused Omar, Rashida Tlaib (another newly elected Muslim congresswoman), and Abdul El-Sayed (who made a failed bid to become governor of Michigan) of being secret members of the Muslim Brotherhood who are hostile to the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. On Sunday, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya published a feature insinuating that Omar and Tlaib were part of an alliance between the Democratic Party and Islamist groups to control Congress. The article accused the two of being “anti-Trump and his political team and options, especially his foreign policy starting from the sanctions on Iran to the isolation of the Muslim Brotherhood and all movements of political Islam.” (Foreign Policy)
3. Farmers store rather than sell soybeans. Soybeans have been harvested across the Midwest, but tens of millions of bushels are sitting in bins on farms and at grain elevators. Unwilling to sell at current prices and hopeful that progress on trade talks with China will be a boost to the market, farmers have decided to hold on to their crop as long as they can. “A lot of soybeans are going nowhere right now,” said Bob Zelenka, executive director of the Minnesota Grain and Feed Association. Prices for soybeans fell on Memorial Day when President Donald Trump signaled his intent to launch a trade war and they haven’t recovered. Soybeans are Minnesota’s largest agricultural export by far, with $2.1 billion in exports in 2016, more than double the value of exported corn. U.S. farmers went into the harvest with their largest stockpile of soybeans in 12 years. A survey in September showed they were storing about 438 million bushels, 45 percent more than a year earlier. Newer data isn’t yet available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but farmers and soybean shippers say farmers are storing far more beans than usual. (Star Tribune)
4. Hazardous chemical raises concerns after refinery explosion. A federal safety agency hosted a town hall meeting Wednesday to provide an update on its investigation into the April 26 Husky Energy refinery explosion and fire in Superior. But the public comment portion of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board’s meeting inside the University of Wisconsin-Superior’s Yellowjacket Union focused on one topic — the refinery’s use of hydrogen fluoride, a potentially dangerous chemical used in the refining process. Breathing in hydrogen fluoride at high levels, or in combination with skin contact, can cause death from an irregular heartbeat or from fluid buildup in the lungs. “I think it’s best to get rid of this chemical and do whatever is necessary to make the plant safer,” Diana Brainard, who lives north of Duluth, told the board. (Duluth News Tribune)
5. Business interests want better transit and roads but don’t support candidates who campaign on it. It’s one of the major disconnects in state politics in Minnesota: The same business organizations that have recently supported funding for transit projects (even getting behind calls for increasing the revenue to pay for it) are also major funders for the campaigns of politicians who are lukewarm on transit, dead set against light rail and oppose new revenue for transportation. That divide was apparent during a press conference at the Minnesota State Capitol Tuesday, when the leaders of the St. Paul and Minneapolis chambers of commerce joined with the head of a transit advocacy group to call for more state support for transit. The new coalition, Keep MN Moving, says it will push the Legislature to move ahead on arterial bus rapid transit (BRT) projects in the Twin Cities; fund more of the high-and-medium priority projects on Metro Transit’s service improvement plan; fully fund Metro Transit’s operation costs; and fully fund transit needs in Greater Minnesota. And while the group’s organizers did not take a position on Gov.-Elect Tim Walz’s call for increasing the state gas tax, they did say increased revenues for all transportation is needed. (MinnPost)