Daily Digest: Primary, pot and shutdown pain

Good morning, and happy Tuesday. Here’s the Digest.

1. Senate District 11 DFL primary is today. As the Senate District 11 special election process narrows the DFL side of things in Tuesday’s primary, the Republican candidate in the Feb. 5 general election figured to be tied up for much of the day with his current job — representing the Pine City area in the Minnesota House of Representatives. “I’ll be in committees and we’ll be in session, so I won’t be paying attention,” Rep. Jason Rarick said on Monday. “I’ve mainly been focusing on our race and not worrying about who I’ll be up against.” Rarick won Republican endorsement earlier this month, and seemingly has been waiting on the sidelines while Michelle Lee and Stu Lourey campaign in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor primary. Primary polls are open until 8 p.m. Tuesday in Senate District 11, which includes precincts throughout Carlton and Pine counties and parts of St. Louis and Kanabec counties. Rarick has represented District 11B in the state house since 2015. He jumped into the special election after Tony Lourey vacated his Senate District 11 seat to join the new cabinet of Gov. Tim Walz. (Duluth News Tribune)

2. Shutdown hits American Indian communities hard. The federal government shutdown is hitting American Indians harder than most people, with jobs on hold and critical funds cut to some of the nation’s poorest communities. Under treaties stretching back to before the founding of the country, the U.S. government pays for basic economic needs to Indian nations, including health services, education and infrastructure. Nearly all funding has been cut since the shutdown began Dec. 22, however, leaving Indian communities to dip into reserves or make cuts. “We are in a cash flow crisis,” Darrell Seki, chairman of the Red Lake Nation in northern Minnesota, said Monday. “But we are doing everything we can not to lay off people and to keep up services.” As well, Indian reservations have a higher proportion of federal employees than most parts of the country except for the Washington, D.C., area, making the lack of income resulting from the furlough of employees an acute economic problem. (Star Tribune)

3.  Youngest state lawmaker hopes to make his mark. State Rep. Hunter Cantrell is used to answering questions about his age. At 23, the Democrat from Savage — who took office earlier this month — is the youngest member of the current Minnesota Legislature. Many of the 200 other state lawmakers are more than twice his age. But Cantrell, who also represents parts of Burnsville, is most interested in talking about his work. “One of the first bills that my colleagues and I introduced is a bill to ban the incredibly harmful and roundly discredited practice of conversion therapy in the state of Minnesota,” he said during an interview. Cantrell is openly gay; he said he got his start in politics at 17, working to stop a proposed state ban on same-sex marriage. (MPR News)

4. Walz still looking for technology chief. Gov. Tim Walz came into office hoping to address high-profile issues such as health care and education, but now he finds himself confronting a more immediate problem — the state’s beleaguered technology system. “It keeps me up at night,” Walz said in an interview last week. The same day that Walz rolled out seven new commissioners to enact his agenda in early January, a computer hardware snafu paralyzed a Metro Council program for transporting people with disabilities and the elderly, leaving some stranded for hours. The only top job Walz has yet to fill is the head of the state’s IT system, known as MN.IT. Walz appointed an acting boss while he continues looking for a chief information officer, but for now MN.IT remains the only department without a permanent Walz appointment — underscoring the agency’s pervasive problems and the governor’s struggle get to someone to take them on. (Star Tribune)

5. Supporters and opponents gear up legal marijuana debate. Three legislators are kicking off the debate to legalize marijuana for recreational use, although they take different routes to get there. Rep. Raymond Dehn, D-Minneapolis, wants to put the issue before the voters as a constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot, which would first require approval from both the DFL-controlled House and the majority Republican state Senate. Rep. Mike Freiberg, D-Golden Valley, and state Sen. Melisa Franzen, D-Edina, are working on measures that would legalize marijuana, with the Legislature directing the Department of Health to write regulations to mitigate negative consequences. But Minnesota opponents are lining up against legalization. (Star Tribune)

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