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Capitol Chatter: Minnesota's 2018 campaign season underway

Rep. Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley briefs reporters Friday, May 3, 2013, about his proposal to raise the minimum wage. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

The 2016 election still looms large in Minnesota's rear-view mirror so, of course, it is time for the 2018 campaign to begin.

And it has.

The first big name out of the gate was Ryan Winkler, a Bemidji native who for years served in the state House serving the Golden Valley area. He said he would run for attorney general if incumbent Lori Swanson doesn't. Both are Democrats.

Swanson's name is being batted around for governor, to replace Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, who says he will leave office when his term is up early in 2019.

State Rep. Erin Murphy of St. Paul, another Democrat, already is running for governor. Murphy, who has traveled the state extensively in the past couple of years, no doubt will tell people about her rural Wisconsin upbringing, a benefit for a Twin Cities candidate.

Also expected to be in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party governor race is Lt. Gov. Tina Smith. In fact, many observers say that is why Dayton made her his running mate for his second term.

Smith has been one of Minnesota's most visible lieutenant governors, often representing the administration and making some big announcements that usually would come from the governor.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman is looking into running for governor. He has spent quite a bit of time working with greater Minnesota mayors on issues like Local Government Aid and transportation funding, friendships that could help if he runs statewide.

Also being mentioned are big names like U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz. A post-election report by the man Walz barely beat earlier this month, Jim Hagedorn, looked for all the world like the first news release of his 2018 campaign.

There are lots more Democratic names being floated at this early stage. Some say a dozen could jump in.

The picture is less clear on the Republican side.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, will not rule out a run for the state's CEO job. And many people mention state Republican Chairman Keith Downey as a possibility.

Transgender ban unconstitutional

A Minnesota judge ruled a ban on funding sex-change surgery violates the state Constitution in the same week as a mother sued in federal court for the right to have a say in her teenager's procedure.

The ruling requires the Minnesota Medical Assistance, a health care program for the poor, to fund gender transitions. A 2005 state law 2005 banned such spending.

The American Civil Liberties Union, OutFront Minnesota and Evan Thomas, 64, a transgender man, challenged the law late last year. Thomas was denied coverage for sex-change-related surgery.

"The judge's ruling is a forceful statement that transgender people deserve equal treatment under the law," Thomas said.

Phil Duran of OutFront said his organization has heard from many Minnesotans who also were denied state funding for a gender change.

"The victory ... will bring immediate relief to the scores of transgender people living in Minnesota being denied the medical care they need," ACLU Minnesota Executive Director Charles Samuelson said.

In the meantime, a St. Louis County woman took county, school and health organizations to federal court, claiming that when her son started a sex-change procedure that she no longer was allowed to see his records. She said she is not fighting the sex change, but just wants a say in the teen's decisions.

Counselor money sent

Seventy-seven Minnesota schools are getting financial help to hire more school staff such as counselors.

The state is sending $12 million to schools from a legislative appropriation earlier this year. Money will go to add counselors, psychologists, social workers, chemical dependency counselors and school nurses for the next six years.

"Expanding access to this critical guidance will leave our students better prepared for college and careers," Gov. Mark Dayton said, adding that he would like to see more money available next year.

The money will fund 40 school counselors, 21 school social workers, seven chemical dependency counselors, six school psychologists and three school nurses.

Property tax rise slows

The state Revenue Department says local governments plan to raise 2017 property taxes a bit less than a year ago.

Preliminary tax increases for next year will be $344 million, a 3.8 percent increase, the department reported. That compares with a 4.5 percent, $397 million, increase this year.

The report is about how much local governments tentatively plan to increase taxes. After public input comes at truth-in-taxation meetings during coming weeks, governing bodies could lower their askings.

Most property tax collections go to local governments, entities such as cities, counties, townships and schools.

GOP picks more leaders

Minnesota Senate Republicans have named their leadership team to go with Majority Leader Paul Gazelka of Nisswa.

Michelle Benson of Ham Lake and Jeremy Miller of Winona were appointed deputy leaders. Assistant leaders will be Gary Dahms of Redwood Falls, Bill Ingebrigtsen of Alexandria, Warren Limmer of Maple Grove and Eric Pratt of Prior Lake.

In the Nov. 8 election, voters put Republicans in charge of the Senate, for just the second time since lawmakers were elected on partisan ballots.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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