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Capitol Chatter: Johnson-Pawlenty race gets testy

ST. PAUL — Once upon a time, Republican candidates would not speak ill of another candidate in the party.

These days, forget that.

Take the Tim Pawlenty-Jeff Johnson race for the GOP nomination for Minnesota governor. Here are two politicians who have been considered nice guys. But a month before the Aug. 14 primary election, they are treating each other like Republicans might treat Democrats. Or vice versa.

A Pawlenty television commercial due to air a lot in coming days calls Johnson "a career politician," and even worse for a Republican dubs him "a politician who taxes and spends, a lot."

The 30-second spot claims Johnson proposed raising property taxes, backed Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's plan to increase the sales tax and that he supports federal health care changes known as Obamacare.

"That's the real Jeff Johnson," the narrator says, trying to cause him to look bad to his conservative base.

In a news conference shortly after the commercial hit the air Thursday, July 12, Johnson fought back.

"The day that he attacks is the day that he knows he might lose," Johnson said, adding later: "It was very dishonest ... possibly the most dishonest ad I have ever seen."

The property tax accusation apparently came from his attempt to lower a proposed Hennepin County increase, Johnson said, and while he agreed with some of Dayton's sales tax plan, he said it was entirely too much of an increase.

As for liking Obamacare, Johnson said he has no idea where that came from.

A blog on Pawlenty's website claims Johnson often changes his positions. "We've seen several sides of Jeff Johnson over the years."

In a Forum News Service interview, Pawlenty said Johnson has been in politics all of his life and has no accomplishments to show for it.

Another GOP politician with a nice-guy reputation, Sen. Jim Abeler of Anoka, took Pawlenty to the woodshed over the TV commercial.

"Stop this kind ad now," Abeler tweeted. "@TimPawlenty should know better. Whatever anybody thinks of @MNJeffJohnson, he does not support Obamacare and he is not a tax raiser. Focus on real issues and the future of MN. That is the debate to be having."

Vote by mail

Candidates encourage their supporters take advantage of Minnesota's early voting law to cast ballots for the Aug. 14 primary election now, something often done by mail.

But many Minnesotans do not realize that 948 of the state's 4,112 precincts only vote by mail. Voters never stand in lines at a polling place.

Supporters of the mail-in ballot say it is more convenient for voters and election officials, not to mention cheaper.

The West Central Tribune reports Lake Lillian is one place switching to mail this year.

"We're always looking for ways to do things better and more economically," City Clerk-Treasurer John Douville told the newspaper, a Forum Communications property. "Mail balloting seemed to fit that bill for smaller communities."

The option is available in Minnesota for rural townships and cities with 400 or fewer registered voters.

Campaigns are encouraging people to donate money early because votes are being cast already. As Democratic governor candidate Lori Swanson wrote to supporters: "Minnesotans are already casting absentee ballots, so every moment counts."

Trump thinks farmers

Many Minnesota farmers wonder if President Donald Trump has their backs as a trade war with China, and perhaps other countries, threatens to dramatically cut their profits.

Trump sent them a message after he arrived in Europe a few days ago.

"I am in Brussels, but always thinking about our farmers," Trump said in a series of tweets. "Soy beans (sic) fell 50% from 2012 to my election. Farmers have done poorly for 15 years. Other countries' trade barriers and tariffs have been destroying their businesses. I will open things up, better than ever before, but it can't go too quickly. I am fighting for a level playing field for our farmers, and will win!"

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has said the Trump administration will make sure American farmers are not hurt in a trade war, but details about how that will be done have not been released.

Lawmakers: Seek help

State lawmakers urge Minnesotans affected by storms and flooding since June 9 to seek help.

Most lawmakers in affected areas have issued news releases telling constituents that government help is available. They also encourage people to hire local businesses so they are not taken by out-of-state rip-off artists.

"Hiring trusted local businesses from our communities is the best way protect yourself from falling victim to scammers who may try to prey on the situation," Rep. Matt Grossell, R-Clearbrook, said. "If at all possible, I encourage people to rely on reputable, local services during restoration projects."

Farmers may call the Rural Finance Authority at (651) 201-6004 or go to www.mda.state.mn.us/agfinance for more information about low-interest loans that may be available to farmers in 36 counties Gov. Mark Dayton has declared are in emergency situations.

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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