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POLITICAL NOTEBOOK: Business gets some legislative loving

ST. PAUL -- Republicans who control the Minnesota Legislature are showing the importance they place on businesses.

Soon after the Minnesota Legislature started its 2011 session, the state Chamber of Commerce was testifying. The two top chamber officials told the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee about the importance of improving the state business climate.

The early-session business hearing was not an accident. Republicans who run the House and Senate base their economic improvement plans on making things better for businesses, so they can create more jobs.

"We will start with things we ran on," House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said just before the session. And most Republican campaigns featured ways to help business.

Issues like reducing regulation and cutting permitting times are not sexy, Zellers said, "but to business owners it is the world."

In a recent interview, Zellers was asked if he minded looking very pro-business. After a moment of thought, he said that he was happy to leave that impression: he got into politics because government interfered too much with business.

If businesses felt the Legislature was not giving them enough love, enter Gov. Mark Dayton. He spoke to the two largest business-oriented organizations on Thursday and has promoted the need to help businesses, even though his ideas often do not mesh with those of Republicans.

Zellers, raised in rural North Dakota before becoming a suburban Minnesotan, wants to continue the Job Opportunity Building Zones program, designed to help rural economic growth by giving new businesses tax breaks. He suggested looking at what other states are doing that Minnesota could follow to make JOBZ more successful.

He also wants to see more cooperatives beyond the successful model established by ethanol plants.

"We need to diversify," Zellers said, saying that new types of mining on the Iron Range are examples of what the state needs.

Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, noted a contradiction in the GOP-business love fest. Business leaders told lawmakers that one of their highest priorities is to improve education, which most people think takes more money.

"They don't want to pay for it," Tomassoni said.

Good and bad

Some opponents to the state getting more involved in a federal health-care program receive veterans' benefits funded by Washington, which led state Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, to question their effectiveness in advocating against federal money.

One was Leon Moe of Cottage Grove, one of three people Gov. Mark Dayton let speak Wednesday against an executive order he was signing to take part in the new federal medical program.

Moe said he has received medical care from the Veterans Administration for 41 years.

"I totally understand what government health care is all about," he said. "I oppose this legislation."

Some Democrats said that those opposed to Washington-funded health care also should turn down other federal assistance such as veterans' care and Medicare.

Not just president

Minnesota Republicans are excited to have two of their own being discussed for the 2012 presidential race.

Tim Pawlenty, who just left the governor's office, says he is considering running for the job and will announce his plans in March or April. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann has been discussed as a potential candidate and in recent days admitted that it is a possibility.

Pawlenty plans Iowa stops on a book tour this month and Bachmann will be in that first-caucus state for a major speech.

But what many do not discuss is what happens if they do not make the presidential cut. They could run against each other for U.S. Senate.

Many people already were discussing a Bachmann challenge for U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar next year.

For Pawlenty, a U.S. Senate race could be a natural. He planned to run in the 2002 contest, but then-President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney intervened and convinced him to stay out of the race -- on the night before he planned his announcement -- so Norm Coleman would have an open highway to the GOP nomination.

Food safer

A food safety proposal with Minnesota roots is federal law.

President Barack Obama signed a measure that will increase federal officials' ability to ensure a safe food supply.

"The first responsibility of government is to protect its citizens," said U.S. Sen. Klobuchar, D-Minn., a primary sponsor of the legislation. "Ensuring a rapid response to outbreaks of contaminated food is critical to maintaining public trust in our food supply. This law will make necessary changes to help keep consumers safe and improve the security of our food supply."

Three Minnesota deaths, including ones in Perham and Brainerd, were attributed to a 2008 incident in which a deadly organism found its way into peanut butter made in a Georgia plant.

Minnesota state health and agriculture investigators found the link between deaths and the peanut butter, which caused at least nine deaths in the country.

Jeff Almer, whose mother Shirley became was in a Brainerd nursing home when she became ill from a bad batch of peanut butter and later died, testified in front of Congress as the Klobuchar legislation was being considered.

Paying counties

A Minnesota Republican spokesman said the party is paying counties for copying and related costs incurred during the Mark Dayton-Tom Emmer governor recount.

Some counties complained that the Emmer campaign had not paid its bills, while Dayton did. Republican officials coordinated the Emmer recount effort.

Overall, the state pays for the recount, but when the campaigns sought copies of documents they were billed.

Ritchie leads

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie will lead the National Association of Secretaries of State until July 1.

"This is an opportunity to foster cooperation between the states and share Minnesota's successes in election administration and business services," Ritchie said.

Four other Minnesota secretaries have led the 107-year-old organization, including Mary Kiffmeyer in 2003-04.

Follow 'Courage'

Minnesotans who want to follow their just-former governor's book tour can visit

Tim Pawlenty launches the tour Tuesday, when his book "Courage to Stand" hits the bookstores. Among his appearances is on "The View" television show. He will sign books two places in Minnesota: Woodbury and St. Cloud.

Most political observers think the book tour is a prelude to Pawlenty running for president in 2012.

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.