- Associated Press - Saturday, February 22, 2014
Rural lawmakers struggle to make themselves heard

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - They’re an endangered species in many state legislatures as more Americans move to urban centers or suburban cities: the rural lawmaker who knows what it’s like to care for a herd, plant a crop or drive on gravel roads.

Indiana Rep. Bill Friend, a pork producer, said it’s challenging to explain modern farming to colleagues who no longer have personal connections with agriculture. He calls it an annual educational project, as he knows of only one other state legislator who makes his living primarily from farming.

“They’re one, two, three generations removed from food production and agriculture. It’s kind of a foreign topic to them,” said Friend, the Republican majority floor leader in the Indiana House.

Lawmakers and political experts say the dwindling numbers of farmers, ranchers and others who make their living off the land affects not just agricultural policy but other rural concerns - highways, health care, schools and high-speed Internet access. Urban and suburban lawmakers might be sympathetic, but they’re often unfamiliar with particular concerns.

One Colorado legislator, a rancher, has even gone so far as to suggest each of his state’s 64 counties have a single House seat instead of awarding representation according to population.

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GOP endorses rival of Minn. gay-marriage backer

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Wright County Republicans endorsed Eric Lucero for the state House, bypassing David FitzSimmons after the first-term House member voted to legalize gay marriage, the Minnesota Family Council said Saturday.

Delegates to the Wright County convention chose Lucero because they knew the city councilman from the town of Dayton would work to promote the values of religious freedom, Council CEO John Helmberger said in a statement.

Lucero and the Council had accused FitzSimmons of betraying his constituents by running on a platform of defending traditional marriage and then voting to support same-sex marriage.

A message left at FitzSimmons’ home Saturday was not immediately returned.

FitzSimmons is a first-term House member. He previously told The Associated Press he stands by his decision about same-sex marriage, even if it costs him his seat. He added that even if Lucero took his seat Lucero wouldn’t be able to undo gay marriage.

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New Minn. Habitat house is super energy-efficient

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A new Habitat for Humanity house in north Minneapolis is the group’s first home built to use solar energy for heating, cooling and hot water.

University of Minnesota architecture students designed the house to be “Net Zero,” meaning it generates at least as much energy as it uses. It’s part of a larger project that aims to build 100 energy-efficient, eco-friendly homes within five years, Minnesota Public Radio reported (http://bit.ly/1cC5SXwhttp://bit.ly/1cC5SXw ).

“We always build as efficiently as we can,” said Matt Haugen, a spokesman for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. “But this is above and beyond what we normally do.”

The house cost $213,000 to build. The more traditional Habitat house next door cost $160,000.

Part of the additional cost comes from insulation. The new house is insulated at least three times as much as a regular house, sealed extremely well to keep drafts out, and the windows are positioned strategically to bring in the most natural heat from the sun aside from the solar panels, said Dan Handeen, a University of Minnesota architecture who led students in designing the house.

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Minn. storm leads to 1,000 crashes, 2,300 spinouts

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - State troopers have responded to nearly 1,000 crashes across the state, plus another 2,300 vehicles that spun out or ran off the road.

Driving conditions remained difficult early Saturday afternoon. Road crews were out in force, but the combination of snow and cold was impeding their efforts to clear roads and highways.

Officials continue to advise residents to stay home if possible.

Conditions have been so bad that Gov. Mark Dayton declared a state of emergency in some parts of the state. He called out the National Guard to help rescue stranded drivers. Nearly 300 people spent time in shelters set up in eight counties southwest of the Twin Cities.

The State Patrol responded to more than 4,400 calls for service, including about 1,100 stalls and 74 jackknifed semi trucks.

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