- Associated Press - Monday, February 11, 2019

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Feb. 10

Pragmatic Klobuchar faces toughest test yet

Senator must convince Democrats that she has a winning vision in the presidential campaign.

Minnesota once again is sending one of its own out into the presidential fray, to see whether the public has an appetite for a low-key, Midwestern alternative to the high drama that has marked national politics of late.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s entry into the 2020 race came against a classic, hardy Minnesota backdrop of freezing temperatures, snow-covered crowds at Boom Island in Minneapolis, and plenty of hot chocolate. Oh, and a podium made of ice. It was a distinctive event that gave Klobuchar a not-unforeseen chance to boast of Minnesotans’ ability to embrace challenge.

The Star Tribune Editorial Board is not endorsing Klobuchar as the Democratic nominee - it is far too early for that, and much must be weighed - but her entrance in the campaign is welcome. We know this candidate well, going back to the first time she ran for Hennepin County Attorney and eked out a narrow win against Sheryl Ramstad Hvass. It was the last time she would just squeak by in a race.

Her record of double-digit victories and continued popularity make winning in Minnesota look easy. It’s not. This is a deeply divided state whose politics have been balanced on a knife’s edge for years, regularly swinging between red and blue. This is the state that produced a Senate race decided by 312 votes and that dumped well-established Republican and Democratic candidates to choose a third-party ex-wrestler as governor.

Constituencies here are loud and organized and accustomed to a daunting level of interaction and accountability from candidates. More than one politician has seen a career cut short by an inability to thread the needle between rural and urban voters; gun-rights and gun-control advocates; ardent environmentalists in the Twin Cities and job-hungry Iron Rangers eager to restore timber and mining industries.

Klobuchar has navigated that difficult terrain for years, building broad and durable coalitions that just returned her to the Senate for a third term with an enviable victory margin. It is the result of a decadeslong cultivation of supporters across the state, endless hours spent at bean feeds and backyard fundraisers, of constantly checking in with each of the 87 counties she represents.

In 2016, she again displayed her ability to draw GOP voters, outperforming both DFL Gov. Tim Walz and U.S. Sen. Tina Smith in areas that went to President Donald Trump. Steeped in the Midwest, Klobuchar is connected to this region and its concerns in a way that sets her apart from the pack, and could bring greater attention to it than in 2016, when candidate Hillary Clinton made a single campaign stop in Minnesota and skipped Wisconsin entirely.

As a senator, Klobuchar has been the kind of pragmatic, scandal-free, do-the-work kind of leader who has worn well with Minnesotans. She is the antithesis of today’s flash-bang political style, with a long record of quietly working with Republicans - who have held the majority for much of her time - to achieve her goals, whether on human trafficking, increased STEM funding, consumer protections, money to rebuild the collapsed Interstate 35W bridge, or other needed legislation and funding. That kind of effort is badly needed in Washington.

Klobuchar is said by some to play “small ball,” seeking safe targets and seldom risking her clout for controversy. It’s no secret she prefers common ground and progress - even incremental - to stalemate. It’s yielded a record of solid legislative achievement and is a tactic well-suited to the Senate, where those who play the long game find their power growing with seniority.

The key question now is whether Klobuchar can make the transition to leader of a nation, one who can offer a clear and compelling vision that galvanizes voters, draws talent near and propels her past a crowded Democratic field. Her more moderate approach may be a tough sell against candidates tapping into the newfound energy radiating from the party’s left.

If she survives, she gets to take on one of the most combative, no-holds-barred presidents this country has ever seen. Klobuchar made a good start appealing to many in her party on Sunday, with a speech both specific and wide-ranging that pledged universal health care, background checks on guns, and plans to attack national debt, close tax loopholes for the rich, connect rural America to the internet by 2022, and rejoin the Paris climate accords.

The presidency is a position without easy days or safe decisions. Klobuchar’s record as a top prosecutor for the state’s largest county and more than a dozen years in the Senate, some on its most powerful committees, is solid preparation. Now she must show she can take on the toughest issues without flinching. The first test came even before her announcement, with a flurry of stories in which several anonymous former aides accused her of mistreating her staff. Klobuchar said, “Yes, I can be tough. And, yes, I can push people,” but added that many of her staff had gone on to “do great things.”

The pitfalls awaiting presidential candidates are many. We wish Klobuchar’s candidacy well and will be watching closely to see how she meets the difficult tests ahead.

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Post Bulletin, Rochester, Feb. 6

Tobacco 21 deserves support in Legislature

Minnesota’s success at reducing the percentage of people in the state who smoke has stalled recently. About 13.8 percent of Minnesotans smoke, compared with 14.4 percent four years ago. It could be that those who want to quit have managed to do so, and the rest are hard-core smokers.

That’s why it’s important to keep young people from starting the tobacco habit. Dr. Tyler Oesterle, a Mayo Clinic child and adolescent psychiatrist, told the Minnesota Senate that addiction tendency spikes during the teenage years. Teenagers who start smoking are likely to become addicted to nicotine, placing their future health in jeopardy.

Oesterle said 90 percent of smokers start before the age of 18. “If you don’t smoke, if you wait until you’re older, around age 21 perhaps, you have less change of developing an addiction,” he said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly 90 percent of adult smokers started smoking before the age of 18.

Oesterle was speaking in support of the “Tobacco 21” effort in the Minnesota Legislature this session. The bill would raise to 21 the age for buying tobacco products. Twenty-two Minnesota cities already have Tobacco 21 policies in place, but enacting a statewide law would make the age uniform across the state.

What is particularly troubling is the rise in e-cigarette use among teenagers and young adults. Even those who haven’t previously smoked cigarettes are using e-cigarettes, which can be equally as addictive.

The Tobacco 21 bill has co-sponsors from both parties in the Senate. The authors of the bill say it could reduce smoking among 15- to 17-year-olds by as much as 25 percent. That might be optimistic, but a reduction of even half that amount would make the effort worthwhile.

There’s no need to recount here the long-term health risks associated with smoking and tobacco use. It wouldn’t matter to most teens, because they either plan to live forever or don’t plan to smoke forever. Isn’t that the way all of us look at our addictions? We plan to change our bad habits at some point in the future.

The trick is to avoid starting bad habits, and in that category, smoking is practically at the top of the list.

We’re not convinced Tobacco 21 will entirely eliminate smoking among teenagers. In some cases, lighting up a cigarette is about rebellion or about belonging to a crowd. Those basic desires will never go away.

However, we support the intention behind the bill to reduce smoking, and we hope legislators will favorably consider it in the current session.

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The Free Press of Mankato, Feb. 9

Legislature: Priorities for governor, Legislature

Why it matters: The Legislature and the governor need to deliver on a big agenda addressing Minnesota’s critical needs and most pressing problems.

As the state revenue forecast approaches and Gov. Tim Walz plans to unveil his budget, the Mankato region has much to gain from a plan that prioritizes critical needs, protects against an increasingly risky economy and shares the pain and the gain between metro areas and outstate.

But first and foremost, the Legislature must make sure bills are not bundled into megabills. It was a risky strategy employed by the GOP last year that didn’t work. It prevented a lot of “must-do” bills from passing.

The Legislature must make sure most bills are debated separately and are not connected to unrelated bills in violation of the Constitution’s single subject rule. We need laws and rules to address this issue and we must enforce those laws and rules.

We also need to set new rules of transparency, so bills can be read before they are voted on. There must be time for the public and other legislators to weigh in.

Beyond this reforming of the legislative process, there are many critical needs.

We need to fully fund school safety. While $25 million was approved last year for school safety, another $26 million was part of a mega-funding bill that got vetoed.

We need to fund a program to address the crisis of opioid addiction, and the pharmaceutical companies need to be part of the solution.

We need to implement common-sense background checks for gun sales and close online and gun show loopholes.

We need to pass red flag laws, which would allow friends or family to petition a court to remove guns from a person who is a danger to themselves and others.

Other states have implemented these common-sense laws without violating anyone’s Second Amendment rights.

We need a balanced budget that doesn’t cost taxpayers more money in the long run, makes sensible funding decisions and makes reasonable allowances for inflation.

Our current road funding system will cost taxpayers more because as a road deteriorates, the costs of fixing it multiply.

The same with higher education infrastructure. The Minnesota State system and the University of Minnesota have needs for new roofs and an updated technology system that, if not funded, will cost more in the long run.

We need tax conformity with federal tax law changes with minimal disruptions.

Hands-free cellphone laws and tougher penalties for texting and driving are long overdue.

We need to make a big dent in special education funding shortfalls that are estimated at $724 million and draining schools of operating funds and creating cutbacks in the quality of education.

We need to bring Local Government Aid back to the level of 2002, as the governor has proposed.

We need to come up with a sensible funding plan for small-town wastewater treatment that protects the environment and our rivers but also is affordable for local taxpayers.

We need to expand broadband so outstate Minnesota businesses can compete with those in the Twin Cities and across the world.

It’s a long to-do list, but one that is achievable, if both parties are willing to put aside partisan differences and rhetoric and compromise for the good of the people.

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