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Pawlenty nixes special session talk

ST. PAUL - Rumors are spreading around St. Paul that Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty will call a special legislative session to boost transportation funding.

Will he? "No," the GOP governor said in response to a question about whether he has been telling groups that a special session is possible.

There was plenty of talk about transportation funding before a September special session dealing with flood issues, but the governor and Democrats were so far apart on the issue that they could not agree on how to proceed. The issue is expected to surface during the regular session that starts Feb. 12.

Since the Aug. 1 Minneapolis bridge collapse, transportation funding has been the most-discussed issue in the Capitol. While most politicians like the idea of increasing funding, they disagree on how much and how to fund it. Experts say more than $1 billion is year is needed to bring the state's roads and bridges up to standards.

Ban begins smoothly

Minnesota's smoking ban started with few problems.

Health Commissioner Dr. Sanne Magnan said a month after the ban took affect that no citations had been issued for violations, but 31 businesses were told they need to take measures to fully comply with the new law, which forbids smoking in almost every indoor public space.

"Since so many Minnesotans support indoor air protections, we anticipated smooth implementation of Freedom to Breathe," Magnan said.

Wellstone wins

At least twenty-two graduates of Wellstone Action training programs won offices across the country in Tuesday's election.

Most of the winners went through Camp Wellstone programs that train candidates, activists and campaign workers. Among the winners were Tony Cuneo, Jeff Anderson, and Sharla Gardner, who gained Duluth City Council seats.

Camp Wellstone was established shortly after Sen. Paul Wellstone died in a northeastern Minnesota airplane crash in 2002.

Peterson thinking

The list of possible rural Minnesota Democratic candidates for governor in 2010 is growing.

Minnesota Farmers Union President Doug Peterson said last week he is exploring whether to seek the office.

The former state representative from Madison said he's "talking to lots of people throughout the state and seeing if there's any support" and will decide by next summer.

"At this time I'm just president of Minnesota Farmers Union and haven't made a decision," Peterson said in an interview. "It's a big step."

Several other Democrats, including state Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook and Rep. Tom Rukavina of Virginia, have said they are pondering a run. Also, Ramsey County Attorney Susan Gaertner is actively campaigning for governor, and more are expected to explore the race.

Minnesota's last Democratic governor was Rudy Perpich, who left office in 1991.

Moe appointed

Long-time Sen. Roger Moe will serve on the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership Board, which he helped create.

"As a founder of the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership Board, we welcome his unique historical perspective," said Dan McElroy, the state's economic development and employment commissioner. "As a former math teacher, Roger realizes the necessity of focusing on science, technology, engineering and math in our schools. His knowledge of workforce development and higher education in Minnesota will serve our business and education partners and the board immeasurably."

Moe served in the Legislature from 1970 to 2003, serving the Erskine area in northwestern Minnesota.

Cuba ties stronger

Minnesota's agriculture commissioner says his recent Cuba trip reinforced ties to that country's largest commercial trade show.

"Minnesota has a very positive reputation in Cuba for the quality of the agricultural products we have to offer and for the relationships that have been built," Commissioner Gene Hugoson said.

Minnesota sold $18.3 million of agricultural products to Cuba last year.

Molnau delivers

Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau's office has delivered 38 boxes of documents to a Minnesota House committee, with another 20 boxes to come.

The boxes contain documents related to the long-delayed Wakota Bridge over the Mississippi River between Dakota and Washington counties. They came after Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, threatened to subpoena them.

A month ago, Atkins led a committee hearing looking into why the bridge is half finished, when it should have been done by now.

"I guess we've got some reading to do," Atkins said. "It's not Harry Potter, but it should be interesting."

Take a licking?

The butter sculpture was of Minnesota first lady Mary Pawlenty, but her husband stole the show when the dairy carving was unveiled last week.

After helping his wife uncover the butter sculpture, Gov. Tim Pawlenty said: "I can now say I want to lick the first lady - her butter head!"

The quip elicited laughter from the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council crowd, who the governor said may have taken his comment wrong.

State Capitol Bureau reporter Scott Wente contributed to this story.

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.