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Franken proclaimed a star; and other state briefs

ST. PAUL - Minnesota's new U.S. senator has received rave reviews from many in his nearly a month in Washington.

One of the most recent was a contributor to a prominent political blog.

"A Senate star is born" reads the headline on Doug Kendall's Huffington Post Web site contribution.

Kendall extensively quotes from a Sen. Al Franken speech of a few days ago supporting Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. Kendall praises the Minnesota Democrat for his criticism of the current court, populated in a large part by Republican presidential appointments.

"This is a court that is willing to reverse itself to limit the rights of individual Americans," Franken said. "This is a court that is more than willing to overturn Congress to achieve its own agenda of what is right."

After listening to the entire Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Sotomayor, Kendall writes, "I can say with confidence that no one made these points as concisely and powerfully as Sen. Al Franken did."

During the hearing, Kendall said, Franken was both thoughtful and funny: "After shutting down his funny-gene for most of his campaign, Franken was laugh-out-loud funny at times in the hearings, stumping Judge Sotomayor with a question about a Perry Mason episode and grabbing an opportunity to briefly assume the chairman's chair in his first week in the Senate."

Start with jokes

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty rehearsed what could be his presidential campaign stump speech with the Republican National Committee, and like any good speaker he knew to start with jokes.

"If you are a Republican in Minnesota, it is like being a polar bear in Miami," Pawlenty said as he opened his San Diego speech Thursday.

The jokes got a more partisan as Pawlenty moved on: "Apparently President Obama is making great progress on climate change. He is changing the political climate of this country toward Republicans."

Earlier in the week, the potential presidential candidate took another step on the national stage when the Republican Governors' Association announced Pawlenty was elected vice chairman of the group.

Klobuchar for prez?

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza was pontificating in his The Fix blog about a lack of credible female politicians ready to run for president when many of his readers offered up a name: Amy Klobuchar.

A year ago, the Minnesota Democrat in her first term as U.S. senator was mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate for Barack Obama. Now, several are thinking about her for the top spot in 2016, although one person responding to Cillizza suggested Vice President Joe Biden could be a one-termer, with Klobuchar becoming Obama's second-term running mate.

Klobuchar's name has come up before as potential presidential timber, but not nearly often as Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who the national media has taken to calling T-Paw.

"I think Klobuchar of Minnesota has the best chance of anyone currently in Washington," one person posted.

Added another: "Amy Klobuchar is a machine. She works on her job as a senator and her political profile literally day and night. If T-Paw can be considered a national candidate with two wins at 42 percent of the popular vote, then certainly a 57 percent vote winner in Purple MN can get on the national stage. No one -- literally no one -- will outwork her."

But some Cillizza readers noted a potential Klobuchar downfall.

"Very likeable and certainly competent, she has a goofiness that wouldn't work well on the presidential trail," one wrote.

"I actually like her a lot, but she might be a little too quirky to win a nationwide election," added another. "Kind of like Joe Biden, but without the ego."

Loans available

Minnesota businesses financially hurt when an employee is called to military service may obtain interest-free loans.

Loans of $5,000 to $20,000 are available to small businesses, the state Department of Employment and Economic Development announced.

"Small businesses can face economic hardships when valued employees are away from work, serving their country in the military," said DEED Commissioner Dan McElroy. "These loans are intended to help businesses keep operating until the employee returns from active military duty."

Information is available at

Summit planned

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller wants to gather 17 current and former governors, Senate majority leaders and House speakers for an economic summit, setting the stage for a budget-fixing 2010 legislative session.

"The underlying aim of the Minnesota Leadership Summit will be specific: to lay out a road map towards long-term balance in the state budget and sustainable growth in Minnesota's economy," Pogemiller said. "The summit would allow us an opportunity to look towards the future, build on the reform ideas brought forward from past and current lawmakers on both sides of aisle and lay the foundation for a productive 2010 session with a focus on repairing the state's once sterling economic reputation."

Pogemiller, a Minneapolis Democrat, got the idea from former Gov. Arne Carlson, a Republican who has not been the GOP's favorite. Carlson penned a column calling for a long-term budget-balancing strategy.

Those invited to the summit include Senate majority leaders Pogemiller, Dean Johnson, John Hottinger and Roger Moe; speakers Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Steve Sviggum, Phil Carruthers, Dee Long, Robert Vanasek, David Jennings, Harry Sieben Jr. and Martin Sabo; and governors Tim Pawlenty, Jesse Ventura, Carlson, Al Quie and Wendell Anderson.

An early-September date is being considered.

While Pawlenty this summer cut state programs to balance the budget, a new deficit that some say will be $6 billion faces lawmakers and a new governor in 2011. However, next year's Legislature could trim that deficit by making changes in the middle of the now-month-old two-year budget.

Dairy aid OK'd

A plan to increase dairy support prices in a time of historically low milk prices gained U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson's support.

The Detroit Lakes Democrat, who is U.S. House agriculture chairman, said his committee has heard from dairy farmers that the industry needs help.

"Increasing the prices they receive will bring greatly needed relief to dairy farmers who need it desperately right now," Peterson said.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that the federal government will increase money for dairy products, which he said will increase how much money all dairy producers receive.

Jobs, jobs, jobs

With nearly all politicians preaching the need to increase jobs, the Minnesota House speaker has created a task force looking into how to do that.

The task force Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher established will focus on public works projects and state government policies in general that could create jobs. Next year's legislative session's major task is to pass a bill funding public works projects such as building and repairing state buildings.

Kelliher's panel will develop a jobs plan for the 2010 session, "with special emphasis on getting our construction industry working again," she said.

The speaker is considering running for governor.

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.