Wolf hunt moratorium bill advances in Senate

by T.W. Budig

ECM Capitol Reporter

She grew up in the field, Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center said.

Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, described her wolf hunt moratorium bill as being common sense. Sitting next to Eaton, supporting her bill, is former Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger. (Photo by T.W. Budig)
Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, described her wolf hunt moratorium bill as being common sense. Sitting next to Eaton, supporting her bill, is former Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

“I have nothing against hunting,” she said in a Senate committee on Thursday, March 14. But Eaton, backed by sign-carrying supporters, wants a five-year moratorium placed on grey wolf hunting in Minnesota.

According to a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) official, last year’s wolf hunt — resulting from the wolf’s delisting as a federally endangered species — was the first managed season in state history. Even as late as the mid-1960s, Minnesota had a bounty on wolves.

DNR officials described the hunt as closely monitored and controlled. Out of an estimated population of 3,000 wolves, 413 wolves were taken by hunters and trappers.

But Humane Society State Director Harold Goldman argued the state’s approach in managing the iconic animal is wanting.

Beyond the 413 wolves taken during the hunting and trapping season, an additional 299 wolves were taken for harming livestock, he said. Additionally, a “shoot, shovel and shut-up” mentality still exists in the state, Goldman said, so more wolves are killed than are ever officially tabulated. Of the 165,000 cows and calves in wolf territory, there were only some 81 confirmed cases of killing by wolves, he added.

The wolf season was also depicted as culturally insensitive. Nicole Hendrickson of Brooklyn Park, a Native American, her child at her side, told the committee of the importance the wolf in Native American culture. She didn’t expect non-Native Americans to fully appreciate this, she said.

“I am asking you that you do respect it,” Hendrickson said.

Moratorium supporters argued the wolf hunt was rushed into place and breaks with previous policy. It put the state tourism industry at risk and limits the chance for people to hear the distant howl of wolves.

But an array of groups from the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance to the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association to the Minnesota Farmers Union stood in opposition to Eaton’s bill.

“Wolves are a renewable resources,” Wayne Johnson, treasurer of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, said.

Graphic testimony of wolf predation was given by John Gilbertson of Bemidji, a farmer, who spoke of wolves attacking newborn calves and of experiencing repeated livestock losses.

“The wolves aren’t kind killers,” Gilbertson said. They’re beautiful animals, he said.

“But they’re not so beautiful in my cow yard,” Gilbertson said.

St. Louis County Commissioner Mike Forsman said he didn’t hate wolves. But he also didn’t want them in his yard, he said.

The DNR insists the wolf’s population in Minnesota is stable. Dan Stark, DNR large carnivore specialist, told the Senate Environment and Energy Committee the wolf pups produced each year in the state’s estimated 500 wolf packs can double the overall population each year. But Stark noted, too, a high mortality rate among pups, and adult wolves die all the time.

Eaton saw her bill pass the committee on 7-6 vote. Companion legislation is carried in the House by Rep. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview.

Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said the public had a chance to voice concerns back when the wolf season was being formulated. Benson voted against the bill.

Eighth District Congressman Rick Nolan visits State Capitol

 Democratic 8th District Congressman Rick Nolan was at the State Capitol this week. A member of the minority caucus, Nolan said divisions within the House Republican Caucus lends the minority a little extra power.

“We’re able to make a much bigger difference, quite frankly, than I anticipated,” he said.

Democratic Eighth District Congressman Rick Nolan visited the State Capitol this week. Nolan is pictured meeting voters during his campaign. (Photo by T.W. Budig)
Democratic Eighth District Congressman Rick Nolan visited the State Capitol this week. Nolan is pictured meeting voters during his campaign. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Nolan, outspoken in support of renewing the federal assault weapons ban, questions whether much gun legislation will come out of Washington.

“I don’t think it will be anything significant,” he said. “The push back has been pretty powerful.”

Asked whether district voters understand the mechanics and Washington-speak vocabulary of sequestration, Nolan said most are too busy leading their lives to scrutinize details in Washington. But that doesn’t mean they’re indifferent, he said.

“They care — they care deeply,” Nolan said. That is, they see the rich get richer and their wages stay static. “They get all of that — ‘Fix it,’” they say, Nolan said, smiling.

Nolan returned to Congress after service decades ago.

“Pretty much a whole new school,” Nolan said. Committees have been largely “abandoned,” he said. Debate has been muzzled by not accepting amendments on big bills.

“If you had an idea, you got your date in court, so to speak,” Nolan said of offering amendments back when he first served. “You don’t get it anymore.”

Nolan also noted the skyrocketing costs of political campaigns. His most expensive, back in the 1970s, cost a couple hundred thousand, he said. Last election, the campaign cost $20 million, Nolan said.

Longtime political consultant shows wit in committee

 Former Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner broke up the House Civil Law Committee on Tuesday, March 12, with laughter when called to testify on the marriage bill. Horner was the last person to testify before a committee recess.

“Fortunately, I’m accustomed to finishing last,” Horner said, referring to his third place finish in the 2010 gubernatorial race.

Rep. Jerry Newton pays a call to House Tax Committee

Rep. Jerry Newton used sharp language in describing his appearance before the House Tax Committee this week.

“I ran into a buzz saw,” Newton said, smiling.

Newton, DFL-Coon Rapids, brought a bill to committee expanding the sales tax definition of taxable food to include snacks such as potato chips, cheese puffs, pork rinds, ice cream novelties and other items. Currently, the sales tax is imposed on candy and soft drinks.

But Newton, a former grocer, spoke of the difficulties describing taxable items to cashiers when things like the presence of hydrogenated cotton seed oil or some other ingredient, better known to chemists, needs to be considered.

“I’m not afraid of bringing things forward,” Newton said after the hearing of pursuing the bill.

Newton’s sales tax proposal would capture about $14 million over two years. But Newton sat alone at the witness table without bill supporters, fully exposed to a committee known for aggressiveness.

Opponents were ready. The Snack Food Association, Minnesota Grocers Association and Minnesota Retailers Association spoke out or submitted written testimony against the legislation.

According to the Snack Food Association, no state singles out snack foods for taxation. But the industry was mild in comparison to some committee members.

“Would you Democrats go away?” Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said. Garofalo argued Democrats kept pushing the frontiers of taxation forward.

Even some Democrats — Rep. Tom Anzelc of Balsam Township, for one — suggested Newton pick up his bill and leave. Other Democrats threw out lifelines.

Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, suggested Newton’s bill belonged in the health and human services bill.

“We do that a lot,” she said of using taxes to shape behavior. She spoke of the soaring diabetes rates among Americans.

But some committee members were adamant.

“I will never vote to have my pork rinds taxed,” Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, quipped. Davids, as well as a revenue department official, argued changing the snack food definition would throw the state out of compliance with the streamlined sales tax initiative. That would cause a loss, not gain, of revenue, they explained.

Minnesota is one of 44 states in the streamlined sales tax system, a cooperative effort attempting to simplify sales and use tax collection and administration by retailers and states.

But one reason he pursued his snack food sales tax, Newton said, was to force better definitions within the streamlined initiative. There wasn’t a person in the room who could even name a single person on the streamlined sales tax governing board, he said.

“The system is not very effective,” Newton said. He said he’s not optimistic about his bill.

Sen. Alice Johnson has bishop in family

Sen. Alice Johnson, DFL-Spring Lake Park, has a nephew who is a Catholic bishop.

Bishop Michael Jackels serves in the Catholic Diocese of Witchita. For a time, Jackels served at the Vatican.

Johnson, who has visited the Vatican herself, has a photo of her nephew posing with his then boss, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and the late Pope John Paul II. Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI, recently resigned.

“So we say the past, the present and the future,” Johnson said of the remarkable photo and family hopes for Bishop Jackels.

Brodkorb pleas guilty to DUI

On Wednesday, March 13, former Republican Senate communications director Michael Brodkorb plead guilty to 4th degree DUI relating to his Jan. 23 car accident.

Brodkorb, in a Facebook statement, said he screwed up.

“I accept complete responsibility for my behavior and I apologize to my family, friends and public. I have seen the pain and horrific tragedy of (how) drunk driving affects those close to me and I should have made different decisions. While the publicity involving my accident has been very difficult for my family, it will hopefully bring additional public awareness to the serious dangers of driving while intoxicated and the importance of wearing your seatbelt,” he said.