Health care ‘blowing up’ in Minnesota campaigns

Published 10:10 am Monday, October 24, 2016

By Rachel E. Stassen-Berger

St. Paul Pioneer Press

Health care is dominating political campaigns in Minnesota as the election draws nearer.

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Lawmakers in both parties say they’re hearing from lots of voters about health care costs and access as they knock on doors around the state.

“We were hearing from too many Minnesotans that this is just too big a burden for them,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, while his Republican counterpart Sen. David Hann of Eden Prairie said the issue of health care is “blowing up all over the state.”

That means lawmakers are scrambling to convince voters that they’re taking the problem seriously — and that the other side isn’t.

Lawmakers are calling for a special session of the Legislature to tackle health care costs as soon as possible. Republicans called for such a session earlier in October, and Senate Democrats joined them this week. Democratic-Farmer-Labor Gov. Mark Dayton said Friday that he wants lawmakers to agree on a plan by Nov. 1.

Legislators and the governor have called for special sessions often in the past few years but actually agreed on them rarely, and only after lengthy disputes.

With the election, when all Minnesota House and Senate seats are on the ballot, just two weeks away, the chances of a speedy accord seem slim.

As the legislative stalemate continues, Republicans are hammering Democrats over the issue of health care. GOP mailers and TV ads are citing Dayton’s comment that “the Affordable Care Act is no longer affordable for an increasing number of people” in the hopes that their critiques of the Affordable Care Act will carry more weight coming from the DFL governor’s mouth. Dayton said Friday that he regrets that use of his comment but stood by his statement.

All this is concerning a relatively small portion of Minnesota’s population. About 250,000 people currently buy health insurance on the state’s individual market, which has seen skyrocketing premiums, enrollment caps and narrow networks.

That’s about 5 percent of Minnesotans. Most of the rest get insurance from an employer or from a government program, neither of which has seen the same level of chaos as the individual market.


In the last weeks before Election Day, lots of folks are releasing Minnesota congressional polls.

In the south suburban 2nd District, an independent media poll (from KSTP/SurveyUSA) found Democrat Angie Craig at 46 percent and Republican Jason Lewis at 41 percent. An internal poll for the National Republican Congressional Committee found Lewis was up by a few points, and an internal poll for Craig found she was up by a few points. Both of those were released to the media last week.

In western Hennepin County’s 3rd District, a KSTP/Survey USA poll found Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen at 49 percent and Democratic challenger Terri Bonoff at 38 percent. A poll for the House Majority PAC, which supports Democrats, found a closer race, with Paulsen at 45 percent and Bonoff at 42 percent.

So in both those races, you could pick your poll and show different results. But the thing the polls have in common? Voters say they will split their tickets to the extreme.

In the polls where the data was released, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has large leads in both of the Twin Cities-hugging districts. In the 3rd District, House Majority’s poll found Clinton had a massive 19 percentage point lead over Republican nominee Donald Trump; the SurveyUSA poll showed Clinton with a 13 percentage point lead over Trump. But Republican Paulsen is ahead (by a little or a lot) in both internal and media polls.

The story is similar in the House Majority’s 8th District poll. Both parties are spending heavily to win that northern Minnesota district — more than $8.5 million in outside money has been dumped there, largely from the Washington, D.C., area. Both sides think it’s close. But in the House Majority PAC’s poll of that district, Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan had 49 percent and Republican Stewart Mills had 41 percent. The presidential race? Trump was up 39 percent to Clinton’s 38 percent.

It’s splitsville out there.


To hear congressional candidates Craig and Lewis talk, the 2nd District race contains a corrupt political insider and a virtuous political outsider. They just disagree about which of them is which.

At Thursday’s debate on Minnesota Public Radio, each one played up their private-sector bona fides and said the other was a part of the political system. Neither has ever held elective office.

Lewis focused on Craig’s role helping run the political action committee at St. Jude Medical, the medical device company where she is an executive:

“You lobbied for Obamacare, which gave us the medical device tax, then you lobbied to exempt your industry from the tax,” Lewis said. “That’s exactly what’s got people frustrated: this politically connected insider group.”

Craig said she supported the Affordable Care Act but not the tax on medical devices it includes, and tied herself to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who similarly supported the overall bill and also repealing the tax. Later, she said Lewis’ years talking politics as a talk-radio host meant he was the one knee-deep in politics, not her:

“I have spent 22 years in the private sector creating jobs, growing businesses,” Craig said. “But you spent 25 years on the radio, conservative talk radio, promoting partisan politics. … The dialogue you led helped lead to the rise of the tea party.”

Lewis shot back by accusing Craig of demeaning middle-class jobs by highlighting her work as a corporate executive.

Odds and (election) ends

The Minnesota Republican Party will charge the faithful a $5 cover charge to attend its Election Night party in Bloomington. Most Election Night parties are free for attendees. The DFL Party’s Minneapolis event on Nov. 8 will have a cash bar but entry will be free.

Senate Majority Leader Bakk will be holding an Election Night party at a union hall in St. Paul, away from the main DFL shindig. A Bakk staffer said that the senator wanted a more intimate party closer to the Capitol and that Bakk would likely head toward the Minneapolis party at the end of the night.

—Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.