Daily Digest: 2016 campaign was brutal and expensive

Good morning and welcome to Thursday. I suspect we will have six more weeks of winter no matter what the groundhog sees today, but that's the price we pay for living in Minnesota. On to the Digest:

1. At least three races for seats in the Minnesota Legislature cost more than $1 million in 2016, a year that saw spending by parties and outside groups swamp the amount candidates themselves spent. Preliminary figures show that so-called independent expenditures, which candidates can't have any say in, reached nearly $21 million. It puts a punctuation mark on what was an expensive and brutal fight for control of the Legislature, which Republicans gained in full in November by expanding their House majority and flipping Senate power. (MPR News)

2. Minnesota has joined the lawsuit against President Trump's order on refugees and immigrants. “It does not pass constitutional muster, is inconsistent with our history as a nation, and undermines our national security,” DFL Attorney General Lori Swanson said late Wednesday night. “America can keep its people safe without sacrificing bedrock constitutional principles.” The suit says that the executive order harms Minnesota’s colleges and universities, businesses, travelers and residents. (Pioneer Press)

3. Republicans have introduced a half-dozen bills that would change the power and makeup of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, a five-member group appointed by the governor that has the power to regulate the state’s electricity, gas and telecommunication companies. The proposals range from changing the commission’s abilities to oversee and review new power plants and pipeline projects to where its members come from in the state. (MinnPost)

4. The U.S. Senate approved Rex Tillerson to be President Trump's secretary of state. The vote was 56-43. Four senators who caucus with the Democrats crossed the aisle and joined all of the Republicans in voting for Tillerson. They were Democrats Mark Warner of Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, as well as independent Angus King of Maine. Tillerson is the former head of Exxon Mobil, the world's largest and most powerful oil company. Now he will guide American foreign policy and have the job of enacting Trump's world view. (NPR)

5. Senate Republicans pushed two of President Trump’s Cabinet nominees through a committee on Wednesday, after Democrats tried to slow walk votes the day before.  Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, took the unusual step of suspending his committee’s rules to advance Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary and Rep. Tom Price as secretary of health and human services. Their nominations now head to the Senate floor for a vote, though it’s unclear when that will occur. (Washington Post)

6.  Meanwhile the Judiciary Committee sent Sen. Jeff Session's nomination to be attorney general to the floor, with all Democrats on the committee voting no. Before the vote Minnesota Democrat Al Franken got into an argument with Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas over previous committee testimony and who was saying bad things about whom. (AP via MPR News)

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