Daily Digest: Painter to run as a Democrat

Good morning, and happy Monday. Time to get back to work. Here's the Digest.

1. Painter poised to announce DFL run for Senate. Almost two months after saying he was considering a run for U.S. Senate in Minnesota, it appears former White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter has decided to enter the special election as a Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party candidate. Painter has a news conference scheduled for Monday at the Minnesota Capitol, but a Federal Election Commission filing from last week shows the self-described "centrist" has registered as a DFL candidate. The University of Minnesota law professor, who worked under Republican President George W. Bush, has become a go-to commentator for cable TV and a fierce critic of President Donald Trump. Painter, 56, of Mendota Heights, has said he's supported candidates from both parties in the past. His run as a Democrat would mean newly appointed Sen. Tina Smith would face a well-known challenger in an August primary ahead of the special election in November. (MPR News)

2. Refinery fire could have been much worse. As Superior, Wisconsin recovers from an explosion and fire at a refinery that led to an hours-long evacuation, questions are mounting over the refinery's use of hydrogen fluoride, a highly toxic chemical. The hazardous chemical could have posed devastating health impacts for the port community of 27,000 had its tank been breached. However, Superior Fire Chief Steve Panger said the tank with hydrogen fluoride had special water systems around it that were immediately activated when the explosion occurred. "Obviously, once we had a fire, we were concentrating on that area to make sure that didn't get compromised," Panger said. A 2011 report from the Center for Public Integrity said hydrogen fluoride is used by 50 out of 148 refineries nationwide. The chemical is highly toxic, according to Ron Koopman, a retired scientist with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. "It destroys tissue in horrible ways," he said. "If you get it on your skin, it works its way toward the bone destroying all of the tissue in between." (Wisconsin Public Radio via MPR News)

3. Gun rights supporters rally. Representatives from a coalition of gun rights organizations, along with the Republican Party of Minnesota, gathered Saturday afternoon at the Minnesota Capitol for a rally in support of the Second Amendment. The rally started at about noon, with the Minnesota State Patrol estimating the crowd at about 2,000 people just after 12:30 p.m. Organizers said the rally's purpose was to demonstrate strong public support for the Second Amendment, and stand against proposed gun control legislation in Minnesota and across the country. Republican State Rep. Marion O'Neill of Maple Lake told the crowd that some Democratic lawmakers want more than what they often call "common-sense" gun-control measures. "Taking guns away from law-abiding citizens is not the answer" to gun violence, she said. "We stand here today, united, law-abiding citizens to defend our Second Amendment rights. They will stop at nothing to take that away and that's why we are here today." (MPR News)

4. Biodiesel mandate steps up this week. Minnesota's biodiesel industry will get a boost Tuesday when a new state fuel mandate takes effect. Starting May 1, the fuel most used by truckers, No. 2 diesel, must contain at least 20 percent biodiesel — double the current requirement. Biodiesel is mostly made from soybeans, but can also be made from waste products such as used cooking oil. Many petroleum companies and truckers oppose the new mandate, saying it will increase their business costs. Minnesota Trucking Association President John Hausladen said his group opposes the mandate, in part because the fuel can gel in cold weather. "We've just had a lot of additional costs that we've had to put in place to make sure there aren't issues," Hausladen said. "Whether it's additional equipment, heating elements, things like that. So we're ready for the mandate but we just would prefer it not be there." But Bob Patton with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture said the biodiesel industry adds more than $1.5 billion a year to the state's bottom line, and helps boost soybean prices. (MPR News)

5. Independence Party candidate Sandman hopes to shake things up in 8th Congressional District. Ray "Skip" Sandman said he is always thinking of things in terms of generations—seven, in fact—as a result of his upbringing. A third-party candidate, Sandman is vocally critical of Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Crosby, who he said "lies" to his constituents regarding the issue of PolyMet mining. At different turns during an interview with Forum News Service, he gave harsh critiques of both the Republican and Democratic-Farm-Labor candidates—all of whom, he said, are largely controlled by the big money interest of corporations. "Money basically dictates who's going to win, because the amount of money a corporation can donate," Sandman said. "The corporations aren't dumb—they'll have a GOP candidate, they'll have a Democratic candidate, but they're feeding both ends. Either way they win." As such, Sandman noted, there's increasing dissatisfaction and distrust with the political process—sentiments that manifest themselves in a lack of voter engagement for each election cycle. Even with the best of intentions, Sandman said, many issues in District 8 are not being properly addressed because politicians gravitate toward short-term fixes and not long-term, sometimes preemptive solutions for coming generations. The abuse of local environmental resources stands front and center in this regard, Sandman said. (Forum News Service)

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