Conservative group gives Bemidji area legislators failing grade

Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group, gave a failing grade to each of the four Bemidji area legislators for their performance last session.

And they “failed” with flying colors.

Each legislator–Sens. Rod Skoe and Tom Saxhaug, Reps. John Persell and Roger Erickson– received a score of 0 percent in the report released Friday. None. Nada. Zip.

That score is based off of 12 votes taking during the last legislative session. If a legislator voted against a bill AFP was in favor of, that’s a red “X” on the scorecard. Those 12 bills included a minimum wage increase (AFP opposed), an $800 million bonding bill (AFP opposed), child care provider unionization (AFP opposed), and Sunday liquor sales (AFP supported).

And in each case, Bemidji area legislators voted against AFP’s position.

The scores aren’t a huge surprise given the conservative nature of the group–it was founded by the billionaire Koch Brothers — and the fact that all four local legislators are DFLers.

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Minnesota lawmakers weigh in on Zorbaz proposal on Twitter

Bemidji city councilors rejected an offer from Zorbaz founder Tom Hanson to buy south shore land Monday night.

Mayor Rita Albrecht said the $350,000 wasn’t as much as they are hoping to get for the land on the shore of Lake Bemidji just west of the Sanford Center.

Bemidji native and state Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, welcomed the news on Twitter Tuesday.

Assistant majority leader Carly Melin was baffled by the offer.


Winkler commends Albrecht for the 6-1 vote against the proposal.

DFL Rep. Joe Radinovich jumps in with a counterpoint.

And so on. Read the rest of the conversation here:

Any thoughts about the council’s decision? Leave a comment.

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Bemidji’s park plans

The state Legislature approved giving the city of Bemidji $750,000 for redeveloping Paul Bunyan Park. While city leaders will now have to decide how to spend that money, here are renderings of their original plans for the area.

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A compromise in hospitality tax debate?

Now that the Bemidji hospitality tax has cleared the state House floor, it’s almost certain to be brought up in conference committee negotiations between lawmakers from both chambers.

And while the Senate bill didn’t include the tax on hotel and restaurant purchases in its omnibus tax bill released Tuesday, there could be room for compromise on the bill.

One of the main reasons for that exclusion, according to Taxes Committee Chair Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, was the lack of active support from the local chamber of commerce. But he also said the bill would set precedent, because it uses taxes generated from lodging receipts for Sanford Center operations and not tourism marketing and promotion.

The city of Bemidji, like many other cities, has a 3 percent lodging tax that goes to the local tourism bureau to bring more people to the area. Other than a handful of cities that were grandfathered in when the law was passed, that’s the only thing the lodging tax revenues can fund, Skoe argues, and not event center operations.

That leaves the food and beverage tax portion of the bill. City manager John Chattin has said that 80 percent of the revenues from the hospitality tax would come from food and beverage sales

Mayor Rita Albrecht said yesterday she would personally still support the bill if the lodging tax was taken out, but Ward 4 Councilor Reed Olson, part-owner of the Wild Hare Bistro, has said he would not. It’s unclear where the rest of the council sits in that scenario.

In other words, stay tuned. Because the fate of the hospitality tax is far from certain this legislative session.




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State Capitol to add American Indian veterans memorial plaque

Among all the discussion at the Legislature about what will and won’t become law and whose taxes will or won’t go up, it’s worth noting that bills are actually being signed into law.

Today, Gov. Mark Dayton’s office announced that he had signed House file 143, a bill authorizing a memorial plaque for the Minnesota’s American Indian veterans to be placed in the state Capitol’s court of honor. The House bill is authored by Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, while the Senate’s bill is carried by Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook.

The House omnibus tax bill being debated today is 338 pages long. Compare that to the entire language of the bill described above:

 A memorial plaque may be placed in the court of honor on the Capitol grounds to recognize the valiant service of American Indian veterans from this state who have 
honorably and bravely served in the United States armed forces, during both peacetime 
and war. The plaque must be furnished by the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council and must 
be approved by the commissioner of veterans affairs and the Capitol Area Architectural 
and Planning Board.

Still, that bill had to go through several amendments and committees before it was finally presented to the governor Monday. (Here’s a glimpse of the bill’s history)

So while it may be easy to lament the bureaucratic nature of the state Legislature, it’s hard to find a negative aspect of today’s outcome.

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The time I ate Asian carp

You read that headline correctly.

I have tasted the meat of an Asian carp, the jumpy invasive fish making its way through Midwestern waters. (Verdict: Not bad, but watch out for tiny bones.) It’s the same fish that lawmakers want to prevent from reaching northern Minnesota. 

First, some context. The year was 2012 and I was an news intern at the Peoria Journal-Star of Illinois. The late-night shifts were just as oppressive as the sweltering summer weather. But occasionally I received intriguing assignments that made up for it, like interviewing professional wrestlers about their TV show.

The Illinois River, where Peoria is situated, is infested with the invasive species. Fishermen hated them and their tendency to fly out of the water, and lawmakers struggled to find a way to stop their spread. .

But one group of sword-swinging guys turned that misfortune into a business, founding the Peoria Carp Hunters. I was assigned to cover a story about a local bar that was hosting a TV crew from Animal Planet to talk about Asian carp.

The basis for the show was taking one professional wrestler, Eric Young, and showcasing “extreme fishing” tactics from around the globe.

After filming the scene in the bar, I followed the crew outside. A local there opened up a cooler full of the invasive fish. After reading news reports and secondhand accounts, it was my first time seeing one up close.

The first thing I noticed was how the fish seem to bleed from their gills once they’re out of the water for no good reason. It wasn’t an appetizing site.

Looking back, there were probably several health code violations that night. But I ate a piece anyway. (Don’t worry, it was thoroughly fried.)

And surprisingly, it wasn’t bad. But I don’t expect it to become a mainstay on local menus anytime soon.

And I think many people would share County Commissioner Joe Vene’s sentiment.

“The worst nightmare I could possibly have is if the flying carp somehow transmigrated up the Mississippi and now we had a new boating sport on Lake Bemidji where we’re knocking them out of our boats with baseball bats.”

Keep your carp, Peoria.


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Algoma Park plan approved

I’m a little late on this, but the concept plan for Algoma Park was approved by the Parks and Trails Commission.

The concept drawing appears below. (From the city newsletter):

The concept for the Park includes an improved play area, minor upgrades to the ballfield, landscaping, combining gravel parking lots, benches and receptacles. The plan is to complete the upgrades to the park this summer as funding is available.

This became a city park after the first round of annexation last year.


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Taprooms, explained

Much of the city council work session Monday night was used to explain the nature of taprooms during a discussion of a proposed ordinance allowing for such operations.

Councilor Nancy Erickson brought up a concern from a local restaurant owner who worried a taproom ordinance in Bemidji would mean breweries from elsewhere like Duluth could locate a taproom here and take away business.

That concern underscored some fundamental misunderstandings about what a taproom is.

Let’s start from the top.

Justin Kaney of Bemidji Brewing, which hopes to open a full-scale brewery in Bemidji in the future, was on hand Monday to sift through the details. (He’s also been a great resource for me in recent months.)

Essentially, a taproom is a place for visitors to sample a pint of the brewery’s beer, and is either attached or immediately adjacent to the brewery. That means it’s not by itself in a storefront; it has to be attached or near where the beer is made.

People would then be able to buy 64-ounce jugs of beer, or “growlers,” to bring home if the brewer had that license. Often, these jugs have an interesting design and some people even collect them, Kaney said.

The proposed ordinance would allow licensed brewers to apply for a license to sell the growlers as well as 750-milliliter bottles for consumption off-site.

Throughout the discussion Monday, it was emphasized that a taproom is not a bar, although the brewer can choose to only sell beer, and not food. That beer, however, must be produced at the facility. (Meaning no Miller Lites, Budweisers etc. at Bemidji Brewing’s taproom). Brewers must apply for a taproom license in order to operate one, as well.

Fulton Brewery in Minneapolis is one brewer that is often cited for its taproom experience. Check out a quick video on their website: (

Here’s a list of breweries in the state and whether they have taprooms:



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Good news for a Bemidji veterans home?

The Rochester Post-Bulletin reported Friday that a proposal to build a veterans home there hit a snag, which could be good news for plans for a similar facility in Bemidji.

A former Rochester nursing home is slated to be sold to a Christian addiction treatment facility, Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge.

The paper reports: 

(State Sen. Dave Senjem) introduced a bill seeking $4 million to buy the Samaritan Bethany facility and convert it into a veterans home. If the facility is sold, Senjem said that would likely put an end to the quest for a veterans home in the city.

“The major attraction of this was that the site is in place, it’s built, it’s relatively inexpensive, it can be put into service relatively quickly,” Senjem said. “I think it would be difficult to resurrect a veterans home, frankly, right out of the dirt at this point for a new facility.”

The Post-Bulletin notes, however, that the deal isn’t final and Senjem plans to keep working toward a veterans home.

The news could be good for Bemidji, where local leaders have long sought a state veterans home. State Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, introduced a bill this month to appropriate $250,000 for pre-design work of a veterans home here.

Last year, Sanford Health pledged to donate some land on its campus for the home.

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