year end stories Top state stories of 2005
School shooting, budget impasse, Northwest bankruptcy made news
By Steve Karnowski
MINNEAPOLIS -- Ten people died when a teenager went on a killing spree on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. State government partially shut down after lawmakers failed to agree on key legislation. And Northwest Airlines went bankrupt.
Those were among the top stories making news in Minnesota in 2005.
A northern Minnesota reservation's relative isolation from the rest of the world came to an abrupt end on March 21, when 16-year-old Jeff Weise killed his grandfather and the man's girlfriend, then went to Red Lake High School and killed seven people and himself in the worst school shooting since Columbine in 1999.
A poor but proud community was shaken not just by the killings, but also by the unwelcome throng of journalists that descended on the reservation, which had been largely closed to outsiders.
And it got worse. A week after the killings, authorities arrested Louis Jourdain, the 16-year-old son of Tribal Chairman Floyd Jourdain Jr. It eventually emerged that the boy had exchanged hundreds of e-mails and text messages with Weise.
In November, Louis Jourdain admitted in federal juvenile court to making threatening interstate communications, and two more serious charges against him were dropped.
Other major events making news in Minnesota in 2005 included:
A Cold Spring youth was convicted in July of killing two classmates at Rocori High School in 2003. A judge rejected John Jason McLaughlin's insanity defense and sentenced him in August to life in prison for killing Aaron Rollins, 17, and Seth Bartell, 14. McLaughlin, who was 15 at the time of the shootings, won't be eligible for release until he is 53.
Eighteen more Minnesota servicemen were killed in Iraq, increasing the state's death toll in connection with the war to 31. Three of them were killed in February by the same roadside bomb in Baghdad, marking the bloodiest day for Minnesota soldiers since the Vietnam War. They were: 1st Lt. Jason Timmerman, 24, of Tracy; Staff Sgt. David Day, 25, of St. Louis Park; and Sgt. Jesse Lhotka, 24, of Alexandria.
Across Minnesota, record corn and soybean harvests piled up outside grain elevators that were full mostly due to Hurricane Katrina, which snarled barge traffic on the Mississippi River all the way up to Minnesota.
An outbreak of polio struck the Amish community near Clarissa in central Minnesota, and state officials confirmed five infections among children. None developed paralytic polio or other symptoms, but it was the first known appearance by the disease in the United States since 2000 and the first in Minnesota since 1992.
POLITICS: Gridlock causes shutdown
In politics, the partisan gridlock at the state Capitol forced an unprecedented partial shutdown of state government for eight days in July.
Agencies and services deemed nonessential were closed for more than a week, highway rest stops were barricaded, and nearly 9,000 state workers got vacations they didn't ask for. Those without vacation benefits were left uncompensated in 2005.
The dispute pitted the DFL-controlled Senate against Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the GOP-controlled House. They were unable to agree on key portions of the state's two-year budget before the July 1 deadline.
In the end, Pawlenty, who had campaigned on a no-new-taxes pledge, proposed a 75-cents-per-pack "fee" on cigarettes -- he resisted calling it a tax -- to close the gap between revenue and expenditures.
After a nearly two-month special session, which followed the five-month regular session, legislators approved a $30.5 billion budget that provided new cash for schools and maintained the state's MinnesotaCare health insurance system. But, perhaps partly due to the rancor at the Capitol, proposals to hold another special session to wrap up unfinished business such as new stadiums for the Gophers and Twins never got off the ground.
Elsewhere on the political front:
Sen. Mark Dayton set off a scramble in February when he decided to not seek a second term. The Democrat cited his distaste for fundraising, his low poll numbers and his expectation of a vicious campaign. Several Democrats jumped into the race for his open seat, including Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, children's advocate Patty Wetterling and veterinarian Ford Bell. Republicans quickly came together behind U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy.
Kennedy's decision to run for Senate set a scrum to fill his House seat. While former transportation commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg appears to have a lock on the Democratic nomination, there's no clear front-runner in a GOP field that includes state Sen. Michele Bachmann, businessman Jay Esmay, state Rep. Jim Knoblach and state Rep. Phil Krinkie.
Democratic St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly paid the ultimate political price for endorsing Republican President George W. Bush in 2004. Voters in heavily Democratic St. Paul ousted Kelly in November, replacing him with former city council member Chris Coleman by a 70 percent to 30 percent margin.
Former U.S. Sen. Eugene McCarthy died in December. His anti-war challenge to President Lyndon Johnson led the incumbent to drop out of the 1968 presidential campaign, and the persisting bitter divisions within the Democratic Party were seen as a major reason why fellow Minnesotan Hubert H. Humphrey -- Johnson's vice president -- lost the election to Republican Richard Nixon.
BUSINESS: Northwest bankruptcy
Northwest Airlines Corp. topped business pages in 2005.
The Eagan-based carrier's efforts to slash its labor costs came to a head in August when more than 4,000 mechanics, cleaners and custodians went on strike rather than accept deep layoffs and pay cuts, gambling that Northwest couldn't fly without them.
They lost. Northwest had 1,900 temporary replacement workers ready to step in. Despite a bumpy start marked by flight delays and cancellations, Northwest was able to maintain most of its regular flight schedule.
But withstanding the strike wasn't enough to keep Northwest out of bankruptcy court. Soaring jet fuel prices, high labor costs and looming pension obligations led the carrier to file for Chapter 11 reorganization in September.
Once in bankruptcy, Northwest continued reshaping itself as a smaller airline and pushed for even deeper labor cost savings. Its pilots and flight attendants agreed in November to interim pay cuts of up to 24 percent rather than risk a bankruptcy judge permanently terminating their contracts, and the judge effectively imposed interim pay cuts of 19 percent on ground workers.
The mechanics strike petered out as the weeks went on. Northwest eventually hired 880 permanent replacements including, it said, 280 former strikers and 200 laid-off union members.
In December, leaders of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association agreed to let their members vote on a deal that would officially end the walkout. The terms would give the strikers little except for four weeks of layoff pay, Northwest's agreement not to fight their claims for unemployment benefits, and a place in line for any new job openings behind the permanent replacements. The outcome of the vote was to be announced Dec. 30.
In other Minnesota business news in 2005:
Maplewood-based 3M Corp. named George W. Buckley as its new chairman and CEO in December, luring him away from boatmaker Brunswick Corp. and ending the search for a permanent replacement for James McNerney, who left to become CEO of Boeing Co. in July.
A piece of Minnesota retailing history receded further into the past when Federated Department Stores Inc. said in September that it would drop the landmark Marshall Field's name next fall from 62 stores and call them Macy's. The stores will still be run from Minneapolis. A number of those stores were once Dayton's department stores -- a venerable name that dated back to 1903. Many shoppers never fully accepted it when Target Corp. decided in 2001 to rebrand the stores as Marshall Field's.