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Political Notebook: 1st District race gets more crowded

It appears a third Democrat will soon be jumping into the 1st Congressional District race. Byron High School teacher John Austinson has scheduled a campaign kick off event at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Silver Lake Park in Rochester.

It appears a third Democrat will soon be jumping into the 1st Congressional District race.

Byron High School teacher John Austinson has scheduled a campaign kick off event at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Silver Lake Park in Rochester. He is advertising the event on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #PackthePark.

Austinson, of Eyota, first entered politics last year when he ran for the House District 26B seat against Republican Rep. Nels Pierson. He lost to the GOP incumbent by a vote of 59 percent to 40 percent.

If Austinson follows through and makes it official on Wednesday, he will be the third Democrat to make a bid for the seat. 1st District DFL Rep. Tim Walz announced in March he would not seek re-election to the seat. Instead, the Mankato Democrat is running for governor in 2018.

Democrats who have announced they are running so far are former state Sen. Vicki Jensen, of Owatonna, and electronic pull-tabs salesman Colin Minehart of Albert Lea. Two others have said they are mulling a bid — former assistant secretary of defense Dan Feehan and Center for Energy and Environment strategic relations manager Joe Sullivan, both of Mankato.

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On the Republican side, there is still officially only one candidate. Blue Earth Republican Jim Hagedorn is running for the seat after narrowly losing to Walz in November. However, several other Republicans are considering getting into the race. They include Republican Party of Olmsted County Chairman Aaron Miller, of Byron; Sen. Carla Nelson, of Rochester; Pierson, of Rochester; and state Rep. Joe Schomacker, of Luverne. Also running is independent candidate Johnny Akzam, of Rochester.

Setting standards for police conduct

Rochester gubernatorial candidate and state Rep.Tina Liebling is calling for changes to state law in the wake of a jury's decision to acquit officer Jeronimo Yanez of all charges related to the shooting death of Philando Castile.

Liebling said she wants to see state law changed to help make these tragic events less likely. One way to do that is to spell out in law what the expectations are for officers in potentially dangerous situations.

"We're putting our police officers in the way of harm, and we're putting people who come into contact with officers in harm's way as well because there is an expectation of police officers that they should charge right into a situation that may be unsafe," Liebling said.

Instead, Liebling said the law should require police officers to try to avoid these situations in the first place. Ideas could include requiring officers to wait for backup before approaching a vehicle in certain instances or setting up a perimeter and waiting out a suspect. Liebling said she plans to work with law enforcement officers, activists and others to put together a proposal.

Huffman pays Rochester a visit

GOP gubernatorial candidate Blake Huffman visited Rochester last week and met with local Republican activists. In an interview at Cafe Steam, the Ramsey County commissioner said he had no idea Rochester had grown so large. He said he is extremely supportive of the $5.5 billion Destination Medical Center initiative.

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"DMC is a good thing for Minnesota," Huffman said.

He said it is important leaders consider ways to better connect Rochester to the Twin Cities — whether that means building a commuter rail line or supporting a dedicated bus line.

"I'm not afraid of exploring how we further connect the Twin Cities to Rochester," he said.

Huffman is one of several people running for governor. Republicans who are running include state Rep. Matt Dean and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson. Democrats seeking the top job are St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, state Rep. Erin Murphy, State Auditor Rebecca Otto, state Rep. Paul Thissen, Liebling and Walz.

Mayo mum on Senate health care bill

Mayo Clinic isn't commenting on the health care bill unveiled last week by Senate Republicans.

Mayo spokesman Karl Oestreich said in a statement, "Mayo Clinic is not providing any perspective or comment" on the bill.

The health care bill is Republicans' proposal to replace the Affordable Care Act. It is similar to one passed by House Republicans last month. It scraps the individual mandate, which requires people to buy insurance. It also gets rid of a requirement that larger companies offer insurance to its employees. The proposal would cut state funding for the expansion of Medicaid — a key part of the ACA.

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Mayo Clinic President and CEO Dr. John Noseworthy has had the chance to meet with President Trump. In December, Noseworthy joined other health care leaders who met with the then-president elect to talk about options for reforming the Veterans Administration system. Oestreich said that Noseworthy also talked about the impact federal regulations have on the cost of health care reform and urged changes to ease the burden. Oestreich said Mayo has not been consulted on the Senate health care bill.

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Tina Liebling

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