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Politics on a stick
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Two visitors to the State Fair, Republican John Ivers of Coralville, Iowa (left) and Larry Rosenbower of Stillwater (right) began a heated debate over the war with Iraq. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
It wouldn't be the Minnesota State Fair if there weren't some politicking among the cheese curds and livestock exhibits. It's not an election year for state officials, but that hasn't stopped politicians from converging on the fair. Republicans have handed out "DFL lies on a stick", and Democrats are gathering signatures asking Gov. Pawlenty to release his tax returns.

St. Paul, Minn. — Politics at the fair began in earnest hours after the fair opened Thursday, when a handful of Republican volunteers staged an event in front of the state DFL Party booth. They handed out paper fans with a tap-dancing donkey on one side, and six "DFL lies" listed on the other.

Among the untruths on a stick, according to Republicans -- State Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, failed to disclose personal investments on campaign finance disclosure forms, after demanding full disclosure from Gov. Pawlenty. As a crowd gathered, Republican John Ivers of Coralville, Iowa and Larry Rosenbower of Stillwater began debating the war with Iraq.

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"People are dying -- They're dying for a good cause. Saddam Hussein was 20 years of a brutal dictatorship," the two shouted back and forth.

After about 10 minutes of sparring, Ivers and Rosenbower ended their impromptu debate, and the crowd dissipated. Rosenbower says he didn't come to the fair to talk politics, but the Republican gimmick irritated him.

"I guess it just set me off, because they were standing out here doing their propaganda in front of the DFL headquarters. And I just thought it was kind of a cheap shot," said Rosenbower.

Not to be outdone by a gimmick on a stick, DFL leaders have their own public relations effort. They're asking Minnesotans to send postcards and e-mails to Gov. Pawlenty asking him to release his tax records.

Party chair Mike Erlandson says Pawlenty has admitted accepting $60,000 from a political ally while running for governor. Pawlenty said he acted as a business consultant for a friend. Erlandson says Pawlenty should prove that he paid taxes on that money.

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"The governor, who has already admitted that he filed his papers wrong with the Ethical Practices Board to the tune of at least $60,000 -- we want him to disclose the income side of his tax statements to show Minnesotans that he has nothing to hide," said Erlandson.

Erlandson says DFL legal experts have also been looking into Minnesota's recall law. But he acknowledged that the law sets a high threshold for removing a state officeholder. It requires a determination by the state Supreme Court that there are sufficient grounds for a recall. Pawlenty says any talk of his recall by Erlandson is ridiculous.

"It's obvious under Minnesota's recall law that you can't get recalled unless there's malfeasance in office -- which doesn't apply -- or that you're convicted of a serious crime -- which doesn't apply. So I mean, he's just stirring the pot as a bloodsport," he said of Erlandson.

Pawlenty also says he won't release his tax returns because he doesn't want to "reward reckless behavior." He says he paid taxes on the consulting work he did for a telecommunications company, and disclosed the income for tax purposes. He initially included the income on his campaign finance disclosure form as investment income, and later revised the report to list it as earned income.

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Image Chatting with fairgoers

The issue of Pawlenty's consulting income never came up as he did his weekly radio show from the fair and mingled with fairgoers, including Rick Hocking of Blooming Prairie.

"The other morning you had said that people were going to express their concerns to you if you wanted to hear them. What kind of concerns are you hearing?" asked Hocking.

"Nothing," Pawlenty replied. "All I hear is a few of the state workers are concerned about their contract settlement. But I've been out here for two days and people are generally happy."

Several people thanked Pawlenty for not raising state taxes to balance the budget. One woman took Pawlenty to task for signing a concealed-carry handgun bill into law within hours of its passage by the Legislature.

The woman, who would only identify herself as Janet of Victoria, says aside from the gun issue, she generally supports Pawlenty. The governor plans to return to the fair several days next week.

Other politicians making state fair appearances include U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton and Attorney General Mike Hatch, who, along with Pawlenty, won't be up for re-election for another three years.

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