News Day: Franken, Coleman, Pawlenty and the Supremes / Unlicensed in St. Paul / Mortgage relief – finally / more

<a href="http://us.fotolia.com/id/11477219" title="" alt="">©Ramin Khojasteh</a> - Fotolia.com

©Ramin Khojasteh - Fotolia.com

Franken, Coleman, Pawlenty and the Supremes Is the seemingly never-ending Senate race heating up again? For two weeks, informed sources and rumors have predicted a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling on specific days, and no ruling has come. The court usually rules on Thursdays, and this Thursday falls just short of the eight month anniversary of the election. Maybe it’s time … and maybe T-Paw’s latest statements mean he would actually sign an election certificate and give Minnesota a second senator. Or not. Here’s what he told CNN interviewer John King over the weekend:

King: Will you certify the election based on your state Supreme Court’s ruling? Is that it for you?

Pawlenty: I’m going to follow the direction of the court, John. We expect that ruling any day now. I also expect them to give guidance and direction as to the certificate of election. I’m prepared to sign it as soon as they give the green light.

King: If Norm Coleman loses at the state supreme court and says he’s going to appeal to the US Supreme Court, will you give him that time, or will you say, sorry, Sen. Coleman, our state supreme court–our highest court in this state–has spoken, and I will follow their lead?

Pawlenty: Well, a federal court could stay or put a limit on or stop the effect of the state court ruling if they chose. If they do that, I would certainly follow their direction. But if that doesn’t happen promptly, or it drags out for any period of time, then we need to move ahead with signing the certificate if I’m ordered to do that by the state court.

King: And if you’re ordered to do that and they say Al Franken has narrowly won the election, you’re prepared to sign it?

Pawlenty: I’m not going to defy an order of the Minnesota Supreme Court. That would be a dereliction of my duty. But a federal court could weigh in and say don’t do that, and order a different result.

Is that an unambiguous commitment? Or will T-Paw back away if Norm Coleman files an immediate appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, or a suit in federal district court? Coleman has previously declined to say what he will do if the MN Supreme Court rules against him. Politics In Minnesota notes that there has been no definitive statement from the Coleman camp, and that speculation about Coleman’s willingness to accept a MN Supreme Court decision rather than going to the U.S. Supreme Court has garnered a “lone on-the-record comment from the Coleman camp, courtesy of spokesman Tom Erickson: ‘While that possibility may be on top of Harry Reid’s wish list, no decisions have been made.’”

Unlicensed in St. Paul — and the school board doesn’t care As I first reported in the TC Daily Planet, the St. Paul Public Schools appointed an unlicensed acting superintendent, asked for a variance from the state licensing board, and then ignored the board’s decision that Suzanne Kelly would not be given even temporary permission to serve as interim superintendent. As of July 1, St. Paul has no licensed superintendent, and the Board of Education doesn’t care, reports the Strib. After the June report on the Minnesota Board of School Administrators’ April ruling, SPPS did get around to filing an appeal, which will be heard by MBSA on August 20. At least until then, Kelly will sign no contracts and conduct no personnel reviews, according to the Strib, which quotes school board chair Kazoua Kong-Thao as saying that the district has compiled a list of duties Kelly can and cannot perform because she lacks the appropriate license.

The district’s search for a new superintendent is moving ahead slowly. After current superintendent Meria Carstarphen’s February announcement that she would leave on June 30, the board took three and one-half months to get together an RFP for a search firm to aid in the process – and then asked for proposals to be submitted in a short two-week time frame that ends today. Will they announce how many proposals they have received? How long will it take to decide on the winning bid? And how long will the consultant take to actually get a search going? Stay tuned.

Mortgage relief – finally? The Obama administration launches a new initiative this week, reports MPR:

The Making Home Affordable program aims to help an estimated 9 million people avoid foreclosure with refinancing, loan modifications and other assistance. A centerpiece of the $50 billion plan is that people no longer have to be delinquent on their loans to apply.

With 5,200 foreclosures in Minnesota from January-April of this year, there’s no doubt of the need for help. That number would be even larger, but for a voluntary moratorium by some lenders that ended in March. And, according to many experts, a new wave of foreclosures is crashing down on us. According to MSN Money:

Mainstream homeowners — those previously “safe” borrowers with sound credit who have conservative, fixed-rate mortgages — are getting into trouble at an alarming rate.

In the first quarter, the percentage of these borrowers who were behind on their mortgages or in foreclosure had doubled from a year earlier, to nearly 6%. For the first time in the housing crisis, these homeowners accounted for the largest share of new foreclosures.

These homeowners may be the prime beneficiaries of the Making Home Affordable program, but the track record for mortgage relief programs is not good. Long delays and mountains of paperwork have delayed mortgage relief – and with foreclosures proceeding, relief delayed is relief denied.

Back to MPR:

University of Minnesota law professor Prentiss Cox says the Obama administration should stop lenders from foreclosing on homeowners until they can be evaluated for help.

“Here is what needs to happen,” he says, “we need to stop talking about this and we need the government to come in with a clear set of mandates, clearly enforced with transparent rules. If we have that, we are going to have real loan modifications happen in a systemic way.”

Civil rights in Minneapolis Passions run high over Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak’s proposal to abolish the investigation unit of the city’s civil rights department as part of city budget cutting. Two articles in the TC Daily Planet look at responses.

Grassroots responses came from a rainbow group including African Americans, new immigrants, and GLBT activists who gathered at the Brian Coyle Center for an ice cream social and organizing against the impending cuts. City spokespersons, council members and the heads of the Minneapolis Civil Rights Commission and Civil Rights Department gave conflicting analyses. The bottom line, as expressed by councilmember Robert Lilligren:

“By almost any indicator, in terms of income, education, healthcare, and home ownership, in Minneapolis, the gap between communities of color and white communities is greater than almost every city in the country. After such a robust civil rights movement in this city, that gap is still persistent, and it grows. I can only imagine that this gap exists because of discrimination.”

Councilmember Elizabeth Glidden heads a committee that is due to report on the proposed cuts tomorrow.

MN Job Watch Minnesota-based 3M eliminated more than 1,000 jobs worldwide in the second quarter of 2009, reports the Strib, in addition to 700 U.S. employees who took early retirement. About 1,200 jobs were cut in the first quarter. Now 3M is planning to eliminate 100 information technology jobs, most of which will come from the Minnesota.

World/National Headlines

Honduras update Ousted President Manuel Zelaya says he will return to Honduras by the end of the week, according to BBC. Protesters clashed with police and military supporting the coup in Tegucigalpa. Zelaya said he would be accompanied on his return by the head of the OAS. On Democracy Now, U.S. political scientist Greg Grandin points out:

Latin America came out very strongly against this coup, all of the leaders. I mean, you hear in the mainstream media Chavez and Fidel Castro condemning it, but what you don’t hear is that Lula in Brazil, Bachelet in Chile, every—almost every Latin American leader and government condemn this coup in an uncertain terms. And the United States is playing catch-up aligning itself.

Because the Honduran miliary, economy and government has been dominated by U.S. interests for decades, activists inside Honduras are demanding that the U.S. get on board with stronger statements and support for the democratically-elected president.

Argentina Sunday’s election dealt a stunning defeat to the Peronist party of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her husband, former president Nestor Kirchner. Nestor Kirchner lost his own bid for a Congressional seat, and the Peronist party lost its majority in both houses of Congress. BBC reports:

The row over taxation that pitted the Kirchners against the country’s powerful farmers played an important role in their defeat, says Dante Sica….

Farm leaders have increased their presence in Congress with this election, and are likely to push again for tax cuts on grain exports and less state intervention in the economy, as well as new policies for beef and milk production.

But the new Congress will not begin work until December, giving President Fernandez five months with a majority in both houses.

Nestor Kirshner resigned his position as head of the Peronist party.

War Reports

Iraq As U.S. troops pulled out of Iraqi cities, Iraqis gathered to celebrate, ignoring government warnings against assembling in large groups. Fireworks filled the night sky over Baghdad, according to AP. The country declared June 30 a national holiday – National Sovereignty Day. BBC reports:

US-led combat operations are due to end by September 2010, with all troops gone from Iraq by the end of 2011. …

Some 131,000 US troops remain in Iraq, including 12 combat brigades, and the total is not expected to drop below 128,000 until after the Iraqi national election next January.

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