Hardball questioning marks Senate human services hearing

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter
Republican state senators bore in on Dayton administration officials on Tuesday, Nov. 15 concerning administration actions to secure federal grant money.
Senate Health and Human Services Chairman David Hann, R-Edina, made clear in recent days his unhappiness over a letter from Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton in which the governor depicts Hann as an unfeeling ideologue — someone willing to “severely harm” thousands of Minnesota children suffering from cancer.

Dayton Health Commissioner Edward Ehlinger testifying before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Nov. 15.

Hann maintains that visiting Dayton commissioners never indicated to him that delaying the grant process could result in harm to individuals.
He aggressively questioned Dayton Health Commissioner Edward Ehlinger about a meeting Ehlinger and Assistant Health Commissioner Craig Acomb had in his office concerning the federal grants.
Hann repeatedly asked Ehlinger whether he, Ehlinger, told him in that meeting a delay could cause severe harm to 5,000 Minnesota child cancer victims.
“Yes or no?” Hann asked.
Ehlinger indicated he did convey such a warning, though added that phrases like “severely harm” that the governor used in his letter were gubernatorial “judgments of magnitude.”
Acomb added that a full discussion of the grants did not take place, because Hann indicated that he had to leave the meeting.
“I don’t believe I was in a hurry to get out of that meeting,” Hann said.
Other Senate Republican members of the health and human services committee were aggressive in their questioning.
Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, questioned the Dayton officials regarding the federal time line for the grants that required the administration to use an urgency provision in state law to speed up its applications. “That was not a clear answer at all,” said Benson to one response.
Further, Benson questioned where the number 5,000 came from — the 5,000 child cancer victims. Is that an accurate figure, or put together for political purposes, Benson asked?
The reason for his calling a committee hearing, Hann explained, was because the federal grant money is borrowed money and future generations deserve to know why they were left with so much federal debt.
Speaking after the hearing, Hann said he found it “very troubling” that Dayton commissioners are apparently telling lawmakers one thing and the governor something else.
One Democratic committee member, Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, expressed a desire that the rhetoric would be toned down.
“I do hope we can get away from the high-profile, partisan nature of this,” he said.