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Published October 27, 2008, 12:00 AM

AGs uniting to block merger

Attorneys general of 13 states and the federal government are suing to block a merger to form the country’s biggest beef processor.

By: Janell Cole and Don Davis, None

Attorneys general of 13 states and the federal government are suing to block a merger to form the country’s biggest beef processor.

At issue is the acquisition of National Beef Packing Co. by what already is the world’s largest beef processor, JBS Beef of Brazil.

“Preserving competition among beef processors is important for both consumers and farmers,” said Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson. “Consolidation in the agricultural markets often comes at the expense of consumers and smaller farming operations, and the merger ought to be stopped.”

JBS already is taking over Smithfield Beef, which would make it the second-largest American beef packer. If the courts allow it to buy National Beef, JBS would process about one-third of U.S. fed cattle, Swanson’s office reported.

The lawsuit alleges that the acquisition of National Beef by JBS would violate a federal antitrust law. The attorneys general say if the merger is approved, JBS, Tyson and Cargill would control more than 80 percent of the country’s beef-processing capacity.

Besides federal and Minnesota officials, joining the lawsuit are attorneys general from Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming.

Where to vote

A new feature on the North Dakota secretary of state’s Web site, www.nd.gov/sos, allows voters to click on a “Where Do I Vote?” flag button logo that offers a way to find their polling places. It also shows them a sample ballot exactly as it will look for their precincts.

When using the tool, the Web page asks for the voters’ house number (no street) and ZIP code, which then takes them to a list where they’ll find their exact address.

There’s a form at the site to apply for an absentee ballot, which can be filled out online, then printed and mailed to – or dropped off at – county auditors’ offices.

Voters can also find names and locations of county auditors, find out different ways they can vote and a spreadsheet showing every polling location in the state.

New rail?

Minnesota officials have met with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley to discuss proposed high-speed rail service between St. Paul and Chicago.

If it comes around, along with several rail lines proposed from the Twin Cities to Minnesota communities as far away as Duluth, it would establish a rail network providing a new form of transportation from rural areas to Chicago.

The proposed Chicago rail line would go through Madison, Wis., and Milwaukee.

Meeting with Daley were U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. Oberstar is chairman of the House Transportation Committee, which is drawing up a new transportation funding bill.

“Rail was instrumental in building St. Paul and the Upper Midwest, and, as we look to create a robust, multi-modal transportation plan for the nation, high-speed rail will play a significant role in our future,” Coleman said. “An investment in this kind of infrastructure is good for the economy, good for the environment and essential for future of our region.”

Hoeven gets a ‘C’

The libertarian Cato Institute gives North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven a “C” grade in its latest Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty received a “B.”

Charlie Crist of Florida, Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Joe Manchin of West Virginia earned an “A.” Eight governors got an “F”: Martin O’Malley of Maryland, Ted Kulongoski of Oregon, Rod Blagojevich of Illinois, Chet Culver of Iowa, Jon Corzine of New Jersey, Bob Riley of Alabama, Jodi Rell of Connecticut and C. L. “Butch” Otter of Idaho. See the report at www.cato.org.

Absentee voting

As of Thursday, more than half of the absentee ballots mailed to voters in North Dakota had already been filled in and returned, said Secretary of State Al Jaeger. That was true for both the 21 vote-by-mail counties and the 32 other counties that will have regular Election Day voting.

Counting absentee ballots returned and voters using some counties’ early voting precincts, more than 36,600 North Dakotans already voted.

Voters can use absentee ballots or an early voting precinct until Nov. 3.

Secretary Pawlenty?

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that if John McCain becomes president, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty could be his education secretary.

Since McCain passed over the governor as his running mate in favor of Sarah Palin, there has been talk that Pawlenty could be in line for a Cabinet position.

Election observers

Election observers from Russia and France are in North Dakota.

They are from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

They visited Secretary of State Al Jaeger on Tuesday and went to Dickinson on Wednesday to see early voting in Stark County.

State E-85 use up

Minnesota state workers continue to use more E-85 fuel.

The corn-based fuel, made from 85 percent ethanol, was used 55 percent more in the first three quarters of this year than the same period of 2007, the American Lung Association reports.

That means in 2008’s first nine months state government’s 1,700 vehicles that can use E-85 burned 529,000 gallons.

Endorsements

Republican Pubic Service Commission candidate Brian Kalk got an endorsement from the United Steelworkers Local 566 (Bobcat employees). Steelworkers also endorsed Democratic-NPL candidate Cheryl Bergian.

The North Dakota Education Association and three smaller education groups endorsed Measure 3, the ballot initiative to set up a tobacco prevention and control program.

Not that pricey

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar had to set the record straight right away.

Pointing to her pink-and-black outfit, the Minnesota Democrat wanted her audience to know that her spending on clothes is not like the $150,000 Republicans spent on vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

“It was $150, the whole outfit,” she said of the pants suit.

Look it up

CQ Politics, the Congressional Quarterly’s online publication, has a Web page with a side-by-side look at Barack Obama’s and John McCain’s stands on issues: what they propose to do as president, how they’ve voted in the Senate, and what they’ve said on issues. It’s at http://innovation.cq.com/notes_votes_quotes.

Another voter guide

The North Dakota Women’s Network, with support from the League of Women Voters, has released a voters guide. See it at www.ndwomen.org.

Davis and Cole work for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. Davis can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com. Cole can be reached at (701) 224-0830 or forumcap@btinet.net

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