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GOP legislators may show up at Capitol Thursday -- with or without budget agreement

Many Republican legislators appear ready to make the trip to St. Paul.
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Many Republican legislators appear ready to make the trip to St. Paul.

It's likely Republican legislators will move en masse to St. Paul Thursday. But whether this will be simply for a media show or to put together a budget deal in the hours before a government shutdown takes place is far from clear.

Look at the two scenarios:

• Republicans journey to St. Paul for show. This would mean that no budget deal has been reached between Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton. The Republicans would come to St. Paul, sit down at their desks in their respective chambers and tell the world, "We're ready to work, but the governor isn't."

Presumably, in this public relations gambit, legislative leaders would suggest to their caucuses that collecting per diems would be a very bad idea. Additionally, it's unlikely any DFLers would show up.

• Republicans would come to St. Paul Thursday for a special session called by the governor to settle this budget dispute, or at least pass some sort of emergency funding bill that would keep government operating.

Scenario One, at the moment, seems the more likely.

Conflicted Republicans
Background conversations with several members of the House and Senate Republican caucuses indicate two conflicting things: Republican legislators are getting skittish about a shutdown BUT they are not going to buck their leaders.

Those conversations reveal that most Republican legislators are being very careful in what they say publicly about the ongoing meetings between their legislative leadership team and the governor.

Even first-termer Sen. John Howe of Red Wing — who earlier this month made headlines by suggesting that the state could solve its budget issues by reforming its tax structure — repeatedly said this morning that he's not questioning his leaders.

Sen. John Howe
Sen. John Howe

"I don't want to talk about any sort of reforms until we get this budget bill done," said Howe, the former mayor of Red Wing.

But Howe also said he's had personal phone conversations in recent days with the governor regarding some of his ideas that would involve expanding the state's sales tax while either reducing or reforming the state's income tax system.

Those ideas, though, can't be implemented this close to a shutdown, he said. The governor, he indicated, seems to agree with him.

What will happen Thursday, the last day before a shutdown would hit?

Clearing their schedules
Many Republican legislators appear ready to make the trip to St. Paul.

Rep. Dean Urdahl of Grove City said he has canceled a New Ulm book-signing he had scheduled. (Urdahl, a retired teacher, is a prolific writer. His newest book, "Pursuit," is historically based fiction on the war between the Dakota and Minnesota's white settlers.)

Urdahl said he cleared his schedule believing that there's a chance that he will be called to St. Paul.

Rep. Dean Urdahl
Rep. Dean Urdahl

Just whether that call would be for show or for actual work is not clear.

"We're so close in so many areas [to agreement]," said Howe.

Urdahl seems to agree, especially in the area of his greatest interest, the legislation regarding $450 million in Legacy funding.

The legacy bill — for conservation and arts funding — was held up on the last day of the legislative session over a nasty fight over transparency issues over whether the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council should continued to be covered by the state's open meeting laws. The Senate version exempted the council, an advisory body on outdoor issues, from open meeting laws. House action broke down into a long nonpartisan fight over whether that body should be exempted.

Urdahl said the problems "have been ironed out" and that the Legacy bill would move quickly through a special session vote. (The council would not be exempt in the "ironed-out-version," according to Urdahl.)

But the consensus among legislators interviewed seems to be that if Republicans do come to the Capitol, it will be "to show that we're ready to work," according to one legislator who asked not to be named. That's a far cry from being called back into special session by the governor.

Republican leaders are keeping in contact with their caucuses through a combination of emails and conference phone calls updating their meetings with Dayton. It sounds as if those communications are nearly as vague as communications with the public.

But one indication that Republican leaders are not budging on their long held no-new-taxes position comes from Sen. Dave Thompson, a freshman senator from Lakeville.

Sen. Dave Thompson
Sen. Dave Thompson

"I get updates now and then," said Thompson, "but I don't know any more than you do."

Still, in the next breath, Thompson, who quickly became a leader of the most conservative elements of the Senate caucus, said that he's "not concerned with the way they [legislative leaders] have been handling things. … They're doing it how I would do it."

Assuming Dayton holds his ground and continues to demand more revenue, Thompson's comment doesn't bode well for those hoping a shutdown can be avoided.

Thompson cited last week's Survey USA poll, which showed that 60 percent of those polled believed that government should be cut going forward, in claiming "Republicans are on the side of the angels" in this dispute.

The poll results were substantially different from an earlier Star Tribune poll that showed a majority of Minnesotans preferred Dayton's combo-platter of cuts and revenue increases to resolve the budget deficit.

In citing the poll, Thompson didn't mention that Dayton (with 42 percent approval of his handling of his job) fared far better than the Legislature (23 percent).

Like so many Republicans, Thompson questioned the objectivity of the media in covering the stalemate and issues surrounding it.

"All you guys [the media] were pounding on us for passing the marriage amendment AFTER we got our budget bills done," Thompson said. "Will you pound on the governor for going to the Gay Pride Parade in the middle of budget negotiations?"

In an op-ed piece in the Star Tribune this morning, Tom Emmer, the GOP's gubernatorial candidate in November, also chastised the media.

"Contrary to the one-dimensional journalism practiced inside the special air of the State Capitol and in contrast to the public servants and bureaucrats who seemingly talk only among themselves, we the people are no longer interested in politics as usual or politicians as usual," Emmer wrote. "Republicans have a choice. They can lead us back to prosperity by holding true to the commitment they made to the people last fall or they can slide back into the political easy chair in the name of 'compromise.' "

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (13)

Again, Doug gets my vote sheer optimism today.

"Unclear"? Let me clear this up for you; this will be a media stunt like the Stillwater Lift Bridge... and I might add, just as clumsy.

By the way, if they don't have a deal signed by noon on Thursday the Government starts shutting down regardless.

Let's make it even more simple: are the DFL reps also going to be there?

Without them, does either chamber even have a quorum to conduct business?

My money is on PR stunt, hands down.

"They can lead us back to prosperity by holding true to the commitment they made to the people last fall or they can slide back into the political easy chair in the name of 'compromise.'"

Then there's the political easy chair that people like Tom Emmer and I enjoy: not holding public office.

.

"Republicans have a choice. They can lead us back to prosperity by holding true to the commitment they made to the people last fall or they can slide back into the political easy chair in the name of 'compromise.' " - Emmer

This quote says it all by implying the state of MN is solely the domain of the GOP.

There is another couple of branches of government, one of which was his to lose and he did.

Jeff Wilfahrt, Rosemount, MN

Mr. Emmer is not in a position to direct anyone in the legislature, Republican or otherwise.

We’ve had 30 years and more to see if the ongoing Republican “no new taxes” mantra will bring about prosperity for all.

Unless you’re already a millionaire – in which case Republicans have been very, very good to you – the Reaganomics that current Republicans, including the former Governor, Mr. Pawlenty, keep promoting, has been a consistent and unmitigated disaster across the nation. The “rising tide” not only doesn’t lift all boats, it drowns a lot of people while the few go back to eating canapés on their yachts. We’ve had a decade of Bush tax cuts, which not only have not produced any jobs or any prosperity, they’ve done more to cripple government than anything Grover Norquist could have hoped for. Without revenue, the government can’t do the job we want it to do.

When Mr. Emmer, and Ms. Koch, and Mr. Zellers, are willing to lay out for the public which government services that they, personally, now make use of, but are willing to forego in an effort to balance the state budget, then they might have some credibility – or the public might see just how shallow their thinking is. Lacking that sort of theatrical performance, they’re simply slaves to an ideology that serves the 2 percent and punishes everyone else.

Do our Republican friends not realize that the vast majority of Minnesotans, even those in the cities, but especially in rural areas have enough experience with the smell of animal feces when it's odor wafts in on the breeze,...

to clearly discern the smell that will be emanating from the capital when they try to pull this cheap, sophomoric stunt.

Next they'll be locking farm animals in the state capital building, kidnapping the Democrat's mascot, putting Saran Wrap over the toilets and putting Gov. Dayton's car on the roof.

I'm left to assume that these people are incapable of growing up and acting like adults,...

and so deeply enmeshed in the echo chamber made up of themselves and their supporters that they're incapable of realizing how childish and tantrum-like their actions appear to the vast majority of the rest of the state's citizens.

"NO! NO! NO! I WON'T take a nap! (or raise taxes on my Richie Rich, either)."

As for Emmer, who does he think he's kidding? Compromise is the "easy" route for Republicans? They stomp on anyone who waivers in ideological commitment. Remember what happened to the Republicans that compromised on the gas tax? How stupid do these people think we are? The problem is that a shut down is actually an easier route for Republicans than compromise at this point because of their fundamentalist mindset.

Emmer would fit right in with these folks in the legislature. All hat no cattle. Even my Republican representative wouldn't show up at a meeting with him before he got the endorsement.

Which brings up a point. For any of you who do have Republican legislators what do you think of them for following someone who can't get the job done?

My Representative is Matt Dean who actually has a real career in addition to the legislature, he understands numbers and measurement not just rhetoric, and has always seemed sensible and reasonable with good arguments based on evidence even when we didn't agree and up until this year I thought we agreed on a lot of issues. I never thought of him as silly or mean spirited.

This year I can say I am disappointed. He's a smart guy, it sounds like Rep Howe is a bright guy. Why are these guys not influencing the leadership? Representative Dean sits in on those meetings why isn't he influential. If he is not influential why should I vote for him?

Jody, you have seriously misread Matt Dean.

Republicans will throw 140,000 working Minnesotans off their health care, and that is on the side of Angels? 140,000 people not being able to see a doctor until it becomes an emergency is on the side of Angels?

These folks have become sick and twisted when they think they have the moral high ground as they place the burden on the least among us.

Emmer isn't doing his ex-colleagues any favors. He's let slip the fact that compromise is a viable option, whereas the legislature's majority claims that they already have compromised.

Any reasonable person would presume compromise is viable. But maybe it isn't so easy if you've been bought and paid for by interests that consider greed as the highest value.

Remember when then Gov. Pawlenty vetoed the gas tax and Republicans and Democrats got together to over-ride the veto. Good legislation should have support from both sides. Maybe if the republicans tried to get a few democrats on their side to over-ride the veto. But then the republicans would have to compromise and that will never happen.

Just imagine Emmer as governor....