Paul Thissen, the Minneapolis state representative just elected to lead the DFL caucus in its new minority status, sees his mission and that of the caucus in three general areas. Based on a conversation over coffee this morning, those three areas are:
- Take the role of minority seriously. Use the leverage that comes with that role to stand up for the things that DFLers believe. Work with Republicans where the issue is really trimming wasteful government spending. But give Minnesotans a tough but fact-based vision of “what the majority’s decisions [meaning the next rounds of budget cuts] means for their lives and their communities.”
- Be the governor’s partner. Thissen believes that Mark Dayton will be governor soon. Depending on the revenue forecast due out next week, the Legislature may face a fairly urgent task of rebalancing the budget for the current biennium, which runs through June. If the forecast is bad, that will certainly mean more spending cuts, as all of the shifty and gimmicky ways of balancing the budget have been used up. And no matter how the short-term budget looks, the budget for the next biennium starts with something like a $6 billion deficit. Republicans cannot cut without a governor’s signature, which gives the DFL minority relevance as the governor’s partner in reaching those deals.
- Lay the groundwork for getting the DFL back into the majority in 2012. If the DFL minorities in both houses do a good job of steps one and two above, the electorate will have a clear choice in November of 2012 between two contrasting views of “how state government should be fitting into their lives.” Thissen believes, as he has to believe, that if that choice is clear, the voters will elect DFL majorities on the next round.
Thissen does not believe the new Repub leaders are angling for the scenario where the gubernatorial election result is tied up in a long recount and an overtime period for the Pawlenty governorship. The incoming speaker and majority leader have said that is not their plan and he believes them. “In their hearts, they know Mark Dayton will be the next governor,” Thissen said. The statements of the Repub elected leaders have been “temperate,” (as opposed to some of the statements of the MNGOP itself).
But as long as the election certificate has not been issued, the DFL leadership will think about what kinds of issues might arise under the Pawlenty-overtime scenario, and study its options. When I mentioned the spectacular (but ultimately unsuccessful) effort of Texas Democrats to flee to Oklahoma to prevent the newly elected Republican legislature in 2003 from adopting a redistricting plan, Thissen said he had not plan to “hide in Wisconsin.”
Thissen and state Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook, the newly elected leader of the Senate DFLers, are scheduled to meet with Dayton this afternoon, presumably to talk over some of the above matters.