Bridge over St. Croix falters; Bachmann puts her foot down

It’s pretty rare that we get to discuss Rep. Michele Bachmann in any context other than as a shrill voice of opposition to whatever the Democrats are currently up to (case in point: her telling radio host Chris Baker that Americans could sue if the health care reform bill gets passed), or, occasionally, as a cheerleader for whatever the Republicans are currently doing. (Her anti-census activism prompted this tweet this morning: “Census form complete. Take THAT Bachmann!”) Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Bachmann actually represents a specific Minnesota district, and every so often a writer ponders what she has accomplished for that district, as MinnPost’s Derek Wallbank did in February; he couldn’t pin down many specifics. When asked about it, Bachmann reminded her interlocutor that she was “a fairly new freshman,” which she isn’t.

Well, them were the old days. Bachmann is now championing a cause that’s actually in her district. Specifically, she wants a new bridge built across the St. Croix River in the vicinity of Stillwater. What’s stopping it? The Sierra Club. The Pioneer Press’ Mary Divine tells us that a U.S. District chief judge ruled last week that the Sierra Club’s complaint was right: The proposed bridge violates federal law, because the river is officially designated a Wild and Scenic River. The designation was the result of “legislation championed by Sens. Walter Mondale of Minnesota and Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin,” and Bachmann is now thinking of taking it to Congress to overturn the designation, at least for the area the bridge would be on. Mondale doesn’t seem too concerned; according to the PiPress, the former vice president “said he was ‘almost positive’ that nothing would happen to Bachmann’s bill.”

He’s got good reason to think that: While Bachmann is a popular spokesperson for her causes, her actual bills have tended to go nowhere. If you want raw, undeniable power over bills, you have to look to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who wields the line-item veto like a Tommy gun. Let’s take the recent bonding bill, as an example. Pawlenty wanted it to be $685 million, and threatened to veto anything larger. The Legislature went ahead anyway and passed a bill that came in at about a billion dollars. And, as the Associated Press reports, RAT-A-TAT-TAT, Pawlenty went and line-item vetoed it back to $686 million — a million more than he had demanded, admittedly. This is, apparently, what compromise looks like in Pawlenty’s world.

What came out? Minnesota Public Radio’s Elizabeth Dunbar and Tim Pugmire have a list, and it includes a lot of money for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system — he rejected three-quarters of its proposed projects totaling $133 million.

Of course, when somebody has a Tommy gun and likes to use it, sooner or later questions are going to pop up about how wisely he’s using it, and why the heck does he have a Tommy gun in the first place. And so Monday saw a protracted dialogue in the Minnesota Supreme Court about the Governor’s unallotment powers. WCCO offers a tidy summary: Pawlenty is being sued for overstepping his bounds in defunding a nutrition program for the poor. His lawyers argue that he did not overstep his bounds, and if people don’t like it, they can just not vote for Pawlenty in the next election (it may be worth mentioning here that Pawlenty won’t be running in the next election, effectively obviating that particular check and balance).

MPR’s Tom Scheck has a larger summary of the events, describing the Supreme Court justices as constantly interrupting the lawyers with questions, and some of the most pointed were directed at Pawlenty’s lawyer. And example, from Chief Justice Eric Magnuson: “If you look at what the governor did, he just said, ‘These people don’t get any. Never.’ Why isn’t that pure legislative authority?”

Of course, fighting over the budget isn’t the only thing that Pawlenty does. As the AP reports, the governor declared a state of emergency is 28 counties that might be affected by flooding. Tom Crann of MPR informs us of a sort of mixed blessing: that while flooding isn’t expected to be as bad as last year’s record-levels, it’s not going to be much better. The National Weather Service’s prediction is for a 38-foot crest, which is just 3 feet short of last year’s levels. Crann interviews Riverview residents, who are sandbagging and bracing for the flood.

Denny Hecker is experiencing a bit of a mixed blessing himself, but, at this moment, even mixed blessings are better than no blessings at all — the embattled car dealer has been down so long, it’s probably starting to look like up to him, to quote Richard Farina. Hecker was looking at losing his lawyers a few days ago, because he can no longer pay them; the mixed blessing, according to Dee DePass of the Star Tribune, is that while Hecker will lose one of his two at attorneys, he’s keeping one, thanks to the fundraising efforts of friends.

In sports, there was something of a mixed … well, not blessing. The Pioneer Press reports that thanks to Brett Favre, the Minnesota Vikings nearly recruited running back NFL Most Valuable Player Award-winner LaDainian Tomlinson; Favre apparently recruited Tomlinson pretty aggressively. Tomlinson eventually decided to sign with the New York Jets instead. Why? “[H]e wasn’t sure whether Favre would return next season.

Well, what you gain on the swings, you lose on the roundabout, it seems.

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Karl Bremer on 03/16/2010 - 10:29 am.

    “It’s pretty rare that we get to discuss Rep. Michele Bachmann in any context other than as a shrill voice of opposition to whatever the Democrats are currently up to (case in point: her telling radio host Chris Baker that Americans could sue if the health care reform bill gets passed), or, occasionally, as a cheerleader for whatever the Republicans are currently doing.”

    Hmmm. Speaking of Bachmann’s cheerleading:

    http://dumpbachmann.blogspot.com/2010/03/more-michele-amble-bachmann-yearbook.html

  2. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 03/16/2010 - 10:48 am.

    In this particular issue (and speaking as a resident of the 6th district), I agree with Rep. Bachmann, and I support her legislation to get the new bridge built.

    In terms of total environmental impact, a new bridge would likely reduce emissions from idling vehicles in Stillwater significantly. Anyone who has visted the area in the summer knows what I’m talking about. The old lift bridge just can’t take that kind of traffic anymore — and big rigs are still using it, even with the new weight restrictions.

  3. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/16/2010 - 10:56 am.

    Now there’s a nightmare image… Mickey with the autocratic power that Timmy has (IMHO unjustly and unconstitutionally) claimed for himself.

    In her own inimitable style, Mickey would reshape the world in the image of her own fevered dreams and desires: laws, constitution, science, logic, psychology, ecology, human nature, and economics be damned!

    To quote from Lady Galadriel, “In place of a king you would have a queen, not dark, but beautiful and terrible, all shall love me and despair!” (And who cares if the “Scenic” St. Croix River valley looks like Mordor when we’re done with it!)

  4. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/16/2010 - 11:29 am.

    Let’s see…. did the bridge break down before or after Michele put her foot down on it?

    More seriously, another case of a Republican not liking a law when their own interests are at stake.
    Obviously good home front politics for Bachmann at a time when she needs it.
    Of course, it would be even better if she actually accomplished something, like by negotiating with the Sierra Club to find an acceptable solution, rather than a public confrontation which is likely to fail.

  5. Submitted by Karl Bremer on 03/16/2010 - 11:47 am.

    Robert, the reason the traffic backs up in Stillwater is twofold:

    1) The Stillwater bridge lifts weekdays between every half hour and hour-and-a-half to allow big boats to pass under. There simply is no reason for this frequency, other than to benefit one commercial boat operator in Stillwater. If this were changed to, say, three times a day, the traffic problem would essentially be over.

    http://www.dot.state.mn.us/metro/projects/liftbridge/pastliftbridge/pdfs/StillwaterOpenSchedule.PDF

    2) Commuters between Wisconsin and Minnesota are are either too stupid or unwilling to use the 8-lane I-94 bridge at Hudson six miles away, preferring instead to idle in traffic for probably twice the time it would take them to use an alternate route:

    http://www.johnweeks.com/bridges/pages/sc02.html

    When the lift bridge was closed for a couple of months for repairs several years ago, there were no traffic problems whatsoever in Stillwater. Traffic found other ways to get across the river. Downtown merchants loved it. Business was up in downtown Stillwater. It was an excellent preview of what would happen if we just shut down the old bridge, which you fear is too dangerous to operate, and let traffic sort itself out.

    And this doesn’t even address the broader national significance of allowing this new bridge to violate the National Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, setting a precedent that would affect similarly protected rivers across the country.

    As long as you have a river town wedged between the river and the bluff with a two-lane state highway running down the middle, Stillwater is always going to be a bad place for an interstate bridge that lifts frequently. The best solution is to just shut down the old lift bridge, convert it to pedestrian and bicyle use only, save the taxpayers the $1 billion that this new bridge ultimately will cost, and let the traffic go elsewhere.

  6. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 03/16/2010 - 01:13 pm.

    A new bridge also offers the opportunity to make it rail-ready, opening more possibilities for high speed passenger rail to Madison, WI and Chicago.

  7. Submitted by Karl Bremer on 03/16/2010 - 04:56 pm.

    Get serious, Robert. Interstate 94 already runs between the Twin Cities and Madison and Chicago. Why on Earth would you want to create yet another corridor across the St. Croix to run high-speed rail in the wrong direction (northwest) instead of running it down an existing freeway corridor in the most direct route? Stillwater is hardly on the way between the Twin Cities and Chicago. Perhaps you need a roadmap like those Wisconsin commuters who can’t find their way to I-94.

  8. Submitted by William Pappas on 03/16/2010 - 09:08 pm.

    Mr. Moffit, the new bridge would create sprawl on a scale that would dwarf even I94 in Hudson. It would necessitate a mega freeway right through Stillwater’s HW 36 business district, destroying many of those businesses and snarl traffic for Stillwater residents. The noise and automobile pollution that a new bridge would bring through sprawl and huge traffic levels would dwarf that of the old bridge. I don’t think the downtown, after a new bridge is built, will ever be the same. The valley will be destroyed by development and visual, audible and air pollution. The idea that a new bridge would somehow be environmentally friendly because a few cars would not be idling in downtown Stillwater would be funny if the impending actions of Bachmann were not so potentially tragic. Removing the Lower St. Croix River from the Wild and Scenic River designation would finish off the beauty and historic character of the St. Croix and invite water and air pollution through further sprawl in areas that are constrained by the law. As they say, what you just said makes everyone here less intelligent.

  9. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 03/17/2010 - 01:22 pm.

    As a former Stillwater resident, I’m with those taking the hard line against it. The reason for enacting such protections is precisely so these ideas that look tempting in the short run aren’t possible and further examination is required. Anyone who insists on commuting an hour from Wisconsin to Minneapolis or St. Paul should have the extra five minutes to cross at 94, which is way more than enough to handle the traffic. We don’t need two massive freeway bridges crossing a National Scenic Waterway five miles apart from each other just because people are lazy. Let’s try a stab at moderation instead of perpetual expansion for once – this is a good place to start.

  10. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 03/24/2010 - 09:54 pm.

    A new bridge might be higher than the water. The “lazy” people going another 6 miles up to another bridge then have to go back 6 miles to get back to where they wanted to be. Times two. Each day. Times thousands of people. How “green” is that? How many bridges cross the Mississippi in the Twin Cities? Any within five miles of each other?

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