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Beyond stadium — Real leadership from Thissen and Rybak

However one feels about the stadium deal, Paul Thissen and R.T. Rybak showed themselves to be genuine leaders.

I don’t think it is any secret that I wasn’t exactly supporting the Vikings Stadium. I thought it was a lousy priority but it got to the point that I just wanted it done.

Over at Politics in Minnesota, there is a must read article by Brianna Bierschbach which give excellent details about how the Vikings Stadium bill happened….all the way through.

Aside from how anyone feels about the bill, there are two examples of genuine DFL leadership that stands out.

1. Minority Leader Paul Thissen – If it was only about the stadium I’m not sure Rep. Thissen would have been on board with the bill as it stood by itself. But Paul recognized the broader issues involved and took the lead to turn an issue where Democrats would have, again, been a non-entity, and actually made them a force in the final days of the session. From the article:

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Democratic leaders in the Legislature took advantage of an uncharacteristically quiet end-of-session weekend to try to set their own terms for how Session 2012 would end. On Saturday, April 28, just two days before Republicans’ self-imposed deadline for adjourning the session, Dayton and DFL leaders scheduled an afternoon news conference with one goal in mind: Hector Republicans into taking a vote. Thissen, the House minority leader, took the podium to say he would be willing to put up 34 votes — half the total necessary to pass the bill in the House, and proportionately more DFL votes than Republicans would be asked to deliver. Thissen claimed that Zellers had once called a 34/34 vote split a condition for bringing the bill forward; he charged that Zellers was “holding the bill hostage” by not acting sooner rather than later.

Now that wasn’t an easy thing to do given the negative Progressive sentiment about the stadium, but it forced the hand of the GOP Legislative leadership. It did several things:

1) It pushed Zellers into calling a stadium vote; putting the legislators on record.

2) It propelled movement on the bonding bill which seemed to be hopelessly stalled. And with more favorable Dem terms.

3) It put the minority caucuses on the same page as the Governor.

The almost sleepy Democratic minority caucus suddenly became the real legislative force. Rep. Ann Lenczewski said it best:

In the view of DFL Rep. Ann Lenczewski, it was at this moment when Thissen turned the tables and made the Democrats the most critical players in the negotiations that occurred in the final two weeks of the session. “I’ve never seen a minority leader have so much influence on a caucus ever,” she said. “[Zellers] was very happy [up until then], because he knew he didn’t have the votes. He was very happy to have it go down in committee and say, ‘See, it went down, but Democrats did it.

It was textbook leadership from a minority standpoint.

2. Mayor R.T. Rybak – Rybak has probably been the most vocal and active Vikings stadium supporter in the lot. A good portion of the city’s taxes will be part of the mix. But Rybak was actually looking out more for Minneapolis than is realized.

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As a condition of Minneapolis support, Rybak has held fast to a deal that would give tax relief for the city on the debt load at Target Center.

Rybak’s predecessor made a somewhat bad deal in 1995 to keep the Timberwolves solvent. They took over the ownership of the Target Center with a huge bonding debt that still has a $55 million balance. In addition, the facility needed rennovation. Rybak saw an opportunity to meld that problem into the stadium and keep the Vikings in town as well.

More than once the legislature tried to carve that part of the equation out of the package and each time Rybak came to make his case and make things stick.

During the final days of the bill, the GOP tried to bypass all of it with Rep. Matt Dean’s proposal to make it all a state bonding issue. Rybak, again, took the lead to quell the uprising….

Rosen remembers getting a call from Rybak. “The mayor called me that day and said, ‘What are we going to do?’ I said, ‘I have absolutely no clue,’” Rosen said. “There was a day there where we were just letting things run their due course.” Rybak went to the Capitol the next morning to meet with GOP leaders on their nascent plan, a moment Rosen cites as pivotal. “I realized that people didn’t really understand how the bill was set up,” Rosen said. “The mayor was patient and took the time to really go through the details. My respect for him doubled and tripled in that moment.”

Not only was Rybak fighting the legislature, he was, at the same time, trying to stall a mutiny on the city council. Using the Target Center solution as leverage, Rybak was able to squeeze out a 7-6 majority in the council which held all the way through.


Even though the end result of this leadership test was a Vikings stadium, these Democratic leaders leveraged that issue with other pressing needs to really get something done.

As I said before, I wish all this attention had been for education or health care. The Democrats site the union of the Chamber and Labor as their impetus for all of this. But the Chamber and Labor also have joined together on light rail — but without the same results.

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Still, it has been some time since we have been able to point to genuine leadership from Minnesota Democrats.

Paul Thissen and R.T. Rybak are indeed genuine leaders.

This post was written David Mindeman and originally published on mnpACT! Progressive Political Blog. Follow Dave on Twitter: @newtbuster.

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