Heading into the new session, Republican legislative leaders aren’t too eager to deal with two high-profile issues: Sen. Amy Koch and the Vikings stadium.
At a briefing Thursday afternoon involving Gov. Mark Dayton, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem and the DFL’s minority leaders, Sen. Tom Bakk and Rep. Paul Thissen, there was universal agreement that the top priority is job creation.
This session, arranged by Forum Communications and ECM-Sun Communications, was to preview the session that begins Tuesday. It mostly was filled with affable chat about how all the leaders “trust” each other, despite the collapse of the last session, which ended with a government shutdown.
But when the talk turned to Koch and the Vikings, the tone of the gathering changed a bit.
Start with Koch, who up until mid-December was the Senate majority leader. Koch, brought down from power by scandal, has announced that she will not run for re-election but that she will come back to complete her term.
“It will be her first time back,’’ said Senjem, adding that she’s sure to be followed by reporters because she has made no public statements since her downfall.
“I’m sure she’s prepared,’’ said Senjem. “She’ll take her seat and do the work. … She can handle the limelight.’’
Bakk stepped in.
“I feel bad for her,’’ he said. “I don’t believe in piling on. But I do believe that she and Sen. [Geoff] Michel need to apologize to the Senate.’’
Bakk said that Koch’s behavior and Michel’s less-than-truthful comments to the public in the days following the scandal, have damaged the “integrity’’ of the Senate.
So will Bakk call for an ethics panel to look at the events surrounding her fall and how it was handled by the Republican caucus?
“I would like to see Sen. Senjem and his caucus handle that,’’ Bakk said.
Will Republican senators seek an ethics hearing?
“It won’t happen from our side,’’ Senjem said. “In my mind, it’s history. It was explained fully. It is what it is. Unless someone from the other side wants it [an ethics hearing], it’s not going to happen.’’
On to the Vikings’ stadium, a high-profile issue legislators typically want to hide from.
Dayton, of course, has been clear all along that he wants a stadium — the sooner construction begins, the better. He has not, however, put together a bill.
Zellers tried Thursday to dance all around the issue, never saying whether he supports a stadium.
“There’s got to be a concerte bill,’’ Zellers said.
But Zellers wouldn’t say if he’s helping to shape the bill, if he’s pushing the bill or even if he wants to get the stadium issue resolved this session.
He was asked if he and other legislators were “fearful” of voting on a stadium bill.
“A fear of voting on what?’’ he said, adding that “It’s a game of ‘what if?’ “
Senjem was at least a little more forthright in talking about the issue.
“It’s important,’’ he said. “Not the most important thing … but it’s a freight train coming through. We can’t run from it.’’
Bakk, with great delight, indirectly hammered both of the Republican leaders.
“The Vikings are incredibly frustrated,’’ he said. “We told them, ‘Go out, find a site and a local partner and we’ll take it up with you.’ Then, we had the budget issue [last session]. We didn’t take it up. I get that.
“But the Vikings deserve a vote,’’ he continued. “They have done what we’ve asked them to do. They found a site. They found a local partner. They got local financing, a sales tax just like Hennepin County used for the Twins. But Republican leaders said, ‘No.’ They [[(Ramsey County leaders] came back with a food and beverage tax. The law does not require a referendum on that, but still the leaders said, ‘No.’
“There is a site [Arden Hills], there is local financing,’’ Bakk continued. “If we can’t get it done, just say, ‘We can’t get it done. We owe the Vikings and the NFL that.’’
Senjem tried to at least spread the responsibility around.
“This has to play out,’’ he said. “These are arduous things. … This crosses into the world of bipartisanship.’’
Bakk nodded in agreement, saying he’s not sure he’d even support a stadium bill.
“I voted against the Twins stadium,’’ Bakk said. “But we owe it [a vote] to the team.’’