It all ended in tumult and shouting. First in the Minnesota House, then the Senate.
The DFL was jamming through a close-of-session tax bill and Republicans were screaming, not so much at the content of the 33-page bill, they didn’t have time to worry about content. They were screaming about the style. Rammed, jammed, slammed. You name it, the DFLers were doing it. Their timing, their discipline was extraordinary. Parliamentary procedure, civility took a beating.
“Look what you’re trying to cram down our throats in the dead of night while the people of Minnesota are asleep,’’ yelled Rep. Marty Seifert, the House minority leader.
They all knew it was coming.
In the House, it was ONLY 11:25 Monday night when this last-gasp effort at one-upsmanship over Gov. Tim Pawlenty began.
The Republicans tried to go into a stall.
Seifert yielded the floor to his Republican colleague, Rep. Laura Brod.
“Charades!’’ she yelled. “What’s next? Twister? What games are we going to play? You know this won’t get signed.’’
She turned back to Seifert, who yielded the floor to another Republican, Tom Emmer.
He went into a heartfelt tirade
But with the clock ticking steadily toward midnight – and the need to move the bill from the House floor to the Senate – House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher took control.
“You’re too loud,’’ Kelliher said, speaking over Emmer. “Decorum in the House!’’
As the clock kept ticking, she somehow got the floor turned over to Rep. Tony Sertich, the House majority leader.
There was a vote. Later, laughing, he admitted he almost blew it. On a procedural vote, he needed to push the green voting button “for yes.’’ Instead, he pushed red, for “no.’’
The voting board was lighting up red.
Minneapolis DFLer Jim Davnie saw the mistake.
“Green!’’ he yelled.
The board in the House chamber that tallies votes suddenly turned green.
The clock was running. The bill was rolling now. With Republicans screaming “outrageous!” shameful!’’ “this is wrong!’’ the bill passed the House, 87-47, a straight party line vote.
It was zapped, via computer, to the Senate chamber a few hundred feet away. The Senate is usually a place filled with sort of a phony decorum.
But as the clock moved to 11:55, decorum was blown away.
The tax bill was introduced. Republican Sen. Julianne Ortman was speaking, trying to ask a question about the bill.
Sen. Jim Metzen, the president of the Senate, spoke over her.
“We adjourn at 12,’’ he said. “We’re going to vote this bill.’’
‘I don’t recognize you’
Now it was complete chaos.
Republican Sen. Dick Day left his seat and started collecting Senate rule books from his Republican colleagues.
“We don’t need these anymore!’’ he yelled.
As the DFLers voted, Senate minority leader Dave Senjem was yelling into his mike.
“Senator Ortman has the floor!’’
“I don’t recognize you,’’ Metzen was saying.
The Senate DFLers passed the bill. Republicans didn’t vote. It was midnight, maybe a shade after midnight.
“Motion to adjourn,’’ yelled Metzen over the din of angry Republicans.
There was a 43-0 vote to adjourn.
The chaos continued. Metzen cursed at a Republican senator who’d said something to him. Metzen, a few moments later, could be heard talking to some of his DFL colleagues.
“I feel terrible about this,’’ he said.
But the rest of the DFLers in the House and the Senate didn’t feel terrible. They felt giddy. In the closing seconds they’d pulled it off. They’d passed a balanced budget bill that calls for a billion dollars in tax increases, makes major cuts, gives a few breaks to businesses.
It will arrive at the governor’s office either Sunday or Monday.
“Dead on arrival,’’ said Senjem.
And that is almost certainly true. Pawlenty will veto the bill and that will be that.
(By the way, there’s another bill that Pawlenty will veto. Long after the session was over, House Republicans learned they’d joined in a 134-0 vote on a long bill that included a language change that would give local governments the right to give “domestic partners” the same rights as married couples have; meaning cities such as Minneapolis would be able to give health insurance to domestic partners. Under current state law, municipalities can’t do that.
(At 1:30 this morning, a handful of Republican legislators were standing outside the Capitol shaking their heads in amusement over their vote.
(“The governor will save us,’’ said Rep. Mary Liz Holberg. “He’ll veto it.’’)
But the huge maneuver was the tax bill. What did they gain with it?
The DFLers unloaded months of frustration. In what many will see as an act of defiant irresponsibility, they got to say that they balanced the budget in a responsible way. It’s so responsible DFL leaders were trying to say, with straight faces, that maybe Pawlenty will see the wisdom of it and sign it.
But the bill, which balances the budget with tax increases and an accounting shift, is similar to previous legislation vetoed by Pawlenty that raised income taxes on the wealthy, credit card firms and liquor.
“It’s a stretch,’’ said Sertich, adding that maybe the governor will think carefully about the bill, see its wisdom, see the deep budget cuts, the protections against big leaps in property taxes, the funds for hospitals and schools, and sign the bill.
Yes, indeed. That’s a stretch.
So why’d they do it?
Sen. Tarryl Clark, the Senate assistant majority leader, summed it up best from the DFL viewpoint.
“He left us with two choices,’’ said Clark of Pawlenty. “We could do it his way or he would do it his way.’’
That’s true. By “negotiating’’ with Pawlenty, the only thing DFLers might have gained is some softening of his cuts by agreeing with him to do such things as accounting shifts.
So perhaps, the only thing the DFL could do was show Minnesotans how they believe the state should be led.
But it’s also true that now Pawlenty is going to do it his way: More than $3 billion will be cut from the budget in line-item vetoes and unallotments. It won’t be pretty.
Deep breath now.
We so often hear that hard times create big, bold ideas, strong leaders.
Back in January, when this session began, Republicans and DFLers acknowledged that the $6.4 billion dollar deficit was a crisis. These were indeed the hardest times state leaders had faced in generations.
“Minnesotans deserve more than politics as usual,’’ Pawlenty said over and over again.
But in the end, Minnesotans got more power politics than ever before. Bold ideas, collaborative leadership interested in governing? It didn’t happen.
Oh sure, behind the scenes, rank and file DFLers and Republicans were trying to work together and think big thoughts. But they were boxed in by leaders who were entrenched. From the get-go, Pawlenty was saying “NO NEW TAXES.’’ From the get-go, DFL leaders were saying there had to be a “share the pain’’ way of solving the problem, and that included some tax increases.
Emmer, an often bombastic conservative, spoke softly, quietly about the failure to tackle the state’s problems in any creative way.
Of course, Emmer blamed DFL leaders for the failure of this session. But he also said that there were bold ideas discussed in various committees.
“I think changes will come,’’ Emmer said. “I think seeds have been planted and someday there will be blossoms. As time moves forward, you get to know each other. You get to know the people on the other side of the aisle and you both learn you want the same thing and you get tired of your leaders telling you what you have to do. But what happens is that the same old politics is so entrenched around here.’’
Again, he pointed fingers, but only half-heartedly, at DFL leaders.
DFL Sen. Dick Cohen was asked the same question: Why were there no big, bold ideas when the state was in such a desperate place?
Like Emmer, Cohen was thoughtful. Not surprisingly, he said the problem was Pawlenty.
“I think facing the deficit we faced, it’s unreasonable to think that you can come up with great new ways of doing things,’’ Cohen said. “All you’re trying to do is survive. From my perspective, from the beginning he [Pawlenty] only wanted to speak to what he believes is his national base. That meant, from the beginning we were going different directions.’’
It’s that simple really. A Republican governor and a DFL legislative leadership couldn’t hear each other from the moment the session opened in January.
Minnesotans may have deserved something more than politics as usual, but the complete leadership gridlock meant Minnesotans got politics-as-usual squared.
The one big DFL mistake was that for months, House and Senate leadership couldn’t come to a unified plan on how to solve the budget problem. DFLers needed time – a lot of time – to sell at least a few Republicans and Minnesotans in general on the importance of a multi-faceted approach to balancing the budget.
Passing the blame around
Many are quick to blame Senate majority leader Larry Pogemiller for that failure. From the beginning of the session, he was leading the Senate in a different direction from the direction the House was headed.
In fact, Day was blaming Pogemiller for the whole mess.
“It’s all about Pogemiller,’’ Day said in the wake of the jam job. “He doesn’t like the governor. When you have the sort of animosity he has toward the governor, it’s pretty hard to get anything done.’’
Day was so upset, he started saying nice things about former DFL majority leaders.
“I’ve been here under great leaders,’’ Day said. “Roger Moe, John Hottinger, Dean Johnson. . . .well, he did turn off our microphones once in awhile, but he never would have pulled a stunt like this. As long as Pogemiller is the leader, I’ll never use a rule book again.’’
He went back to blasting Pogemiller’s inability to get along with Pawlenty.
But that’s a two-way street. Pawlenty isn’t fond of Pogemiller, either. And in terms of political gamesmanship, Pawlenty was at least as audacious as the DFLers.
It was, recall, Pawlenty who grandly announced late last week that there would be no special sessions, no government shutdowns – and no new taxes.
DFL leaders did meet on a few occasions with Pawlenty after that brassy pronouncement. The meetings went nowhere. It was after a meeting on Saturday night, Anderson said, that the House and Senate leaders decided there was no real chance of negotiating a budget deal with the governor. They continued to insist any budget deal had to offer some “pay as you go’’ features, meaning some revenue increases. And he kept saying no.
At a time when Minnesota needed leaders who could sit down together, put aside egos and partisanship and solve a big problem, they got politicians who couldn’t hear each other.
The House, of course, did try to override the governor’s veto of a tax bill on Sunday. That failed.
So they went with their grand finale strategy. It’s all they had left.
They won a midnight victory. Pawlenty will counter.
And Minnesota will have to hope for something better next time.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.