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One rare area of bipartisan legislative agreement: Both parties wince when this guy gets up to speak

Rep. Mark Buesgens
Rep. Mark Buesgens

Down to the last second of the last day of this session, there will be one thing that can be counted on: Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, will rise to speak, and across the House chamber, members of both parties will wince.

“I’m told I give far too many speeches,” said Buesgens. “That seems to be a bipartisan attitude.”

He shrugged, smiled and pointed to a Latin phrase he has taped to his laptop: “Illegitimati non carborundum.”

“Barry Goldwater’s favorite,” said Buesgens. “It means, ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down.’ ”

Even after all these weeks at the Capitol, Buesgens is one of the few who is un-ground.

Though he’s in his sixth term, he won’t be a player in these final days of negotiations. But then, most legislators are out of the mix in the wheeling and dealing. They’re here only to vote as their leaders tell them to vote.

End-of-session crunch
The “game” is in full ninth-inning swing as lawmakers race toward Monday’s final day of the session with still lots to do.

On Friday, the DFL-controlled House and Senate passed a tax proposal calling for $1 billion in new revenues. On Saturday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed it. Then, on Monday, he sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher.

“In the spirit of compromise …,” Pawlenty wrote, presumably with a straight face, “I offer the following ideas to help facilitate an agreement …”

Pawlenty’s idea of compromise still includes his standard stand: NO NEW TAXES.

The governor does seem to be getting the idea that his plan to borrow nearly $1 billion against future revenues — the so-called tobacco bond — is highly unpopular with legislators of both parties.  In his “spirit of compromise” letter, he suggested that he’d cut the size of the bond in half and agree to more accounting shifts, as proposed by the House. He’d also give up the idea of setting aside $250 million in reserves. This combination of moves would come close to totaling the $1 billion that separates the governor and the DFL-controlled Legislature from filling the state’s $4.6 billion deficit.

Leaders aren’t buying Pawlenty ‘compromise’
But the governor’s idea is not being seen as a compromise by legislative leaders. They insist that he’s not solving the budget problem but, rather, pushing it ahead a couple of years. They’re counting on individuals and organizations to rise up and put pressure on the governor, or at least the handful of Republican House members needed to swing an override of Pawlenty’s veto. The Senate already has a veto-proof DFL majority.

On Monday, a rally in the Capitol rotunda drew hundreds of people from the Invest in Minnesota coalition of labor organizations, nonprofits and religious organizations who insist that a tax increase is necessary.

“The budget is a moral document,” said the Rev. Peg Chemberlin, executive director of the Minnesota Council of churches. “This is not the time to cut and dismantle services. There is no private wealth without common wealth. This is the time to invest in our communities.”

“Override!” chanted some in the crowd.

There will be more pressure for a tax increase today, when an organization called Parents United for Public Schools holds a bake sale at the Capitol as a symbol of the precarious financial state of the schools.

But no one knows so well as Buesgens how futile these gestures may prove. By this time in the session, virtually everybody is locked into a position. Still, he hasn’t stopped giving often-flowery speeches about the ills of taxes, the legislative attacks on the Constitution and liberty.

“I learned a long time ago that seldom do speeches change the hearts and minds of the people on the floor,” he said.

So why bother? Why prolong debates and agitate members of both parties?

“The value is outside this body,” he said. “Television stations, MinnPost, other things that people might read might pick up what I’m saying. I have a lot of people, not just constituents, who thank me for being their voice.”

Buesgens an equal-opportunity offender
Again, it should be pointed out that Buesgens, a math teacher, who spent four years teaching in Ecuador, is a unique character in legislative circles who doesn’t just agitate DFLers with his style. He agitates Republicans, too, with his words and his actions. For example, he refuses to participate in caucuses.

“I’m an outsider,” he said. “I have my colleagues ask, ‘Why not go to caucuses?’ The purpose of the caucuses is to learn about legislation. Well, I read the legislation. The other purpose is to tell me how to vote.”

And that’s a deal breaker for Buesgens.

He has opposed his caucus — and his governor — on some bills, the medicinal marijuana bill being a big one.

“I was the second author on the marijuana bill,” he said, explaining that about a year and a half ago, his mother was painfully dying of lung cancer.

“Had she asked me to get her some marijuana, I would have done it,” he said.

That’s not exactly in keeping with the law-and-order Republican stereotype, which is fine with him.

“I’m more a libertarian than a Republican,” he said.

He is not against all taxes. But he is opposed to most taxes, because government’s already too big.

“Want to balance the budget?” he asked. “It’s not hard. Just roll back to the budget of 2006-2007. Going back to that draconian age takes care of it. It’s done. We go home.”

A different view of compassion
He’s not concerned if many see him as cold-hearted. Government, he says, shouldn’t be in the business of compassion.  

“Liberty should be at the core of government, not compassion,” he said. (He’s given dozens of floor speeches on the theme, much to the distress of his colleagues.) “We pretend to be compassionate, but how can you be compassionate with somebody else’s money. If I reach into your pocket, take your money and give it away, that’s not compassion. If I write a check and give it to charity, that’s compassion.” (He’s given that speech a few times, too.)

There will be much to speechify on in these final days, though probably nothing will fire him up as much as the smoking ban legislation of a few years ago. Oh, how Buesgens, a smoker, tried to talk that down.

“I asked two questions,” he said. “I asked, ‘Who was forced to work in a business that allowed smoking? If they were forced to work in such a place, that’s slavery.’ And I asked, ‘Who was forced to enter a business where smoking was allowed. If they were forced to enter, that’s kidnapping.’ Slavery and kidnapping. Last I checked, those are crimes.”

Even though it will be a handful of powerful legislators and the governor who will be the key players for the rest of this session, Buesgens will find much to speechify on.  He gives House Speaker Kelliher high marks for her fairness in allowing him to make his points.

“She smiles when she turns to me,” said Buesgens. “It’s possible her smile is through gritted teeth.”

He doesn’t care. To him, the audience is somewhere out beyond the Capitol walls.

“There are people out there who want to believe somebody is fighting for them,” he said. “I’m their Patrick Henry.”

Was it mentioned that he can be a little dramatic?

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (24)

  1. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 05/12/2009 - 10:13 am.

    Come on Doug,

    Why do you call the Govs standard stand “no new taxes” and never mention the tried and true DFL standard answer “tax more and spend more?”

  2. Submitted by David Brauer on 05/12/2009 - 10:17 am.

    Ron – the governor actually pledged to do that.

    Meanwhile, many of the legislative DFLers, including their leadership, voted to cut taxes during the Ventura years.

    To be sure, some like Tom Bakk say they now regret that vote because it has created years of structural deficits, but the Dems have been a lot more flexible on the tax question that the guv.

    And needless to say (but I will) both parties have voted to raise spending, both locally and nationally.

  3. Submitted by Karl Bremer on 05/12/2009 - 11:03 am.

    Why doesn’t someone calculate the total cost of raising $1 billion by raising taxes on some people and goods vs. Pawlenty’s scheme of borrowing $1 billion for 20 years. Anyone who has a mortgage can relate to the cost difference of paying cash up front vs. paying on a note for 20 years, with interest (and fat fees to bond houses who contribute mightily to political campaigns). I know that might take some actual reporting on the part of our esteemed local press corps, but it might clarify who the real big spender is in this debate.

  4. Submitted by Andrew Kearney on 05/12/2009 - 11:09 am.

    Thank you Doug for exposing Mark Buesgens. I have also heard people groan on each side of the aisle. Buesgens typifies what I call Republican extremist hypocrisy. He paid his property taxes late last year but his way of admitting that was to write a letter to the Savage Pacer months before artfully adding it as a detail in a letter to the editor. The real hypocrisy is the marijuana issue. Republicans are always against any funding unless it is something that could or did happen to them or someone they know. I wish the people south of the river would improve on their representation. With Kohls, Brod and Buesgens as the Republican public face they’ll be a minority for a long time.

  5. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 05/12/2009 - 11:22 am.

    Good idea, Karl. I’d like to see the actual cost to a millionaire, say, of a 2% tax increase, figuring in typical deductions and all. Then the bean counters could figure out not only the cost of borrowed money, but the cost to individual homeowners of increased property taxes.
    Then someone might calculate the cost of providing care for uninsured Minnesotans (or of NOT providing care), the cost if hospital and nursing home funding is cut–some smart budget person could figure out all of this and calculate just how much NO NEW TAXES costs the average Minnesotan.

  6. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 05/12/2009 - 11:47 am.

    I remember Rep. Buesgens well during the effort to pass the Freedom to Breathe Act.

    Er, the smoking lamp is out, sir.

  7. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 05/12/2009 - 11:55 am.

    “Liberty should be the core of government, not compassion???” I beg to differ. We taxpayers hire legislators to, on our behalf, fulfill the promise of the Preamble to the US Constitution:

    We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, PROMOTE THE GENERAL WELFARE, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    As the preamble notes, we have responsibilities toward one another, not just to our personal liberty. Under Pawlenty, Minnesota is doing its worst job in history of making life in our state decent for all of us. Tens of thousands will suffer now from his cuts; millions will pay for his ideological rigidity for generations to come.

  8. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 05/12/2009 - 12:45 pm.

    These comments just made my day. We have Karl and Virginia complaining about borrowing costs. I would love to see each of your comments regarding our current federal deficit borrowing of 1.8 trillion in 09 and 7.1 trillion by 2019. Thanks guys I needed that.

  9. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 05/12/2009 - 12:59 pm.

    One more thing do we know if anyone politically connected has worked for any local bond houses, that say specialize in muni bonds servicing and the of course the “fat fees”. Anwser – Lois Quam formerly of Piper Jaffray. Ok 2 things, last year when the state was attempting to pass a 1.1 billion dollar bonding bill, I don’t think anyone was initially outraged rather I think the outrage came when the Governor trimmed the bill by 200 million. Will you people have a meeting and decide whether bonding is bad or you just hate Republicans.

  10. Submitted by David Brauer on 05/12/2009 - 01:08 pm.

    Joe – I think the concept is capital bonding is fine (given the lifespan of a building or road), but borrowing for ongoing operations is bad.

    Since the guv likes kitchen-table analogies, it’s the difference between the mortgage on your house and borrowing to buy groceries.

    I don’t think there’s an inconsistency there.

    I will say, however, that I was not opposed to the guv’s plan a few years ago to bond for highway expansion, though most DFLers (and some Republicans) were.

  11. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 05/12/2009 - 01:29 pm.

    The people complaining about people who complain about borrowing are missing two points. First, the federal government can run deficits, so while reasonable people can disagree about whether and how much deficit is acceptable and how to deal with it, at least the federal deficit is legal. The state can’t run a deficit. It’s not an option. Even though raising taxes when the economy is struggling violates Keynesian economics, we can’t have a deficit.

    The second thing overlooked is not all borrowing is equally bad. What Pawlenty wants to do, borrow to put off the inevitable tax increase one more year, is a bad idea. Borrowing by the federal government to try to stop the recession, or bonding by the state for long term projects, is a good idea. We can of course different about the value of specific projects, but that doesn’t change the soundness of the idea. Borrowing for investments, good; borrowing to hide permanent cash flow shortages, bad.

  12. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 05/12/2009 - 01:40 pm.

    To the DFL these are one in the same, education and human services are an investment in our future, the essential life blood that makes Minnesota a great place to work and live. If it is truly an investment in our future bonding seems perfectly reasonable to for the taxpayer to pay over time. The benefit that they will reap will surely be sufficient enough to pay off the debt. At least explain to me how on one hand a DFLer can whole hearted support federal deficit borrowing but be totally against the Governor’s plan. This makes no sense, should we then send back the billion or so from the stimulus package as that amount was debt funded. Please someone tell me how this all fits together aside from being anti-Republican.

  13. Submitted by dan buechler on 05/12/2009 - 04:01 pm.

    If you think that public health/health care is a basic function of an advanced society. You soon realize the current tax system is even more regressive. Many families are paying out of pocket costs of $500 dollars or more a month and they still may have a high $5000 deductible. Many go without because they simply cannot pay after meeting basic needs of shelter and food. In many ways moderate income citizens are paying significantly more than those making over a quarter million.

  14. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 05/12/2009 - 04:18 pm.

    Did I win. Is this the question that the DFL can’t answer?

  15. Submitted by dan buechler on 05/12/2009 - 06:43 pm.

    Many of you may find this interessting. The FBI recently conducted a study for effective questioning and interrogation. They found that content/context does matter. People who lied stuck to a very narrow script a “made up” story if you will. They rarely deviated from it where a non-calculating but thinking honest person would elaborate on an incident and that the description of it may even change a bit over time. A bit counter intuitive but was properly substantiated in a prominent science journal.

  16. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 05/12/2009 - 10:15 pm.

    The “no new taxes” pledge was the first term. The Governor refused to make it for the second.

    Promoting the general welfare is a wonderful idea, unfortunately we tend to legislate for the minority or the few at the expense of the “general welfare”.

  17. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 05/12/2009 - 11:54 pm.

    “Did I win. Is this the question that the DFL can’t answer?”

    No Joe, you lose. Ignoring the answer isn’t the same as not getting one. If you can’t refute it, fine, but don’t pretend it isn’t there.

  18. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 05/13/2009 - 08:01 am.

    Eric then answer the question why is the DFL willing to use debt financed stimulus money but unwilling to use the Gov’s bonding money. Maybe David would like to respond as well. I know the problem exists, I just can’t understand why. Look at Wisc, more people, smaller budget, lower taxes, same quality of life.

  19. Submitted by John Olson on 05/13/2009 - 10:58 am.

    Joe:

    If Minnesota refused federal stimulus funds, do you honestly think it would have gone back into the treasury?

    A homeowner with an two identical homes: one in Wisconsin and the other in Minnesota would have roughly double the amount of property taxes payable in Wisconsin compared to Minnesota. Minnesota doesn’t have sales tax on clothing; Wisconsin does. And so on.

    The bottom line is that when you add the state and local taxes together, Wisconsin and Minnesota aren’t as far apart as it may seem.

  20. Submitted by Tom Rees on 10/21/2009 - 07:09 am.

    “There are people out there who want to believe somebody is fighting for them,” he (Representative Buesgens) said. “I’m their Patrick Henry.”
    My wife (maiden name “Henry”) can trace her ancestry to the Honorable Patrick Henry.
    Just for the fun of it let’s compare present day “Patrick Henry” wannabe to the real one:
    Patrick Henry was one of eleven siblings; Representative Buesgens was one of nine siblings
    Patrick Henry was born in May; Representative Buesgens was born in May
    Patrick Henry was born on a tobacco plantation; Representative Buesgens is a smoker
    Patrick Henry was born at Studley; Representative Buesgens was an all-conference high school football player
    Patrick Henry like his father he became a lawyer; Representative Buesgens like his father he became a volunteer fireman
    Patrick Henry never went to college; Representative Buesgens has earned post-graduate degrees
    Patrick Henry was an active, playful youth; Representative Buesgens proposed legislation eliminating all sports and other “extra-curricular” activities from public schools
    Patrick Henry was active in his Church; Representative Buesgens offered to charge his Church in 2007 “approximately $50 an hour” for consultation
    Patrick Henry first wife was named Sarah, his mother, too; Representative Buesgens wife is named Sara

  21. Submitted by Tom Rees on 10/22/2009 - 07:20 am.

    Here are some more comparisons:
    Patrick Henry was a circuit judge; Representative Buesgens hangs out with lawyers
    Patrick Henry was against gambling; Representative Buesgens supported expansion of gambling
    Patrick Henry was frugal with his personal finances; Representative Buesgens used his employer’s resources (a public school district) for political campaign purposes
    Patrick Henry failed twice as a storekeeper; Representative Buesgens was let go from his job after over a decade working as a school district educator/administrator
    Patrick Henry had his house burn down; Representative Buesgens had his house vandalized
    Patrick Henry made his living primarily as a businessman; Representative Buesgens made his living primarily as a public employee
    Patrick Henry learned his oratory skills by watching a preacher; Representative Buesgens quoted saying, “I learned a long time ago that seldom do speeches change the hearts and minds of the people…”
    Patrick Henry was elected to the House of Burgesses; Representative Buesgens was elected to Jordan City Council
    Patrick Henry was always trying to represent the disenfranchised; Representative Buesgens backed the wealthy contributors to help them make more money
    Patrick Henry against King George III raising colonists’ taxes; Representative Buesgens introduced in 2009 a resolution to freeze state spending after raising his per diem payments over 16%
    Patrick Henry believed that tax money should be paid to support organized churches; Representative Buesgens suggested terminating or reducing state early childhood education support
    Patrick Henry was first governor of independent Virgina; Representative Buesgens is Campaign Chairman for Tom Emmer gubernatorial campaign

  22. Submitted by Tom Rees on 10/23/2009 - 06:23 am.

    And here are a few more comparisons between Patrick Henry and Rep. Mark Buesgens:
    Patrick Henry was Colonel in Virginia militia; Representative Buesgens was a Math Teacher, Inter-American Academy, Guayaquil, Ecuador
    Patrick Henry tried to expand trade with Cuba; Representative Buesgens voted against a resolution calling on Congress to expand trade with Cuba
    Patrick Henry raised taxes to support Virginia’s state responsibilities; Representative Buesgens signed a pledge not to support any tax increase
    Patrick Henry helped write the State of Virginia Constitution; Representative Buesgens sued unsuccessfully the Minnesota Secretary of State for alleged election irregularities
    Patrick Henry supported measures for adequate government revenues; Representative Buesgens authored legislation to repeal a Minnesota Constitutional amendment approved by Minnesota voters just months prior to his bill introduction
    Patrick Henry helped pass bills for the relief of debtors; Representative Buesgens received among the most per diem compensation in 2005 than other metropolitan area House members
    Patrick Henry said, “I am not a Virginian, but an American”; Representative Buesgens quoted as saying “I’m more a libertarian than a Republican,”
    Patrick Henry helped pass legislation creating a college; Representative Buesgens proposed legislation to “freeze” student college tuition amount
    Patrick Henry was an elector from Virginia and voted for George Washington; Representative Buesgens is a local Republican Party Executive Committee member, but can’t vote
    Patrick Henry helped create the action called the “Boston Tea Party”; Representative Buesgens reportedly attended a “Tea Party” in Minnesota

  23. Submitted by Tom Rees on 10/26/2009 - 07:24 am.

    A few more comparisons:
    Patrick Henry was foremost spokesman for Anti-Federalists; Representative Buesgens in April 2008 introduced an amendment to proposed legislation and he voted against his own amendment along with all others that voted
    Patrick Henry feared disunion would undo the revolution and bring anarchy or tyranny; Representative Buesgens called his colleagues supporting increasing taxes to support transportation “thieves”
    Patrick Henry declined appointments as U.S. Senator, Chief Justice, Secretary of State, and ambassador to Spain and France; Representative Buesgens in the 2007-2008 legislative session according to the House website fourteen bills were chief authored by Representative Buesgens, seven were requested hearings by Representative Buesgens, one bill was heard by a committee and tabled with no action
    Patrick Henry found being a public servant to be expensive; Representative Buesgens worked as a public employee his working life and his house has a swimming pool
    Patrick Henry was complimented for his pleasantry by Thomas Jefferson; Representative Buesgens wears sunglasses in the House of Representatives Chamber to intimidate his colleagues
    Patrick Henry owned about ninety slaves and had them taught to read the Bilble; Representative Buesgens taught his Church’s confirmation classes
    Patrick Henry says things like, “Give me liberty or give me death.”; Representative Buesgens says things like, “Please don’t treat this body as if we don’t have a brain. Don’t treat the people of the state of Minnesota as if they don’t have a brain.”
    Patrick Henry was so inspirational once when he spoke so many Virginia legislators went to hear him and the legislature lacked a quorum; Representative Buesgens once had distributed to his colleagues in the House Chamber the following: Notwithstanding the Creator of the universe, the Minnesota Legislature hereby condemns all smokers to eternal damnation. EFFECTIVE: This section is effective immediately upon lighting up.

  24. Submitted by Tom Rees on 11/02/2009 - 07:04 am.

    And let’s compare about public service and money:
    Patrick Henry was chosen to participate in the Philadelphia constitutional convention but decline due to lack of funds; Representative Buesgens is late paying his property tax for his St. Paul investment property
    Patrick Henry had he accepted his appointment to the Philadelphia Consititutional Convention would have received no salary; Representative Buesgens received a 7.8% increase from 2007 to 2009 for daily Session compensation, 16.67% increase in daily per diem payments
    Patrick Henry. had he attended the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, the total cost to American taxpayers for the historic meeting from May until September 1797 would have been about $20,000 in current dollars; Representative Buesgens received more than $24,000 in compensation for his service as a legislator from January to May 2009
    Patrick Henry served a total of five terms as Virginia’s Governor; Representative Buesgens has a FaceBook page supporting an effort for his gubernatiorial candidacy
    Patrick Henry was never sued until a neighbor sued about a steer; Representative Buesgens sued the state for paying money to nursing homes and emergency services
    Patrick Henry wrote about the American people for posterity: “If they are wise, they will be great and happy.”; Representative Buesgens was quoted saying “I don’t know, maybe that dog had a happy ending”

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