Rukavina can’t resist tweaking GOP over spending ‘change of heart’ during flood-relief special session

During a recess in this afternoon’s special legislative session, Rep. Phyllis Kahn, the consummate big-city liberal, approached Tom Emmer, the classic suburban conservative.

“At least you had the decency to remain silent,” the Minneapolis DFLer told Emmer. “It’s the first nice thing I’ve ever said about you.”

“It’s just knowing that you care,” Emmer said, laughing.

In fact, Emmer did stay mostly silent before, during and after the special session in which he — and other members of the Republican caucus — were mocked by a handful of DFLers for their “newfound” willingness to spend millions of state dollars and accept millions more in federal matching funds.

The funding package, of course, was agreed upon in advance and is designated for flood relief for hard-hit counties in southern Minnesota, as well as tornado-flattened areas in and around Wadena.

Quick action, total agreement
Even so, it was startling to see how quickly all legislators in Minnesota followed through on plans to spend $80 million in relief funds. 

Republicans — such as Emmer and Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Wabasha, who usually vote resounding “nos!” to spending — quickly voted “yes” to this aid package.

Rep. Tom Emmer
Rep. Tom Emmer

Drazkowski even got up to urge his colleagues to pass the legislation.

“The good people of Minnesota need this help,” he said, pleading for the money. (Many of those good people suffering from the impact of the flood just happen to live in his district.)

“I expected a lightning bolt to strike him down,” said Kahn of Drazkowski’s plea.

There were no bolts of lightning near Drazkowski, nor Emmer, who of course was the big target.

Reps. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, and Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, took special delight in reminding Emmer of all the “no” votes he has cast in the House and of all the times he’s railed against state government and federal stimulus funds during his gubernatorial campaign.

Now, he was ready to spend state money and accept federal dollars — and get back on the campaign trail.

Emmer wasn’t alone.

Everyone present in the House voted to spend the money: 131-0.

Likewise, all those conservative voices in the state Senate also were on board with this spending. The Senate voted 66-0 to approve the package put together recently by House and Senate leaders and Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Pawlenty was expected to sign the bill about 5:30 p.m.

The feds are expected to come up with at least $60 million more in relief for the flood victims. Additionally, there will be federal money in the state portion of this emergency package. The state expects to use federal stimulus money that’s directed for Medical Assistance to cover some of the cost of the state portion of this emergency spending bill.

Most legislators clearly wanted to get in — and out — of St. Paul quickly and quietly.

Rukavina sounds off
But Rukavina couldn’t help but point out some of the political irony in this whirlwind session.

Rep. Tom Rukavina
Rep. Tom Rukavina

He told House members that it’s not just those who have been hit hard by floods and tornados who are hurting in these hard times. He wondered why there’s not money directed to all of those who are hurting because they’ve lost jobs or seen the size of their paychecks cut in recent years.

“Government can’t do right — we hear that all the time,” Rukavina fumed.

He went on about how Pawlenty has campaigned nationally against the evils of spending and especially against federal stimulus programs.

But now?

“When the chips are down, the chumps go to Washington,” Rukavina said with contempt.

Then, he turned to Emmer and Drazkowski.

“Rep. Emmer, Rep. Drazkowski, I listen to you sing the same tune all the time. Government can’t do anything right …”

Rukavina was rolling now, comparing the frequent conservative Republican campaign rhetoric with the GOP’s support for the flood package, which will be going into areas of the state that often are dominated by Republicans.

He turned to the state budget and Emmer’s belief that their needs to be less government and no new taxes.

“Anybody who thinks we can fix this budget with no new revenue is either nuts in the head or a BS-er,” Rukavina said. “Rep. Emmer, I know you’re not a BS-er.”

A DFL apology?
Somewhere in the midst of this assault, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher apparently made an inner-chamber phone call to Emmer to offer at least some sort of apology.

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher
House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher

Did that happen?

“I got a couple of calls,” said Emmer, coyly.

Kelliher was just as coy.

Did she call Emmer?

“I don’t know,” she said.

Whether he was called or not, Emmer, who never backed down from a confrontation when he wasn’t running for governor, didn’t respond to Rukavina.

He sat in his back row seat in the House paying only partial attention.

“We don’t need political sniping,” said Emmer during a recess while the House waited for the Senate to take action on the legislation. “We’ll campaign outside here.”

Interesting, no one in the Republican caucus tried a counter-attack on Rukavina.

“We heard there was some potential for some of them [DFLers] to try to make some sort of points,” said Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove. “We made a commitment to come here, pass this legislation and get it to the governor so the help could start immediately.”

What did he think of the shots his caucus took?

“We’re talking about flood waters, feces floating in people’s basements,” Zellers fumed. “I found it ironic that some of these big-city liberals wanted to waste time wagging their fingers at us.”

But even as Zellers bristled at comments made by Rukavina and Hausman, he praised the work of Kelliher and Sertich for keeping the special session clear of all other matters.

Prior to the session, some DFLers had vowed to attempt to pass anti-bullying legislation that was vetoed by Pawlenty last spring. There also were murmurs that other pieces of business — such as a resolution condemning the FBI’s raids on the homes of anti-war protestors — would make it to the legislative floors for debate.

But none of the extra stuff got a hearing.

This was a day for government to move quickly.

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 (13)

  1. Submitted by Pat McGee on 10/18/2010 - 06:04 pm.

    Well done, Mr. Grow.

  2. Submitted by Kim Millman on 10/18/2010 - 10:03 pm.

    Great coverage of the news Mr. Grow. Well done Representative Rukavina, you deserve thank yous from all Democrats for being one of the few elected Democrats who’s not afraid to point out the unbelievable hypocrisy of the GOP no-tax/no-government mantra.

    Madam Speaker, I just shake my head.

  3. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/19/2010 - 04:34 am.

    The funding deal was worked out before the special session between the Governor and the House and Senate leaders. The session was needed to take the unanimous vote to approve the needed relief funds for the flood victims.

    Rukavina played his role as the classless partisan hack, campaigning in the House chambers. I expect that he saw some road construction workers on his drive to St. Paul. The last time that happened, it was proof positive of stimulus success, jobs created.

  4. Submitted by Richard Molby on 10/19/2010 - 07:13 am.

    This points out exactly what is wrong with Party Politics in Minnesota. The GOP should be embarrassed by Emmer’s hypocrisy and the DFL should be embarrassed by the mamby-pambiness of its gubernatorial nominee (as well as its primary winner and candidate).

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/19/2010 - 07:40 am.

    This is so instructive. It’s not that republicans have a problem with government spending when it’s needed. The problem is that democrats can’t differentiate between $80 million to help people in a flood and $80 million to build a nature center in Rukavina’s district.

    Republicans aren’t anti-government. They’re pro-freedom. And what’s instuctive is that Grow and the democrats don’t know the difference.

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/19/2010 - 08:47 am.

    Entertaining the peanut gallery…the Democrat party proves it does have intrinsic value; however small.

    Were any paper clips shot across the aisle?

  7. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/19/2010 - 09:11 am.

    Our legislators had the chance to show the people of Minnesota that they could put aside partisan bickering and posturing for one day to focus on working together for the people. All but one could do it.

    If you have no other purpose, you can always serve as a bad example.

  8. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 10/19/2010 - 09:52 am.

    Oh, Steve, it wasn’t just one. If you were listening to MPR last night you would have heard Rep. Alice Hausman get her shots in. She did a fantastic job! And I for one applaud their willingness to point out just some of the hypocrisy that abounds in the Republic party. The articles on Bachmann and Paulson just being another example yesterday.

    Of course this was an emergency, no one denies that. But for many being without healthcare or a home or a job is just as big if not a bigger emergency, just one that many choose to turn from and not to acknowlege.

  9. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/19/2010 - 10:25 am.


    You got me; I was not listening to MPR last night.

    It is not the government’s role, nor has the government got the money to solve everyone’s emergency.

    What is the hypocrisy? You can’t be willing to solve problems within our means, unless you are willing to pay to solve everyone’s emergency? Life is full of tough choices; we elect legislators to make those choices.

  10. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 10/19/2010 - 12:31 pm.

    So Rukavina should have been a good boy, Mr. Swift and Ms. Kelliher?

    When is righteous indignation allowable? When is it OK to give the money-changers in the temple a good tongue lashing?

    The boundless hypocrisy of those Republicans, especially Emmer, who did terrible and lasting damage to the people of this state, apparently has no bounds. They should be called out by people like Rukavina so that people will be reminded of what has happened, ESPECIALLY close to the gubernatorial election…

    Sheila nails it: “Of course this was an emergency, no one denies that. But for many being without healthcare or a home or a job is just as big if not a bigger emergency, just one that many choose to turn from and not to acknowledge.”

    November cannot come soon enough.

  11. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/19/2010 - 02:35 pm.


    I’d have settled for reasonably adult, Bill; but when you’re dealing with unintelligent people like Rukavina it’s always a take it as it comes proposition.

    Dig beneath the churlish outburst, however, and you might realize that Rukavina exposes more than immaturity.

    There is absolutely nothing inconsistent with denouncing the reckless squandering of America’s credit rating while realizing that natural disaster recovery sometimes requires financial assistance.

    November may come sooner than you might have wished, Bill.

  12. Submitted by Steve Rose on 10/19/2010 - 03:40 pm.

    Perhaps Representative Rukavina would have been more focused and serious about the task at hand had it benefited his constituents. The Iron Range is a long way from the flooding in southern Minnesota.

    I’m ready for November too.

  13. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 10/20/2010 - 10:53 am.

    “can’t come soon enough” Gleason
    “sooner than you might have wished?” Swift

    Have you a time machine, Mr. Swift?
    Or did you just have to verbigerate again?

    Rukavina is not the only at whom an immaturity charge can be leveled.

    “Unintelligent?” Swift

    “Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.

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