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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.