With Wisconsin politics wafting our way, legislative leaders cautiously wrap up a testy week

GOP leaders Sen. Amy Koch and Rep. Matt Dean briefed reporters Friday.
MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
GOP leaders Sen. Amy Koch and Rep. Matt Dean briefed reporters Friday.

A waft of Wisconsin politics floated across the border and into Friday’s regular end-of-the-week news briefings from the leaders of the respective Minnesota legislative caucuses.

How could it not?

With public employees, teachers, students and others taking to Madison’s streets a la Cairo, and with Wisconsin’s Democrats in self-imposed exile south of the border in Illinois Thursday, the topic was a hot one. (The UpTake is following weekend Wisconsin developments that can be viewed here on MinnPost.)

First, Republican Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and GOP House Majority Leader Matt Dean weighed in. Then, 30 minutes later, it was DFL House Minority Leader Paul Thissen and Sen. Scott Dibble’s turn.

Their differences were highlighted, but — OMG —there was at least one agreement.

What if Emmer had won?
That is, had Rep. Tom Emmer won the gubernatorial election instead of Mark Dayton, Minnesota could be looking a lot more like Wisconsin today than it does.

Had Sen. Koch or Rep. Dean — whose party controls both chambers of the Minnesota Legislature — fantasized about what life would be like had Republican Tom Emmer become governor?

“Well, I don’t know if that’s any kind of fantasy going on in Wisconsin,” said Koch, who then added: “There’s no one who understands what it’s like to be in the minority, and the frustrations that come with that than the Senate Republicans.

“But the fact of the matter is the people sent you there to dissent and debate — that’s part of your job  — and the second part is that you need to vote for the people you are representing. Your job is to go in there and push the button, knowing that you’re not going to get your way. That’s just the facts of the minority, but you still have a very important duty … It’s disappointing to see lawmakers not follow through with that duty.”

Said Dean: “With respect to Representative Emmer, I think what we would see now is probably very close to the budget that he proposed in September. We would like to have seen that from Gov. Dayton as well.”

Of course, Emmer, who lost the election by about 9,000 votes, proposed an all-cuts budget with no statewide tax increases.

Dayton has proposed increasing taxes on the wealthy and retaining Local Government Aid as highlights of his budget.

As it turned out, DFL House leader Thissen’s analysis of what Minnesota would look like with Emmer in the corner office mirrored Rep. Dean’s analysis.

Thissen said he hadn’t thought once about what life would be like with a Gov. Emmer, but he speculated that what the Republican legislators are about to propose would be, as Dean said, like an Emmer plan from the campaign.

DFL Rep. Paul Thissen, left, and Sen. Scott Dibble offered their analysis.
MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
DFL Rep. Paul Thissen, left, and Sen. Scott Dibble offered their analysis.

“We would have to make sure we get out the word about what the Republicans would be trying to do this state,” Thissen told MinnPost. “We’d have to be working even harder outside the Capitol to make sure people are paying attention to what’s going on.”

Like in Wisconsin.

A Wisconsin brouhaha here?
Would the Minnesota GOP leaders support the removal of collective bargaining rights for public employees? Here was the answer.

Dean: “I don’t think anyone has proposed that in Minnesota … It’s not been moved through the process. No one in Minnesota has proposed that.”

Koch: “There’s a governor sitting in the seat that I’m guessing would not be supportive of that … We’d have to take a look at it … but with no agreement from the governor, why go down that path?”

There is a “right to work” bill, authored by GOP lawmakers, for public employees moving through committees but support from Dean and Koch today seemed a bit lukewarm.

As the GOP noted, Gov. Dayton’s budget proposal included a reduction of the state workforce by 6 percent.

Koch: “Public employees are going to have to be part of the solution. They’re just going to have to be. There’s no way to get around it.”

Wage freezes, pensions? 

“Do we have an exact plan that we’ll roll out tomorrow? No,” said Koch, but some of the Wisconsin elements seem headed to a state Capitol near you soon.

But Dean said: “I know there’s a lot of interest this week in discussing Wisconsin and linking that. [But] we have very different states, we have very different budgets, we have very different histories … Moving ahead, obviously, labor, labor costs, are going to be part of the solution.”

Dean did call Dayton’s budget “a leap backward” and “not helpful.”

But Rep. Thissen, speaking afterward and in response to the Republicans, challenged them to come up with a budget soon without any new spending.

“They did not make a no-new-taxes pledge,” Thissen said. “They made a no-new-spending pledge. They told Minnesotans that they do not need the school shift. They do not need gambling revenues. They do not need any new fees. They have more than enough money. If they include any of those things in their budget, they are breaking their promise to Minnesotans and doing a disservice to our state. If nothing else, Minnesotans deserve honesty; not a bait and switch.”

Thissen thus was setting up what to expect from the GOP budget, which is coming soon.

Different rules, different dynamics
Which led back to the Wisconsin reality.

No, Thissen said, there’s been no pondering by DFL legislators of not showing up for votes in Minnesota; the Legislature’s rules here are different. “That wouldn’t do us any good.”

Said Thissen: “What’s being reflected in Wisconsin and being reflected across Minnesota is that … the people of this country are getting fed up of favoring corporate interests over working people. What’s being shown in Wisconsin is a manifestation of that frustration.”

Dibble said the GOP’s first budget plan — House File 130 — with $900 million in cuts came “without any advice or consultation from the public, without any advice or consultation  from the minority party, and complete disregard for the governor. It was a go-it-alone strategy, and I think what’s going on in Wisconsin is that folks are speaking out against a go-it-alone radical agenda that favors a few narrow, well-vested interests.”

Thissen was asked if he would encourage Madison-like demonstrations at the Capitol or on the streets.

“I think people are going to start showing up once they see what this all-cuts budget looks like,” Thissen said.

Dibble called the Wisconsin situation “extraordinary … I’m not advocating or hoping that we have a similar set of circumstances [as in Wisconsin] … But I certainly do want people to come and engage in a productive dialogue to get in touch with their representatives, be present at hearings … Ideally, what we learn from Wisconsin is that engagement, interaction, consultation, are good for the process, good for democracy and good for better outcomes.”

Somehow, someway, Sen. Koch expressed surprising confidence.

“I believe we will find a compromise,” she said. “I think there’s time. While it looks like right now that we are at very different odds, I think in the end, you’ll see us work together and get a compromise.”

And that would be different from Wisconsin.

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Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Georgia Holmes on 02/18/2011 - 03:55 pm.

    So, is Amy Koch related to the infamous Koch brothers who are supporting the Wisconsin governor with ads in the Wisconsin media? She seems to at least be a soul mate with them.

  2. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 02/18/2011 - 08:11 pm.

    Could someone explain to Republicans that a compromise between zero tax revenue increases and 4 billion tax revenue increases is not zero tax revenue increases.

  3. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 02/18/2011 - 08:13 pm.

    The longer this Democratic Party obstruction goes on in WI, the better it will be for Republicans.

    The more that the public becomes aware of the unions control of the Democratic Party and the patronage that occurs, the distaste for this typical Democratic “politics as usual” will further hurt the party.

    Giving more money to the unions, so the unions can give more money to the democrats, and then the democrats can give more money to the unions, has to be reformed.

    “Individual choice,” if a public worker is required to join a public union, and “choice” if a family desires to send their children to union school or a non-union school, seems to be the direction reformed mined people are moving.

    Last I heard, the Democratic Party is “pro-choice.”

  4. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 02/19/2011 - 07:12 am.

    After eight years of the Democrats in the legislature being “reasonable” i.e. meeting Tim Pawlenty’s demands, I wonder if our Republican friends don’t expect to be able to roll Governor Dayton the same way Pawlenty rolled the legislature.

    Their idea of compromise, after all, has been nothing but “do things our way,” for a good while.

    I suspect they’re in for a surprise.

    They seem to forget that Governor Dayton was elected on a pledge to “tax the rich.”

    They, on the other hand, were elected on a pledge of “jobs, jobs, jobs”…

    and where are those job-creation bills?

    Do they know where jobs come from? Do they know why people have jobs?

    Here’s a clue: jobs are created when products that people want or need to buy are purchased by people who have money to buy them with.

    When the general public has no money because the economy and state tax structures have been rearranged so that the proceeds of everyone’s labor ends up in the pockets of the fabulously wealthy and those wealthiest folks who can most easily afford to pay them have their taxes artificially and unjustly lowered, there is insufficient consumer base and insufficient consumer demand to support the creation of jobs.

    Allowing our state’s wealthiest citizens to make and keep most of the money that comes from the work everyone in the state is doing makes those wealthy people a DRAIN on our society. Such “welfare for the rich” policies have and will continue to damage our state as long as they are in place.

    Enriching the rich is, therefore, a “job killing” strategy, as we can clearly see in the results of Gov Pawlenty’s and George W. Bush’s leadership.

    The only way to “create jobs” and start the long climb back to prosperity is to undo what Governor Pawlenty and “W” did.

  5. Submitted by Steve Marchese on 02/19/2011 - 10:31 am.

    The Wisconsin situation is what happens when you give one party complete control of the political branches of government. Whether or not the Republicans have an actual “mandate” for their positions, there is no doubt they are trying to force through legislation on the sole basis that they can. This was precisely the point that national Republicans made last year ad a reason why they should be given control of Congress – how else to stop Democratic excesses.

    We are lucky, for once, to avoid this kind of nonsense in Minnesota, by the grace of 9,000 votes. Complete control leads to abuse of power – whether that message gets out now in Wisconsin or in the future, sure as night follows day, majorities tend to overestimate the strength of their support. This may be a Waterloo moment for public unions or it may be the moment where we graphically see what complete Tea Part-dominated one party control can bring us. That might make some people happy, but most folks want their elected officials to get the work done, not pick ideological fights just because they can. It’s one thing to ask everyone, including public employees, to share the pain. It’s another to use the situation roll back over half a century of policy and practice just because you have the votes. As we know, the political winds change quickly.

  6. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 02/19/2011 - 02:27 pm.

    Howard Zinn, quoted by Bill Moyers in the February issue of The Progressive:

    “The Constitution gave no rights to working people, no right to work less than twelve hours a day, no right to a living wage, no right to safe working conditions. Workers had to organize, go on strike, defy the law, the courts, the police, create a great movement which won the eight-hour day, and caused such commotion that Congress was forced to pass a minimum wage law, and Social Security, and unemployment insurance … Those rights only come alive when citizens organize, protest, demonstrate, strike, boycott, rebel and violate the law in order to uphold justice.”

    As Wisconsin’s public employees are doing in Madison. And as the Egyptians, Tunisians, Bahranians, Libyans and others are doing in the Middle East.

    Governor Walker is telling the media that it’s not about unions. Oh no, it’s just about the shortfall. He neglects to tell them that, while Wisconsin would have finished 2010 with a budget surplus, the huge tax break he gave large corporations caused the very shortfall he wants to make public employees pay for ($137 million this year, an estimated $3.6 billion over the next two years).

    Unions are a handy scapegoat when used to hide the continued and accelerating transfer of our nation’s wealth from the working and middle classes to the top 10 percent (or fewer) and also for the problems caused by Wall Street’s banksters. The goal is to return to the Good Times. The Gilded Age. The time when the ultra-wealthy had it as good as they do now and government was on their side. The time before Teddy Roosevelt.

  7. Submitted by David Willard on 02/19/2011 - 06:06 pm.

    Is the infamous Mark Dayton a relative of the successful capitalists after whom the Dayton’s department stores were named? THEY created jobs. Governor Mark seems intent on destroying them.

  8. Submitted by William Pappas on 02/20/2011 - 09:54 am.

    Koch says,”public employees just have to be part of the solution”. Amy, as you know, public employees have been giving up benefits and making salary concessions for the last seven years. Many of them contribute almost entirely to their own pensions while their salaries have been essentially frozen. The only people who have not and will not be part of the solution are the wealthy and corporations. High imcomes have seen both drastic federal and state tax cuts while they have largely been insulated from the recession by the benefit and salary cuts they have extracted from employees to ramp up productivity. For them profits are up and all those layoffs have unfortunately produced a lot of exported job opportunities. Let’s just ask that sector of our economy to be part of the solution. We know what Republicans would like the final solution to be: rock bottom wages and salaries and very bad retirement plans and health insurance policies from employers. This discussion has become bizarre in ignoring the impact of “no new taxes” on both labor and business. Koch and Dean assume we lay everything out on the table but tax hikes. It is an imature and self centered demand that reveals their inability to comprimise. In fact it is their unwillingnes to negotiate and craft bipartisan legislation that characterizes the ideological right and results in an inability to govern.

  9. Submitted by William Pappas on 02/20/2011 - 10:04 am.

    OH, I get it now, Ron Gotzman. People are making a choice to send their kids to a union or nonunion school? Is that what it has come down to for you? I wasn’t aware that was the issue. I thought the issue was alternative licensure, achievment gains, quantified measures of success, teacher bonuses and so on. Actually I’ve known all along that the entire focus of conservative educational reform from NCLB to alternative licensure and Teach for America has been to erode and eventually eliminate the power of unions in public schools as well as closing public schools entirely. If a genie granted your wish and schools all went private with no unions whatsoever, do you think the minscule salaries that those schools would force onto their teachers would attract the kind of dedicated teacher that now works in our public school. The answer is obviously not as teachers would no longer be able to afford a four year degree at wages that would be near the poverty level. Go crazy, Ron, but this is not going to work.

  10. Submitted by Rod Loper on 02/20/2011 - 02:47 pm.

    It is simply remarkable what well motivated ideologues can pull off with control of both houses and the executive. The national Dems, particularly in the senate,
    punted to the corporations, Wall Street and the insurance companies while expanding the war
    and refusing to “look back”. Local Dems too tried to be “reasonable” last year. Look what is happening.
    Obama is being investigated, the budget is being
    gutted at all levels and Pawlenty is running for
    president as a prudent conservative. BTW, Downey’s bill had a clause doiging away with collective bargaining but it was pulled when the
    unions showed up at the hearing. The chair (Pepin)
    almost got carpal tunnel hammering down people wanting to comment about it.

  11. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 02/20/2011 - 07:48 pm.

    @#3: Anything the Democratic Party does or anything anybody does is ALWAYS good for Republicans. I’ve about had it with the Democratic Party. When I was young, about 40 years ago, I heard my elders and the leaders of this country, tell me to “work for change within the system.” That protest and rebellion are not a solution and are counterproductive.

    We’ve seen how well that’s been working for us, as the plutocratic right-wing now seeks to crush the middle class with its Amerikan version of the “shock doctrine” that has worked so well in other parts of the world.

    It’s amazing to me that rightwingers are so in tune with the motes in the eyes of others, they can never see the planks in their own.

    The right constantly complains about “patronage” and “[g]iving more money to the unions, so the unions can give more money to the democrats, and then the democrats can give more money to the unions.” What about the Republican right-wing control of both parties in exchange in exchange for deregulation and light-handed regulation, turning the eye away from blatant corporate malfeasance and corruption? Which are recycled as corporate campaign contributions and lobbying gifts? (as in the 2008 financial meltdown, which was not caused in any way I’ve heard by “unions”).I guess that’s what the right believes is “free enterprise.”

    Can we please stop the shopworn and anachronistic complaints about “unions”? Unions have never been weaker in this country than they are right now and the public unions are the last stronghold for collective bargaining. Unions have had a diminishing effect on elections and politics for the last 30 years.

    I think once the right wing legislature in this state starts showing its true colors, people will start showing up at the Capitol. I’m just sorry we don’t have a recall law in Minnesota like they have in Wisconsin.

  12. Submitted by Kathy Coulter on 02/21/2011 - 11:23 am.

    “Howard Zinn, quoted by Bill Moyers in the February issue of The Progressive”…enough said about THAT…

    Ron Goztman…yes. You are correct, sir.

    And, no need for a “right to work” battle. Let’s just relieve employers – public or private – of any requirements to collect unions dues from workers’ paychecks and submit them to the union. Let unions be responsible for the implementing their own collections.

    One last reminder, JonErik: some of the largest contributors to Obama’s 2008 Presidential campaign: Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, CitiGroup, TimeWarner. The back pockets of corporations are roomy and inclusive. Now, unions, in contrast only have one big left back pocket.

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