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.
“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.