‘Minnesota Calm’ joins ‘Minnesota Nice’ — so far — in Capitol corridors

So far, Minnesota has seemed a long way from Wisconsin.

The Republicans have released their all-cuts budget and the corridors of the Capitol are not filled with protesters.

Does the calm show Minnesota apathy or acceptance or support?

None of the above, according to DFL legislative leaders.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen says the Republican agenda in Minnesota is no different from the plans that are passing in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana, but there are two big differences.

“What you’re seeing is a national agenda being pushed down from the national party,” Thissen said. “It’s an effort to divide middle-class, working families. … But the big difference here is that people know we have Mark Dayton.”

Most expect that the DFL governor will block Republican attempts to make deep cuts in such things as higher education and Human Services.

But there’s more than Dayton behind the Minnesota calm, said Sen. Scott Dibble, an assistant minority leader.

Public not aware yet of budget cut impact
The debate in Minnesota has centered on the budget deficit. The budget, as an overall issue, is abstract to most. What do $1.5 billion in cuts to the Department of Human Services really mean? For that matter, what do $200 million in cuts to higher education mean to everyday Minnesotans?

“You can say, in broad strokes, that the public sector does things that don’t really matter,” said Dibble.

But, it’s when you get down to the specifics, that the abstract becomes real.

“Suddenly, you are talking about what people need,” Dibble said.

That’s why DFLers are expressing concern over the Repbulican timeline between release of their targets and their plan to present a detailed all-cuts budget on March 25. DFLers believe that timeframe doesn’t leave enough time to hold all the necessary public hearings and let the public make passionate pleas for why government spending programs provide vitally needed services.

Often, those hearings create the headlines that help shape budget and policy decisions.

Republicans, of course, deny that they’re looking to cut short public input on their spending proposals. In the most reasonable of tones, they insist that their timeline shows that they came to the Capitol to get their work done.

“We’re focused on the fiscal discussion now,” said House Speaker Kurt Zellers in answer to a number of questions while meeting with reporters this morning.

That answer made it possible for Zellers to avoid talking about many controversial Republican bills that are bubbling beneath the budget deficit, the main storyline of this session.

Budget issue sidelining controversial bills
There are several bills that could be classified as anti-labor in various legislative hoppers. A bunch of them are aimed directly at teachers: bills that would freeze teacher wages, bills that would dramatically change tenure, bills that would severely limit the right of a teachers union to strike.

“Policy bills,” Zellers said in answering questions about those proposals, which would surely raise the heat levels of debates.

Those policy matters “need longer discussion,” Zellers said, and that won’t happen until after budget decisions have been made.

By answering questions about controversial bills in vague ways, Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch are effectively putting a damper on Minnesota political passion.

They’re also doing a good job of talking in positive tones about their relationship with Dayton.

Yes, they pronounced Dayton’s proposed budget as “dead on arrival.’”

And they also know that their own budget bill is also a non-starter in the governor’s eyes.

But still they talk of how they’re having cordial breakfast meetings with Dayton and that they’re pleased with the bipartisan support he’s shown in supporting an alternative licensure bill and a regulatory-streamlining bill.

There’s been so much cordiality between the governor and the Republican majority that there have been some rumblings at the Capitol that the governor is spending more time with Republicans than with the DFL legislators.

Thissen and Dibble both dismissed the idea that Dayton is out of touch with the DFL caucus.

“We’re having regular breakfast meetings with the governor,” said Thissen.

“We just don’t brag about it,” said Dibble.

“It is important for him to keep communications open with the majority,” said Thissen.

“But we feel loved,” said Dibble, laughing.

The two even said they understand Dayton’s efforts to work in a bipartisan way with Republicans, even if that means he’s signing bills that likely would not have passed  DFL-controlled legislatures in the body.

“I have great respect for what he’s doing,” Dibble said. “But sometimes it seems like if you give them [the Republicans] an inch, they want to take a mile.”

For now, Republican and DFL legislators are going separate ways.

The Republicans are getting hunkered down in working on the details of those big, broad budget targets. Meantime, DFL legislators, for the second weekend in a row, will be on the road, talking with the public of the “real agenda” that is buried in budget numbers.

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

Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 03/11/2011 - 02:43 pm.

    Sounds like the legislature – or at least the majority of – is suffering from dialectical dementia; lying or denying through their seats.

    Call in the cleaning lady…delicate semantics with devious pursuits unstated or understated to the point of meaningless absurdity pretty well defines this paralyzed gathering of sycophants?

  2. Submitted by Norm Champ on 03/11/2011 - 03:08 pm.

    Didn’t the majority run into Doug’s issue with their first budget cutting bill? I recall cuts to Child Protection services, which created justified outrage nearly across the board; and the effort was withdrawn. Won”t that happen in spades when the actual cuts come to light VS the general principles announced. Delay will turn to backlash when people realize exactly what the cuts (vs any revenue increase) will mean. Just saying…

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 03/11/2011 - 04:32 pm.

    It really seems that the in the search to achieve their goals, the first instinct of Republicans is to cross the line from being ‘anti-Democratic’ to being ‘anti-democratic’.

    It’s a subtle but significant difference.

  4. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 03/11/2011 - 06:25 pm.

    Although I’m saddened for those who will suffer, perhaps even die as the result of the cuts in the budget that may very well result from these discussions, I’m reminded that a very wise man once said,

    “Evil must often be allowed to fully reveal itself before the average person will come to understand that what at first seemed like a scattering of reasonable ideas actually grew out of the evil in the hearts of those who proposed them (in this case the love of and worship of money and those who possess it above all else); before it can clearly be seen that sum of those ideas is undeniably evil.”

    Clearly our Republican friends here in Minnesota are hoping to avoid that day of reckoning, that day when the public has the opportunity to add together all their policy ideas and realize that the sum of them amounts to evil.

    I can only hope the Democrats and Governor Dayton will stand against that evil as strongly as possible and that they and the news media will assist the public in that summing up of the Republican’s ideas rather than acting in concert with that evil to obscure it and be sure the public cannot take the true measure of it,…

    which so often happens in the case of the national media with the weasel calling the tune and the mainstream media joining the dance the weasel calls day after day.

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 03/13/2011 - 10:49 am.

    If members of the Minnesota Senate and/or House have to flee the state to allow time for public education and reaction and honest media exposure of the harm the majority WILL do it it can, I highly recommend that they do so.

    It would have worked in Wisconsin if the governor had not held an illegal session (only two hours’ notice given) that violated the open meeting law. He also, last week, locked down the Capitol in the morning to keep out both the public and Democratic legislators — some of whom crawled in through first floor windows to reach the floor. I’m sure that was also illegal.

    The governor also illegally discussed political ideas and plans with the person he thought was his Really Large Contributor David Koch.

    Where is the US Department of Justice or its US Attorney for Wisconsin?

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