Like a bad New Year’s Eve party, legislative session’s last day was a big dud

House members while away the last hours awaiting the session's anticlimactic end.
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
House members while away the last hours awaiting the session’s anticlimactic end.

There was no Plan B.

There was no drama. No fireworks. No memorable speeches. No last-minute efforts to come together.

Nothing, except for a lot of people looking at their wristwatches.

“Like New Year’s Eve at 10:30,” said Rep. Frank Hornstein, a DFLer from Minneapolis. “It’s excruciating. You’re tired, but you know you have to stay up until 12.”

This was a really bad New Year’s Eve Party. But the members of the Minnesota House and the Senate stayed the course. Then, with sighs of relief instead of cheers, they went home to await a call from Gov. Mark Dayton for a special session.

Don’t expect special session anytime soon
It’s unrealistic to expect that call to come anytime soon.

Why bother?

Dayton said in a statement released last night, “Here I am in the middle — and they haven’t moved.”

The dicey part of this whole business now is that Republicans can’t move, at least not anytime soon. Those freshmen members who gave them the majority in November are absolutely committed to not raising taxes.

And Dayton is just as committed to adding at least some new revenue with a fourth income-tax tier on the wealthiest.

In so many ways, the Legislature’s last night was a reflection of much of the session.

Outside the respective chambers, there were several hundred people, chanting. On this last night, it was workers from public employee unions. They gathered, on a gorgeous spring evening, on the lawn in front of the Capitol steps, ate hot dogs, and then, around 8:30 paraded inside.

For most of the next 3 hours and 30 minutes, they chanted outside the House and Senate chambers.

“Tax the rich!”

The show of support from public workers is vital to Dayton and the DFL, for if this stalemate continues, there will be a government shutdown on July 1. Given that many freshman Republicans have so little respect for government, the idea of a shutdown causes little anxiety.

If there’s a shutdown, the first people who will be missing paychecks are the sort of public workers who were at the capitol Monday night.

Are they prepared to take a shutdown, or will they demand that Dayton get a deal done?

Public employees preparing for state shutdown
“They’re prepared,” said Eliot Seide, director of Local 5 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.

Seide said officers of AFSCME chapters across the state have discussed what will happen in event of a shutdown.

There’s really little choice but to stick with the governor’s plan, Seide said. If the Republican budget plan were enacted — piece by piece, it will be vetoed by Dayton — he said at least 11,000 public workers would lose their jobs. The cuts run across every level of virtually every piece of Republican legislation, from calls for a 15 percent reduction in the state workforce to cuts to Local Government Aid, which would create more cuts.

And so they came and they chanted — just as so many other organizations have come and chanted, typically against elements of the Republican agenda.

But Republican leaders believe, perhaps correctly, the chants they’ve heard at the Capitol don’t resonate outside St. Paul.

And this morning, GOP legislative leaders will do the tradition state fly-around. They’ll go from city to city, talking of what they accomplished this session.

DFLers, of course, think they accomplished nothing.

“You’re only accomplishments have been to divide Minnesotans,” said House Minority Leader Paul Thissen a few moments before the clock struck midnight. He called the session “a colossal failure of Republican leadership.”

Matt Dean, the House majority leader, didn’t even make an effort to respond to Thissen’s stronger-than-usual words.

As Thissen was giving his closing remarks, Dean stood and began to speak over Thissen. Thissen said, “Go ahead.”

Dean spoke.

His final words of this session?

For sure, they’ll be back Jan. 24
“The hour of midnight has arrived,” Dean said. He went on to announce that the Legislature would reconvene at noon on Jan. 24, 2012.

And that was it.

So was the session that big of dud?

Certainly, if you go back to January, when the new Republican leaders took charge, the tone was hugely different from what it was on the last night of the session.

Then, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, Dean and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch were all so proud, so excited. They were going to bring new clarity, new vision, new order to Minnesota.

Zellers was honest in the moments after the session ended. Some of the early-day hopes were gone “after the first month,” he admitted.

Still, he tried to talk up the accomplishments of the session.

The Republicans passed a balanced budget and sent it to the governor, “so we fulfilled our constitutional requirement,” Zellers said. “Granted, last part of that is for the governor to sign it.”

Zellers added that the Republicans and Dayton had agreed to a regulation-streamlining bill early in the session, and that, he said, “was a high priority.” They’d also agreed on alternative teacher licensure.

He also added that the Republicans had passed reform bills “that change the way government works.” He called the education bill and its reforms “a generational shift” in the way the education system will be funded.

But, of course, most of the reforms he talked about are likely to be vetoed.

Interestingly, Zellers did not mention the marriage amendment in listing the party’s accomplishments.

Meantime, Thissen was eager to hang that controversial action on the GOP.

Again, though, what was most striking about this last day was how little was done.

Republican leaders and the governor didn’t hold any budget talks. The Senate spent most of the day in recess.

A frustrated Republican
The Senate’s refusal to meet in session frustrated Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker.

Howes desperately has been trying to get a small bill passed for a couple of years now. The bill would require school buses to have a safety arm attached to the front. (The arms go out when children get off the bus, which forces kids to walk in a way which they can been seen by both the driver and oncoming cars.)

Most metro school districts require that their buses have the arms, Howes said. Most rural districts do not.

This year, his stand-alone bill passed in the House, with little opposition, two weeks ago. But he couldn’t get a vote on the Senate floor.

Howes bristled as the time slipped away and the Senate chamber stayed empty.

“It’s not a big bill,” Howes said, “but it can save the life of a kid.”

With an hour left in the session, he went to the Senate chamber, pleading for action on the bill.

He came back, disgusted at his own party’s leadership. They weren’t going to take up such a small bill on the last night.

Nothing was done.

In fact, the Senate adjourned about 15 minutes before the midnight closure.

In that body, Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Virginia, took one more long populist swipe at the Republicans for their failure to see the good that government does, the roads, the schools, the universities. All Republicans were interested in, he said, was “protecting the rich.”

Assistant Majority Leader Geoff Michel, R-Edina, followed Bakk’s blast with some kind words about the leadership of Koch. Then Koch quoted Churchill, and that was it in the Senate.

A few senators stopped by the House chamber to see if there was going to be any flourish to the finish.

What they heard were the final words of DFLers talking the Legacy Fund bill to death.

The Legacy bill will rise again in special session, as will a bonding bill.

But it’s unclear when that will happen.

For now, there’s no Plan B.

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

Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 05/24/2011 - 10:00 am.

    I can only hope that our Republican legislative leaders are greeted at every stop on their victory tour with people asking them

    “what terrible things have been done to you that you would value, above all other things, the protection of the wealth of the wealthy while being completely blind to those who would die if your budget were enacted?”

    Or, in it’s shorter form, “What on God’s green earth is wrong with you people!?”

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/24/2011 - 10:18 am.

    As the husband of a state worker, I can tell you that state workers have been anticipating a shut down since the election results were announced. And really, is anyone surprised this?

    The thing that interests me is the fact that I’ve never seen a major political party this disconnected from reality and it’s own constituents. The Republicans have clearly camped out in their private la la land under the assumption that they are the only ones with principles, and despite the lack of a mandate they don’t have to work with the governor.

    Dayton meanwhile has positioned himself perfectly. I’ve never seen a Governor go into a shut-down in this strong of a position. The Republicans will shoulder the total blame for this shut down as far as most Minnesotans are concerned, and it guarantees huge losses for the Republicans in the next election cycle. If they thought negotiations were tough before, wait till they try to get Dayton to call a special session without a budget deal. It would appear a lot of Republican legislators are in for a rude awakening, and Dayton hasn’t even started the vetoes yet.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/24/2011 - 10:35 am.

    To quote Oliver Cromwell:”You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately… Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

    While that doesn’t exactly summarize my feelings about the legislative session just concluded, I do have a sense of where Ollie was coming from.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/24/2011 - 10:39 am.

    “The thing that interests me is the fact that I’ve never seen a major political party this disconnected from reality and it’s own constituents.”

    But they are very much representing their base. And the base of the Republican Party is riding high within that party. Also, the Republican Party in the legislature has a fairly large number of legislators who genuinely do not care whether they get re-elected or not. Given that mindset, becoming disconnected from constituents just isn’t that difficult.

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/24/2011 - 10:43 am.

    It is extremely poor management on the part of the leadership of the Republicans–they essentially ran the time out and ended up proposing in the last couple of days a budget they could have presented within the first few weeks of the session. It is especially pathetic and irresponsible to run out of time when they knew that there was little chance that Dayton was going to roll over and sign their budget. Not leaving any time for subsequent revision and negotiation and time for shifting of positions on the part of anyone is astoundingly bad management.

    It is clear that some negotiations and position shifting is required for any final budget. Any competent negotiator (or student of human nature) knows that people cannot and will not change their fundamental position in a 3 day signing window. The time that is required for movement and face-saving and ass-covering must be considered. Failure to allow for that in a normal fashion is the epitome of bad negotiation skills. Pushing it into a special session only ramps up the pressure on the participants and can solidify positions further.

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/24/2011 - 10:56 am.

    The outlines of the Republican position have been clear throughout the session. They weren’t going to budge from it, and their position was unacceptable to Dayton, so there was no alternative to letting the clock run out.

    Quite honestly, and as an external observer, I don’t see how the Republicans can budge from their position without breaking the party. This session has always been about whether the Republican Party would continue in Minnesota as a viable political entity.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/24/2011 - 10:59 am.

    Neal,

    It was no accident that they ran out the clock. They held these budget to the last minute because they didn’t want lengthy debate- they don’t want people to know what’s actually in them because because they put 18,000 people out of work, cut millions to senior citizens, throw 125,000 out of health care, etc. The last thing they want is a lengthy long look at their budget in the light of day. They thought they could pass in the middle of the night at the end of the session and no one would notice.

    Hiram,

    Yes, they play to their base, but that base has always been very small. They don’t win elections because they’re popular, they win because they lie… remember the promise of a laser focus on the budget? I say let em play to their base, the more the better. The more they do, the more they alienate everyone else.

  8. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/24/2011 - 10:59 am.

    What I have always wondered, and what has been in the back of my mind since last November’s election is that the Republican victory might be like a Tsunami. The thing about Tsunamis is that they come, but they also go. And when they go, there is nothing left of them except the damage they leave behind.

  9. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/24/2011 - 11:11 am.

    “Yes, they play to their base, but that base has always been very small. They don’t win elections because they’re popular, they win because they lie… remember the promise of a laser focus on the budget?”

    That Republicans do manage to win elections is something that is often baffling to me. I try not to accuse anyone of lying, for at least two reasons. First, because that’s a personal attack, and I avoid personal attacks unless I have very good reason, and not very often then. Secondly, to know whether someone is lying, it’s necessary to know the subjective state of the mind, something not easily available. That they might not have completely focused on the budget, may be true, but it’s more of a broken promise than it is a lie. And in my view, an understandable one. Since no one throughout the session moved from their initial positions, there was nothing to do, so the Republicans took up the social issues out of boredom as much as anything else. And also, social issues are red meat to activists and the media, it’s my opinion that they get a little more attention as a result than they deserve, something that’s particularly true when so little else is happening.

  10. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 05/24/2011 - 11:19 am.

    Republicans are going to travel the state promoting their accomplishments? They could Twitter it and still have 132 characters left.

  11. Submitted by NIcole Masika on 05/24/2011 - 12:33 pm.

    good article, however, the Facebook RSVP list for the union rally shows people from all over Minnesota were there supporting Dayton’s budget: I was surprised how many got there from Duluth.

  12. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/24/2011 - 02:42 pm.

    I don’t think the observation that politicians lie is controversial. This isn’t a court of law, we don’t have to prove they lied, but we have a responsibility make some judgements.

    Not that Democrats are angels or anything, but the history of Republican duplicity is a matter of record. Remember when they ran around telling everyone we had a surplus?

    If you look at their campaign it was very clear that although they talked about a laser focus on the budget they had no budget plan. Remember how long it took Emmer to come out with a plan, and when he finally did his plan was basically to let the problem solve itself. How can anyone honestly claim they’re going to focus on the budget when they know they have no plan? Obviously the budget wasn’t a priority, are we to believe they didn’t realize it wasn’t a priority until they walked into the Captial? Republicans knew what their priorities were, and they weren’t what they claimed. We don’t have to know their state of mind to compare what they did with what they said would do. They also said they were going reach across the isle and compromise, clearly they had intention of doing, in fact they’re ideologically apposed to compromise.

    To be fair, Democrats always lie to labor during elections. No matter now many times Democrats get into power they never follow through on labor promises and the US remains a country with the weakest labor laws in the industrialized world.

    I have no trouble acknowledging I’ve been lied to, in fact I think it’s very important to acknowledge when we’ve been lied to by our elected officials and call it what it is. It’s a judgement call, and judgement may not be infallible, but I think we actually loosen the standards of integrity when let people get away with duplicity.

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/24/2011 - 02:44 pm.

    //That Republicans do manage to win elections is something that is often baffling to me.

    It’s not nearly so baffling when acknowledge the fact that they lie, and look at the lies they tell:)

  14. Submitted by Dave Callaway on 05/24/2011 - 05:04 pm.

    The Republicans had their chance to negotiate with Gov. Dayton, over their draconian budget and the budget he himself didn’t like. I’m actually glad that they couldn’t bring themselves to the table! To negotiate between bad and much worse, is not in the best interests of Minnesota!

    I would encourage Governor Dayton to move his budget proposal in a progressive direction, a more traditional Minnesota VALUES based budget! When the Republicans finally come to the table (?), he could negotiate from a position that would allow him to stay in a more humane place than his original budget.

    The last eight years, under Pawlenty, have left us in this mess! The Republican controlled legislature just seems blind to solving this reality in a humane way. Their solution is to spare those with plenty, and add to the tax burden of everyone else, and the pain of those in need!

    Adding the fourth tier to the state income tax
    must be part of the solution. 56% of voters in last falls election recognized the need for more revenue!

    Last December, the top 2% got an undeserved extension of the Bush tax cuts. This is borrowed money (debt) that will be paid back by all tax payers; our children and grandchildren. To deny that this handout is not fair game for the state, is pure denial. These funds would be better spent supporting basic state services, than supporting the speculation in commodities, that is driving the price rises in food and fuel!

    PS, Where are the jobs? The Republican budget
    was more about killing jobs, than creating them!

  15. Submitted by craig furguson on 05/24/2011 - 10:29 pm.

    In 2005, the govt shutdown lasted until the state parks and wayside rests were shuttered. When the politicos went home to march in the 4th of July parades, there were a lot of questions. Then Pawlenty came up with a 75 cent a pack cigarette fee to make up the difference and it was settled. Expect something similar.

  16. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/25/2011 - 08:53 am.

    It’s not often I am willing to say someone is lying, but I think it’s fair to say that the oped in the Strib that accused the governor of running the clock out on the session is a lie. The governor is not a legislator and has no power over it’s internal affairs. Both houses of the legislature are controlled by Republicans who have absolute power over the calendar, that is, if and when legislation is brought to the floor.

    I personally attended a conference committee in May that did not do what conference committees are supposed to do, reconcile senate and house versions of bills. Rather, it heard substantive policy testimony of the kind that should have been heard in March. That conference committee, which was not doing what it was supposed to do, preparing legislation for consideration on the floor of the two houses, was composed entirely by Republicans.

    How is it possible for the DFL to run out the clock in a committee in which no DFLer was even a member?

  17. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/25/2011 - 08:25 pm.

    Meanwhile you have Pawlenty running around telling everyone what a great fiscal manger he was, and how great his education policies were… he’s lying.

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