Gov. Mark Dayton received a standing ovation as he walked into the midst of a room filled with Republican legislators this afternoon.
He acknowledged the ovation with a smile but added that he was concerned that the reaction wouldn’t be so warm at the conclusion of the meeting.
To no one’s surprise, Republican legislators were holding the line on their view that the state’s budget should be held to $34 billion, meaning no new taxes.
And the governor’s view that both sides need to compromise — and that he already has — was unchanged, too.
So, the days dwindle down with no sign of settlement.
An unusual relationship
But this is an unusual relationship that the governor and Republican legislators seem to have.
They agree on nothing politically, but they don’t dislike each other personally.
That’s a dramatically different relationship from the one Gov. Tim Pawlenty had with many DFL legislators during his two terms.
Pawlenty would occasionally meet with DFL leaders — but it was always on his turf. Meetings would be held in his office at the Capitol or at the Governor’s Residence a few blocks away.
Dayton and Republican leaders — House Speaker Kurt Zellers, House Majority Leader Matt Dean, Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and her right hand, Sen. Geoff Michel — switch off meeting sites. One week, it’s the governor’s office; the next, he wanders into their offices.
And today there was this event, which might have been historic. The governor met with the caucuses of the opposing party.
He got the ovation.
He read a short, very blunt, speech.
“You were elected last November with your mandate from the Minnesotans who voted for you,” Dayton said. “I was elected with a different mandate from the people who voted for me. Yet, if you had your way, only your mandate would prevail. The 919,232 Minnesotans who voted for me would be disenfranchised by you.”
The Republicans shared their views. (One senator, Mike Parry of Waseca, seemed to show his view of the meeting by walking out early. He said nothing as he walked past a mob of reporters, a grim look on his face.)
Some Republican lawmakers claim they have shown their willingness to compromise.
Recall, at the start of the session, it appeared that state revenues were going to be about $32 billion for the next biennium, and that was the “checkbook” number Republicans said they would use for balancing the budget.
Then, when a new revenue forecast said that $34 billion would be available, the Republicans said that would be their budget-balancing number — and their compromise position.
Dayton apparently was told by some Republican legislators at the meeting that they aren’t merely “politicians” but people of principle.
Talk of ‘principles’ unites GOP, irks DFL
After the meeting, Zellers summarized those arguments of “principle” that were made to Dayton.
“If we were just politicians, it would be easy to get a deal done,” Zellers said. “But we have principles ….”
The key principle is that government has enough — that $34 billion is enough, that adding more to that bottom line would make Minnesota less competitive.
This whole idea that some of these Republicans — especially members of the freshmen classes in the House and Senate — are more principled than old-fashioned politicians leaves old-fashioned politicians outraged.
Late Wednesday night on the Senate floor, Sen. Tom Bakk, the minority leader, gave a blistering speech about the arrogance shown by many of the freshmen.
Bakk still was fuming today about the “five or six senators who believe they are more principled than others. They will never yield on anything because they believe their principles are mightier than anyone else’s principles.”
This problem does make budget resolution seem remote.
Even if, in the final showdown moments, Koch and Zellers wanted to cut a deal, it’s not clear they could get their “principled” caucus members to follow them.
For his part, Zellers did seem to back off the suggestion that this class of Republicans is more “principled” than other politicians over the years.
“He’s very principled,” said Zellers, nodding to Dayton and added that others are principled, too.
There was warmth in Zellers’ voice — and there was warmth in Michel’s voice, too, when they talked about the governor coming to speak with the majority caucuses.
“He gave everyone his cell phone number,” said Michel, a bit incredulous.
Not only did the governor give all of them his personal number but he also apparently urged them to call him if they had an idea for bringing the session to a peaceful end.
But for all the personal warmth, there remain the fundamental differences.
Koch said the most “moving” aspect of today’s meeting was when freshman Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, a certified public accountant by trade, talked of how hard the economy has been on her small business in the last few years and that tax increases would be too much of a burden to shoulder.
Survey after survey, Koch said, has shown Republicans that their constituents don’t want tax increases.
Dayton said he’s feels the pain of all those who have suffered in the economy, as well as the poor who rely on such things as state-subsidized health insurance.
“They’re all Minnesotans,” he said. “They’re all valid stories.”
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.