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Gov. Mark Dayton enters GOP session to a warm ovation but leaves on a chillier note

Gov. Mark Dayton
MinnPost/James Nord
Gov. Mark Dayton

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.

It wasn’t.

Kurt Zellers
Kurt Zellers

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.

Amy Koch
Amy Koch

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.

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Comments (20)

  1. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 05/19/2011 - 05:45 pm.

    Here’s what I want to happen. I want Dayton to ask them what they think of the fact that Minnesota was built into a great state by a hundred years of investment – in education, in infrastructure, in the health and well-being of our citizens – and why they think it’s time to end that. I really want to hear their response to that question.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/19/2011 - 05:51 pm.

    “Principled” has moved into “zealotry”.

    Exactly where have the Republicans compromised? They have certainly forgotten that they did not get 99.99% of the votes in their districts and are operating on their own agenda now.

  3. Submitted by Lance Groth on 05/19/2011 - 06:06 pm.

    “But we have principles ….”

    It’s that holier-than-thou attitude that many of us find so off-putting.

    These people need to realize that their top priority now, as elected officials, is to govern, and that means compromise. Governance is not religion (and it is always disastrous when the two are mixed.)

    A clear majority of voters want compromise. They want the job done, with both sides meeting in the middle. Dayton has already come to the middle, it’s now up to the other side. If they can’t fulfill their responsibility, the repub majority will be the shortest majority in history: two years and out.

  4. Submitted by Pat Missling on 05/19/2011 - 06:13 pm.

    The term principled does not apply here. Republicans are not being asked to do something illegal, immoral, or wrong in any way. Over 40% of voters in my district responded to our rep that they wanted to raise taxes – despite the fact the only option on the survey with a tax increase started with families earning $50,000. This is nowhere near Dayton’s proposal. Many more would have made the choice for tax increases on that survey if the governor’s proposal had been a choice. The survey was written to discourage responses supporting tax increases. (And it would allow a rep to honestly say no one supported the gov’s proposal.) What is not principled is listening to party over your constituents. While they have the dictionary out, Republicans should review the words “negotiate” and “compromise”. Please note that saying you “look forward to working with the governor” followed by saying you “won’t compromise” is essentially meaningless. Which one do you really mean?

  5. Submitted by Eric Larson on 05/19/2011 - 07:15 pm.

    I’ve an idea. How about DFL Gov. & Legislators allow the Repub budget to become law. Then said DFL’ers can go make hay for 18 months. When the inevitable crushing of the GOP occurs in 2012, we can go back to big spending and taxing as usual. Or….might something else happen? C’mon DFL!

  6. Submitted by Matty Lang on 05/19/2011 - 08:36 pm.

    Amy Koch, Michelle Benson, and their ilk need to take another look at the definition of the word burden and then compare their situations to the rest of the Minnesota populace and get back to us on their policy priorities and their idea of what is a burden and which of us should bear how much of the burden.

    After that, they need to learn that there’s a lot more than tax policy that sets the stage for successful businesses whether that be large or small. Most small businesses in Minnesota have weathered the economic storm without calling to gut the future of Minnesota’s economy for short-sighted personal “relief” today. This GOP crew sure has some kind of principles. They unfortunately seem to be horribly misplaced principles.

  7. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 05/19/2011 - 09:59 pm.

    “Principles” is evidently the new catch word our dysfonic Republican legislators are using describe the reality that they have the world view their dysfunctions require them to wrap around themselves wrapped SO tightly…

    And the “money goggles” those same dysfunctions inflict them with so tightly glued on…

    That the suffering of real people is invisible, incomprehensible, and irrelevant to them (only the suffering of the wealthy whose taxes might be slightly raised but who would STILL not pay as much as the middle class by percentage matters).

    Numbers matter. PEOPLE do not.

    Perhaps they’re just preparing the salve they’ll be using as they lick their wounds, having been soundly defeated in the next election: AT LEAST WE STOOD BY OUR PRINCIPLES!

    (even after it became obvious to the citizens of the state that carrying through on their principles would have destroyed most of our lives).

  8. Submitted by will lynott on 05/19/2011 - 11:10 pm.

    Just a guess, but if Benson has had that hard a time I doubt that the Governor’s tax increase would affect her. But her whine is predictable–conservative governance by anecdote.

  9. Submitted by William Pappas on 05/20/2011 - 06:14 am.

    Good point will, but facts don’t get in the way of ideological purity. Doug Grow has really hit on the essential problem with today’s political scene both nationally and local. Republicans have become idealogues. Nothing gets through their shell of misinformation, fact denial and failed ideas. It prevents them from internalizing human suffering caused by their insistance that tax cuts mean more revenue and an improved economy for all. Pawlenty taught them how to behave and they bought it. It is as if Pawlenty left the governor’s office but his soul has now inhabited the House and Senate. The new republicans will not comprimise, will not listen to the truth, do not allow any kind of alternative narratitve and continue to say their policies will help small business when the truth is the opposite. That accounting business will suffer under their plan while the Dayton plan wouldn’t touch it, unless of course Senator Benson is making more than 300 hundred grand from it. If that’s the case it’s hard to muster up a tear or two for Michelle, she’s been enjoying bennies from the Bush and Pawlenty tax cuts for the last ten years. Boo hoo.

  10. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 05/20/2011 - 07:06 am.

    I generally support more money for my kids teachers etc.

    However using the DFL solution of more money for everything is going to solve any problems. Take a look at education. When the DFL had control of both houses, did they pass any reform. Zero, Nada Zip.

    Go to DFL towns like St. Louis Park. They run the most segregated schools in the state. Minorities and poor are basically shunted to one or two schools. Their access to the Parks department is zero. The moment they ask for anything they will be told “historical relationships”. Which means we are giving everything to the good ole boys in this town.

    If the schools in St. Louis Park/Minneapolis were so good how come Ted Mondale/Ryback send their kids to private schools. However when their kids want to play in league sports they jump to the front of the line.

    Look at St. Paul. They paid Meria Castarphen, who was a photographer and assistant to the assistant to the schools chief, hundreds of thousands. Progress. Nah , just bail when it comes time to ask questions.

    Look ar Minneapolis. They paid Carol “I love the children” Johnson hundreds of thousands. Progress. Nah . No she “had to go home” to Tennessee ? and then of course “go home” went down the toilet as soon as she found a better gig in Boston.

  11. Submitted by Paul Landskroener on 05/20/2011 - 09:20 am.

    Mr Maddali (#10): If by the “DFL solution” you mean Governor Dayton’s proposal, remember that he is NOT proposing “more money for everything.” He is proposing LESS money for (nearly) everything, too. The difference is that he is proposing less drastic reductions in spending.

  12. Submitted by Ann Richards on 05/20/2011 - 09:26 am.

    The Governor keeps coming up as such a class act. The GOP is incredulous that he gave them his phone #, they are incredulous because they have insulated themselves from the rest of us. They have not listened to any feedback from department heads or the public at the few public committee meetings they have had. For the first time in many years I have 2 new GOP legislators. I have made a trip to St Paul to meet them, I have sent letters that have not even been acknowledged. When I lived in Mpls I always heard from my reps.

    I have been shocked at some of the vocabulary they have used to show disdain for anyone they don’t agree with, but there is one word they need to brush up on- hubris.

  13. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 05/20/2011 - 10:49 am.

    I would like to propose that any special session be mandatory for our “representatives” and without pay, per diem, etc. This is getting to be an expensive habit for the Legislature, and the public should not pay for a bunch of legislators unwilling to put their big boy/girl panties on to get the job done. We want COMPROMISE. Do it!

  14. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 05/20/2011 - 12:27 pm.

    I don’t think either Zeller or Koch are capable of long-term thinking — being able to mentally visualize what would be caused by such draconian cuts. They are like young children, who can’t see 10 minutes into the future.

    If Dayton is forced to unallot, I would start unallotting anything related to business to the point that the Chamber of Commerce folks, who are essentially the Republicans’ minders anyway, would be telling the Legislature to go back in and fix stuff.

  15. Submitted by Jim Halonen on 05/20/2011 - 01:10 pm.

    Here’s why the GOP has to remain steadfast on their budget, or to be “principled”, in other words. Say if we just raise taxes this time to cover the deficit. In two years there would be another deficit… the call would be to raise taxes. In two more years, there would be another deficit and another call to raise taxes. We can all see where this is going. A better plan is spend only what you have, reform, limited government – everything the GOP has been saying. It makes a lot of sense if we take the long-term view of it all.

  16. Submitted by BILL MCKECHNIE on 05/20/2011 - 01:13 pm.

    Way to go Mark Dayton- Don’t give up your principles either. You won the statewide election and these local ideologues did not. Focus on what we have to do have a great state and whatever that number is, stick with it. I am sure most of these new Republicans won close races and thus just less than half of their constituents would support their “principled attempt to legislate a wholesale change in our society”.

    Maybe after the Rapture event at 6pm Saturday night the population of Minnesota will lose a million or so Republicans who are headed to “see Jesus” at a gathering of the faithful off this planet, we can then call for special elections and elect some basic hard working Democrats who look out for all of us and not just those who have money.

  17. Submitted by Marcia Brekke on 05/20/2011 - 01:21 pm.

    #14, thank you. Your idea is brilliant.

    As for “principles”–when do they become “prejudices”? The latter indicates “My mind is made up, so don’t confuse me with the facts.” Hmmm, a perfect match for the pre-judgers who won’t look at anything but what Fox News, the Chamber of Commerce, Big Business, et al, tell them to think and do.

  18. Submitted by Dave Callaway on 05/20/2011 - 11:44 pm.

    Just how “principled” are the Republicans? Take a look across the country, you might notice a high degree of similarity in the legislation oozing from Republican caucuses. Can anyone say “principled” and ALEC in the same sentence?

    You can say that ALEC has ideological principals, but they have no moral principals!
    Yet, this seems to be where the Republicans in Minnesota and across the nation go for their “principled” inspiration!

    It appears that the Republicans are so blinded by their (or someones) principals (ideology), that they don’t realize what they are trying to impose upon the State of Minnesota. If they were raised here, they ought to be able to realize the difference; if they came here from the Deep South, maybe not.

    All Minnesotans deserve an honest discourse to be conducted by ALL of our elected officials and representatives; bring your morals and convictions, but don’t cast them in stone. You were elected to represent your constituents, ALEC doesn’t live in your district or the once Great State of Minnesota, for that matter! Leave ALEC’s ideology in Somalia where it belongs!

  19. Submitted by will lynott on 05/22/2011 - 09:57 pm.

    Jim Halonen…..ahhh, man, I just can’t be bothered…

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