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Senate DFLers, now relegated to the minority, use stalling tactics to make their points

Senate DFLers, newcomers to being in the minority, showed this morning they’ve learned a basic lesson of the system: If you can’t win, agitate.

And the best way to agitate is to delay the inevitable.

Oh, what an impressive delay game the DFLers played for more than four hours this morning. While their Republican brothers and sisters rolled their eyes and called for “points of order,” the DFLers yakked and yakked and yakked about everything from dinosaurs to pixie dust.

The stage was set for this mini-DFL filibuster back in November, when voters put Republicans in charge of the Senate for the first time in more than four decades. With the gavels in right hands, instead of the left, Republicans this session giddily have shown DFLers what a powerless life members of the minority party lead.

A tedious but sometimes funny grind
This morning, DFLers did what they could to return the favor. They turned the passage of the omnibus State Government, Military Affairs and Veterans Affairs bill into a tedious—though sometimes funny — grind.

In fairness, DFLers do despise this bill that cuts 15 percent across all government agencies, in addition to other cuts showing up in other bills. This bill also hammers state employees, freezing their wages, cutting their benefits and reducing their total numbers.

The bill also has NO CHANCE of leaving Gov. Mark Dayton’s office without a big veto marked across it.

Still, DFLers decided to mess with the minds of the Republican majority this morning.

Sens. Tom Bakk, Dick Cohen, Scott Dibble, Kathy Sheran, Rod Skoe, David Tomassoni and many others took turns speechifying about the shortcomings of this Republican bill.

But no DFL senator agitated Republicans so much as Sen. Sandra Pappas of St. Paul.

Sen. Sandy Pappas
Sen. Sandy Pappas

“I want to express my concern about the 15 percent cut to employees at the Science Museum, which, as many of you know, is in my district. The science museum was founded in 1907, has 500 employees and 1,500 volunteers.”

Pappas then started to read the Science Museum’s mission statement.

‘Points of order’ on parade
Apparently, Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, didn’t want to know about the Science Museum’s mission statement.

“Point of order,” Robling said to the acting president of the Senate, Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen. “We don’t need to talk about the mission statement or the exhibits at the Science Museum.”

Pappas countered.

“Some of the exhibits could be impacted by these cuts,” she said.

Ortman tried to side with Robling.

“Speak to the bill,” she ordered Pappas.

Pappas nodded and then took off again.

“Madam chair,” Pappas said. And then she started talking about the fossils at the museum and “the replicated dinosaur skeletons.”

Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, chairman of the Government Operations Committee, rose.

“Madam chair,” Parry said. “Point of order. There’s nothing in this bill about the exhibits.”

Pappas shot back.

“Madam chair, he didn’t ask to yield.”

It was Ortman’s turn.

“Sen. Pappas,” Ortman said. “We’ve all heard about the exhibits.”

Pappas didn’t appear to hear Ortman.

“Some of my colleagues want to hear about the exhibits,” she said. “The best is the King Tut exhibit.”

Now she was off and running full steam. She talked of Tut and somehow tied in the “BodyWorks” exhibit that had been displayed at the museum previously, and then she was back to talking of how Tut’s “internal body organs” had been removed.

Senators of both parties were now wandering around the chamber. DFLers were snickering.

Republicans, especially the rookies, were scowling and muttering things like “What a waste of time.”

Of course it was a waste of time. But so is the passage of bills that are destined to be vetoed.

And on and on Pappas went. About Tut, his nine-year reign, his father.

Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, leaped to his feet.

“Point of order,” he said. “Is the member reading a paper?”

(There’s a rule against senators simply reading articles, etc.)

Pappas appeared to be offended.

“I’m reading notes,” she said, adding that members often read from notes.

Ortman wasn’t impressed with the Pappas argument.

“Do that against and I’ll declare you out of order,” she said.

Pappas seemed sad.

“I think that it’s quite common that members read from notes,” she said. “But I’ll try not to read, even though my notes are eloquently written.”

Sen. Geoff Michel
Sen. Geoff Michel

Republican Sen. Geoff Michel stopped by the press table at the front of the Senate chamber and said: “The DFL now has spent more time talking about dinosaurs than they did on preparing their own budget.”

(Throughout the session, Republican senators have complained that DFLers didn’t make their own budget to counter both the GOP budget and the governor’s budget. It should be noted that when Tim Pawlenty was governor and Republicans were in the minority, GOP senators didn’t prepare a budget separate from the governor’s either.)

When Pappas finally was done — somewhere between dinosaurs and Tut and the Mississippi River Center, which is located in the museum — Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk took over. He suggested the whole bill be sent back to conference committee “for further vetting” and went on to discuss, at length, the numbers that needed vetting.

“On Page 3 of the spreadsheet …,” Bakk would say.

And Republicans would groan and maybe even wish that Pappas would come back and tell them more about dinosaurs.

In the end, the DFLers finally yielded.

DFLers still lose on vote
The dinosaurs and King Tut and the DFLers all were defeated, 37-29.

But DFLers made the Republican majority pay a time-wasting, agonizing price for their election victory.

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 (8)

  1. Submitted by Tim Walker on 05/18/2011 - 03:56 pm.

    “But DFLers made the Republican majority pay a time-wasting, agonizing price for their election victory.”

    Good on ’em.

    I hope any DFLer who was accused of “wasting time” Wednesday morning countered with a reminder that passing a budget sure to be vetoed is also a waste of time.

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/18/2011 - 04:42 pm.

    Yes, the Republicans famously did this when they were in the minority two years ago. The DFL chair shut them down, and the GOP has been whining about it ever since. The DFL was right then, and the GOP chair would be right now to put a stop to this sort of nonsense.

    We lost, they won, and it’s time we all learned to accept the consequences of that. If we don’t like what’s happening at the legislature, and I personally am appalled at what’s happening, we should run better candidates, and better campaigns. And if Sen. Pappas wants to see what’s the problem with DFL today, she might take a look in a mirror.

  3. Submitted by Frankie Barbella on 05/18/2011 - 06:54 pm.

    What an outstanding display of leadership from our senate. I hope this continues, I hope the stall tactics work to the point in which the business of the state is delayed and / or shut down. Senate DFLers, please continue the good fight as long as you can. I am begging, actually I am daring you to stay the course!

  4. Submitted by Eric Larson on 05/18/2011 - 10:35 pm.

    “But DFLers made the Republican majority pay a time-wasting, agonizing price for their election victory”

    Have we come to this? Does a respected journalist agree with this tactic? Are these elected officials proud of their actions? To partisan lefties and the organized left this may be seen as heroic.

    But to those who believe in democracy as tought in school or hope to instill in their children the good that is democracy, you DFL’ers let us down.

    MN Senate DFL’ers here me: You now have something in common with Southern Democrats who bottled up and filibustered for decades against the Fair Housing Act, The Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act.

    It’s not the issue or your position that is despicable. It’s your tactics. I’m going to research my history of the last years of Weimar. I hope I don’t find even more chilling behavior.


  5. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 05/19/2011 - 03:57 am.

    Has Sandy Pappas become “foul mouthed” yet?

  6. Submitted by Eric T on 05/19/2011 - 01:17 pm.

    I totally agree with some of the more moderate comments. Political ideology aside, this is no way to behave. It’s scary that people running our state would behave this way. Totally shameful.

  7. Submitted by Jim Roth on 05/19/2011 - 01:58 pm.

    Several years ago (when Arne Carlson was governor) my spouse was lobbying at the legislature on a bill regarding children and families, which happened to be supported by Governor Carlson. Some opposition legislators (including some we had supported) constructed obstacle after obstacle to passage of the legislation. My spouse asked one of the legislators why he was doing this, since the legislation was consistent with his professed views as well. He responded “It’s just politics.” My take from that was that, at least to some, politics is more important than policy.

  8. Submitted by Craig Huber on 05/20/2011 - 09:54 am.

    Republicans do the same when they are in the minority, and it’s been going on for decades. Change the composition and rules of the conference committees if you don’t like the tactic… but don’t even start with the “DFLers let us down” bull… your GOP slant is showing.

    The entire system gives too much power to the 50%+1 party, whichever party it may be. The minority has almost no power, and thus is reduced to being as obstructive as possible to slow things to a crawl and “minimize the damage”, by their perspective.

    Is it the best way to do things? Hardly. But it’s the rules of the road at present.

    @Gregory Lang:
    Re “foul-mouthed”: She didn’t stoop to “f*** you”, like VP Cheney on the US Senate floor, so I’d say no, not yet.

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