When nothing is going to be accomplished, it’s best to do it quickly.
With that in mind, Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch adjourned Thursday’s first meeting of the brand-new Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy just 45 minutes after it had been called to order.
The evidence was clear early on that the afternoon meeting of 19 legislators — 13 Republicans and six DFLers — was going to be pointless from the moment that Gov. Mark Dayton told two of his commissioners not to attend.
If recent history is any indicator, the only point of this commission is for legislators to beat up on the governor’s commissioners. Certainly, that was the case when DFLers controlled the Legislature and Tim Pawlenty was governor.
“Waterboarding” is how Rep. Mindy Greiling, a DFLer and a member of this commission, described the treatment that Tom Hanson, who had been Pawlenty’s commissioner of Management and Budget, had received a year ago from DFL legislators.
Presumably, Dayton’s Management and Budget commissioner, Jim Schowalter, and Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans would have received similar treatment Thursday from Republicans.
But they weren’t there.
Republicans claim that the commissioners accepted phone invitations to the session on Wednesday morning. It was only after they received letters specifying the intent of the session late Wednesday afternoon that the governor stepped in and said the commissioners couldn’t go.
That allowed the Republicans to grouse.
“Those empty chairs [where the commissioners would have been seated] allow the public to see what we’ve seen all along,” said Rep. Matt Dean, the House majority leader and a member of the commission.
The absence of the two also allowed the Republicans to clench their fists and make tough noises.
That tough-guy job was given to Sen. Mike Parry of Waseca. A proud fellow, he puffed himself up and asked, “Do we have subpoena power?”
There was a pause in the inaction before an attorney could be found who could respond to Parry’s question.
“Yes,” said commission legal adviser, Pat McCormick.
At that point, it appeared that the friction between legislative Republicans and the DFL governor could become even more intense.
Sen. Tom Bakk, a commission member and the Senate minority leader, urged caution.
Just because the commission has subpoena power, he said, doesn’t mean it should be used. In fact, he said, he holds virtually no hope that this commission could help resolve the budget stalemate.
He was, he noted, speaking from experience.
“I did participate [on last year’s commission],” Bakk said. “It failed. We should not kid ourselves. … This process hasn’t been successful.”
Finger-pointing by Republican members of the commission, he predicted, would lead to only more “polarizing. Nothing productive will come out of that.”
Bakk says budget solution requires private sessions
Bakk said that only meetings — “private conversations” — between the governor and the highest levels of Republican leadership can lead to a resolution.
Bakk, it should be noted, was tied with DFL Sen. Keith Langseth for making the longest drive to get to this pointless meeting. Well, actually Langseth claims to drive a mile farther from his Glyndon home than Bakk does from his home in Virginia. Langseth claims 236 miles, Bakk 235.
“But I get to come all the way on I-94,” Langseth said.
Worth the trip?
“86 bucks,” said Bakk, half-laughing at the waste of his time and taxpayer money.
He added that he did meet with Dayton prior to the commission meeting and will meet with him again Friday before heading back home.
The sort of meeting that Bakk says must happen if a government shutdown is to be averted is to happen this morning.
Legislative leaders and the governor will meet behind closed doors. But there is no indication that either side is willing to budge — at least yet.
Surprisingly, the handful of DFLers on the commission seemed to be more effective at hammering home the governor’s position on the budget than all those Republicans were at making points about their budget positions.
Rep. Paul Thissen, the House minority leader, was a late addition to the commission.
For some reason, he had not initially been named to the commission by the Republican leadership.
“Just a mistake,” said Thissen.
Perhaps. But perhaps he initially was left off because Thissen is quite eloquent. On Thursday, he pounded on the theme that Dayton has been compromising on his budget positions since nearly the start of the session.
Republicans, he said, have not moved.
“I was hopeful we’d see a counter-proposal from the Republicans,” Thissen said. “I don’t see that on the agenda.”
Without movement from the Republicans, Thissen added, he doesn’t see how the commission can accomplish a thing.
GOP leaders want time in bully pulpit
Republicans tried to use the meeting to grab some of the bully pulpit time away from the governor.
Several of the Republicans complained that the commissioners weren’t available. If the commissioners were present, they said, Republicans could gain insight into the specifics of the cuts Dayton would be willing to make. (Dayton, earlier in the day, rejected that concept, saying that approach would require him to be “negotiating against myself.”)
Sen. Geoff Michel, assistant Senate majority leader, said it was important that the commissioners show up; that at least some budget work should be done by this commission — “so Minnesota taxpayers can see what’s going on.”
Other Republicans, too, said it was important for the commissioners to appear before the commission.
“I’m very troubled,” said Sen. Julianne Ortman.
She said she had “very important questions” to ask those commissioners.
What sort of questions?
She wanted the commissioners “to confirm that it’s the biggest budget in state history.”
Ah, but on this day, that question couldn’t be answered.
But given the fact there were no commissioners on hand to answer the “very important questions” that people such as Ortman wanted to ask, there was really nothing to do but go home quickly.
And so they did.
But there were hints that if commissioners don’t show up at the next commission meeting, subpoenas might be filling the air.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.