The depth of the problem Gov. Mark Dayton faces grows more evident each day: He cares about governing; the Republican majority he is trying to deal with cares only about winning.
Following his hour-long meeting with House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch Tuesday afternoon, Dayton’s resolve to find a way — virtually any way — to get government up and running again was clear.
“I won’t rule anything out,” he said as he spoke of the meeting. “I’m in negotiating mode.”
He seemed to imply his fourth-tier income tax, which would have Minnesota’s wealthiest pay at a level similar to that being paid by the rest of Minnesota, could be set aside if Republicans would step up with any other way to raise revenue.
Different words, demeanors
His words and his demeanor were so much different from the words and demeanors of Zellers and Koch.
It should be noted that on Tuesday, Zellers and Koch were the moderate voices of the Republican Party.
Oh, what a revealing day it was for the GOP.
Sen. Mike Parry of Waseca was tweeting that Dayton should resign as governor.
Dave Thompson, a first-year senator from Lakeville, showed up at the Capitol and addressed reporters while Dayton was meeting with Zellers and Koch.
Thompson lambasted the concept of the “third-way” committee, which former Gov. Arne Carlson and former Vice President Walter Mondale unveiled Tuesday. Thompson said that both had been fiscally irresponsible as political leaders. He made it clear that the committee’s work would be a waste of time, unless it ended up agreeing with the no-new taxes position of the Republican majority.
“If it [the committee of government, finance and business leaders] agrees with the Republican viewpoint, it has done a good job,” Thompson said, with a straight face.
He then went on to reiterate points his party has been making since the campaign: “Contain government growth. … Restrain the growth of government. … Government doesn’t have a revenue problem — it has a spending problem.”
Thompson, like so many in his caucus, believes that repeatedly saying the same things is negotiating.
And then, there was the performance of Michael Brodkorb, the behind-the-scenes, two-hatted Republican player. Brodkorb is both the Republican Party’s deputy chairman and the communications director of the Senate Republican caucus.
According to some Republican legislators, even the tiniest step away from party orthodoxy means a slap on the wrist from Brodkorb / the party.
In public places, Brodkorb usually is silent.
But not Tuesday.
When Zellers and Koch came out of their meeting to face questions from reporters, Brodkorb took his usual place at Koch’s shoulder.
GOP’s Brodkorb jumps in
During the question-and-answer session, a reporter asked Koch and Zellers if they thought it was appropriate that the party is using the shutdown as a money-raising tool.
Before either could answer, Brodkorb jumped in.
“DFLers are doing it, too,” he said.
“I was going to ask the governor that question,” the reporter said to Brodkorb.
Zellers finally did get the chance to answer the question that had been directed at him and Koch, not Brodkorb.
“It’s a question for [GOP] Chairman [Tony] Sutton,” Zellers said. “We don’t communicate with Chairman Sutton.”
Later, the reporter did ask Dayton if he thought it was appropriate that the political parties try to use the shutdown crisis as a way to raise money.
Dayton said that as far as he knew, the DFL is not sending out fundraising letters. The communication from the party to DFLers across the state is urging them to sign a petition supporting the governor’s position in this stalemate, the governor said.
“I think that’s appropriate,” Dayton said, adding he doesn’t think that it is appropriate to use the shutdown as a fundraising opportunity.
All of these incidents show the unyielding uni-voice that Dayton is up against.
If there are any moderate Republicans, if there are any conservative Republicans who believe that compromise doesn’t mean total victory, they’re sure shy about stepping forward.
Given the political climate, Dayton will be accused by his own supporters of “caving in” if he keeps trying to find a way to reach out to Republicans.
Human Services budget pivotal issue
In the midst of this, Dayton is doing his utmost to protect as much of the Human Services budget as he can. (The governor, it should be noted, already has proposed deep Human Services cuts.)
Again, this poses a political problem for the governor. For the most part, the people served by Human Services aren’t the state’s political shakers, movers and funders.
Republicans talk about how the Human Services budget — which includes medical services for the poor — is “unsustainable.”
When reporters Tuesday asked Koch and Zellers how many people they were willing to drop from Human Services rolls, Koch responded without blinking an eye.
“Access is an issue,”Koch said.
But, she was quick to add, the big issue is “unsustainable growth.” Then, she went on to say that with the right sort of reforms, the poor will still be provided for. (Republican reforms have included vouchers, which would “allow” the poor to buy their own health insurances.)
Dayton, meantime, always talks first about all those who would be dropped from Human Services assistance if deep cuts are made.
Still, he said, he holds out hope that his Human Services commissioner, Lucinda Jesson, and Republican legislative leaders can find ways to make the system more efficient without deserting the poor.
Over and over, Dayton talked — as he has since March — of ways to bring resolution to this mess. Sometimes in self-deprecating tones, he talks about how futile his efforts have been.
“The good options I thought I had are unacceptable to the Republican majority,” Dayton said after Tuesday’s meeting.
Meantime, Koch and Zellers came out of the meeting with the governor talking about how they want “a lights-on bill,” how they want to pass a handful of budget bills and push off such controversial items as Human Services down the road. And, of course, they came out of the meeting saying, “No new taxes.”
Republican leaders also are calling this “the governor’s shutdown.”
Through it all, the governor clearly is desperate to find a way to re-open the doors to government offices.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.