DFLers let loose with raft of complaints about agreement process

The 12 hour-plus session, which wrapped up after 3 a.m., rushed through each budget bill on largely party-line votes.
MinnPost photo by James Nord
The 12 hour-plus session, which wrapped up after 3 a.m., rushed through each budget bill on largely party-line votes.

DFL legislators had a lot to complain about during Tuesday’s special session, which passed a controversial budget plan to end Minnesota’s 20-day government shutdown.

The 12 hour-plus session, which wrapped up after 3 a.m., rushed through each budget bill on largely party-line votes.

In the process, DFLers griped about everything: cuts, policies, kicking the can down the road and balancing Minnesota’s budget on the backs of children.

They said the budget amounted to allowing parents to “sneak into their [children’s] bedrooms and steal their piggy banks.”

But beside all those complaints, the thing they hated most were the procedures used to arrive at the eventual shutdown solution.

DFLers say they didn’t get a fair chance to provide their input in the whirlwind budget negotiations that took place after Gov. Mark Dayton and the GOP leaders reached a tentative deal last week.

They also said the shadowy negotiations and short time for review of the finished bills (often a matter of hours or minutes) didn’t do the public justice.

Rep. Erin Murphy
Rep. Erin Murphy

“I’d like to have seen you in the last days [of negotiations],” said DFL Rep. Erin Murphy during debate on the Health and Human Services bill. “I wasn’t willing to trade my vote for a seat at the table.”

It angered House DFLers — who frequently criticized their Republican colleagues — so much that Rep. Mindy Greiling and Rep. Michael Paymar are sponsoring legislation to prohibit such negotiations from ever happening again.

“To me this is a flawed process and, quite frankly, I think it’s something we all should be ashamed of,” Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, said outside of the House chambers during one of the many lulls that punctuated the special session.

He offered one of the evening’s more impassioned floor speeches. “I’ve never been more disgusted with a legislative process,” Paymar said. “The public doesn’t know what’s in [the bills]. Most members probably haven’t read them.”

After the session ended, Paymar said he would drive home and “take a long, long shower to wash the stain of this legislative session off me.”

Both Dayton and House Speaker Kurt Zellers have defended the closed-door negotiations, and both sides seemed eager to end the government shutdown, even if that meant short-circuiting usual legislative procedures.

Zellers has said that most of what’s included in these budget bills got plenty of public hearings before Dayton vetoed the GOP budget. To some extent, he’s correct. In fact, many of the bills’ controversial policy provisions were removed as part of the agreement.

Rep. Dean Urdahl
Rep. Dean Urdahl

“Heck, we gave them time from 3 to 6 [p.m.],” said Rep. Dean Urdahl, speaking of the GOP’s afternoon caucus. “That should’ve given them time to look them over.”

But Urdahl’s joke may have highlighted perhaps the most valid DFL argument: Budget bills were posted online for public viewing just hours before the legislative vote. And during the afternoon recess, the K-12 and Health and Human Services bills hadn’t yet been made public.

The lack of transparency even angered Republicans. One GOP representative complained to a staffer on the House floor early today that his bill was still being tweaked at 12:30 a.m.

“Part of the problem is that in our desire to end this shutdown quickly … we essentially closed out the public from any oversight and any input in these massive omnibus bills,” Paymar said.

On top of excluding the public, legislative Democrats felt the sting of being left out the proceedings. Rep. Thomas Huntley said he hadn’t seen the HHS bill until shortly before session commenced, and others lodged similar complaints.

“Even the Republicans didn’t know what was in the bills,” Huntley said. “The process basically stinks.”

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by rolf westgard on 07/20/2011 - 10:12 am.

    We, the people of Minnesota, elected these clowns. We are getting the budget settlement that we asked for and deserve.

  2. Submitted by M Cathcart on 07/20/2011 - 11:16 am.

    So much for democratic process, openness in government, transparency for the people. All should be ashamed: the Governor for agreeing to place an agreement over the corrosive effects of secrecy, the members for not permitting free and open participation. This is a heinous example of bad government in action. Shall we consider Minnesota the state that used to work?

  3. Submitted by Andrew Richner on 07/20/2011 - 11:19 am.

    While we may value the liberal (in the classical sense) ideal of democracy as the triumph of rational debate in the collective decision-making process, the DFL’s frustrations highlight the reality of a first-past-the-post, to-the-victor-go-the-spoils system. Closed door negotiations and decisions are the rule and not the exception.

  4. Submitted by Ralf Wyman on 07/20/2011 - 11:44 am.

    I attended several of the committee hearings during the regular session, and they were absurd. Cabinet-level commissioners of major dept’s of government were given three minutes to testify over bills that set their two-year budgets, and sometimes weren’t even questioned by Republicans in the hearings.

    It was a sham. You could see the GOP-ers eyes glaze over the moment the public started testifying.

    They then passed the bills semi-secretly co-authored by national conservative groups like ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) without accepting amendments.

    SO, yeah, the public “had input.” Into a disinterested black box.

  5. Submitted by craig furguson on 07/20/2011 - 11:56 am.

    They pulled an all-nighter on $35 billion dollars worth of spending. You’ve got to wonder about the quality of the work.

  6. Submitted by Virginia Simson on 07/20/2011 - 12:17 pm.

    Forget transparency; forget the right to redress of grievances as the doors were locked the emails unread, the voicemail not listened to at all; forget open meetings law and sunshine imperatives.

    Forget the poor, the disabled, the students, the seniors, those being shoved into nursing homes (with ‘counselling’ now paid for) – we were and remain INVISIBLE in a legislature dedicated to corporate special interests.

    Recall the ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) members who managed to bring all this misery to come and the death of democracy to YOU.

    http://usuncutmn.blogspot.com/2011/07/call-out-alec-members-in-mn-leg-now-or.html

    #MNrecallGOP

  7. Submitted by Dick Novack on 07/20/2011 - 01:41 pm.

    I’m informed that Minnesota has a new state anthem:

    “We three kings ….”

  8. Submitted by Kim Millman on 07/20/2011 - 04:36 pm.

    I find it rather rich that DFL legislators are crying and complaining about the process. These are the same wimpy legislators that followed the lead of weak kneed DFL leaders in rolling over to every GOP demand for over a decade. These are the same DFL legislators who refuse to challenge the absurdity of the GOP leaders that stand in front of the cameras and preach that they want to protect our children from debt while simultaneously demanding to borrow money instead of raising any revenue to pay the bills. Worse yet, they continuously supported the same weak kneed leader, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, for speaker and Governor, despite her “collaborative” approach to the GOP. Hopefully sometime before this century is over, you all will figure out you don’t collaborate with spoiled brats, you tell them with words and demonstrate with actions that you aren’t going to put it up. You learn how the heck to fight back instead of lying down and taking it. Only then do you have any right to complain.

    Larry Pogemiller made it very clear at the beginning of the special session, reminding the body that neither the Governor nor the legislative leaders had any legal or constitutional authority to control the entire process so there is absolutely no reason to cry about a process DFLers refused to fight to change. The DFL legislators will continue to lose and lose big, both in elections and ideas if they never learn to fight back. So DFLers, either walk your talk or quit talking.

    It is also high time that the DFL rank and file start holding DFL leaders accountable for continuously moving so far to the right there is no recognizable difference between the two parties. Since voting DFL essentially means I’m voting GOP by proxie, it is time to find a party that is more closely aligned with my interests. I suggest others do the same.

  9. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 07/20/2011 - 04:48 pm.

    I’ve read in a couple of places that “many” of the controversial policy provisions have been removed.

    When will we find out which ones were NOT?

  10. Submitted by John Olson on 07/20/2011 - 07:45 pm.

    Two things really stand out for me:

    1) The Republicans now know that they can get what they want from this Governor. If the GOP retains the majority into 2013 and 2014 and has a chance to do a state budget again, state workers should simply plan on being unemployed again two years from now.

    2) The majority knew what it wanted to do within days after the election and needed the cloak of darkness to accomplish their goals.

    To that end, might I suggest that since the Republicans loathe public input (except from their corporate masters), they can just start the 2012 session now. Have secret, closed-door meetings with whomever you want, wherever you want and simply report the outcome to us in March. I frankly don’t care if you get paid or not since most of you will take the money anyway.

  11. Submitted by rolf westgard on 07/21/2011 - 06:08 am.

    If WE can’t muster up the votes to retire these clowns, Canada will start looking good.

  12. Submitted by Paul Landskroener on 07/21/2011 - 09:14 am.

    Don’t discount the effects of the huge Republican freshman class and new leadership who had never led a majoriy caucus before. Much of the train wreck was caused by these new legislators and their unfamilarity with legislative process and lack of skill in governing. (Ironically, many of them touted their lack of experience as a virtue in their campaigns, running as reforming outsiders.)

    As I remember someone (Wy Spano?) saying on Almanac (MPR?) a while ago, governing ain’t rocket science. It’s a lot harder. Much of Dayton’s and the DFL’s anguish is over these new guys who simply didn’t know the mechanics of how to run a legislature or follow the historic conventions of legislating — e.g., the practice of passing policy bills first and then the budget.

    Again, some of the convention-busting was deliberate, disguised (or honestly believed to be ) as “reform”, but I suspect a lot of it was due to simple lack of experience running a majority caucus. More than one lobbyist has told me that they lost weeks of valuable time simply getting organized. The Republicans’ quick capitulation from their first budget target (the amount in the checkbook) to the revised forecast happened when they discovered how hard it would be to cut to their preferred levels.

    All of that said, I do not discount the harm that the Republicans’ extreme ideology played in the fiasco. As someone else has said, ignorance plus meanness is ugly.

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