On Monday evening, the governor’s office released a notice to the media/public that comes off unintentionally as either amusing or ironic.
The notice read:
“Governor Mark Dayton today ordered the State Capitol and State Office Building to re-open to the public beginning at 9 a.m. Tuesday, July 19, 2011. The Governor ordered the doors opened to allow public access and transparency as the Legislature prepares to reconvene to pass a budget.”
Those things disappeared at around midnight June 30, when Minnesota government was officially shut down.
Ever since, the public has been shut out of the process.
But the public’s not been alone. With few exceptions, DFL legislators also have been shut out. Political reporters, too, have been pretty much left standing outside the offices of the governor and elected officials. A wave and a smile and a “we’re getting close” is about as much response as reporters have been receiving from the elected leaders.
Of course, back in January, when Republican took control of the Legislature, they promised a new era of transparency.
They just didn’t say in what year.
It should be noted that the governor and his commissioners haven’t been any more accessible than Republican legislators have been.
In the statement from the governor’s office, it was noted that “the public may read the bills in their entirety as they are completed on both the House and Senate websites.”
But again there’s that irony. The public and/or the press have access to the bills only AFTER they are completed.
The scene around the State Office Building on Monday pretty much summed up how closed off this process has become.
The State Office Building is home to the offices of Republican House members and DFL House members and DFL senators, now that they are in the minority. (Majority party senators have their offices in the Capitol.)
Typically, reporters, lobbyists and members of the public can hang out on the main floor of the State Office Building and have informal chats with the elected officials.
But since the shutdown, the public and lobbyists have not had access to either the Capitol or the State Office Building.
By Monday morning, access for reporters also was tightly restricted at the State Office Building.
A reporter’s pass could get him/her into the building, but not anywhere near the offices of the elected officials.
“You have to call ahead, then whoever you want to talk to has to come outside and talk to you,” a police officer said when I tried to enter the building.
“That certainly makes sense to me,” I said to the officer. “These are terribly important people who shouldn’t be bothered.”
The officer laughed.
“Sure, something like that,” he said.
Again, reporters, the public and lobbyists weren’t alone in being shut out of the process.
DFL legislators were on the outside, too, wondering what was going on inside.
Prior to the weekend, DFLers did receive a message from their leaders saying that they “weren’t needed” at the Capitol but should stay in telephone range, just in case their expertise was needed.
With the exception of Republicans working on the bonding bill, there apparently were almost no calls from Republican legislators and only a few calls from Dayton administration commissioners to the DFL legislators.
“We were kept out of the room,” said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis. “We were informed about the bills AFTER they were completed.”
What’s Dibble think of the bill he was most concerned about, the transportation bill?
“A dog,” said Dibble of the final bill.
Dibble was upset about the fact that “policy” he found important in the transportation budgeting bill — funding for a program to hire and train minority contractors and workers — was slashed from the bill.
“Those were jobs, real jobs at stake,” Dibble said.
Policy that he doesn’t like, business-friendly policy that will create more hurdles for future transit projects, was left alive and well.
As the shutdown days stretched on, more and more organizations have pointed out that the process was absurdly flawed.
Mike Dean, executive director of Common Cause Minnesota, was among those pointing out the absurdity of closed negotiating sessions.
“The public and rank-and-file legislators deserve to know and understand what is in the final budget bill before legislators vote on the bill,” he wrote in his blog.
Other good-government types also were pushing for the process to be at least a little open.
Apparently, the governor finally stepped out of his bunker long enough to get the message. Now that the process is nearly complete, he’s going to open the Capitol and the State Office Building and call it “transparency.”