No one should have figured this would be easy.
And it wasn’t.
Republicans grimaced, DFLers winced, and long recesses were the rule of the night as the Legislature tried to “quickly” end the longest shutdown in state history.
Shortly after the Minnesota Legislature was called back for a 3 p.m. special session, Republican leadership in the House and Senate called for a recess that stretched to three hours.
‘Hard going’ in GOP caucuses
As DFLers lounged throughout the Capitol and in the State Office Building, Republicans met in caucuses that were described as “hard going,’’ according to one legislator.
Apparently, Republican leaders were still twisting arms and legs to get support for the agreements reached between the governor’s office and Republican leadership.
At least some of the “not-a penny-more” crowd of Republican legislators was not ready to accept the deal, despite assurances from House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch that “we have the votes” to pass the deal.
As the first six bills passed through the bodies, the big question loomed: Would the Republicans have the votes to pass the big funding bill?
DFLers made it clear that passing the bill that calls for the K-12 shift and the selling of tobacco bonds to balance the budget was going to have to be done by Republicans.
Drama slow to develop
But the drama of that count kept getting delayed.
Only two hours after resuming the session, House and Senate leaders again were calling for a recess that was expect to last for more than an hour.
What was going on behind those closed Republican doors?
Actually, some of the bills passed the bodies with bipartisan support, despite the threat by many DFLers that they would vote “no’’ on everything except the bonding bill and a pension bill.
In some cases, it became clearer why DFLers could support some of the bills and why Republicans were looking grim-faced.
Obviously, in those secret negotiations of the four days leading up to the special session, Gov. Mark Dayton and his commissioners had scored some significant victories.
Republicans, for example, had wanted to virtually eliminate such bodies as the Human Rights Department and the state’s trade office.
They had slated Human Rights for a 65 percent cut, but Dayton’s team had reduced that cut to a manageable 5 percent.
Republicans had wanted to shutter the trade office. It remains open following the closed-door negotiations.
It should be pointed out these “victories’’ don’t mean that the governor is out of the woods with some key supporters.
The union leaders who had been a constant presence at the Capitol during the regular session were noticeably absent Tuesday night. A number of sources said they remain bitterly upset with the governor’s backing off his “tax the rich” pledge that had won over their support in the first place.
Limited shows of passion
Mostly, though, this was a night of recesses and little passion, at least outside Republican caucus rooms.
The environmental bill, for example, was filled with the sort of policy that had DFL legislators — especially metro-area DFLers — holding their noses.
For example, Republicans inserted language into the environment bill that means the state will subsidize fees paid by large feedlot operations when they apply for permitting. The cost of that subsidy program — only about $1.5 million over the biennium — is small, but the principle is large.
Additionally, the environment bill contains such jewels as creating the possibility of the Minnesota DNR opening a hunting season on wolves. That would require wolves to be moved from the feds’ endangered species list. But, in the past, Minnesota has had law that has said there would be a five-year moratorium on wolf hunting, no matter what the feds decreed.
Despite those sorts of hot-button issues, the environment bill passed, with only minimal debate, in both bodies with little debate. In the Senate, there was even bipartisan support for the environmental bill.
Again, the lack of passion probably was two-pronged.
It was clear that no amount of words was going to change anything.
More importantly, those negotiations between the governor’s office and Republican legislative leaders had stripped a major provision from a piece of legislation most DFLers had opposed: a lifting of a moratorium on the construction of coal-burning power plants.
The first real emotion shown in the chambers came in the debate over the Higher Education bill.
The compromise bill between Dayton and Republican legislators left the University of Minnesota and state colleges and universities facing $360 million in cuts.
Higher ed bill draws outrage
Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, showed genuine outrage as she spoke to those cuts.
“The last time we invested so little was 1998-99,’’ she said. “Our current college students were in kindergarten at that time. And now we have 70,000 more students.’’
To hit universities so hard at a time when the state political leaders talk of the need to compete globally makes no sense, Pappas said.
The dollars represent a 15 percent cut to the University of Minnesota; a 13.5 percent cut to MNSCU schools, Pappas said.
“Historical cuts,’’ bemoaned Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter.
It should be noted that the DFLers in the Senate, already in the minority, were operating with two fewer votes than they’d had during the session.
Since then, Sen. Linda Scheid, DFL-Brooklyn Park, has died. Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, was absent for the special session because she had given birth on Wednesday night.
There was one moment on this strange night that might have bordered on historic.
At one point during discussion of the Jobs bill in the House, an Iron Ranger, Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, rose to thank Republicans!
He was even nice about it.
Remember, back in the regular session, the Republican majority raided the Doug Johnson Trust Fund, which is money from taconite proceeds, of $60 million. Iron Rangers were irate, using words like “stealing” to describe the GOP move.
But during the negotiations with the governor, Republicans agreed to return the money to the fund.
“I want to thank you,” said Anzelc to the GOPers.
Later, he noted he had been on his best behavior.
“I could have said, ‘Thank you for not stealing our money.’ ’’