Despite tough talk on Vikings stadium, GOP legislative leaders duck and run for cover

For all the talk that things would be different when they took control, the Vikings stadium issue is showing that this group of Republican legislative leaders are no different from leaders of the past.

Despite all of their tough, we-can-do-it talk, when the going gets tough, these Republicans hold their fingers to the political winds and scurry for cover, just as their predecessors did.

Two cases in point.

Case No. 1: Sen. Dave Thompson
A few days ago, Sen. Dave Thompson, the usually brash-talking assistant majority leader, took most of the standard political positions when addressing the Vikings:

• He said he was a big Vikings’ fan and doesn’t want to see the team leave. That’s a very popular thing to say.

• He said he won’t support any form of public subsidy for a new stadium. That’s a very popular stance to take.

• He said, if the team leaves, it won’t be because of his decision, but because the owners of the football team decided to leave. That’s an old-fashioned political cop-out.

If the team decides to leave because a stadium deal isn’t done, it will be because state politicians opted not to make a deal.

Case No. 2: House Speaker Zellers
Also, House Speaker Kurt Zellers has displayed even fancier political tap-dancing moves in the Vikings stadium debate:

Speaker Kurt Zellers
MinnPost/Jay Weiner
Speaker Kurt Zellers

• The former college football player has come out of meetings with Gov. Mark Dayton talking as if he’s working with the governor in attempting to come up with a solution.

• Early in the week, he wrote an email to members of his caucus saying he’s opposed to a special session. He said the Legislature could deal with the Vikings matter during the regular session.  

• On Wednesday, he said he isn’t really opposed to a special session but sees no reason for one now because there’s no stadium plan on the table. “You can’t have a vote on a special session without having a plan,” Zellers said.

Wait a minute. As House speaker, Zellers is supposed to be the second-most powerful figure in the state’s political structure. If there’s no plan, isn’t Zellers part of the problem?

Kriesel, by contrast, takes responsibility
One Republican legislator who hasn’t flinched in all of this is Rep. John Kriesel, the rookie from Cottage Grove.

Kriesel, who supported the measure to build a casino on the Block E site in downtown Minneapolis as a way to fund a stadium, has appeared on sports talk radio programs in recent days saying the buck stops with the Legislature. He’s said if the Legislature doesn’t come up with a funding plan, people rightfully will hold lawmakers accountable if the team moves.

The freshman lawmaker is a huge Vikings fan. During his campaign, there were pictures on his website of him wearing a Vikings jersey.

Rep. John Kriesel
Rep. John Kriesel

When he was elected, the injured war veteran was held up as a GOP star — at least until he made an impassioned speech last session opposing his caucus’s move to place a marriage amendment on the ballot.

(By the way, many Republican leaders have been just as coy on the marriage amendment as they’ve been on the Vikings’ stadium. When asked if they personally oppose gay marriage, they duck for cover. “The people should decide,” they say.)

Kriesel has it right on the stadium issue. Saying no to the Vikings is a legitimate political position. But with that position comes accepting responsibility if the team leaves.

Dayton outspoken, too, but now hedging on his plan
So far, Dayton also has played it straight on where he stands on the stadium issue.

Agree with him or not, he’s clearly said that he believes there must be a public role in construction of a stadium. He’s met with all of the players, ranging from legislators to casino developers to racino proponents to Vikings owners and National Football League executives.

Without a solution, he said, he believes the team very well might leave the state and that such a move would be a loss. He established a timeline, correctly noting that only when presented with a deadline do pols take action.

But Dayton backed off slightly Wednesday on his original scenario, saying that if there’s not going to be a special session, he feels no need to put forward his own plan for addressing the stadium. For weeks, the governor had said he would put his plan on the table on Monday. It’s not clear why Dayton has decided not to make it public for all to see.

Of course, there would be critics, left and right, of any plan the governor would propose. But that’s what makes the Vikings stadium issue so revealing.

It’s always easy to oppose something. It’s always easy to make sweeping statements of principle such as “no new taxes.”

It’s much harder to accept the responsibility of a clear position and to suggest solutions.

Comments (32)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 11/03/2011 - 09:51 am.

    Go Gophers.

  2. Submitted by T J Simplot on 11/03/2011 - 10:19 am.

    Thank you for saying what I have been saying all along: It will be politically damaging if the Vikings leave.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/03/2011 - 10:23 am.

    It’s such a difficult problem. What seems to be happening is that legislative leaders are canvassing their caucuses, asking them what they would support, and they are getting answers, 201 of them in fact. I wonder if the better course is to rough out a plan at the leadership level that provides some money for the Viking, but also some help for the schools.

    Gambling is not my favorite thing. I think it’s nothing more than a costly to collect regressive tax on the poor and the stupid. I don’t think casinos belong in downtown Minneapolis; I prefer them to be in remote locations where they are less likely to offend my senses. But if Republicans are willing to fool themselves into thinking gambling is something other than it is, a tax, I would be willing to go along with it.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/03/2011 - 10:48 am.

    From where I sit, the problem is a perception of ineffectiveness. This is just another instance where government, in this case state government just isn’t able to do a job. We aren’t telling the Vikings to stay, we aren’t telling the Vikings to go, we are unable to formulate a policy at all.

    What is the point of a political process whose participants can’t even muster up the necessary will to make a mistake?

  5. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 11/03/2011 - 10:49 am.

    The republican leadership painted themselves into a corner- when you are unwilling to raise taxes for core governement responsibilities (education, infrasctucture, health-care), it is very hard to suggest raising taxes to subsidize a lucrative industry, where the league-minimum salary for a rookie ($375,000) puts him into the top 1% of earners. Even they see the political suicidality of this, so I can understand their ducking for cover. Democrats like Dayton, who were willing to raise taxes for real needs, don’t have the same issue of looking like hypocrites, but whether voters will remember that he wanted to raise funds for things other than the stadium is uncertain.

    I do wish that more attention would be given to the very real option of telling the Vikings that thre is no help forthcoming. Not now, not ever. Stadiums used to be utilitarian structures, now the need for more luxury suites to drive revenue also drives the costs into the stratosphere. If that’s how they want to go, great, but do it on your own.

    There is the risk that they leave. Can we please devote a little press as to how bad/not bad this would be? I’ll make a case for “not bad”. Most people don’t attend games now. Fewer still will when the new stadium is built, and much of the Vikings share is funded by personal seat licenses. The games will still be available on TV, for those that need to watch. Or, perhaps people will get off their butts and do some exercise themselves with a few hours of extra time. Perhaps they’ll go watch a local high school or Division III NCAA game, and realize how fun it is to watch athletes play for fun, not pay (Division I doesn’t count). Perhaps they’ll use the money saved on tickets to hire a handy-man to fix up their man-cave to watch the games in, and spread the wealth around to local businesses rather than the just the Wilfs. Local liquor stores will be happy to sell fans a six-pack for the same price that got them one beer in the stadium. And, they can drink them at home, staying off the roads, instead of heading out onto a freeway after one (or several) too many. Finally, when we get disgusted by a team what has too many players in jail/on boats with hookers/getting DUIs, etc, we don’t need to feel constrained by geography and can instead root for a team whose players we respect, whose style of play is exciting, or who for some other reason attract our loyalty. Frankly, I like football, and like to watch. So I do- and I root for the teams with self-financed stadiums, who cut players who are lousy citizens, or who just seem to be a fun team to watch. It’s not that bad.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/03/2011 - 11:13 am.

    I think what’s happening is Democracy is finally rearing it’s head. People are tired of seeing their political system hijacked for the benefit of the super wealthy, especially out of state billionaire franchise owners. The arguments for what have become huge public subsidies for sports franchises are simply too weak to withstand even moderate scrutiny. The old exaggerations of “thousands” of jobs, and “huge” economic impacts don’t pass muster anymore, too many people know better. Likewise the idea that a team that provided entertainment 8 times a year is some kind of cultural necessity has imploded up reflection that we have plenty of other stuff to do on the 355+ days a year we have no Vikings games.

    This would be the largest public subsidy in MN history for a franchise that employs less than 200 people and promises ZERO economic expansion of any kind.

    We’ve always known that the great majority of Minnesotan’s never want to pay for new pro-sports stadiums, and we even know the majority actually say they’d rather lose the Viking to LA than subsidize a stadium.

    The surprise isn’t that this stadium drive is falling apart. The surprise is that this stadium drive ever got off the ground in the first place. Ziggy just kinda made it known through people like Sid Hartman that he wanted a new stadium, and sat back waited for one to magically appear on his selected Arden Hills location- paid for by tax payers. The fact NFL franchise owners are accustomed to getting stadiums this way is a disgrace that may be coming to an end.

    I don’t think politicians are afraid of losing the Vikings, I think their afraid of betraying the taxpayers again… and that’s how it should be.

  7. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 11/03/2011 - 11:16 am.

    Kudos to Dimitri. And sorry Doug, but as much as I despise Mr. Thompson, his answer is spot on. he can build a stadium himself, he can be given the Metrodome to update. If he turns those down and leaves, it’s his choice.

    I’m just dumbfounded by this notion that, because stadiums have “always” been built this way, this is the way it has to be done. Nonsense. If that were the case, I’d still be getting to work on horseback and using a rotary phone.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/03/2011 - 11:16 am.

    //We aren’t telling the Vikings to stay, we aren’t telling the Vikings to go, we are unable to formulate a policy at all.

    This is true. However I would point out that it’s not governments job to provide professional football. We don’t actually need a “Vikings” policy.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/03/2011 - 11:19 am.

    I think it’s time to ask Ziggy where the Vikings intend to play football next year and the year after. If they want to play in the Dome, they shouldn’t expect a year to year rent free lease. They should have to sign on for another 15 years. And if they don’t want to do that, they shouldn’t expect MN to act as a placeholder while they build a stadium somewhere else.

  10. Submitted by craig furguson on 11/03/2011 - 11:22 am.

    And Rybak has an interesting strategy also, tie the Vikings issue to a bailout of the owned Target Center.

  11. Submitted by Evan Roberts on 11/03/2011 - 11:25 am.

    Doug, you probably don’t mean it, but your analysis plays into the framing the Vikings want that it is a public responsibility to finance a substantial portion of the stadium.

    Lets take the Republicans at their words — they don’t want the Vikings to leave (hard to falsify), but why is it their responsibility if the team leaves?

    In the end that is the team’s decision.

    They could choose finance the stadium with revenues (higher ticket prices), but there’s no indication they’re even willing to try that.

  12. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 11/03/2011 - 11:32 am.

    Thank you for stating the obvious, which is apparently not very common in the media these days. That is that there is that Republican legislative leadership is the biggest oxymoron in the state.

  13. Submitted by John ODonnell on 11/03/2011 - 11:37 am.

    I really don’t understand why any public money is needed for the Vikings’ project. If it made any economic sense at all there would be plenty of savvy people willing to invest in it. The Arden Hills site does make economic sense if all the additional development occurs. However, only the Vikings’ owner will take the profits from that development. Now, if the Vikings’ owner was willing to re-pay a State loan for $600 million and keep the profits from the development after that, a State loan might make sense. It could be financed by bonds guaranteed by the Vikings.

  14. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 11/03/2011 - 12:03 pm.

    I think what people forget is that the stadium would not be used only by the Vikings. The Vikings would use the stadium 10 or 12 times a year. Other venues would use it several 100 times are year. The last figure I heard is that the dome get used by other venues close to 600 times a year.

  15. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 11/03/2011 - 12:05 pm.

    The recent comment from the Vikings was that the metrodome is no longer “sufficiently profitable”, not that it was unprofitable. So the 600M state investment is only to make them more profitable. It will also greatly increase the sale value of the Vikings when Zygi wants to sell. The players won’t get higher salaries, the beer vendors won’t either. Except for the construction industry for a few years of work, no one will make money off this but the Wilf family. The price of tickets, already beyond most middle class budgets, will go way higher in order to pay back the Wilf investment. None of that will go to the state.

    I am opposed to gambling expansion or any other government subsidy of this enterprise beyond help with infrastructure. As Tester says, “Go Gophers.”

  16. Submitted by Rebecca Hoover on 11/03/2011 - 12:29 pm.

    We need to invest wisely in a future that is wisely based on scientific and technical excellence — not in football which is a barbaric and outdated sport at best.

  17. Submitted by Mark Linden on 11/03/2011 - 12:39 pm.

    Given all the Federal Stimulus money spent on Solyndra and like projects, Perhaps Minnesota can spend our fair share of the Stimulus on a new “green” Viking Stadium…..a least there would be something tangible…..and the cash would not have been flushed down the crapper…….and we’d have something to show for it.

  18. Submitted by James Hamilton on 11/03/2011 - 01:44 pm.

    @1: Go, Tester! We already have a captive pro-football team, why do we need the Vikings?

    @14: I’m more than a bit puzzled as to how any stadium could be used close to 600 times a year by anything remotely requiring a stadium for its operations.

    We’re setting the bar far too low if we let legislators duck this issue. Take a position and take your lumps, ladies and gentlemen of the Legislature. If you support support a $650 million public investment in either Arden Hills or Minneapolis, then perhaps you can tell us why that money (if available) isn’t better invested throughout the state in either repairing our failing infrastructure or subsidizing the development of year-round business operations. If you don’t support the investment, then stand up and say so.

  19. Submitted by Richard O on 11/03/2011 - 01:57 pm.

    This doesn’t appear to make much sense. Zellers won’t call a special session without a “plan.” Dayton doesn’t feel obligated to produce a plan without a special session. Huh? And nobody new this until yesterday.?

  20. Submitted by James Hamilton on 11/03/2011 - 02:04 pm.

    Another piece here on MinnPost today inadvertently gives some perspective on what could be done with a $650 million public investment.

    http://www.minnpost.com/stories/2011/11/03/32885/luring_server_farms_minnesota_targets_a_burgeoning_industry_that_actually_likes_the_cold#comments_section

    Yahoo plans to spend a mere $500 million to construct its data centers all over the world.

  21. Submitted by John Olson on 11/03/2011 - 02:16 pm.

    According to state records, the Vikings have made just over $3M in reported political contributions between 2005 and 2010. Members of the Wilf family also made political contributions is 2010. Based on the data, two of the larger amounts went to the Senate Republican Caucus and the House Republican Caucus in 2010 (in addition to modest contributions to the Emmer, Dayton and Horner campaigns).

    The Speaker and Majority Leader are walking a tightrope between members of their own caucuses who will not vote for a state subsidy and running the risk of losing campaign funds for the upcoming 2012 elections. I would be uncomfortable if I was stuck in that position too.

  22. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/03/2011 - 02:18 pm.

    //I think what people forget is that the stadium would not be used only by the Vikings.

    I think what you’re forgetting is that we already a place for people other than Vikings to use, and it’s not costing us $30 million a year like the Vikings stadium would. We have the Dome, “we” don’t need a new stadium, the Vikings want a new stadium. If the Vikings leave, we still have the dome.

    Did someone seriously suggest that MN should duplicate federal waste on the state level, and we’d have something to show for it?

  23. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 11/03/2011 - 04:54 pm.

    We stuck to our guns with the North Stars, and paid 50x as much to get a team back than it would have cost in the first place.

    It’s not fair. It may not be right. We did try it the other way and told an owner to go away.

    You can all stick to your guns, or be a little pragmatic.

    We will pay for a pro football stadium here. It will cost us now, or 50 times as much in ten years when we get an expansion franchise.

    Just as the Wild and North Stars how that works out.

  24. Submitted by Eva Young on 11/03/2011 - 07:37 pm.

    Good spade work in following the money, John. Sen. Thompson’s assessment of the situation is dead on – it’s the Viking’s decision about where they want to be located, and their fault if they leave, not the State, and not local government.

  25. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/03/2011 - 07:56 pm.

    Can’t wait to vote in 2012.

  26. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 11/03/2011 - 08:09 pm.

    Sport team blackmail needs to end across this nation. They are all very private companies so they need to be treated as private companies and build their own facilities. If we build a stadium the teams won’t play any better, they will just have more of our money to wallow in. If it is such a good deal for them to have a new stadium why are they not willing to pay for it themselves? Why, because the politician are easily blackmailed. The television will still work after they leave and you will still be able to see them at little to no expense. They have to live somewhere. Eventually they will run out of cities and they will come back to fly-over land. If politicians don’t have a stadium to worry about they will have more time to do the real business of the people that elected them. Stadiums don’t happen without fattening the wallets of the politicians. Corruption is alive an well in America.

  27. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/03/2011 - 08:12 pm.

    Alec,

    Sports franchise’s don’t “come back” because we need them. They are not the product of public demand, or economic necessity. They come back because someone hijacks the political system and uses to get public funding for million/billionaire franchise owners. We are NOT obligated to do this, we do not NEED to bring a lost team back at some time in the future. People who think we’ll have to pay more if we don’t pay now seem to forget we’re not required to pay at all.

  28. Submitted by Dimitri Drekonja on 11/03/2011 - 08:40 pm.

    So how is it automatic that we will want a new team in 10 years? And if we really ever spend 35 billion on a sports stadium, I’m leaving this place.

  29. Submitted by William Pappas on 11/04/2011 - 06:14 am.

    You have to recognize that Dayton has risked alienating over half his political base by pushing the process of publicly financing a Viking’s stadium. He deserves credit for smoking out the positions of legislators and the viability of a sales tax and attempting to deal with political realities and possible solutions. He has driven the discussion to the remaining revenue option of gambling, which is the last gasp for public financing. If that is the reality then the legislature should deal with it and stake out their positions. I admire Dayton for the effort even though I don’t support one dime of public money to pro sports owners. A megadevelopment around the stadium in Arden Hills will only cause businesses losses elsewhere. Previously upgraded retail in the area will loose business to the Wilf development. There will be no massive generation of economic activity. The reason: Minnesota consumers will not be in any better position to consume after the Arden Hills development is comlete than they were before the project. The entertainment dollar, the amount of personal income available for consumption, will if anything be declining.

  30. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/04/2011 - 06:36 am.

    “I think what people forget is that the stadium would not be used only by the Vikings”

    There is no shortage of big event venues in the Twin Cities. Between the Gopher, and Twins Stadiums, the Metrodome, two professional sports arenas, and all kinds of college facilities, in terms of just stadium space, we have a glut on the market. It may well be possible that the operators of a Vikings Stadium might search for events to put in it, to give the impression that the facility is being used more than ten times a year, but what you will also find is that an NFL Stadium is going to be expensive to operate, and that no event other than Vikings games located there couldn’t find a satisfactory venue elsewhere.

  31. Submitted by Bonnie Lokenvitz on 11/05/2011 - 06:48 am.

    What is the position of the women on this?

    Or are we too busy worrying about affordable child care, equal rights, carrying for aging parents, etc.?

    Let the Vikings go to California and focus on the needs of Minnesotans.

    Bonnie Lokenvitz

  32. Submitted by Paul Johnson on 11/08/2011 - 10:14 am.

    It appears that the Legislators and the Governor are going to stick the state of Minnesota taxpayers with part of the tab to build the stadium for the Vikings Corporation because the Vikings do not have the ability to build it themselves. This means that we the taxpayers are gong to be major investors in this venture.

    As a major investor we the taxpayers should get something back for our money and commitment. Lets keep it simple and say that on top of the jobs created and other many benefits (some dispute this) that supporters will point to, we as investors accept those benefits and as a major investor we want 2 additional benefits as a return on our money. We as major investors want: No. 1 – 2% of gross monies taken in at concessions for all events held at the stadium, No. 2 – 4,000 tickets (given in blocks of 2) per pre-season, regular-season and post-season game held as a lottery for every adult tax paying person in the Great State of Minnesota. The 2% of gross of concessions should go into an education fund to benefit every child in the state. Although this is not a large sum, we as major investors should get a piece of the pie. The lottery would make available the pleasure of seeing the Vikings play to every tax-paying adult in the state. The smallest franchise in the NFL is willing to do this for their investors and so should the Vikings. If the Arden Hills site is chosen then we a major investor want 1% of the gross on all food and beverages sold in the stadium and Mr. Wilf’s other developments in and around the Arden Hills site. We want this as an investor because without our investment the Arden Hills or other site will not happen. Lets not forget that no matter the outcome Mr. Wilf and his grandkids trust funds will be protected and be just fine. We as taxpayers should do the same for our kids and our state.

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