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:
• 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.
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.