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Bakk cries ‘Foul!’ over ‘inside baseball’ Senate staffing fight

MinnPost photo by James Nord

Typically, weekend media briefings by legislative leaders are mild affairs, with House and Senate leaders commenting on the progress of respective bills.

But there was nothing mild about this morning’s briefing, especially once Tom Bakk, the Senate’s minority leader, took the floor.

Bakk was seething as he talked about cuts in DFL Senate staff by the Republican majority. He suggested that  Republicans were either “lying” or “manipulating data” or had merely made some pretty big “mistakes” when they decided that 14 DFL staffers should be cut, zero Republicans.

Does the public care, even a little, about Senate staffing?

The Senate’s No. 2 majority leader, Republican Julianne Ortman, said, “No.”

“This is truly inside baseball,” she said in response to Bakk’s charges. “Do Minnesotans really need to hear about this?”

Bakk understands the “inside baseball” nature of his wrath. But he said Minnesotans will understand this is a workplace fairness issue and “abuse of power” by the GOP majority.

“This is a story about honesty and an abuse of power that will impact the careers of many, hard-working people,” he said.

Staffing battle hinders collaboration

Beyond that, it’s clear that this issue will undermine efforts by state senators to work collaboratively on anything else.

The staffing battle in the Senate is just one of many areas making the possibility of a reasonably peaceful session seem less and less likely.

The Republican majority likely will vote not to confirm Gov. Mark Dayton’s appointment of former DFL Sen. Ellen Anderson to the Public Utilities Commission.

Additonally, Republicans in both the Senate and the House seem intent on pushing forward constitutional amendments, especially the Voter ID amendment. Bills supporting Voter ID were vetoed by both Govs. Tim Pawlenty and Dayton.

Bakk and House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said again today they believe that the Legislature and the governor should be able to come up with a law that would work more effectively than an amendment, which would make such Minnesota traditions as same-day registration difficult, if not impossible.

Bakk said he supports only one amendment idea. That would be to require as much as a two-thirds majority of the Legislature to put an amendment on the ballot. He doesn’t know if that has any bipartisan support.

Matt Dean, the House majority leader, did say that Republicans “will be very prudent” in the number of amendments they push.

“We don’t want to endanger one by adding others,” he said, adding that the so-called right-to-work amendment “is not as far along as some of the others.”

But it’s the staffing issue that’s currently the nasty burr under the Senate saddle.

Bakk upset with Senate Secretary Ludeman

Though he didn’t mention him by name, much of Bakk’s ire appears to be aimed at Cal Ludeman, the former GOP legislator and member of Pawlenty’s administration who became secretary of the Senate last year when Republicans swept to control.

Bakk said he understands that the Senate must make cuts in its own budget as part of the cutbacks across all of state government. Under budget agreements, the Senate was required to make $2.6 million in cuts from its $43.6 million biennial budget.

But he believes Ludeman’s office cooked the numbers in such a way as to make it appear the cuts were equitable. Bakk believes that the GOP claimed that all of its staffers were also committee staffers and, therefore, safe from the cuts. (Under Senate rules, each of 14 committees has an administrator, appointed by the majority party.)

Again, this may be “inside baseball,” but it’s what happens inside the chamber that sets the overall workplace tone.

Bakk’s anger may be having an impact.

Ortman said this morning that she will sit down with Bakk and go over his grievances, which are accompanied by spreadsheets.

“We will look at whether there is a fairer way to do this,” she said.  “I wish he would work with us more before he makes statements.”

Bakk, of course, points out that he attempted to point out the problems in a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem and at a rules committee meeting on the first day of the session. His complaints were ignored.

Interestingly, the House has had no similar problems, which may be a reflection of the leadership of former majority leader Amy Koch. Thissen said that the House began working on the issue last session.

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