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Break gives legislators time to ‘listen,’ but both sides already ‘know’ what they’ll hear

Interestingly, politicians typically seem only to hear from those who already agree with them.

Legislators are taking a break next week and heading home to “listen” to their constituents.
Courtesy of MN House Public Information Services

Legislators wrapped up the first half of the session Friday and now, during the week-long Easter/Passover break have vowed to head back to their districts and “listen” to their constituents.

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But there’s an interesting thing about politicians and their listening. They typically seem only to hear from those who already agree with them.

DFLers mostly hear from constituents who agree with their positions on raising revenue and investing in education.

Republicans, on the other hand, seem to hear only from people who believe that the GOP is correct and that DFL efforts to raise taxes are “overreach.”

How can this be?

In a state in which so many races for legislative seats were so close, how is it that pols hear only one-sided messages?

loon portrait
Rep. Jennifer Loon

Take, for instance, the issue of guns. Senate Minority Leader David Hann and House Deputy Minority Leader Jenifer Loon represent Eden Prairie.

Typically, many, perhaps most, people in prosperous suburban districts tend to favor fairly strong gun-control measures. Understandable, given that many of the tragic shootings have occurred in prosperous suburban areas.

Yet, when Hann and Loon were asked about their positions on gun control Friday, both said that the vast majority of people they’re hearing from fear DFLers are guilty of “overreach” when it comes to even the modest gun-control measures that have survived committees.

“Overwhelmingly, I’m hearing from people who are concerned with infringement of Second Amendment rights,” said Loon.

Hann supported Loon.

“People I hear from overwhelmingly are concerned with overreach,” Hann said. “A lot of people [in Eden Prairie] grew up hunting. People in Minnesota are familiar with guns.”

He suggested that efforts, particularly among metro-area DFLers, to pass legislation that would require background checks on all gun sales is merely “political posturing.”

But Loon is hearing from a broader spectrum of people on the issue of gay marriage.

Although she supported the amendment that would have limited marriage to between a man and the woman, Loon now clearly is pondering how she would vote on the gay marriage if the issue comes to the floor this session.

On Friday, she said, “I am stepping back to listen to my constituency [on the marriage issue].”

Loon said she has sent out a survey to 10,000 households and apparently will make her decision on how to vote based on the results of that survey.

Her hope, she said, is that the issue won’t come to the floor this session.

thissen portrait
Rep. Paul Thissen

Whether it will remains in doubt. On Friday, House Speaker Paul Thissen said there still “needs to be conversations” among legislators before that decision is made.

That means Thissen doesn’t want a vote on the measure until he knows whether it could pass.

Gun bills will make it to the floors of both the House and Senate, though probably not until May.

DFL legislative leaders made it clear that, following the break, April will be devoted to the budget. Although Gov. Mark Dayton, the House and Senate all are “in the same ballpark” on spending, there are scores of details that need to be ironed out.

At this point, it seems certain that a fourth income-tax tier, affecting Minnesota’s wealthiest, will be part of the final budget deal. But it seems highly unlikely that the House desire to add a surtax on top will survive much longer.

Additionally, leaders indicated Friday that there will be efforts to pass a bonding bill of undetermined size. But passing a bonding bill would require some GOP support, and judging by the tone of Friday’s remarks, getting Republicans to agree with any DFL initiatives will be difficult.

Much of the Friday session with the media was devoted to DFLer leaders attacking Republicans for “doing nothing”and Republican leaders ripping DFLers for excluding them from the process.

When they weren’t attacking each other, they were talking about using the break to go into the state to “listen.”

One DFL leader, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Katie Sieben, however, has a unique goal for the break.

“I hope to be at Regions hospital having a baby,” Sieben said.