For state lawmakers used to answering questions with lengthy but opaque speeches or well-rehearsed soundbites, being forced to give brief answers offers more clarity on the issues facing the Minnesota Legislature. Or, at least more entertaining responses.
“Brief” was the task for legislative leaders Wednesday when faced with a ‘lightning round’ of questions, like the odds of legalizing sports betting, from KSTP’s Tom Hauser at the annual Minnesota Chamber of Commerce dinner event at the RiverCentre. The crowd of roughly 1,500 was made up of legislators, Gov. Tim Walz’s cabinet officials, lobbyists, business leaders and, apparently, some Minnesota Vikings officials.
On the panel was House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, and Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks.
Some questions and answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Question: Your favorite Minnesota sports team? And don’t just say the Vikings because they’re sitting out there.
Melissa Hortman: I’m sorry, it’s the purple.
Lisa Demuth: The Vikings and anything my grandkids are playing.
Mark Johnson: Absolutely the Vikings.
Kari Dziedzic: I went to the U of M so I’m going to say the Gophers.
Q: Favorite Minnesota politician past or present, and you can’t name yourself.
Hortman: Hubert Humphrey.
Demuth: Tim Pawlenty.
Johnson: Knute Nelson.
Dziedzic: Paul Wellstone.
Q: A sandy beach or playing in the snow?
Hortman: I’m having a cross-country ski party on Saturday so I’ll say playing in the snow.
Demuth: A beach any time.
Johnson: I’ll say the snow.
Dziedzic: The snow.
Q: Onto more session related topics. A nearly $18 billion surplus and you can answer with one of these two phrases and you don’t need to explain: Are we taxed too much or are we spending too little?
Johnson: Taxed too much.
Dziedzic: That’s a good question.
Hortman: I would say we’re more ‘spending too little’ than ‘taxed too much.’
Demuth: Definitely taxed too much.
Q: Tax increases or tax cuts this session?
Demuth: Tax cuts.
Johnson: Huge tax cuts.
Q: Walz checks or rebate checks? Or no Walz checks or no rebate checks?
Dziedzic: The bill will be heard.
Hortman: I’m going to do even better than that. I think in some form we will see something that gets at child poverty, gets to families who need it.
Demuth: More conversation on that one.
Q: What’s one item that will pass in the first month of session no doubt about it? And what is one bill that will not pass in the first month that you think should?
Hortman: (Federal) tax conformity is moving like a rocket, we will also enshrine reproductive freedom in Minnesota law.
Demuth: Tax conformity, and we’ll see.
Johnson: I think tax conformity but it depends on how our committee structure ends up … and well tax cuts is what we talked about earlier.
Dziedzic: Tax conformity is moving very quickly so I think that will pass. As Speaker Hortman said, protecting women’s reproductive rights will pass. And what won’t pass that should — I have a lot of personal ones that I would like to see passed … I think we should restore the vote. We banned the box for corporations, we should ban the box for the government.
Q: Paid leave: a mandate on business or incentive?
Dziedzic: I’d kind of like to do both. But again I have all these small companies that, they want to be able to compete, so is it a mandate or is it an incentive?
Hortman: It’s like unemployment insurance, everyone needs it.
Q: What’s the over under on the number of weeks that might be involved … Will it be 12, or more like 24 weeks in the proposal we saw last year?
Johnson: I haven’t seen the language yet.
Dziedzic: At least 12.
Hortman: You know, I should know the answer to this question but (state Rep.) Ruth Richardson does. She’s a great author and she’s going to get that bill across the finish line.
Demuth: Whatever the incentive is will be what the businesses determine.
Q: You get one word … to describe how single party control will fare for the DFL this session.
Hauser: We’re going to need more of an adjective.
Q: What one topic will be the most controversial this year? One word answers.
Dziedzic: Rules committee.
Q: Is this the year that the Vikings will win a Super Bowl?
Hortman: See, I can’t say that they will because that would jinx it. But I’m a believer.
Demuth: When they’re in the Super Bowl game I hope that they start playing the first quarter.
Johnson: I would tend to agree with the speaker on this one, we can’t say they’re going to win but we really, really hope they do.
Dziedzic: I hope so.
Q: The odds that Minnesota has sports betting before the start of the 2023 Vikings season?
Hortman: Better than 50/50.
Demuth: It’s being discussed in our caucus.
Hauser: Give me some odds.
Demuth: I would leave that up to Rep. (Pat) Garofalo. Just the odds, not the decision, just the odds.
Johnson: I’d say a little less than 50/50.
Q: What is your favorite go-to lunch spot when you’re at the Capitol … let’s make it a place outside the Capitol.
Hortman: I always call it ‘salute’ but I think it’s Salut.
Demuth: I always have a peanut butter sandwich in my backpack.
Johnson: She’s a true fiscal conservative — just like the governor! Well, Burger Moe’s on Monday nights is like 5 dollar burger nights.
(MinnPost: Walz earlier in the night said he was “personally, very fiscally conservative.”)
Dziedzic: I was with Sen. Johnson having an eight-hour debate today so I didn’t get to lunch.
Demuth: Should have had a peanut butter sandwich.