Two press events in the past two weeks have made the odds of a functional 2017 session of the Minnesota Legislature seem… not good. Not good at all. An open special session negotiation last Friday, and the Forum News Service-sponsored pre-legislative session briefing Monday, have shed more light on a disturbing trend. Mark Dayton and Kurt Daudt increasingly can’t see past their personal history together, their personal animosity toward each other and the political expediency of blaming the other side — and it’s hurting the state as a whole.
On Friday, we had a 17-minute “open negotiation” that was as close to literal political theater as we’re probably ever going to get. The leaders even both stormed off to stage left when Dayton got up to leave after just 17 minutes. That was the crowning touch to a week of passive-aggressive notes in the form of open letters between Daudt and Dayton that, while addressed to St. Paul (and Daudt’s resort in the Virgin Islands) were really meant for the press. During a press conference call just two hours before the meeting, I asked Daudt, why even bother meeting with Dayton if you’re this upset?
“I don’t know,” he said. “Apparently the governor wants the meeting open to the press, which is sure to be a circus. And, unfortunately, I think it’s a mistake by the governor, because I think it shows that he’s not serious, he’s only posturing for the cameras, that he doesn’t want a special session, that his whole goal is to blame me for it, which I think is laughable, but whatever. People just don’t want that, they don’t like it. They don’t want to see us fighting and blaming, they want to see results.”
During a similar press conference call just before Daudt’s, Dayton said the Republicans had intentionally put non-starters in their latest proposal so he would be forced to reject it. Both Dayton and Daudt are openly suspicious of each others’ motives, publicly and cynically implying that the other man doesn’t has the best interests of Minnesotans at heart.
It was lucky for us that Dayton called in sick to the FNS briefing, because otherwise reporters who had travelled there from greater Minnesota likely would have been treated to a pointless repeat of Friday’s antics. Instead, you had Daudt blame or criticize Dayton in nearly every bitter answer he gave, without Dayton there to give a hotheaded retort. Incoming leaders Paul Gazelka, bound to be GOP Senate Majority Leader, and Melissa Hortman, who will be the DFL House Minority Leader, showed that cooler heads and fresh blood might be the solution this impasse needs.
I re-read my post I wrote a year ago after the 2016 pre-legislative session briefing and it’s uncanny how similar the situation feels this year. My fears from last year turned out to be overrealized: while a supplemental budget bill made it through, the tax and bonding bills didn’t, amid now-routine end of session chaos and bickering.
But this year, the stakes are higher, and the danger of failure reaches to most government programs in the state of Minnesota. As was frequently referenced by reporters during the briefing, the last time Minnesota had this governmental makeup, with DFLer Dayton in power as governor and both houses of the state legislature controlled by Republicans, in a budget year — we had a government shutdown.
In the name of the Minnesotans that Daudt and and Dayton claim to be looking out for, that shutdown can’t happen again.