When Minnesota’s Government Sues Itself

I wrote an article for the daily paper recently about Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka speaking to the League of Women Voters. I focused the article on his and Sen. Carrie Ruud’s comments regarding mental health reform. Although it didn’t make it into print, Gazelka also discussed the ongoing legal battle between the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton. His comments are definitely worth analyzing here.

Gazelka said the memory of Gov. Dayton vetoing the 2016 tax bill was fresh in Republican legislators’ minds, so he took pains to make sure every aspect of this year’s bill was covered in discussions with Dayton.

“We negotiated every single piece of every single bill,” he said. “It was on my insistence, I knew the governor would need to see everything.”

At the urging of the House of Representatives, legislative language was inserted that said if Dayton did not sign the tax bill, funding for the Minnesota Department of Revenue would be eliminated, Gazelka said.

It was that action that prompted Dayton to line-item veto the funding for the Legislature, in turn causing lawmakers to sue him.

Gazelka said his one regret about the legislative process leading up to the breakdown was that the two sides didn’t discuss every disagreement.

“They could read it, but didn’t see it,” he said. “That was my one regret, is that they didn’t see it. They should have seen it. … I don’t know how they missed it.”

People close to Mark Dayton have told Gazelka the veto was “not the Mark Dayton brand,” Gazelka said.

Gazelka told the League on Thursday that the Senate would run out of money Dec. 1, although “originally” they were going to run out of money Sept. 1, but the courts funded them until the later date.

But Mark Dayton has repeatedly said the GOP lied about their supposedly dire financial straights. It’s enough to put him off politics entirely, if he’s to be taken at his word.

I feel as though as long as Dayton and Kurt Daudt remain in office, the Capitol will continue to be dysfunctional. No matter how many fishing opener photo ops the two take part in together, they still deeply distrust each other’s motivations. This is not about partisanship or gerrymandering or the general rise of nasty politics, this is about two dudes who appear to generally dislike each other. Ask either of them if they would hang out with the other in private with no cameras around, and I bet you will get a confused or angry reaction.

Furthermore, they have no immediate, practical check on their worst impulses. As Gazelka noted on Thursday, he has to respect the will of each member of the Senate, since the GOP majority is razor thin and it only takes one legislator to defect in order to make a vote fail. No such dynamic with Daudt in the House — it’s his way or the highway, with a comfortable majority. No such dynamic with Dayton either — he’s Dayton unchained, since he’s not running again in 2018.  I thought right after the 2017 session ended that we were past this bickering — turns out, not.

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