Lawmakers pledge more cooperation in upcoming sessionby Laura McCallum, Minnesota Public Radio
Minnesota lawmakers return to the Capitol Wednesday for what they're hoping will be a brief and productive session. They want to avoid a repeat of last year, when gridlock resulted in the state's first partial government shutdown. But hard feelings remain from last session, and election-year politics will come into play.
St. Paul, Minn. — Leaders at the Capitol are pledging more bipartisan cooperation and civility, which appeared to be in short supply last session. Gov. Pawlenty, who last year called a DFL tax plan "profoundly stupid," says he's tried to have a more positive tone leading up to this session.
"I think we have been careful and cautious to make sure that we're talking about things in a constructive, conciliatory, common ground-oriented manner. We have reached out to legislators in discussions," Pawlenty says.
But while there's plenty of talk about getting along, not everyone believes it.
"All this togetherness stuff -- I don't buy into that," says Senate Minority Leader Dick Day, R-Owatonna, who points out that he's been in politics for 30 years.
Day says nothing's really changed since last session. And he's still frustrated about the way the session ended.
"How would you like to be somewhere where there's two hours and 15 minutes to go in the session, and the majority leader, who actually runs the Senate, goes to the floor and shuts the microphones off," Day said, referring to the partisan bickering that marked the end of the last session, which led to a partial government shutdown.
Democrats have a different take on what happened, and say they tried to pass a resolution that would have continued to fund state government.
Still, Day's comments indicate some of the bitterness that lingers from last session. But unlike last year, this is an election year, which may cause lawmakers to be on their best behavior before facing the voters.
Another motivation is the main task of the session, a popular capital investment bill that allows legislators to get funding for construction projects in their districts.
Political scientist Craig Grau from the University of Minnesota, Duluth says the bill, by its very nature, requires bipartisan agreement.
"Part of the Constitution dealing with bonding means that you have to have more than 50 percent (support). And so there has to be some bipartisanship to get a bonding bill passed, so that would work to the advantage of having people work together," says Grau.
Since it appears the state is no longer facing a budget deficit, Grau says legislators won't have to wrangle over taxes and spending.
Because all 201 legislative seats are on the ballot this year, many legislators want to finish their work and adjourn so they can focus on the campaign. Sen. Sheila Kiscaden, DFL-Rochester, who's running for lieutenant governor, thinks the looming election will force a more productive session.
"No one wants delay. We want to be as effective and efficient as we possibly can this year. You'll see, I think, a more limited agenda as a result," says Kiscaden. "You'll see that our first committee deadlines are set quite early, we've convened late, and so this session will be one that it'll be intense, short and focused on relatively few issues."
Concensus items that are likely to pass include the bonding bill, and legislation making it tougher for governments to seize property. The fate of controversial issues such as a new Twins stadium and a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage are less certain.
In the aftermath of last year's dysfunction, many lawmakers are talking about changing the way the Legislature operates. About 70 legislators attended a recent workshop at the Humphrey Institute on how to improve the process.
Proposals ranged from a continuing budget resolution to prevent future shutdowns, to more coordination between the House and Senate. Rep. Kathy Tingelstad, R-Andover, says many rank-and-file legislators are feeling empowered to try to make changes.
"Legislators now are realizing that they individually have more power than maybe they have had in the past. And rather than just giving the power to leadership, that there can be a lot of coalition-building around common interests," says Tingelstad. "You will not see, this session, as many legislators giving up the power to leadership as they have in the past."
Tingelstad predicts this session will be like a rollar-coaster ride -- fast-paced, lots of ups and downs, and over quickly. When the ride's over, legislators hope voters will remember the high points, and forget about the queasiness they felt after the last session.
- Morning Edition, 02/27/2006, 7:20 a.m.