As legislative session ends, campaign 2012 kicks offby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Unlike the last few months it was relatively quiet at the State Capitol Friday, but lawmakers were offering their competing assessments of the just-concluded 2012 Legislative session.
Those partisan-tinged reviews go far beyond the Vikings stadium debate that dominated the closing hours. They also provide an advance look at the fall campaign, when all 201 House and Senate seats are up for grabs.
DFL legislators took an early shot across the Republican bow by dubbing 2012 as the "do-nothing session."
Republicans are now trying to counter that perception. House Speaker Kurt Zellers doesn't want to look back at just the 2012 session. He wants to include 2011 as well, when the GOP returned to the majority in the House and the Senate.
Zellers said he views the total accomplishments over those two years as "pretty remarkable."
His list sounds a lot like a campaign brochure: turning a budget deficit into a modest surplus, slowing down the growth of state spending, making government operate more efficiently and blocking the tax increases advocated by DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.
"What we came in saying was we need to not only balance the budget, but we have to reform the way government works," Zellers said. "It's just been for too long the same way: plus 5 percent."
Zellers and other Republicans tried to accomplish more reform this year, but they blame Dayton for thwarting those efforts. House GOP Majority Leader Matt Dean said Dayton was particularly uncooperative when he vetoed bills aimed at changing teacher tenure and lawsuit rules.
"Unfortunately, we ran into a lot of vetoes in that discussion," Dean said. "But it began the discussion, and I think really sets the stage moving forward. Can government really change the way it needs to change?"
Neither Dean nor Zellers voted for the Vikings stadium, which they've repeatedly referred to as the governor's top priority. Zellers said he thinks the stadium issue was the cause of a lot of additional stress and animosity this session.
Republicans insist their top priority is providing tax relief for businesses, and they're still holding out hope that Dayton will sign the scaled-down tax bill they passed earlier this week.
Dayton said he hasn't received the bill yet, but he plans to read it carefully and consider signing it.
"It's one of those bills where there's some things I like and some things I don't," Dayton said. "I wish we would have gotten together and could have agreed on the things we both like, and then it would be an easy bill to sign."
Dayton is not on the ballot this fall, but he's still thinking a lot about the election. Even though the stadium passed, the governor said he doesn't think divided government has been very productive the past two years. He now wants to take that message to voters.
"I will ask the people of Minnesota to give us two years of DFL majorities in the House and the Senate, and a DFL governor," he said. "If we don't produce to your satisfaction, then there's another election two years later. I guess you can't deal with the Senate then, but you can throw me and the House out. So, give us a chance."
Campaign season appeared to begin Thursday on the floor of the Minnesota Senate. That's when DFL Minority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook accused majority Republicans of not doing their part in passing the stadium and bonding bills. DFL votes outnumbered GOP votes for both bills. Bakk said Republicans were unwilling to take risks and lead.
Senate Majority leader Dave Senjem of Rochester said 2012 was a hard session, full of difficult issues. Senjem said it didn't always look pretty, but he thinks the process worked.
"Certainly there are people on both sides of the stadium issue," Senjem said. "There are people on both sides of bonding issues. There are people on both sides of, say, the constitutional amendments. But by and large, I think it was a productive session from the standpoint of having the great debate and making some decisions."
Voters will provide the final assessment on their legislators in November. No matter which partisan message prevails, the 2013 Legislature is assured of having a new look. At least 40 lawmakers plan to retire.