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Thoughts On The Special Session And Senate Dysfunction

Category: Environment
Posted: 06/13/15 12:13

by Dave Mindeman

I watched yesterday's special session fairly closely and although I was somewhat disappointed by the ending, the more disturbing problem to me is the dysfunctional front that the Senate seemed to put forward.

The House Republicans found a weakness in the Democratic leadership and they exploited it to the fullest. Republicans are good at that - but that weakness has to be evident for them to have the opportunity.

Bakk and Dayton have not been on the same page since the session started. Dayton's focus was on education and transportation. Bakk seemed to be more concerned about just getting done - and looking for smaller advantages where he could get them.

The Senate caucus is divided on some issues, but they are few in number. The environment is the main one, and the House GOP exploited that by dumping policy initiatives into the budget bills. That peeled off enough individual Senators to even the odds on a few key bills.

The odd thing about it is that the Senate GOP wasn't following what the House GOP was doing - which made for the messy ending on the Ag/Enviro bill. The House knew that the votes in the Senate on that bill were tethered to those environmental policy issues - provided all of the Senate GOP cooperated. That is why the House went to such extraordinary measures to keep the sulfide mining exemption and the elimination of the MPCA citizens board in the bill. That was the combination that could move the bill through both the House and Senate with mostly GOP votes. Those environmental policy issues were needed to peel off DFL range votes and finalize the end game. The Senate GOP figured it out in the end.

That messy bill wasn't a sea change in policy, but it pointed out some glaring weaknesses in Democratic leadership.

The House GOP has been gloating about the discord in the Senate. The Iron Range Democrats will listen to discussions about environmental draw backs. Years of dependency on the mining industry are hard to transition out of. This alliance with Polymet and other mining concerns has gained importance to them as steel prices stagnate and layoffs are imminent. The false premise being that only by helping the mining industry work around environmental concerns, can the industry survive. False premise but the only one being offered.

For the GOP, that all falls within their wheelhouse. They have no concerns about climate change - their only concern is keeping the business sector happy. That is why, going into next session, they have already laid plans for transportation without paying for it and tax cuts with the surplus.

The business community is looking forward to that.

Which is all the more reason for the Senate to look at itself internally. How are they going to function and move Democratic policy with this kind of discord.

Democrats have had the upper hand on education policy. The House GOP seemed to recognize that early and settled for blocking Pre-K rather than fighting over spending increases. In fact, they decided to take credit for the Governor's insistence on getting a higher funding formula.

Then they tabled transportation and tax policy...deciding that discussions in an election year would be more to their advantage, and they have already laid the ground work to move their own agenda.

In all of this, the Senate only reacts, they do not initiate policy in these debates. There doesn't seem to be a plan and their is little coordination with what should be their strongest ally, the Governor.

This environmental divide in the Senate needs to be addressed. But it is getting clear that Senator Bakk is not the one to address it. He may be a pragmatist and negotiator but it all leans toward his own personal agenda and not Democratic policy. I don't mind his Iron Range advocacy, but it should not be directed from his office as Majority Leader.

In the larger scheme of things, Iron Range policy getting intertwined with the GOP is liking dealing with a snake oil salesman - sooner or later you will get burned. What has the GOP done for the Iron Range anyway? Sure they side with mining - at least the business end of it - but have they done anything for the miners themselves? Have they ever been concerned with how toxic clean up gets paid for - an important part of overall mining policy? Have they not punished Duluth, the same as they punish the Twin Cities on LGA?

No, this Democratic Senate division can be and should be resolved within the Senate Democratic caucus, not with outside overtures to an exploitive GOP.

That is going to require changes in the Senate. Changes in leadership. Changes in the discussion. Changes in relationships with each other and the Governor.

And sooner rather than later.
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House GOP Said We Needed Divided Govt - Well This Is What It Is

Category: Environment
Posted: 06/11/15 12:37

by Dave Mindeman

This legislative session wasn't supposed to be this chaotic. See what you get with "divided government"?

During the last campaign, Kurt Daudt insisted that one party rule was bad for Minnesota. The citizens wanted divided government. At least that's what we were told.

Well, we got the "divided" part alright. Metro vs rural. Environment vs Business. Religion vs Secular. We got all of that thanks to the House GOP majority. And in a "divided government" where 2/3rds of the 3 entities were controlled by Democrats, the House GOP got to dictate the terms.

Governor Dayton is in an untenable position at this point. The House refused to cooperate. The Senate leadership was absent. The Governor negotiated in an enclosed box that had no daylight.

And now, the Governor has to stoop to begging his own caucus to support bills they do not like or want. He calls it a need for "the continuity of government". How in the world did it come to this?

Tom Bakk had some strange comments...

In trying to explain how he ended up with a bunch of budget bills unacceptable to significant portions of his caucus, Bakk said it was a combination of overly high expectations from the nearly $2 billion budget surplus at the start of the session and a unified House Republican caucus. "I think the governor learned the tenacity of House Republicans," Bakk said.

Oh, the House Republicans have tenacity? It would seem that tenacity is an acquired element. Democrats aren't forbidden from having that same tenacity. Where was Bakk? He was absent in supporting the Governor. He was absent when the session ended. He decided that he wasn't going to deal with House "tenacity" and started making deals that at least promoted his personal agenda.

Now, Governor Dayton is trying to patch together a budget. A budget that has a $1.8 billion surplus. Much of it unspent because those "tenacious" House Republicans want tax cuts next year.

This "ugly" budget has no transportation bill. Has no tax bill. Has no rail safety funding. And has an environmental bill that only a Republican could love.

I would not blame the Senate Democrats for voting against any or all of these bills. Governor Dayton will be asking them to hold their nose and let it pass. That is very unfortunate.

Yeah, divided government. That's really what we needed all right.
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New Basic Fact: Business Trumps Environment At Legislature

Category: Environment
Posted: 06/03/15 11:39

by Dave Mindeman

Let's not kid ourselves.

Business trumps environment.

That was made crystal clear by the Ag-Enviro bill that bullied its way through the legislature at the end of session. It was ugly. Corporate interests were hovering over the conference committee like a swarm of bees. And it didn't hurt that business friendly DFL leadership were in place in the Senate.

Say goodbye to the MPCA Citizens Board. Although let's face facts, the legislature and past governors have been negating the effectiveness of that body for some time. And when the Board does take a stand as they did in the case of Riverview's Dairy monster, business goes crying back to the legislature demanding they do something....and they did.

And then there is the influence of the mining industry. Mining is always going to be a risk to our waterways. Which makes it all the more disturbing that a section of the Ag-Enviro bill would allow Polymet an exemption to solid waste requirements. Think about it. The most likely source of detrimental solid waste gets a specific legislative pass. It's pretty clear that this came from the Iron Range Senators....probably in a deal with the House conferees to get some House priority included as well.

Yeah....we should get rid of the consumer MPCA citizens board - we are in such "good hands" at the legislature.

Recently, scientists at the MN Pollution Control Agency did some water quality testing for various MN lakes. They found a growing number of chemicals in the water - the concentrations were fairly low, but the sheer number of contaminants is getting alarming.

How can we trust that environmental concerns will be seriously addressed by the legislature anymore? The legislative leadership listens to business and business listens to profits. Who listens to pollution control?

It has been made clear that environmental concerns are rapidly becoming a secondary concern at the Capitol. We still have a governor who listens, but what happens when he leaves?

If 350 jobs at Polymet are worth cancelling the Citizen's Board of MPCA and risking our pristine 10,000 lake reputation, then our future has been placed in jeopardy.

Water is vital for any state economy. Don't start risking that in exchange for appeasing business lobbyists.

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