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.