Lawmakers blame opposing party for legislative struggles
ST. PAUL -- Republicans blamed Democrats and Democrats pointed fingers at Republicans for creating the impasse that prevented a state budget solution.
Lawmakers Monday reflected on the nearly five-month legislative session that crawled to its conclusion.
Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, singled out Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, for his unwillingness to drop a proposed tax increase on the wealthiest Minnesotans despite knowing for the entire session that Republicans were not going to bend.
"I really think he likes the theatrics," Franson said. "I think he is driven by drama and theatrics. This is America and we all have the right to succeed in life. We should not be punished for that."
But Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, said it was Republicans who have failed by not being willing to look at a balanced solution to the state's $5 billion-plus deficit. He advocated for a mix of spending cuts and tax increases because he hears people in his and other districts saying that is what they want.
"They thought Gov. Dayton was going to cave," Persell said. "I think (what people will remember) is going to be that being that stubborn is not going to get you very far. A balanced approach is what I have talked about this session and last session."
What Franson and Persell said matches with what the two sides have said since well before the session began on Jan. 4. For both sides, the words are much the same as heard on last year's campaign trail when Republicans upset Democrats across the state to take control of both the House and Senate for the first time in nearly four decades.
Rhetoric during the legislative session has not changed, and as lawmakers look toward a special session to finish the budget, talk remains the same.
The main job of the 2011 session was to pass a budget. While in St. Paul many other bills were debated, but all paled compared to work on the budget. Legislative leaders said that has been their only focus.
Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said the Republican approach led to a session during which lawmakers accomplished "nothing."
Other Democrats, though frustrated by the lack of a budget deal, were not quite as critical. Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, said Democrats played a role in achieving passage of several environmental issues, including efforts to clean up invasive species and wetland mitigation.
Republicans, however, were more positive about the results of the session that they controlled. In addition to corralling spending, a major focus of Tea Party Republican candidates elected last November, they cited as successes bills that streamlined the state's permitting process and reformed education by allowing mid-career professionals a quicker way to become teachers.
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said the state government committee he chairs passed a budget bill filled with reform measures - some he thought were popular with Dayton - only to have it sit on Dayton's desk facing a likely veto.
"There was more reform in that bill that I have seen in a long time," Lanning said.
He and other Republicans said they were disappointment Dayton did not start negotiating when the Legislature had all of its budget bills in conference committee rather than waiting for the conference committees to issue their reports.
"That's unfortunate," Lanning said. "It has resulted in us not having a deal."
Also on the minds of several lawmakers was the proposed constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between one man and one woman. Late in the legislative session, the usually affable John Kriesel sat stewing in the back of the House chamber, stinging from that vote.
The Republican Cottage Grove freshman was one of four House Republicans who voted against the proposal. He said it will end up getting undue publicity over other bills that passed.
"Taking up gay marriage was a big mistake and unfortunately it has overshadowed a lot of good work we have done here," Kriesel said.
So what is the session's legacy? Franson said citizens will look back at this year's session as a turning point where lawmakers took a stand and fought to force government to live within its means.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said how history judges this session has yet to be determined and will not be until a budget passes and voters have an opportunity to vote on the marriage amendment.
"In the event of a shutdown, how prolonged is it?" Bakk asked. "What is the prolonged impact to Minnesota? Both of those are uncertainties at this point. ... You cannot prejudge how they might turn out. Both might be historic events."
Persell said despite a special session, there is a lot of time before the government would shut down.
"A month is an eternity," he said.
Andrew Tellijohn is a Twin Cities freelance writer contributing to Forum Communications, which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.