Minnesota Senate Triumvirate

Throughout this legislative session, political pundits and other presumptive political analysts have attributed the pace of this legislative session to Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-02, Cook). Many disparaging comments have been directed his way and in spite of the entire government being in DFL control, any impediment to an aggressive pace is laid on his doorstep. This brings to mind the US Senate adage proffered by political icon US Senator Robert Bird (D-WV), “The Senate is the saucer in which the hot liquid cools.”

There is much ballyhoo about Governor Mark Dayton (DFL) having his body cast removed a week before schedule, to call for a Tax Bill. As people are trying to figure out the operational structure of the Minnesota Senate they may need to understand the power dynamic, history and the personalities involved. The three principal characters are Bakk, Sen. Dick Cohen (DFL-64, St Paul) and Sen. Rod Skoe (DFL-02, Clearbrook). This triumvirate provides leadership, order and fiscal management and revenue.

Now one fact lost on most people is each one of these person is effectively “House Trained.” Meaning they all served in the state House before the Senate. Cohen in spite of having the most seniority in the Senate, was elected to the House in 1976, served one term and lost in the “Minnesota Massacre,” returned in 1982, then  served two more terms and moved to the Senate in 1986. Bakk and Skoe both were both elected to the Senate in 2002, with Bakk arriving at the House in 1995 and Skoe later in 1999.

Their ascendance to their current positions marks an initial achievement for both of themand a repeat performance for Cohen. When Bakk moved to the leadership spot, he opened up the Tax Chair for Skoe, while Cohen became Chair of Finance in 2003. Let’s not forget Bakk still sits on the Tax Committee, and he originally secured the Chair after only two years in the Senate.

These three have their own interesting dynamic, but it might warrant an understanding of how the Senate used to work to learn Cohen’s intent regarding legislation. During the late 1980’s, a time of fiscal challenges for our state the Chair of the Finance Committee was Sen. Eugene “Gene” Merriam (DFL-Blaine). During his tenure, Merriam constructed the Uber-committee if any legislation carried a fiscal note, he wanted to see it. Every piece of legislation that required any spending had to come before the Finance Committee and be referred out. This meant, every lobbyist, state agency or any other postulate had to appear before the Chair.

While this holding of court occurred on the east side of the Capitol, another proceeding took effectively center stage in Capitol room 15 right below the Rotunda, where Sen. Doug Johnson (DFL-Tower) held his own court as Tax Committee Chair. Both these individuals played their roles with precision, where if a bill needed funding Merriam identified it and then the supplicants had to go to the Tax Committee to procure funding for it.

Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe (DFL-Erskine) had the ability to play the constant “Good Guy” smile for the cameras, defer to the process as a work in progress and let Merriam and Johnson play good cop bad cop, with their hats ever changing, depending on the issue, and the session wore on. Ultimately, Moe would reveal the grand design, like the Great and Powerful Oz, and the session would end. Usually, around two weeks before the revealing Moe, would have communicated through his Chief of Staff Vic Moore, a scheduled post-session trip of Moe to Norway, which was code for time to get to work.

Much of this artistry was due to negotiations with the Governor’s office and it didn’t matter if the Governor was Perpich (DFL), Carlson (R)or even Ventura (IP).

Here are a few facts that might help shape your perspective. Moe was first elected to the Senate in 1970, and rose to become Majority Leader in 1981, he was Chair of Finance in 1980. Merriam was first elected to the Senate in 1975 and became Chair of Finance in 1987. Johnson was elected to the House in 1970, the Senate in 1976 and became Tax Chair in 1981. Each of these men had a long history together and their concurrent terms provided a solid foundation for their interaction.

We think, in order to best understand Cohen,one need to look to Merriam. Cohen wants the influence of Clean Gene. We have heard he may carry some disregard for Bakk’s approach to legislation, because he (Bakk) lacks the seasoning of the Senate to hone his approach. But one thing is clear, Bakk delivered the Senate back into the majority and every Senator with two terms under their belt knows the difference between 2012 and 2014.

Is Gov. Dayton Projecting Personal Bias Into the Medical Marijuana Debate?

As we listen to the debate over Medical Marijuana and hear Governor Mark Dayton (DFL) defer to the law enforcement community, we speculate if Dayton his projecting his own particular biases into the debate, rather than holding a specific, high regard for the law enforcement community. Dayton has publicly, made it known of his struggle with alcoholism and he may misguidedly believe, Marijuana is a “gateway drug.”

As the testimony, of mothers and children about the frustrations they face each day without any solace as to the plight of their children or themselves in battling seizures. There is other segments society that could benefit from Medical Marijuana. If the law enforcement community truly wants to help society and not just continue to incarcerate our population, they should look at the numbers. Incidents of crime are falling in Colorado. Our state used to have fairly, liberal laws regarding Marijuana and until the judgmental, law and order period of the Reagan era our state was less right-wing authoritarian. In the 1970’s a person carrying a quarter ounce only received a misdemeanor charge.

If Dayton, wants to be positioned as more progressive and appeal to a more libertarian sector of the electorate, he should stand aside and let people do as they see fit. Each person has their own demons and it is not society’s job to fight them for us.

Bonding Bill and the End of Session

Some ta-do was made of Sen. Leroy Stumpf’s (DFL-01, Plummer) unexpected medical procedure as one thing holding up the Bonding Bill. As we understand it the true obstacle lies in the House and the inability to wrangle together the necessary 91 votes. Capital Investment Chair Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-66A, St Paul) made it clear to members if they wanted a project in the bill they had to commit to voting for the entire bill. This meant Republicans needed to fully commit.

Since all House members are up for reelection, politics is the principle consideration, the DFL wants to stay in power and the Republicans believe they have an opportunity to come back into power. They view each piece of legislation as their vehicle and because Republicans are needed to pass a Bonding Bill. The Republican leadership sees this as opportunity to extract something, but the problem is individual legislators also recognize bringing home a project is helpful in their own reelection efforts.

The big question is what type of support can be mustered for completion of the State Capitol restoration. Originally, there was $20 million on the House side in the bill, which now has been reduced to $15 million. Governor Mark Dayton (DFL) allocated $126 million for the project and we have as yet to see what the Senate position is. Since the restoration is underway, one would think members would like the work to continue, but others might rather all of the scaffolding be taken down.

Our discussion with others in the know, believe Dayton is willing to exceed a billion and may go as high as $1.3 billion. The size of the final amount is one of the sticking point for Republicans. The original agreement in the House called for $850 million and if it were to exceed a billion seems like a sticking point for conservatives, but this is a specious argument. Fact, no one has ever lost an election in Minnesota, because they agreed to finance a construction project.

Fact, the current debt service capacity if based on a percentage of personal income tax of 3.25% means the state can borrow up to $1.565 billion. Now, for the record, this is only a guideline the legislature could agree to a $2 or even a $3 billion Bonding Bill if they like, and the governor can line item veto any project he likes.

Now, it is our thought that the more games played by Republicans, the more rationale for Dayton to use his veto pen after the fact. If all sides play nice and just pass a bill at whatever level finally agreed, they all can go back to their districts and start their campaign efforts.

Combining E-Cigs and Medical Marijuana

Two issues that could have a shotgun marriage this legislative session are E-Cigarettes and Medical Marijuana. If Marijuana oil could be made available, then the ongoing trend among hipsters could be the perfect delivery device. If people could “Vap” their dose, then no one would smell it, cops couldn’t bust you for it and everyone would be happy.

This may seem like a spoof, but really think about it.

Minimum Wage Work-Around

As the conference committee on the Minimum Age continues to stand at an impasse’, we thought we saw an opportunity to move things forward in the overall debate. When we inquired as to the support amongst the majority party members on both sides, we learned the Senate is lacking eleven votes on their side to pass an indexing provision. When we mentioned this to the House Chief Author Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL -46A, St Louis Park), he was quick to question the validity of this point.
We asked him about a point raised with the Senate, which was to pass a bill at $9.50, on which both sides agree and put the question of indexing before the voters in the fall as a Constitutional Amendment, to which he said, “No more Constitutional Amendments.” We have since spoken with other constituency groups and are finding broad support. When we spoke with AFSCME President Elliot Seide, he pointed out the fact that this was how they passed the issue in New Jersey over the opposition of current embattled Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ). The referendum passed in the Garden State with 61.26%.
In Kentucky, current Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and she is a staunch advocate for an increase in the Minimum wage to $10.10/hour. With Kentucky clearly a Red State, McConnell facing opposition on his right from Tea Party Candidate Matt Bevin (R), a wedge issue like the Minimum Wage could be an x-factor in a statewide election in the Blue Grass State, because it helps offset the gender disparities in wages for women. Minimum Wage jobs are more often held by the fairer sex and hence could be a motivator for female turnout at the polls if such a question were on the ballot.
Now, we are not discussing this idea due to any partisan nature, because an issue like Minimum Wage is motivating factor, which would drive more women voters to the polls, just because in Minnesota women vote more democratically than do their male counterparts. Actually, as the debate rages on about whether or not increasing the Minimum Wage is a jobs killer or not could be placed before the public and the public’s opinion could be ascertained. The two sides could gear up for a robust debate over the course of the summer and the Chamber of Commerce and the state’s labor unions could have a conversation about the merits or demerits of such a change and battle it out in the marketplace of ideas.
One other point we learned from our discussion with Winkler, who was fast to point out he didn’t want to provide us with much depth as to his negotiations strategy, but he did encourage us to research how Minnesota raised the Minimum Wage prior to having it enshrined in state law. Back in 1913, the state Minimum Wage applied to women and children and the wage rates were set by a commission housed in the Department of Labor and Industries. Maybe this is what Winkler was suggesting we seek and find. If there were to be a commission formed, it would make Minimum Wage less of a hot button political issue for the legislature, but then again a Constitution Amendment on the issue, would resolve that question far into the future.

Short While Gone But Not Forgotten

Just in case, you think we have been finding better ways to bide our time, rather than putting out screeds or diatribes about political issues; our hiatus is now come to a close. We’re back and ready to provide our unique perspective on politics. Now just in case you missed it with just a couple of tweets, we surprisingly, facilitated the departure of Dennis Nguyen from the Secretary of States’  race.  We also assisted someone to reassess their thoughts regarding another statewide office, but that occurred far more covertly.

Now, it is never our intent to scare someone out of an electoral contest. We don’t carry that kind of weight. If you have read critical opines, by some less than pedantic Republican blogs, you will see we have received payments for our opinions on political matters to the tune of $40,000. So what. We also have previously received thousands of $$ from the Republican Party of Minnesota, Republican candidates, Democratic candidates, the Independence Party of Minnesota and even Green Party candidates.

If receipt of money is a crime then we’re completely and totally guilty and does money influence our opinions, no not at all. We here at Checks & Balances have a long and storied political history. Publisher Shawn Towle, is a fail candidate for office seeking a Senate seat in 1992. Oh shock he also was a member of the DFL Constitution and Bylaws Commission up until 1998. Gasp.

So Jay Kohls, if you ever want to do that interview you were working so hard on, for your Republican bent television station we can stop calling.  Checks & Balances is not an advocacy group, lobbying interest or any other entity in violation of  House or Senate Rules.

If there is biased information found in opinion, it is because it is opinion. If the is political analysis found in Checks & Balances it’s because there is political analysis in Checks & Balances.

Now, no one will ever believe a company owned by Stanley Hubbard, run by Stanley Hubbard, Jr remains uninfluenced by the boss come on who are you kidding. When either of the Stanley’s write checks, we know it’s really just a loan, because there will be campaign ads running KSTP News or radio later on. When one of the Hubbard’s endorses a candidate, like Rep. Kurt Zellars (R-34B, Maple Grove) or is the campaign finance chair for Chris Dahlberg (R), we know there is not possibly any influence on the news coverage.

Because if there is even the remote possibility or even likelihood then KSTP should just forgo accepting any campaign advertisement and run the ads for free. Just, do Minnesota a public service, and save campaigns money. This way the Hubbards and Ginny Morris won’t need to write some many checks.