Yesterday’s vote to override Governor Tim Pawlenty’s (R) veto on General Assistance Medical Coverage (GAMC) was a risky decision by leadership in the House, which was destined to fail on sharp political grounds. With a veto-proof majority in the Senate, the entire play focuses on the House on the shoulders of Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher (DFL-60A, Minneapolis) and Majority Leader Tony Sertich (DFL-05B, Chisholm) and their abilities to influence Republican members to buck their governor. The proposition is doubtful at best.
The merits of the issue are far less important than the message sent out loud and clear, which is unity for Republicans. With 87 DFL votes it takes three Republican members to challenge and overcome Pawlenty’s action and since it has happened once in the last eight years the likelihood of this happening again is a very distant possibility. Ultimately, only Rep. Larry Howes (R-04B, Walker) was willing to stand with the DFL Majority.
Recent history shows the repercussions when the Republican members break ranks. When the Transportation Bill was overridden, all of the six members lost their leadership positions on their respective committees, a decision made by then-Minority Leader Marty Seifert (R-21A, Marshall). Of the four who swayed only two remains, Reps. Jim Abeler (R-48B, Anoka) and Rod Hamilton (R-22B, Mountain Lake). In his floor speech, Abeler asked the majority to hold off on the vote until after the February Revenue Forecast in case more money is projected into the future, but the plea fell on deaf ears.
The decision to push forward is seen by some as a stand by the majority on principle, but ultimately it is the win that matters and voting before the forecast is seen as more of a political vote-getting Republicans on the record with a bad vote. If another vote occurs on Thursday after the state’s fiscal health is fully known the matter may once again fail because the state could have even less money than thought before.
The weight of the argument on fiscal grounds is failing to break through the politics. A sound fiscal policy is a hard prospect in an election year when every member seeking reelection views every vote as a factor in their own personal electoral outcome. The hypersensitivity is nearly palpable. On the floor in his speech Sertich stated waiting until after the forecast would produce one of three results: learning more money exists, less money exists or about the same exists.
Taking the vote asked Republicans to have blind faith in the future and hope for a positive outcome. This is a possibility in the first year of the biennium, but not in the last year pending an election.