Legislative Drama

21May09

I’ve gone on a political overdose the last few weeks.  The end of the Minnesota legislative session definitely had some drama with passionate arguments from both sides of the aisle on a variety of subjects some affecting the whole state, and some affecting very few.  There were omnibus tax bills, elections bills, health and human services bills, and education bills.  There was discussion on whether horse should be considered livestock or pets.  The last couple days saw action for a bill to exempt one specific building from state fire codes.  (I’m not really complaining about that last one–I think the House was partly using to kill time while waiting for the ability to take action on one of the “big” bills.)

Part of the drama we were treated to stems from the political make-up in our state government.  We have a Republican governor, but our legislature is strongly commanded by the DFL.  They are only three votes shy in the State House of being able to override any vetoes.  (They have the override power in the State Senate with two votes to spare.)  So as things were coming to a close there were threats and negotiations over many finance-related bills.  Governor Pawlenty has repeatedly said he WILL NOT sign a bill calling for increased taxes.  The DFL wants to use tax increases as part of their plan to create a balanced state budget.  Spending cuts varied between the two.  Each side claims to be willing to compromise on some points while claiming the other refuses to–because each side has at least one point that they will not give up.  Governor Pawlenty says the Legislature never presented him with a balanced budget, while legislators say it would have been balanced if he would have signed the tax increases they sent him along with all the appropriations bills.  Now with the Legislature recessed until next year (they are prohibited from meeting after the first Monday following the third Saturday in May), beginning with the start of the next fiscal year on July 1, Governor Pawlenty has the power to “unallot” appropriations scheduled to go out in order to bring the spending in line with the state’s income.  Republicans call it “leadership” in holding to his promise of not raising taxes, while some DFLers have taken to calling him “King Tim” for assuming what they consider monarch like powers.  One can get very dizzy listening to the Spin.  How it turns out, and which side “wins” is something we won’ t for about 18 months with our next elections.

And that is part of the whole problem.  We all think that the “winner” is whoever gets elected or re-elected.  But our government is supposed to be working so that the people win, not one party or another.  So often, politicians seem to do things not because it is the best thing for their constituents, but because it is what their constituents want so the politicians can get re-elected (trust me, it’s not always the same–civil rights, anyone?).  Sometimes good ideas might get ignored because credit would have to be given to someone from “the other side”.

I feel like part of the issue is being stuck in a two-party system.  We end up feeling like we have to vote for either a Republican or a Democrat because they are the only ones “with a chance to win”.  In our still-undecided Senate election, I heard people say they voted for Coleman not because they wanted him to win but because they wanted Franken to lose and didn’t see anyone else having a chance.  Likewise, there were people voting for Franken simply because they wanted Coleman to lose.  People were voting for the lesser of two evils instead of the best person.  Even with that mentality going around we had a third party candidate get over 15 percent of the vote.  I wonder how many people were voting for Franken or Coleman strictly because they looked at them as the only “realistic” choices.  If everybody had genuinely voted for the candidate they thought was best and not against the person they viewed as the worst, would we perhaps have Senator Dean Barkley serving in the US Senate already?  And would that be a bad thing?

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