Keeping the state on track

I wrote this column, which appeared in the February 9 editions of the Chanhassen Villager and the Chaska Herald.

Many observers hoped that this year’s legislative session would be quick and non-controversial. After all, the state has a projected budget surplus, meaning that there will be no repeat of last year’s lengthy budget standoff that resulted in a state government shutdown. Those observers felt that legislators – who are waiting anxiously for the new redistricting maps to be released later this month – would prefer to keep their head down, get some work done, and then focus on their re-election campaigns. 

Not only that, but they pointed to the election of Republican State Sen. David Senjem as the new majority leader as a sign that things would be less acrimonious. Senjem is a Senate veteran who was widely hailed as a conciliatory voice during his previous tenure as minority leader for Republicans. 

It took less than a day for those hopes to be shattered. Senjem and his leadership team (including Chanhassen State Sen. Julianne Ortman) delivered what was perceived by DFLers as a sharp partisan blow – forcing a cut in DFL staff budgets of over $400, 000 while not reducing Republican staff dollars at all in an effort to close a $2.5 million budget gap for the State Senate. This prompted a stinging, sharply worded rebuke from DFL minority leader Tom Bakk over both the cuts themselves and the process that led to them in the first place.

Ortman was also in the middle of the second major partisan controversy of the session – the party-line vote by Republican senators to remove former State Sen. Ellen Anderson as the chair of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

Anderson was a well-known environmental advocate when she was nominated by Gov. Mark Dayton last spring. However, her nearly oneyear long tenure on the PUC was not controversial. In 221 votes that Anderson participated in, the fivemember board (consisting of two DFLers and 3 Republicans), returned unanimous decisions 205 times. Of the remaining 16 votes, Anderson found herself in the minority only six times. 

Republicans, meanwhile, pointed to Anderson’s Senate record for evidence supporting their vote, noting her authorship of a bill that gave the state a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. They failed to note, however, that the bill passed on a bipartisan basis and was signed by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. 

Dayton’s response to the Anderson “firing” was intense and personal. In his fiery response, Dayton targeted Ortman (who was just one of two Republican Senators to speak on the floor of the Senate in favor removing Anderson) with pointed rhetoric and some incorrect facts. 

There seemed to be little doubt in many minds – even though it went unsaid by those involved – that the Anderson decision was in part payback for DFL rejections of two Pawlenty appointees. 

So are we doomed to two more months of this nonsense? Let’s hope not – and we can do much as citizens to make sure that we get a session that is productive despite the partisan divisions that paralyze St. Paul far too often. 

First, we should insist that legislators get together quickly on the main deliverable of this year’s session:a bonding bill. Gov. Dayton has released a $775 million proposal that is a mix of infrastructure and support for local projects. Legislative Republicans have yet to release their planned bonding bill, only saying that do not plan on spending more than $500 million and they favor a higher infrastructure component than Dayton. 

Both parties have valid points here. Dayton has the size of the bill correct, as it equals the average bonding investment over the last decade. With interest rates low and the construction industry looking for a boost, this is exactly the right time to invest in our state’s longterm priorities. 

Meanwhile, Republicans are correct that there should be a stronger infrastructure component to the bill. We have crumbling roads and bridges around this state that should be addressed in a more significant fashion. Some local projects specified by Dayton, such as improvements to Nicollet Mall or building a new St. Paul Saints stadium, should wait. 

Second, we can demand that legislators seriously tackle governmental reform that has been left outstanding for too long. 

Included as part of this agenda would be developing a statute that would defuse much of the harm of failure to reach a budget agreement by the end of the fiscal year, freeing local governments and school districts from certain state mandates, consolidating backoffice functions and purchasing across state agencies to maximize efficiencies, and eliminating loopholes in transparency laws that allow legislators to shield some of their income from disclosure. 

Finally, we should expect that politicians on both sides of the aisle to grow up and stop the ridiculous tit-for-tat that passes for discourse in St. Paul. It doesn’t matter who did it first, who did it last, or who did it worst.

We should have higher standards for those who represent us. The decisions they make have real impacts on real people. If a politician is more interested in partisan games than doing the people’s business, it’s up to us to send them home in November.

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17 Responses to “Keeping the state on track”

  1. Actually, it was governor Dayton who brought up the 80% reduction bill in his temper trantrum statment to Julie Ortman after the confirmation failed. He flew off the handle, even mistating current tax implications, having to retract and apologize for thos remarks.

    The fact of the matter, is the GOP continues to put forward common sense reforms, and the DFL and Governor wish to reject tham off hand.

    He then went on to claim republiclicans were against the bill for partisan reasons only, and there was wide bi-partisan support for this bill after the amendments from commitee.

    I guess what we’ll come to exzpect from this session, isz that the GOP will craft a common sense bill, tackling some local issue, and Dayton won’t like and will veto it, followed by another baseless on-air tranturm. Anyone want to place a freindly wager on this?

    • Well, sure other people brought up the 80% bill — because Republicans offered no specific complaints about Anderson’s record on the floor of the Senate. They cited no votes from her time on the PUC and no legislation she passed. The just declared her views as out of bounds and voted her down. So, then, it’s fair for Democrats to bring up her record.

      Anderson’s time on the PUC was not controversial. Can you cite any votes she took on the PUC that would disqualify her? Anderson’s legislation was passed with broad bipartisan support — including Ortman’s vote on the 80% reduction bill. So if Anderson is extreme because of that bill, then Ortman is equally extreme. So what is it, then, about Anderson’s record that disqualifies her?

      I’d also put up Sen. Anderson’s qualifications to be on the PUC versus Sen. Betsy Wergin, who was appointed by Gov. Pawlenty. Anderson is a lawyer with a long background on energy issues. Wergin is not a lawyer and never sat on an energy committee during her two terms in the State Senate.

      Additionally, I would also suggest that the vote against Anderson sets up any legislator appointed to a commissioner position to be voted down based on mere politics. Would Sen. Ortman want to be judged by the Anderson standard? I think not.

      • I didn’t reject Anderson. Neither did you. You don’t know why she was rejected. You assume you know why, but you don’t know anything other than DFL talking points.

    • Too late. My prediction came true while I was on vacation, and away from local politics, Dayton vetoed several bills. He makes some bold claims during veto speech (tantrum) which again are false, and thinks he’s somehow helping Minnesota. One would think someone from a prominent business family would be more pro-business, but then again, he’s so beholden to unions, that any pro-business attitiude demonstrated would be a sign of betrayal to this base.

      • So, in other words, no there are no specifics to support the Anderson decision.

        On the whole, I agree with Dayton’s vetoes of the legal reform bills. They make it more difficult for individual citizens to get redress through the court system.

        Not to mention the fact that Minnesota’s court system is already well-regarded by the business community. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce rated Minnesota 11th nationwide in friendliness to business in 2010.

        http://court.state.de.us/Superior/pdf/harris_2010.pdf

  2. Sean, perhaps you can enlighten me as to which portions of the public review of Anderson’s record by the Senate confimration was incorrect?

    • It seems that if you were to watch the public confirmation hearing you might learn why Ellen Anderson was not recommended for confirmation, and afterward going to the floor was indeed rejected.

      • If you watched the hearing, you would learn that aside from an unprecendented number of phone calls and emails from constituents asking our Sednators not to confirm Anderson, you would also have learned that many voted for the Renewable Energy bill, while not agreeing with all of it. While the DFL on one hand states that there’s no sign of discord over the bill due to near unanimous support in it’s final version, Dayton claims there was strong oposition to it initially, along partisan lines.

        If you look at Ellen’s own statement’s on the floor of the Senate during the debate of the bill, it quickly becomes clear why she shouldn’t have anything to do with energy. One of her most outrageous comments claimed we needed the bill because “children are afraid of dying from global warming”. Children are afraid of the dark as well, but she has never supported banning darkness.

      • Can you point me to a link for the video?

      • After watching the hearing, I found nothing in there that would prove to be disqualifying. As Sen. Dibble noted, plenty of former legislators with strong partisan views have been nominated to such positions in the past including Sen. Wergin during the Pawlenty administration.

        And, if the committee had concerns about Anderson’s ability to put aside her ideology, why didn’t they consider her year-long record at the PUC when they voted on her this year? No one has been able to cite any of the 221 votes she made as being problematic.

    • While her record may have been fine as acting PUC chair, it was her earlier record that gave people pause. Many wrote or called our Senators and begged them not to confirm this Gorist. these people work on our behalf, and I can tell you we are happy that Anderson will not have this position.

      Perhaps she’s not being controversial, and holding back for the remaining 5 years after confirmation to let her agenda loose on MN ratepayers. Given her past actions, I certainly wouldn’t put it past her.

      I note that you still haven’t figured out why the GOP and Pawlenty supported the Renewable energy bill. I’ll give you a clue. It wasn’t due to greenhouse gases. It was due to MN being an agricultural state. There are many reasons to develop renewable energy other than the fallacy represented by Gore and Andderson.

      • Let’s say for a minute that Anderson has been playing it coy this year (I don’t agree, but will play along for a minute.) How exactly is Anderson going to “let her agenda” loose when she represents one of five votes on the commission. If you’re interested in treating the PUC as a partisan body, then you have to realize that three of the five commissioners are Republicans and they are all on the Commission for the next two years. Based on the voting record of the PUC, the effective impact of such a strategy on Anderson’s part would be to turn a bunch of 5-0 votes into 4-1 votes.

        The record of former legislators who go on to the PUC has been good in the past. Again, I will point to Sen. Wergin — a strong Republican partisan during her time in the Senate who has proven to be an able commissioner. And again, I will also point out that if you’re worried about the impacts of Anderson’s beliefs on MN ratepayers, recognize that out of the six votes in the past year where she was in the minority, she consistently voted on the side of ratepayers versus the utilities.

        Republicans here are setting up an unusually high standard for future confirmations of former legislators. And you can bet it’s going to come back to bite them someday in the future.

  3. Let’s play it your way then. If you assume this is payback, why was the payback used on Anderson over any of the other approved confirmations at this point? And are you assuming that the number of folks who wrote their legislators were just looking for payback? Or what were their reasons? Why did they voice so much opposition to Anderson, but not any of the others appointments? Why has no other appointee generated so much feedback from the people? If Anderson is such a great energy wonk, why does she generate so much opposition? I think her “shark tank” moment stating that children are afraid of dying from global warming had a huge impact, on the public, and our Senators. Having someone capable of her odd rhetoric isn’t someone people want in charge at the PUC. No, we’d much rather have someone rational hold that position.

    • Anderson is one of the more notable names among the Dayton appointees. It’s interesting that you note these statements that she made, yet no one asked her about those statements at her confirmation hearing. If that’s the big concern, why not ask her about it and get her explanation for why she said it? Unless, of course, they had already made up their mind…

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  1. Brick City Blog Endorsement: Jim Weygand for State Senate | Brick City Blog - October 15, 2012

    […] increased partisanship can also be seen in her rejection of the appointment of former State Sen. Ellen Anderson to the Public Utilities Commission this year.  Certainly, if Sen. Anderson is too partisan to hold […]

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