Frustration. Anger. Resignation. Compassion. Understanding. Hope.
Speakers and audience members alike expressed a full gamut of emotions at last Friday’s 2012 Session Line Up, the annual event co-sponsored by MCF and the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.
If you missed the politically charged event where the state’s top elected officials spoke to individuals from the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors, here are a few highlights — shared in two blog posts. Today’s is a brief look at what the Governor and top legislative leaders (listed in the order of their appearance) said about Minnesota’s current legislative agenda and the most critical issues affecting Minnesota’s future.
Tomorrow I’ll write about what we learned by listening between the lines, including how you can successfully participate in the process – without adding fuel to the smoldering partisan fire.
Governor Mark Dayton expressed his frustration about the difficulty of working with the Republican-controlled legislature. Never, he said, had he worked in an environment where “compromise is a weakness and intransigence is a virtue.” (For another perspective on polarization in our society, see my recent “Us vs. Them” post .)
MPR’s story on the event picked up Dayton’s irritation, reporting on his comments about the pending confirmation hearing of Public Utilities Commission head Ellen Anderson.
Dayton also spoke out against constitutional amendments, which he described as bypassing the system of checks and balances of state government. If amendments come to the ballot, he said “the only check will be the wisdom of the people of Minnesota.”
Shifting gears in the Q&A, Dayton responded to a question about bonding and housing. He stated he will do his best to keep housing and other public funding that will boost private employment in the bonding bills.
House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Thissen spoke to the importance of creating jobs and building a strong middle class, which is the key, he said, to building long-term prosperity in the state. He criticized Republicans for only talking about business. “Yes, businesses should be able to thrive…but businesses can’t thrive without the people of Minnesota.” Nonprofits, he said, should bring to the conversation their focus on making the people of Minnesota as strong and as successful as possible.
Representative Kurt Zellers, Speaker of the House, focused his remarks on reform – getting more of the dollars sent to St. Paul to the people who need them: to kids and families, and to businesses to hire more workers. He referenced the recently announced Reform 2.0 agenda, which is focused on excising outdated, outmoded and wasteful government spending.
Zellers also emphasized that this session’s bonding bill needs to focus on maintenance of the state’s infrastructure. An example cited was the upkeep of buildings on MNSCU campuses.
Senator John Marty spoke vociferously against proposed constitutional amendments that would “take away people’s rights.” He claimed that voter i.d. legislation would potentially deny votes to seniors, college students and the homeless, among others. He preached an agenda of “first do no more harm,” referencing “cruel and heartless” human services and medical assistance cuts.
Senate Majority Leader David Senjem emphasized that jobs and the economy are the number one goals of everyone at the legislature. Admitting that there was lack of agreement on how to tackle unemployment and economic sluggishness, he focused on the need to improve the tax and regulatory environment for businesses and invest in a skilled workforce.
Senjem noted that, although constitutional amendments will be taken up this session, he is not a “big fan” of budgeting through the constitution. (Much to his surprise, he got applause when noting his opposition to the Legacy Amendment.) He also expressed hope that the legislature could work with the Governor to work out a statutory solution to the voter i.d. issue, rather than advance a constitutional amendment.
Tomorrow’s Post: Being an Advocate, Not a Partisan
Senjem’s closing remarks about working with the Governor might allay some of the fears about constitutional amendments expressed at the opening of the event. Read tomorrow’s post for more about the amendments, partisanship and successful strategies to participate in the public policy sphere.
–Wendy Wehr, MCF vice president of communications and information services