Assessing the accomplishments of the Minnesota Legislature offers a glimmer of hope for continued bipartisanship, but it’s a fragile relationship that could easily turn south.
That would be unfortunate and unfair to Minnesotans who’ve just endured a pandemic, continuing racial strife and an economy in recovery. Laws governing emergency powers kept Minnesotans safe and enabled a fierce response to the coronavirus, but a small disruption to a simmering political environment could easily have plunged the state into chaos.
Still, it’s important to recognize the accomplishments of a DFL House majority and governor and the GOP Senate majority. By all measures Minnesota’s pandemic response was among the top in the nation even though the GOP repeatedly challenged Gov. Tim Walz’s emergency authority and voted to overturn it several times. But without the support of the DFL House, the effort failed.
And it’s a good thing. A divided Legislature has shown more often than not that it cannot get past taking points and partisanship. Putting the Legislature in charge of the pandemic response would have been disastrous. Every other state governor exercised emergency powers.
The complex nature of responding to a pandemic is best left to a chief executive who can get health care providers and others critical to the response together. He can execute contracts for supplies and vaccines. We know 40 to 50 percent of conservatives in a survey said they didn’t believe in vaccines. We can imagine the horror of a debate about buying vaccines at the Legislature.
Walz, as a former teacher and student of government, was not opposed to discussion about limiting emergency powers, but the GOP just had no plan to say how they were going to do it, he told The Free Press editorial board in a meeting Thursday.
He gave divided government credit. The committees in the House and Senate worked together well on health and human services funding, and the bipartisan conference committee came together for a good bill that the governor was happy to sign.
It made a number of important reforms and investments supporting early child care and health programs for the disabled and elderly. It also kept in place the reinsurance program that keeps health insurance rates low for small businesses and individuals, which was a Republican priority.
School funding also found strong bipartisan support, with the formula increasing for the next two years by 2.5% and 2%. And let’s not forget that the divided Legislature also passed a $1 billion tax cut bill.
But Walz and others point to the influx of cash for COVID relief from the federal government as key to bringing agreement on a number of issues. It’s hard to disagree when there’s plenty of money to fund both parties’ priorities.
The fragile relationship between Democrats and Republicans was also evident as Walz aimed sharp criticism at Senate Republicans for forcing the resignation of Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commission Laura Bishop. Walz claimed Republicans lied about their intentions to stay in session, saying it was to ensure Walz signed bills. He also defended Bishop as a qualified public servant whose background was in business.
Walz called the GOP tactics a “low point in political history” and something that pushed him “to the brink.”
The Republican effort came after all the bills were signed and smacked of retribution, Walz said, for Bishop supporting the clean car initiative that Republicans were unable to defeat.
When Minnesotans see their legislators this summer at parades and festivals they should emphasize the need for continued bipartisanship and hold accountable those who would put political points over solving problems.