Springtime brings hope each year and we have been hopeful, even optimistic, about the Minnesota legislature finishing their biannual budget work in a harmonious way and on time as dictated by the constitutionally imposed deadline of May 20th. It turns out that may be more of a fantasy than not. This is being written on Tuesday morning and by the time most of you good readers are breezing through this, the legislature may be fixing their dysfunctional ways but there is serious reason to doubt it and it looks like we are headed for yet another special session for them to untangle their issues and settle on a state budget.
Normally deadlines are what forces things to get done, but not always at the capitol. The brinksmanship that brings this train wreck every year is something most of us want to see ended. It isn’t hard to understand why legislators are passionate about their positions and want to stand their ground for what they believe in. What’s hard to understand is how they think they can govern a complicated, multi-faceted, growing state by not being willing to compromise and attempt to meet halfway.
Saying no to every proposal is just another method of not governing. Yes, the folks who want to just say no to nearly everything are, in effect, holding the line on spending but does that solve problems and address the public’s needs? It’s been demonstrated over and over that saying no doesn’t get on with the business of taking care or the public’s buildings, roads and bridges. It also doesn’t invest in the education we need to provide our future workforce, the ones who will be paying the bills for all of us in the years to come. The short-sighted practice of seeing every new or revised spending proposal as something to oppose gets us nowhere. The legislators’ job is to find a way to move forward, find a way to agree on things and take care of the public’s business. Anything less than that is failure. And, failure deserves fixing. That’s what elections are for.
Last week the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) held a lobbying day at the state capitol followed by an annual tradition of hosting an ice-cream social in the lower level of the capitol. The ice cream comes from Greater Minnesota, Schwann’s in Marshall to be exact, and always seems to lighten the mood with legislators as they approach the deadline of the end of session. This year was no exception. The idea is to try to get decision-makers and their staff together with their colleagues and our 97-member cities for conversation and building some rapport that can aid in breaking the log-jam of ideas and positions. The turn-out was good and so were the conversations. Now if we could just translate that into some real progress.
Earlier in the day, while grabbing lunch with folks from Detroit Lakes and the CGMC staff at the cafeteria in the MnDOT building, we noticed former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker having lunch at a nearby table. That inspired a few questions at our table, but he left shortly after we spotted him. Afterward, we heard he was in St. Paul to give what was called a “pep talk” to some of our Minnesota Republican legislators. It strains my judgement to try to understand how helpful a talk from a highly divisive person like former Gov. Walker would be. He certainly will not be preaching about compromise in the face of the impending legislative session deadline. More likely he was all about standing your ground and not “giving in”.
I wonder if it isn’t high time to retire more politicians who espouse that kind of rhetoric, like the Wisconsin voters did to Walker. I’m sure he’ll do fine on the talking circuit. He’ll make plenty of money as a firebrand of division. But I’m not sure I understand how helpful that will be to actually solving our problems or addressing our collective needs. It might be best for our Republican legislators to go well beyond the muck and mistrust created by Walker if they need to look for inspiration.
A while back, someone asked about what it’s like to write a column each week. You’d think that reply would come easily but I stumbled looking for an answer to that. However, a quick answer is that it’s quite fun to put thoughts into writing and share them to you good readers. And I guess the deadline each week, like all deadlines, keeps you on track a bit and keeps your nose to the “grindstone”. But beyond that, it’s the occasional feedback, both positive and negative, that makes writing a weekly column the fun exercise that it is. As you might expect, this got me thinking and looking back a bit.
When I started writing these weekly words, I offered the hope that this would be a conversational column, one that is like a chat with old friends and something to look forward. Looking back, that now seems a little presumptuous. Who would think that, for most folks, week after week these words would be worth reading? That’s another question that’s not so easy to answer. Still, as close as I can tell, readers have hung in there, tolerated plenty of typos and opinions and hung in there. Scanning back through the calendar, I realized that this is the 750th weekly column going back to the rather tentative beginning on Dec. 23, 2004.
We stumbled around with a name for this space during those first few weeks but settled on “River Ramblings” in early 2005 and have been there ever since. And, thanks to you all, we’ve managed to not miss a week since the start. After all, without readers what would the purpose of even writing a column be? So, thank you for sitting down and breezing through this each week for that past 14-plus years. We’ll plan to keep visiting with you each week and will look forward to hearing your thoughts. And we’ll keep an eye on the deadline.