Slouching toward St. Paul: In Minnesota's Senate Majority, the best lack all conviction, while worst are full of passionate inte

This Friday, April 13, brings two pieces of news related to Dave Senjem's triune majority in the Minesota Senate. Former Majority Leader Michael Brodkorb, fired after titular Majority Leader Amy Koch stepped down, has been denied unemployment benefits.

And Senator Claire Robling, who chairs the powerful Senate Finance Comittee, has announced her retirement. PIM's Brianna Bierschbach reports in Republican Claire Robling to retire from the Senate:

After the state’s new redistricting maps dropped in February, Robling said she fully intended run for re-election. But as the year has progressed, Robling’s interest in the job has waned.

“Sixteen years in this position is long enough. I find my enthusiasm for doing this job for another four years is waning. I think it’s time to let someone else step into this spot,” she said, adding that she has been frustrated by an increased sense of partisanship in St. Paul. “I fear that statesmen are vanishing as partisanship deepens. It is very difficult to pass common sense measures into law these days because special interest groups block or promote agendas that only benefit themselves.”

Alone among reporters covering this breaking story, Bierschbach notes:

Last December, she was one of a handful of senators who confronted former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch about having an inappropriate relationship with staffer Michael Brodkorb.

Rewinding to that fateful meeting, let's recall the names of the other senators who chastized Koch's wanton ways. In Fired staffer threatens to sue, expose other Capitol affairs, the suburban Sun ThisWeek staff writer Jennifer Harper reports:

Even if he settles, Brodkorb still retains the right to sue senators Geoff Michel, David Hann and Chris Gerlach, chief of staff Callen [sic] Sheehan and committee administrator Aaron Cocking, all of whom knew of the affair or the events surrounding the firing.

Brodkorb claims senators Michel, Gerlach, Robling and Hann met with Koch to tell her to resign and for Brodkorb to be terminated due to the affair.

Of the four senators who met with Koch, Michel, Gerlach and now Robling have announced their retirements. Koch will also retire at the end of this session.

By all accounts, Robling is a very pleasant person who is responsive to her constituents, regardless of their political leanings. On her own Facebook wall, Star Tribune columnist Lori posted:

Sen. Claire Robling put herself on the Legislature's retirement list Friday, to the regret of fans of her reasonable brand of Republicanism...

Brodkorb's lawyers rattle about how he'll be subpoenaing male legislators and female staffers who dallied with each other, with different consequences for the female staffers than for the former Senate Majority Leader (and for the Other Majority Leader, the Not-Brodkorb, Amy Koch, though that's not part of the Brodkorb complaint). Thus, Robling's retirement seems not related so much to the pending lawsuit as to the "hostile work environment" Brodkorb fostered in the Senate and the inner factional disarray created by the leadership vacuum left by Koch's stepping down.

The partisanship speaks for itself. More interesting? Those special interest groups that Robling calls out, and it's worth looking at those on both sides of an issue with which Robling had staked out a clear position. Like two teutonic plates shifting against each other, those within the Republican Party on opposite sides of the gambling issue shake their world.

As might be expected from someone whose district includes Canterbury Park, Robling is a strong supporter of racino, despite the injunction in the Republican platform against the expansion of gambling. And while those who support racino like to rally against the state's tribal gambling interests--in the MNGOP sounding a two-tone racial and partisan dogwhistle--those interests are firmly entrenched within the party.

At the beginning of the month Bluestem cited a Star Tribune discussion of this point:

Capitol insiders see other telling changes. In November, the prominent GOP aide Cullen Sheehan was hired by Lockridge Grindal Nauen, the Minneapolis law and lobbying firm that has long represented the state's Indian gambling industry. Sheehan was chief of staff to the Minnesota Senate Republican caucus and, before that, a campaign manager for Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman. . . .

Intrigue also has surrounded the Republican-led, Indian-supported Citizens Against Gambling Expansion (CAGE). It's a nonprofit with an operating budget of more than $115,000 a year. Tribal leaders support CAGE, but McCarthy said he doesn't know how much money they have given.

The group is led by influential Republican operative Jack Meeks and, until last year, counted Tony Sutton, the former Republican Party chairman, as a member of its board.

Nor is racino, the flip side of the coin, without friends and its own second comings. Robling and racino started the session with a bounce. Early in January, Jay Kohls reported in Racino Odds Go Up as Minnesota Senate Changes Leaders:

. . .Both Senjem and Robling are huge proponents of Racino gaming as a possible revenue source to build a new Vikings stadium.

Usually, what leadership of a caucus wants, the leadership gets. A Racino bill has never made it to the Senate floor, but now some at the Capitol say not only will it get to the floor for a vote, it stands a very good chance of passing.

The measure died and rose again several times. In mid-March, MinnPost Gleaner Briann Lambert wrote Racino plan dies (another) death but in a week James Nord reported that Racino proposal is back among the living after a little Senate committee ‘CPR’. By March 30, Sturdevant reported that Racino reappears, and other end games.

But this gaming interest faltered in the face of Meeks' coalition, aided by the splits within the caucus. In Senate racino push at apparent dead end, PIM's Bierschbach reported:

Behind the scenes, the issue has split the already divided Senate GOP caucus. The sudden amendment has prompted at least one unscheduled caucus meeting, a hastily arranged gathering March 30 after the Robling amendment passed in committee. The debate has turned bitter, sources say, splitting not only along old, established pro- and anti-gambling lines, but between senators supporting a controversial “right-to-work” constitutional amendment and the Republican leadership team. . . .

Senators who support a constitutional “right-to-work” amendment are angered that the proposal has also stalled in the Rules Committee this session. What looked like a rump caucus of 10 Republican senators recently held a news conference to call on GOP leaders to move right-to-work, which would allow workers to opt out of joining a union and paying dues.

Now, the senators who are reportedly pushing back on racino line up closely with those who spoke out at the right-to-work news conference. They include Sens. Dave Thompson, David Hann, Warren Limmer, Roger Chamberlain, Benjamin Kruse, Paul Gazelka, Gretchen Hoffman, Chris Gerlach and a handful of others who are reportedly on the fence.

The harnessing of the anti-union rump caucus with the anti-gambling wing of the caucus should be no surprise to Bluestem readers. In March, BSP looked at the Cummins contribution connection with the anti-gaming Taxpayers' League and Jack Meeks' Citizens Against Gambling Expansion (CAGE). Cummins is also a major funder of the Freedom Club, one of "Right to Work's" big movers. Some of the CAGE money may be from tribal gaming interests, but conservative west metro businessmen backing Right-to-Work are no strangers to CAGE. The one remaining Koch accuser, Hann, is anti-racino.

One can certainly understand why Robling, a member of Senjem's powerless leadership team, might decide to throw in the towel.

The same cannot be said for Michael Brodkorb and his legal team. Brian Lambert writes in After leaked report, Brodkorb lawyer says he's broadening lawsuit:

Let me see if I have this right. A-hard knuckle, anti-big government, anti-nanny state, pro-personal accountability, pro-bootstrapping Tea Party-style conservative strategist … has applied for unemployment benefits … after being “terminated” for an “inappropriate relationship” in his government job ... and has been denied? That's what Tom Scheck at MPR reported. And now there are even more developments in the Michael Brodkorb case, with his attorney saying Friday afternoon that his client will be "adding an additional claim of invasion of privacy" to his planned lawsuit because of the revelations.

In his great poem "The Second Coming," Irish poet William Butler Yeats fretted that the best lacked all conviction, while the worst burned with passionate intensity. Looking around at what slouches toward the State Capitol, one can only tremble at what rough beast, its hour come round at last, waits to be born in the form of the threatened Brodkorb lawsuit.

And why does that critter seem to already have the name, "DFL Majority"?

Photo: Senator Claire Robling will be putting herself out to pasture.

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Sally Jo Sorensen's picture
Sally Jo Sorensen

Sally Jo Sorensen publishes Bluestem Prairie for those who prefer take their corn with a progressive chaser.