Minnesota’s 2011 state legislative session began and ended on a hard-line note. Conservative policy majorities in both chambers led with conservative orthodoxy; regularly reaffirmed that orthodoxy; and then, the day after session ended, flew around Minnesota holding press conferences trumpeting their brilliant orthodoxy. In their travels, conservative leaders emphasized their unwillingness to compromise as a point of pride.
With Governor Dayton’s budget bills vetoes, Minnesota still faces a $5.2 billion projected budget deficit. And, come July 1, no authorization to fund Minnesota’s state government. Something will have to give or Minnesotans will find themselves in a world of creeping hurt.
Conservative policy orthodoxy’s advocacy is most palatable when government functions smoothly. It’s easy to rail against big government’s imagined excesses while driving well-maintained roads, counting on efficient emergency services, and enjoying public infrastructures’ many, varied advantages. It’s especially easy to condemn government while leading the state legislature from the well-appointed confines of a chamber’s retiring rooms.
But, caucus unity will be tested in the next month. As elected state leaders return to their districts, they won’t have daily caucus meetings to reinforce the policy hard-line. As every State Representative and State Senator knows, the distance between constituents and the state capitol is greater than miles can measure.
Talking big to colleagues while grimly staring across the chamber aisle is a very different experience than explaining budget cuts to community nursing home administrators or school superintendants. Where conservative policy leaders like to present every problem in simple, black and white terms, constituents have a way of mucking up all that carefully constructed intellectual neatness.
Consequently, the great unknown element in Minnesota’s budget debate turns on caucus unity. Will the right-right wing hold their ground or will constituent contact moderate enough members that Governor Dayton’s proposed $1.8 billion tax increased, paired with programs cuts, might carry the day?
Minnesotans are a practical bunch. We suffer enough extreme weather that we don’t particularly care for it in public life. When Minnesotans focus on what really matters—jobs, schools, healthcare and roads—we find a way to compromise, creating community prosperity. It will be good for Minnesota’s legislators to rub elbows with their constituents. They’ll find that Minnesotans aren’t nearly as hard-line as the majority caucus.