Governor Mark Dayton’s March 28th letter to Republican legislative leaders was less about a negotiated budgetary settlement and more about framing the debate after he vetoes their budget proposal. From a strategic perspective it was masterful. It was clear, intelligent, and firm. Assuming legislative Democrats remain firm, the Governor will have the upper hand.
In any type of struggle involving a Governor versus the Legislature, a Governor will almost always prevail. First of all, a Governor is the sole leader of a vast statewide management system; can move with speed and flexibility; and has the ability to instantly communicate to the media and the public. Secondly, he has the full muscle of the veto.
Governor Dayton’s letter suggests that he fully understands the powers of his office and is prepared to use them.
The Legislature, on the other hand, is designed to be slow moving and cumbersome with power divided among 201 members and two separate chambers, House and Senate. Even caucus leadership is divided thereby making it very difficult for any one leader to speak for all.
The specific situation as it pertains to Republicans and their control of both houses has additional burdens including:
- They are locked into their own campaign rhetoric which railed against any form of “revenue enhancement” and this includes debt.
- The expectations held out by their leaders during the campaign – Emmer–Pawlenty–Sutton-to the effect that either there are no deficits or that they will be easy to manage.
- The increasing pressure from Tea Party supporters demonizing “revenue enhancement” and all the tools normally employed by political systems to resolve conflict such as compromise, negotiating, or even meeting with the other side. In Minnesota, this pressure increases as Michelle Bachman’s presidential campaign gains strength.
All these forces are designed to push legislative Republicans away from a negotiated settlement and more towards a stalemate that would close government. There can be no doubt that the Republican Party will be split between those willing to govern and the new far right which will not compromise.
Frankly, legislative Republicans deserve a more favorable destiny. Many truly believe in reducing the size, scope, and costs of government. But this approach cannot be successful in a slash and burn budgetary environment. Roughly, 85 percent of state monies end up in local districts. Inflicting harm, particularly when it is perceived to be extreme, is a sure path to political defeat.
However, closing the legislative session with a compromised budget situation and an agreement to work with the Governor on a reform agenda designed to review concerns of affordability along with size and scope of government has enormous appeal. Minnesotans care deeply about quality of life issues and it is important that Republicans once again identify with those concerns.
This approach to governance helps both parties in that it brings intelligent bi-partisanship into play and embraces the middle of the political spectrum which is where most Minnesotans reside. Perhaps of greatest importance is that it focuses positively on building a more promising future.