A weak hand


Minnesota government has been shut down for a week now.  The State’s budget runs on a fiscal year starting July 1st and there was no agreement on how to proceed.  So it ended there, all but the most essential services ordered to stay in operation by the courts.

How will this end?  What will it mean over the long haul?  It is still far too early to say anything for sure because it has yet to play out completely.  The Independence Day holiday has made reliable polling nearly impossible so far, so we can’t even use that measure.  In place of anything intelligent there is always spin.  I’ll add a little conjecture to that and you can judge me on it later.

Both sides are working feverishly to blame the other for the situation, running teevee commercials, opening new websites, and plastering billboards everywhere.  The operation of the state has been reduced to just another game.  And that’s where the long-term implications lie.

As a blame game neither side can really win.  The general public is not going to see this as political issue but primarily one of “You didn’t do your job”.  That will fall on both sides of the issue, but has a tendency to stick to Gov. Dayton because he is the most identifiable as an individual.  Faulting “The Republicans” is mushy and much more difficult.  The job of the DFL is to make sure that the public knows who Speaker Zellers and Majority Leader Koch are, in many cases introducing them while at the same time defaming them.  That will be hard.

The longer this goes on, however, the more that message can sink in.  As long as Gov. Dayton has continuous cover by proposing plans and encouraging non-partisan or bi-partisan groups to help make progress the more he will look like he is, indeed, doing his job.  So the quicker the settlement the better for the Republicans.

That is why I am sure that the final plan will almost certainly be a compromise, no matter how much the Republican legislature wants to stall the inevitable.  Tax increases of some kind will almost certainly fill in part of the $5B gap.

But a quick settlement would mean that the Republicans caved in, meaning that the entire shutdown has been for nothing.  That means that the Republicans lose as well.  Therefore they have set themselves up for a game that it is very unlikely that they can win – unless they successfully paint Gov Dayton as the problem.

That’s what they have been trying to do.  Their card remains the visibility of the Governor.  But with the public generally supporting tax increases, or at least seeing them as inevitable, their hand is very weak.  Gov. Dayton’s visibility can also work for him if he continues to appear to be the one who is working hard to craft a compromise.

We may see other angles tested, such as a suburban-urban conflict or a class struggle.  I do not expect that to go very far because of the increasing suburban poverty and thus reliance on state services – especially unemployment insurance checks.

You may or may not agree with my analysis of this situation, but this is more or less how the Federal shutdown in 1995 played out.  The more Newt Gingrich’s profile was raised the more he was able to take the fall.  It lasted just long enough to end his political career and give Bill Clinton an easy re-election.

Given that this is not a game the Republicans have a good chance of winning, why are they playing it?  The answer to this question is difficult because we have to get into their motives – a tricky thing to do at best.  However, stupid is stupid and their actions so far seem quite dumb.  This is almost certain to cost them the Legislature in the next election – unless the DFL is unable to capitalize on it.

So what can we make of the shutdown and how it will play out politically?  The longer it goes on the more likely we will see major Republican losses.  I don’t see any other reasonable conclusion, given that Gov. Dayton continues to make new proposals and is playing his role well.

We will see if this is correct when it has gone on long enough to have a few reliable polls.  I think we can expect that to take hold early next week.  Judge this analysis then and we’ll see where we are.