Why Capitol should be open to public during shutdown


The public has a strong sense of what is right and wrong, and what is fair or not.  The situation at the “People’s House” is very unique, but it does not mean the public should be locked out when legislator’s behind an impenetrable Capitol discuss the public business.

How the legislative sausage is made during regular session is far different when there is a special session as I stated in a previous post.  If this was just a “regular” special session, the Capitol would be open, the public and lobbyists would be able to engage the elected officials and staff.  Ask questions, get materials, gather information and see things.

It is unique since the early seventies when the “Open Government” movement hit the Minnesota Legislature, the Capitol and Legislature is less accessible to the public for the last 18 days than since that time.

Per media and press reports, billions of dollars of state monies and how to spend or reallocate it are being discussed in conference committee/committees.  Deal making and horsetrading is going on to  get support from other legislator’s, to comply with the GOP Leadership and Governor Dayton’s agreement, and for many other reasons.  This happens all the time, but what’s different, there’s no public to see, watch, to ask questions, and put two and two together.

Since the announcement of the Gov/Leaders agreement the outstanding bills which include, the Health and Human Services bill, State Government Finance bill, and Legacy bill among others are on a “fast track.”  Commissioner’s, legislators, and staff are working “out hundreds of details” in these bills.  What does that mean?

It means that there is a big push to zip these bills through and that there will be changes of language, with shifts of money going from one program to another, language and money allocations in bills disappearing, possible new language being added, and an array of legislative slights of hand without any public scrutiny.

From the small non-profit who worked on language in a specific area with funding to the large corporate entity that wants less government regulation are all interested where the money and resources go.  There is also interest in the law and policy changes.  But we are all locked out.

With the public or interested parties to be able to be at the open “People’s House” where discussion since July 1 has taken place there would be so many positive gains rather than the suspicions if the doors were only open.

The ability of the public to be at the Capitol would allow for Minnesotans to gain knowledge about the spending of public monies, priorities and policy changes that may be different because of the BIG DEAL. To gain a good realization of the entangled and challenging choices we in Minnesota face, but  also to be more broad minded about the negative consequences and to appreciate the Legislator’s dilemma.  To see the various interests play out in the public we are able to discern the conflicts of interests, the special interests, and to watch the decision making about the public expense and policy which is about us.  We may also be able to bring a perspective, facts, or information that may help resolve an issue, error, or misunderstanding.

The Governor and the Legislative Leadership did not provide the direction for the Capitol to be open for the public during the shutdown time.  It was a slap to our faces, to our traditions of open government and accountability.  Even to the point, that legislators could not even escort their own constituents to their own offices.

Am I too idealistic about government of the people, for the people, and by the people.  Damn right I am.  I have a real appreciation of the process and I know the public can make a difference.

The public I think believes it was wrong and not fair to have the “People’s House” closed and locked while legislator’s and Dayton administration officials worked on our business.  The shutdown created the unique situation,”but that does not mean we should throw away Minnesota’s tradition of accountability, transparency and openness.”

As I said to the Pioneer Press “This is the weird backside, the ugliness of the shutdown. It’s sausage making on the fast track, greased, without any public questioning.”