Editor’s note: Welcome to Capitol Retort, our weekly review of issues in state and national news, with a rotating cast of political people in the know. Answers have been edited for length and clarity. Any instances of agreement are accidental.
Question 1: The November state budget forecast was unveiled Dec. 2 projecting a $1.4 billion surplus heading into the next biennium. Assuming those numbers stand up — a big assumption — what’s the most important thing lawmakers should do with that money?
Sarah Walker, liberal lobbyist and political consultant: I think, obviously, MNsure is top of the list and I think that you’ll see a lot of those resources going toward trying to fix our health insurance exchange. But I still think that the Republicans are going to have to contend with these continuing racial and economic disparities and opportunity gaps in education.
Don Betzold, former DFL state senator: First, don’t make massive tax cuts or massive spending increases. They’ve got to get a bonding bill passed and passing a tax bill would be fine. But transportation is probably at the top of the list because, if you look, there have been so many needs and they really haven’t done anything for so many years.
Fritz Knaak, attorney, former GOP legislator: Pass the damned transportation bill! That’s it. It’s about a billion-dollar fix, everybody knows it. [Gov. Mark] Dayton is probably going to dig his feet in the dirt and say, “I want a gas tax.” Good luck with that. I mean they fell on their sword with the light rail thing, so maybe they have learned their lesson and they will just smile shyly and pass the damned bill — “they” meaning the Democrats, too. But we’ll see.
Question 2: Critics of the incoming Donald Trump administration, including economist Paul Krugman, see his selection of Wall Street insiders and Obamacare-busters for key Cabinet positions as evidence that he might betray the working-class voters who elevated him to the White House. What say you?
Walker: I think that what we are going to see in the coming year is increasing divisiveness between Trump and Congress, for a number of reasons. One is that a lot of those people in Congress who were elected in this past election didn’t run on the same platform as Trump, and many of them, in fact, consciously distanced themselves. I think the Republican Party still has a deep divide.
I think what you saw with Carrier and Trump in Indiana is an example of what we’re going to see more of. He might do well in keeping some jobs in the country, but at the end of the day he is providing corporate welfare. The Tea Party and some of the people that are at the nexus of the Trump train are not going to be pleased with this continuous bias toward corporations, because it is not going to expand pay or reduce the equity gap between blue-collar, white individuals throughout the country and the 1 percent.
Betzold: I don’t think it drains the swamp. I mean, Hillary Clinton was criticized for giving speeches to Goldman Sachs, and here Trump is hiring all these Goldman Sachs people. So that seems a little disingenuous. I think a lot of people are going to be in for a surprise when they figure out that the guy that we thought was Donald Trump really is Donald Trump — not the guy who was saying those nice things to people to get votes.
Knaak: There’s enough of a Midwestern populist in me that I don’t like billionaires. I mean, it takes me a lot to warm up to my old friend Glen Taylor — who I know and is a nice guy. I had a real problem when Mitt Romney was the candidate. I’ve got a real problem with Trump, because of the silver spoon in his mouth, being East Coast and all the rest of it. If he were trying to appease my regional biases, he wouldn’t have picked these people. But he did.
Frankly, I don’t think it would have been any different if Hillary Clinton had been elected. That’s my problem with it, because she is thick with all those people, too — in fact, more brazenly engaged in what I consider to be soft bribery with those people than Trump is. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Those clowns want to lecture us now on populism?
Question 3: Gov. Mark Dayton planned to visit Hibbing to declare Dec. 10 “Bob Dylan Day.” Weigh in: Does the Bard deserve his Nobel Prize for literature?
Walker: I remember one Christmas my brother gave me a gift of Bob Dylan’s actual poems. I remember the book — it was gray and huge and it was all of Bob Dylan’s writings. So I think he has been much more than just a singer and I am all in support of Bob Dylan getting the Nobel Prize for literature.
Betzold: Absolutely. Just as I think that Keith Richards deserves the Nobel Prize for chemistry.
Knaak: Abso-frickin’-lutely. I was just really amazed and pleased that this recognition happened. I mean, the guy is amazing. I’m an English major so don’t get me wrong, I understand where the purists are going to be coming from on this: “Too accessible! That’s not real poetry!” But I actually think it’s legitimate in Dylan’s case.
I’m going to have to think about maybe respecting [the Nobel Prize committee] a little more now. I kind of lost faith in them after they gave Obama the peace prize; I was sitting there looking at that going, “You guys, you’re not real anymore.” But this restored my faith. The guy deserved it.