Editor’s note: Welcome to Capitol Retort, our weekly review of issues in state and national news, with a rotating cast of legal and political people in the know. Answers have been edited for length and clarity. Any instances of agreement are accidental.
Question 1: The Minnesota House and Senate passed a compromise insurance relief and reform bill on Thursday and the governor signed it. Given all the political drama of 2016, did you think our state’s political leaders had it in them?
Bob Gunther, GOP House member; chair, Legacy Funding Finance Committee: Yeah, I did. There wasn’t one Republican that voted for the [MNsure] bill to begin with, and yet we understood the emergency. So, we didn’t have any choice—we had to get it done. The problem was that the politics came in when both parties wanted to take credit for doing it.
David Ornstein, ex-Bloomington city attorney; brother of Washington, D.C., uber-insider Norm Ornstein: Absolutely. The issue demanded bipartisan support. I think all the Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature recognized that this is the number one issue to deal with in a timely manner, and that the compromise was necessary. Also, I think it is going to provide more affordable health insurance for a significant number of people. So, my kudos to the Legislature and the governor.
Sarah Walker, liberal lobbyist and political consultant: I think that our state’s leaders didn’t have a choice except to provide relief to the citizens of Minnesota—which would include myself—who are in the individual market and seriously just cannot even afford the insurance. I feel like, because the Republicans ran on it they didn’t have a choice except to make some compromises. [Gov. Mark] Dayton and the Democrats were in the same situation. So, they did what was right for Minnesotans.
Question 2: Under pressure from state GOP leaders, the Texas Supreme Court has reinstated a previously rejected same-sex marriage rights case. Gay marriage opponents see it as a chance to strip government employees of “illegal same-sex benefits.” How will this play out?
Gunther: They’d be hypocrites not to allow them to have that benefit. I’d have a hard time with the first part, but an easy time with the second. I don’t believe in same-sex marriage. But at the same time, once the government deemed that same-sex marriages were legal, then to say that they are legal but you can’t have this benefit or that benefit, I think is a little bit hypocritical.
Ornstein: Based on the U.S. Supreme Court decision [Obergefell v. Hodges] and the Constitution in general, I don’t think they’re going to be successful. I think that gay rights and the legality of gay marriage, protected under the U.S. Constitution, is going to prevail over any attempts by state legislatures to restrain those rights or eliminate them. If, in Texas, there are limitations on gay rights that have already been authorized by the U.S. Supreme Court, then clearly there will be an appeal, I am sure.
We’ve got all kinds of crazy legislative proposal going around in various states. The conservatives are just not going to tolerate decisions that violate their interpretations of the Bible or the Constitution.
Walker: To me what is more significant about this is that, now that Trump is going to be making the next nomination to the Supreme Court, there are going to be efforts by Republicans who are not in favor same-sex marriage to renew their focus on social issues, instead of economic issues.
Question 3: Courtesy of key Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, a new phrase has entered the American political lexicon: “alternative facts.” Here’s your chance to change history. What alternative fact would you offer the world?
Gunther: Minnesota is famous for its many lakes. However, about 40 percent of them don’t pass federal water quality standards. It’s incumbent for us to comply and put in the effort to improving the water quality of those 40-some percent of our lakes. That’s something I really believe in. Minnesota has so many lakes that we are having an exorbitant amount of cost cleaning them all up to federal standards. At the same time, Minnesota loves their clean water. I think my alternative fact would be that all Minnesota’s waters are drinkable and clean and healthy for the consumers.
Ornstein: That the Vikings have won four Super Bowls. Hey, why not?
Walker: That Hillary Clinton won.