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 are edited for length and clarity. Any instances of agreement are accidental.
Question 1: The key role of the Minnesota attorney general is to enforce Minnesota’s laws. So how did you feel about Lori Swanson signing onto the Washington State lawsuit challenging the Trump travel ban? Was it an appropriate use of her resources?
John Kriesel, former GOP legislator, Iraq War veteran: If someone is already fighting it, I don’t see the need to duplicate efforts and use taxpayer dollars fighting the federal government. I don’t know what it is going to cost, but I’m sure it’s not going to be cheap. So I would prefer we don’t get involved in that. But it’s one of those things—to each their own. Ultimately if her opinion as attorney general is that it is affecting Minnesota residents greatly and hurting the state, then fine, I guess.
Brian Rice, Minneapolis lobbyist and attorney: Absolutely. And there is a lot of precedent for that in Minnesota. The one that comes to mind is the Gideon vs. Wainwright case, which established the right to counsel for indigent defendants in criminal proceedings. Walter Mondale led that effort [as Minnesota attorney general in 1963]. So General Swanson’s efforts in this regard, I would say, are consistent with the duties of the attorney general, but also with the tradition of the office.
Robyne Robinson, former TV news anchor: Yeah. I think it is important for us to maintain our reputation as a state that welcomes everyone, that gives protection and the opportunity for a free life. I think it behooves us to stand up and practice what we preach. It’s important for us to help those people who are in dire need.
David Schultz, Hamline University political science instructor, attorney: If you were to ask me that question eight years ago, I would have said no. But for the last eight years we saw Republican attorneys general filing lawsuits across the country to bog down the Obama administration. They have set the precedent for Lori Swanson to do it.
Question 2: Two DFL bills (H.F. 926 and H.F. 927) would make marijuana a legal recreational drug. Is this an idea whose time has finally come? Or is it a retreat to the kind of ’70s-vintage Democratic politics that Richard Nixon once successfully branded as “acid, amnesty and abortion?”
Kriesel: I think it is time for the conversation. It’s been tried in other states. I think Colorado is still around [after legalizing pot], I don’t think they disappeared or anything like that. I think people blow it so far out of proportion—especially from my party. I think it is time, especially with tight budget. People are doing it. Alcohol, I think, is worse and we allow that, we tax that. I know law enforcement is against it, but legalization could have a good effect on crime, as well, and the state would benefit financially.
Rice: Well, I think it’s an idea whose time will come, but it’s not today. The reality is that if millennials controlled the world, they would legalize it right now. [Youthful bill sponsors] Jon Applebaum and Jason Metsa have not yet taken over the state, but they’re getting close. The day will come. But it hasn’t arrived yet.
Robinson: We already have a burgeoning drug problem in Minnesota with heroin and meth. I’m all for everybody having fun, but let’s be really honest. Are we looking at this just because it would be a cash cow for the state? Is it going to add more to the problems that we have already? I think we need more comprehensive research. What are ripple effects that really affect us, if we do go ahead?
Schultz: It is probably time in the sense that we are already seeing many other states legalizing.
But if I were, as a Democrat, staking the short-term future of my party on retaking the Minnesota House in two years, this would not be the issue that I would use—unless I put it on the ballot. The only reason to put it on the ballot is in hopes of generating a ton of young Democrats coming out to vote. [Editor’s note: Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, has pledged to offer a bill that would place legalization on the ballot.] But I would be sticking to a core set of issues about economics, jobs and about trying to reach out to people in the suburbs. I’m not sure that this is the issue that does it.
Question 3: Spring training is coming and, as always, hope springs eternal. Do you see another classic Minnesota Twins worst-to-first performance on the horizon?
Kriesel: God no. No. Summers are better in Minnesota when the Twins are relevant. I don’t mean World Series relevant—I just want watchable baseball. I think they’re going to get worse before they get better, so they might be worse than last year. I’m hoping not, because they make summer a lot more fun and I bought a bunch of tickets for this year. I am optimistic that they will be watchable.
Rice: I have been a season ticket holder since the Twins won the World Series in 1987, and I thought we would have a winning record last year. So I would not make it as a baseball prognosticator. I’m like “Wrong Way” Corrigan—whatever direction I say is the opposite, when it comes to baseball.
Last year, I thought they’d have a great record. I bought all the hype about [Byron] Buxton and [Miguel] Sanó, but so far none of these guys have produced anything, except our second baseman [Brian] Dozier. I’d say they will not go worst to first. But last year I thought they’d win over 90 games. [Editor’s note: The team won 59 games in 2016.]
Robinson: I think it kind of depends on who we bring in as players and what management is willing to spend. To me it is always the bottom line—if your players are happy, you will win. If they are not happy, they are not going to win. I hate to be so cynical, but I grew up in Chicago, where the teams never won. Nobody wanted to put the money into the teams to make them winners.
Schultz: No. What I do hope is that it is not another 103-loss season. If they can get their losses down into the 80s with close to a .500 record, I would consider that a success.