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The end is near — isn’t it?

Briana Bierschbach//May 2, 2012

The end is near — isn’t it?

Briana Bierschbach//May 2, 2012

Capitol scene grows more frenetic, uncertain as April 30 adjournment blows up

When the Legislature returned on Monday, it quickly became clear that lawmakers weren’t going to meet their own deadline.

After a weekend marked by little progress on end-of-session negotiations between GOP leaders of the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton, Minnesota lawmakers blew past a self-imposed April 30 adjournment target and went back to work with what seemed like little urgency to leave sine die.

The House and Senate held short and largely unremarkable floor sessions that day, exhausting their list of bills left to pass before taking up the three key components of an end-of-session deal — the taxes omnibus bill, a bonding package and a new home for the Minnesota Vikings.

That changed suddenly on Tuesday, when GOP lawmakers dropped a new Vikings stadium/bonding proposal, immediately jolting weary Capitol denizens awake and ramping up the partisan rancor in what will likely be the final days of the session.

What follows is a series of vignettes from the past few days of action at the Capitol.

[Photos by Peter Bartz-Gallagher]

In anticipation of a week full of negotiations and with the fate of a new stadium hanging in the balance, Vikings fans set up a tailgating van on the front mall of the state Capitol on Monday. “I know people from Ireland that have come to the games … One of my good friends will come up from Florida a couple times a year for games,” said Vikings fan Greg Hanson, who drove from Watkins to show his support for the stadium. “I have literally hundreds of people that I’m friends with and party with that I would have no association with without the Vikings. So when you’re talking quality of life, there you go.”

Dayton took a break from end-of-session negotiations on Monday to stop by 13-term DFL Rep. Gene Pelowski’s office to see his miniature museum of Kenneth Smith golf clubs and memorabilia. “This was the Rolls-Royce of golf clubs,” Pelowski said as he ran through his collection. Pelowski’s father was a championship golfer, and Dayton’s father used the same clubs growing up, Pelowksi said. His collection is regularly featured on the tour given to new legislative pages.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken stopped by the Capitol on Monday to get press time for his federal push for a uniform student aid process at all colleges and universities. On his way out of the building, Franken was approached by group of schoolchildren on a tour who asked him a series of questions regarding everything from the fate of the Minnesota Vikings stadium to whether the horses atop the state Capitol were made of gold. Franken pleaded ignorance on the stadium but professed to know that the horses were indeed forged of “solid” gold.

While the legislative floor sessions provided few sparks for onlookers on Monday, Minnesota Vikings fans and stadium bill opponents assumed the spotlight in a heated clash outside the House chamber. In one confrontation, a woman and her daughter — touting signs that read “Kids can’t eat footballs” and “Vote no for stadium” — came face-to-face with a swarm of Vikings fans dressed in “Superfan” jerseys and purple and white camouflage. Among the barbs exchanged: “Minnesota hasn’t been in the damn Super Bowl since the 1970s!” the woman said. “We’re not writing a check to Zygi [Wilf] here,” a fan responded.

During a brief afternoon floor session on Monday, GOP Rep. Pat Garofalo introduced his colleagues to Roz Peterson, a legislative candidate he hopes will be one of his district mates next session. “She’s picking out her seat,” Garofalo joked of Peterson, who just survived not one but two Republican endorsing conventions for House District 56B.
Last month, Peterson and 2nd Congressional District GOP Chairman Terry McCall deadlocked after four rounds of balloting for the GOP endorsement in the race. Instead of sending the candidates to a Republican primary, activists in the area opted to hold another endorsement convention last week. This time Peterson topped McCall for the party’s nod after three rounds of balloting. The Lakeville-area seat is being vacated by Republican Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, who is seeking re-election in an adjacent district thanks to this year’s new political maps. Peterson should prove a strong candidate in the heavily GOP district; she is a member of the Lakeville School Board and is chairwoman of the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce. She will face former DFL Burnsville Rep. Will Morgan in the general election.

Dayton appeared alone in front of a scrum of reporters after a meeting with GOP leaders on Monday. While it was their first meeting since negotiations reportedly broke down late last week, Dayton said it was a constructive and even cordial two-hour talk. Afterward, however, they were no closer to finalizing a deal to end the 2012 legislative session; Dayton said he still hoped to see an up-or-down vote on the Vikings bill but noted that GOP leaders wanted a deal on taxes first. Dayton repeatedly encouraged lawmakers to stay in St. Paul until an agreement is reached on taxes, bonding and the stadium bill. “There is more that needs to be done,” Dayton said. “I encouraged them to stay as long as they need to get all this resolved.”

Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem (far left) and House Speaker Kurt Zellers held a news conference shortly after their meeting with Dayton on Monday. But while Senjem showed up on time, Zellers left his Senate counterpart hanging for at least five minutes. Senjem took the time to entertain the news media. “I’m not sure I can speak House, and he’s not sure he can speak Senate. That’s how it works,” Senjem said. “Is there a speaker in the House? Speaker? Speaker?” When Zellers finally arrived, the two leaders were questioned sharply by reporters for missing their own Monday adjournment deadline. When asked when they might adjourn, Zellers said, “I think I’m going to quit guessing on days.”

For the second time in two days, Dayton appeared before the Capitol media on Tuesday without GOP leaders of the Legislature. He and DFL leaders held an impromptu news conference to respond to reports that Republicans were floating a new Vikings stadium proposal. Dayton railed at the move, calling it an end-of-session “gimmick” that “doesn’t make sense in a rational or viable way.” What seemed to really upset the governor, though, was what he said were secret negotiations between Republicans and the team. “It’s cynical, underhanded politics,” Dayton said.

Vikings lobbyists Lester Bagley and Larry Redmond were spotted engaged in heated phone conversations on Tuesday after a Dayton news conference denouncing sudden talks of a roofless football stadium. The series of events appeared to unravel the already tenuous deal, and in a news conference later in the day, Bagley said the team will not support the GOP-backed alternative. “We are trying to build a stadium, and we are doing everything we can to get a deal done,” he said, adding that “the time has passed” to consider a new bill.

After critical comments from Dayton and Vikings’ lobbyists on Tuesday — both in opposition to a new GOP plan — Republican leaders held a Capitol news conference to announce plans to move full-speed ahead with the new stadium proposal. They also came bearing another surprise: The state’s portion would be funded using general obligation bonds as part of a broader capital investment package. House Majority Leader Matt Dean emphasized that the new plan does not use gambling money, which was a deal-breaking component of the Dayton-sanctioned stadium bill for many GOP lawmakers. “There is no racino; there is no casino,” Dean said. “There is no gambling in this bill.”

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