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: Gov. Mark Dayton and House Speaker Kurt Daudt aired their personal feud publicly on Dec. 16 while declaring a special session dead. Days later, Daudt proclaimed their relationship “damaged.” Coming as it does so close to the beginning of regular session, how worrisome is this?
Amy Koch, former GOP Senate majority leader: It didn’t go well. The governor left the meeting very quickly. And that can’t happen, whether these negotiations happen in public or behind closed doors — and let’s be honest, there is going to be some of both. The committee process is for that, but there are just some times when the negotiations get hot and heavy and you’ve got to just talk turkey, and that sometimes has to happen in the reception room somewhere. That is what it is going to be. You see that the spotlight doesn’t always help the situation.
Everybody is going to have to be reasonable, and walking out of the room isn’t an option. We have to get some things accomplished. There are people really hurting out here. The health care premiums — that is a painful fire burning. And now nothing is going to get done with that, at least before the first of the year when people are going to have to start paying their premiums. Nothing.
Javier Morillo, union leader and progressive advocate: I think everyone should take Minority Leader-elect Melissa Hortman’s advice to write these agreements down on paper. Because there were accusations flying that one or the other kept changing the merits of the deal, but apparently these things weren’t written down. [Note: Both Dayton and Daudt acknowledged this during their short-lived public negotiation session.]
I think it’s a really bad miscalculation on Speaker Daudt’s part. Because as of January, the problems with the insurance rates and MNsure and all these things — he owns them. They have to put fixes on the table. Right now, I personally know Republicans who were looking to this special session to get some relief on the insurance premiums that they are otherwise going to have to pay. Daudt is backed into a corner now, I think.
Robyne Robinson, arts and culture director, Airport Foundation MSP: I don’t think it is a fatal relationship breaker. But in any relationship, you have to smooth over hurt feelings. I am sure it will get back to normal. But not before the end of this year, that’s for sure.
Question 2: President Barack Obama, by some accounts, is making the race for Democratic National Committee chair a referendum on his presidential legacy and therefore opposes Minnesota’s Keith Ellison in favor of his own labor secretary, Tom Perez. Could Obama’s opposition actually help Ellison?
Koch: [Laughs.] You know, this is Democratic politics and I just like it when they’re fighting. I don’t know.
Morillo: Yes, my gut feeling is that it does. Democrats have a lot to be proud of in the Obama presidency, but his stewardship of the party is not one of those things. We have won two presidential elections, but we have been decimated at every other level of government, other than big cities. And this pool of voters, the DNC members — I was one until this last summer — know this. They know it better than anyone. There are deep feelings of resentment that the Obama for America operation was transformed into Organizing for Action, and there was money being raised for OFA that was not going to the party. They were kind of starving the party of resources.
I have not spoken to DNC members to confirm this, but my gut is that it helps Keith for the president to weigh in, when party building has not been his forte.
Robinson: I think in some ways, it could. The president’s a lame duck. Those who think that the political way of operating within the Democratic Party are old and dated could actually help push Keith into a position that scores brownie points within the Bernie [Sanders] crowd, and with those who really are disenchanted with this last election. Does that mean it will propel Keith into the DNC chair? Not necessarily. But I think it definitely will give him some traction with those who don’t want business as usual. And it definitely underscores that the president’s time is up.
Question 3: Newt Gingrich, a key adviser to president-elect Donald Trump, says the incoming chief executive is dumping his “drain the swamp” rallying cry, telling National Public Radio the slogan “was cute, but he doesn’t want to use it anymore.” What gives?
Koch: It’s the difference between running for office and governing. The president-elect is now learning about governing, which is a whole other animal. And he is also, now, a president for everyone.
There is a campaign and there are things that you say to motivate people. That is very different from when you are responsible for 350 to 400 million people. So, of course: He has to get to the business of running the country.
Morillo: They remember that they actually really love swamps.
I think the cynicism of Gingrich’s statement is so astounding. But like so many things with the president-elect, what he said on the campaign trail turns out to be completely opposite in terms of actual governance. He said he was going to drain the swamp of lobbyists, and there are lobbyists all over his transition and the new administration. So, yup, it turns out the GOP is a lover of swamps.
Robinson: Well, Newt didn’t get a position in the Cabinet so it could just be sour grapes [laughs]. But this is a president who is not going to be like any other. He is a businessman. He is not going to stick to the promises that he made. And I think that people are starting to wake up to that, especially the old-guard Republicans who thought that maybe now we have one of our boys in here and we are going to repeat the Gingrich days. But you don’t have that. You have somebody who is not easily kept to his promises and slogans. So what did they expect? I wish I could play them Flight of the Conchords’ “Hurt Feelings.” [Sings] “I got hurt feelin’s! I got hurt feelin’s!”