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: At a recent press conference, President Donald Trump insisted that “this administration is running like a fine-tuned machine.” What sort of machine would you compare it to?
Wy Spano, director, Metropolitan State University’s Master of Advocacy and Political Leadership Program; co-founder, Politics in Minnesota: A futuristic machine that none of us knows anything about or can say anything about or has any idea what will happen once it operates. I just agree with David Brooks’ piece, which essentially said that probably there’s just not much that can get done in this administration — with the one terrible exception of war.
Amy Koch, GOP ex-Senate majority leader; former bowling alley proprietor: I used to have this yellow Subaru that I drove. It was my first car. I really dug it, but there were issues. It didn’t have shocks in the back — there were just some wooden blocks back there, so that made for kind of a rough ride. And at one point I locked my keys in it so I had to peel back the door to just reach in and pull them out. There were definitely good things about that car. But there were some problems, too.
Fritz Knaak, attorney, former GOP legislator: I would say a 1955 Allis Chalmers C. Anybody who has ever heard one will appreciate the joke.
Ember Reichgott Junge, attorney, former DFL legislator: An out-of-control robot that is being directed by multiple masters.
Question 2: Several House bills—one by a Democrat—would reimburse three counties being sued by State Auditor Rebecca Otto to stop them from contracting with private auditors rather than allow her office to monitor their finances. Is hers a righteous fight? Or should Otto stand down?
Spano: I think that it was from the beginning righteous. This was a clear attempt by counties and their legislators to punish state public employees who were doing the audits. They wanted to prove that it could be done much faster and cheaper. They were, however, also giving up a lot of transparency—and that was not a good thing.
Nevertheless, now that the battle has been engaged, I think it is imperative for her to frame it in a more positive way. And that’s tough to do, because for most people it looks she is just trying to keep the power of her job. I think it could justifiably be framed as an attempt to keep oversight and transparency alive over the enormous expenditures of county-directed and controlled funds. That’s what it ought to be about.
Koch: Rebecca Otto should stand down. She should not be spending the money on this lawsuit. She should not force the counties involved in this to spend money on a lawsuit. This is ridiculous. If I were running for auditor next time, I would run to have a constitutional amendment to close down the office and transfer all of the counties to private auditors. I think the time has come.
Knaak: I think Otto should stand down. I mean, it’s certainly worthwhile in that it’s forcing us to have a conversation. But we elect those county commissioners to do a job just like we elect city councils, and every one of those city councils has a private auditor. School districts can’t obtain financing if they don’t have private auditors. Really, as much as anything, having a private auditor is what persuades people to extend you credit.
Reichgott Junge: Auditor Otto is trying to protect the integrity of the office, and for that I give her credit. However, a number of counties have raised the issue as to why they can’t hire a private firm if the standards are the same. So I see both sides. I think it’s a fight about the office and whether or not it should exist in our state. I believe there is reason for it to exist, but perhaps we need to redefine it.
Question 3: Scotland’s largest craft brewer is offering employees “puppy parent leave” — a week’s paid for holiday for to look after baby pooches. Is this a labor-friendly model for America, or the beginning of the end of Western civilization?
Spano: Well, by golly, those darned Europeans do keep focusing on happiness more than we do, don’t they? But I don’t think it is the end of the Western Civilization by any stretch of the imagination.
Koch: Wow! Gosh, I love puppies—who doesn’t? And I bet all of their employees are now going to get puppies. They are a private company, so they get to do whatever they want. But I wouldn’t have offered it at the bowling alley, probably.
Knaak: The Scots are the ones over in Great Britain that want to stay in Europe, and that’s kind of proof right there of the slow decay of Europe. You’re talking to an American, for God’s sake. We don’t even take vacations!
Reichgott Junge: I love it! I am a puppy lover. I think everyone should have this! It’s a nice compromise—it’s not as long as parent leave for a child. So I think it’s great.