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House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, got the 2019 session off with a bang Tuesday by stridently arguing that the DFL House majority’s committee structure concentrates too much power at Ways and Means and makes it all but impossible for the public to track legislation. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, got the 2019 session off with a bang Tuesday by stridently arguing that the DFL House majority’s committee structure concentrates too much power at Ways and Means and makes it all but impossible for the public to track legislation. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

‘Filibuster’: Daudt debate dominates first day

After launching into what a long-time DFLer called a rare “filibuster” during the legislative session’s ceremonial first day, former House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, made clear that he intends to remain a forcefully disruptive presence as minority leader.

On Jan. 8, kids and families were crowded onto the House chamber to watch new members get sworn in. Their presence did nothing to prevent Daudt from launching into a bitterly partisan — if technical — assault on the DFL House’s revamped committee structure.

The new structure was eventually adopted when the House voted 74-59 to approve a resolution adopting temporary rules for the session. That happened moments after the House voted 59-74 to reject Daudt’s amendment, which would have reverted to the old committee arrangement.

All 59 Republicans sided with Daudt on that amendment. Freshman Rep. Robert Bierman, DFL-Apple Valley, was excused for medical reasons and did not vote Tuesday.

In sometimes snide language, Daudt accused DFL leadership of creating a committee structure that makes Ways and Means Chair Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, an “uber-chair.” Carlson will have immense power to play “three-card Monte” with pending legislation, Daudt said.

In November, the DFL announced that its finance committees would be divisions of Carlson’s Ways and Means, much as they were before 2015, when the GOP became the majority. Policy committees are independent of divisions under the new arrangement, but have no budget authority.

Daudt said the changes mean that Carlson will have power to pull any bill out of one committee and send it to another via memo, without giving the public — or even House members — due notice.

“It will get posted online,” Daudt said in a brief interview after the floor session. “But you could have a hearing in 30 minutes after it gets posted. And how do you drive from Roseau, Minnesota, to participate?”

He even suggested that Carlson might play a kind of shell game with bills, pulling them and reassigning from committee to committee up to five times in a day. Carlson, though present on the floor, remained silent during the 74-minute debate.

Under GOP control, bills emerging from one committee had to make a stop on the House floor and get publicly re-referred to any other committee. That let House members and the public know where a bill stood and gave interested citizens plenty of time to show up and testify, Daudt said.

Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, denied that Carlson has any new “superpowers.” But he wouldn’t be pinned down when Daudt tried to extract a guarantee that all bills get three days’ public notice before a hearing. Nor would Winkler promise a firm two-day or a one-day notice period.

However, Winkler said the rules as adopted urge committee chairs to give three-day notice on all bills “as far as practicable.” That’s no different than during Daudt’s day, he said.

“I do not anticipate that the committee hearing deadlines are going to substantially change from past practice, or from your own rules,” Winkler said.

Later in the debate, Winkler added, “If you think the rules were so great before, the only two words I have for you in response are ‘Omnibus Prime.’”

That was a reference to last year’s monolithic supplemental finance bill, which Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed, cancelling out most of the Legislature’s output for 2018.

Not buying it

Daudt wouldn’t be assuaged. He asserted that the DFL’s committee revamp will create a non-transparent process that will shut many citizens out of the process. That’s a direct contradiction to Democrats’ 2018 campaign promises, he said.

Daudt’s amendment would have reestablished the system in place when he was speaker. He challenged Democrats — especially freshman — to follow his lead and vote for it.

“I’m sure, freshmen, they told you in committee to trust Lyndon Carlson: ‘Trust us, this will all be fine,’” Daudt said, mocking DFL leaders. “But mark my words: They’re walking you down the plank. … You just try to figure out where the bill is. You try to figure out what version of the bill you’re voting on.”

Forty minutes into the debate, Winkler raised a point of personal privilege. He used it to excuse families from the rancorous floor debate, noting that a reception was under way in the Capitol basement, where families could get cookies and refreshments.

Daudt lashed out at Winkler for misusing parliamentary personal privilege in order to send people away so they wouldn’t hear the rest of the debate.

“Oh, these are just the temporary rules and gosh, wouldn’t it be nice if we could all go downstairs and eat some cookies together?” said Daudt, dripping with sarcasm. “By the way, don’t pay any attention to what you’re voting for here, this isn’t gonna have any impact.”

“That’s not transparency, Representative Winkler,” Daudt said.

‘Monopolizing the event’

Capitol-goers who watched the debate Tuesday were not terribly surprised that Daudt raised the committee-structure issue. He had publicly flagged it as a problem right after the new majority announced it on Nov. 21.

But many were surprised — and some stunned — that Daudt did it on Day One. The biennium’s first day usually is seen as a jovial meet-and-greet where freshmen begin acclimating to their new jobs and veteran lawmakers go out of their way to make them and their families feel welcome.

Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, is entering her eighth biennium. She said Wednesday that by “monopolizing the event,” Daudt stepped way out of line and set “a very bad tone for the rest of the session.”

“Essentially it amounted to a filibuster,” Liebling said. “I’m not saying it’s inappropriate to raise the issue. But there is a difference between raising the issue and monopolizing the event as he did — and making it very partisan, when it was a day for unity and celebration.”

Liebling said it’s possible that, during her tenure, other Day One debates have erupted. But she doesn’t remember anything as lengthy or bitterly partisan as last week’s opening day brouhaha.

Certainly, when Daudt took over as speaker in 2015 from Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, nothing of the kind happened. That year, when Daudt put his own temporary rules up to a vote on Day One, discussions lasted almost precisely two minutes.

Far from challenging Daudt’s committee structure — which established the finance-and-policy panel arrangement that some blame for last year’s Omnibus Prime debacle — Thissen offered only a brief comment.

“Thank you for sharing these [rules] with us in advance,” Thissen said. “And, you know, they look like we should pass them.” The resolution passed unanimously immediately afterward.

Steven Schier, the Carleton College political science professor, thinks that there was method behind Daudt’s Tuesday maneuvers.

“He is laying down a marker that he will aggressively challenge any rules that he thinks obstructs minority prerogatives,” Schier said. “He is showing that he will not be a passive minority leader.”

Schier said that it is remotely possible that Daudt’s attempt as minority leader to sow suspicion among new DFL House members toward their own party’s leadership could have impact — particularly among freshmen from vulnerable districts. But it’s unlikely even they will be strongly influenced by the Republican, Schier said.

“You can see that he is trying to find a way to have some influence on those new Democrats and produce some discord in the caucus,” Schier said. “It’s a long shot. But it’s his only shot.”

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About Kevin Featherly

Kevin Featherly, who joined BridgeTower Media in mid-2016, is a journalist and former freelance writer who has covered politics, law, business, technology and popular culture for publications and websites in the Twin Cities and nationally since the mid-1990s.

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