Republican lawmakers try to break into DFL-controlled Minnesota legislature
Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature have watched in frustration over the past two months as Democrats pass one progressive bill after another without needing votes from across the aisle.
Right to abortion codified. Felon’s right to vote restored. Driver’s license eligibility was expanded to include unauthorized immigrants. Republicans are grappling with the fallout of their 2022 defeats, appalled by the growing list of bills passed by Democrats at the helm of the Legislative Assembly.
“I think they’re going to take this opportunity to pass whatever provisions they’ve ever dreamed of, and it looks like that’s the path they’re on,” former House Minority Leader Kurt said. Daudt, R-Crown. “I’m not even sure they’re negotiating with our caucus. Frankly, they don’t need to.”
The DFL’s sweep in the House, Senate and governor’s office has left Republican lawmakers outnumbered and defensive. Their diminished influence presents limited options: collaborating with the Democrats in the hope that the majority will listen to their suggestions, or labeling the LDF’s actions as extreme in the hope of positioning themselves for the 2024 elections.
Republicans in the House and Senate have embraced both strategies this legislative session with varying results. Overall, Republicans in both houses say they feel Democrats haven’t bothered to listen to them.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, countered that Republicans do the same with Democrats when in office. “It’s not as fun being here when you’re in the minority,” she said.
But Hortman challenged the idea that Democrats aren’t working with Republicans, pointing to a number of bills his chamber passed with overwhelming bipartisan support: aligning the state tax code with that of the federal government , prohibit discrimination based on hair texture and type, and prolong unemployment. benefits to licensed miners.
“In basketball, like in the Legislative Assembly, when it comes to crying foul, there’s play and there’s legitimate complaints,” Hortman said.
Republican frustrations boiled over at times, with some members shouting during floor debates and others airing their grievances in committee hearings.
Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, recently accused House Elections Committee Chairman Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, of shutting down debate on an early voting bill.
“Take me out of the committee if you don’t allow us to debate this damn bill!” quam shouted at Freiberg during a blast in committee hearings, prompting the Democratic chairman to repeatedly strike his gavel to demand order.
GOP proposed amendments to the bill are often defeated in committees and on the floor, said Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks. He said he felt Democrats had become less interested in bipartisanship now that they had full control of state government.
Deputy Senate Majority Leader Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, said Democrats tweaked some bills based on feedback from Republicans. “These are not amendments that we passed. These are just changes that we agreed to make,” Frentz said.
Johnson criticized Democrats’ priorities as being out of touch with most Minnesotans. During the election campaign, Johnson said, voters asked lawmakers to prioritize public safety, education and tax relief. Democrats spent the first two months of the legislative session passing bills related to abortion, felons’ voting rights, driver’s licenses for unauthorized immigrants, carbon-free electricity and meals free school.
“This is all legislation driven by special interests,” Johnson said. “Not once have I heard any of these issues that Senate Democrats have made a major talking point for my constituents. And when I talk to other senators, it’s not no more for them.”
Senate Republicans were narrowly outvoted on most bills, with Democrats controlling the chamber by one seat, 34-33. But on Thursday, they defeated a DFL effort to pass a $1.5 billion loan bill that would have funded infrastructure projects across the state.
The public works package, known as the bail bill, requires a three-fifths majority to pass. Republicans had threatened to defeat the bill ahead of Thursday’s vote unless tax cuts were agreed to first.
The House approved the same bail bill earlier this month, with many GOP members voting in favor.
“We worked well with members of the House GOP and passed an excellent Minnesota House floor tie bill with a broad bipartisan vote,” Hortman said in a statement Thursday. “It’s unfortunate that the Senate GOP chose deadlock over progress for Minnesotans today.”
House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, said her caucus is willing to compromise on bills that benefit Minnesotans.
The bail bill was one example, Demuth said, calling it “a good decision at this time.” She hopes Democrats will return the favor by eliminating the state tax on Social Security benefits, a change some Democrats also support.
Demuth’s approach was appreciated by Hortman, who described the new Republican House leader as someone who sticks to her conservative principles without throwing “sand in the gears at every turn.”
The two leaders meet weekly to discuss what’s happening on Capitol Hill, Demuth said. She asked Hortman to consider accepting more amendments to the GOP bill and making sure his committee chairs give Republican members enough time to comment and ask questions during hearings.
A House Republican spokeswoman said Democrats accepted about 25% of the amendments proposed by GOP members during committee hearings.
“We speak on behalf of a large portion of Minnesota that wants its voice heard,” Demuth said.
Republicans have said they plan to hold Democrats accountable in next year’s election if their input is ignored. All State House seats will be on the ballot, giving the GOP a chance to end the DFL’s power trifecta.
Johnson said he thinks Democrats will spend the state’s $17.5 billion budget surplus and then some, setting Minnesota up for future budget deficits.
“We’re going to have to come back and fix it,” he said.
Daudt, the former GOP House leader, said Democrats could hurt their election prospects if they backtrack on some of their campaign promises. He noted that some Democrats who have expressed openness to eliminating the state tax on Social Security benefits have backed off from their position since the election.
“When you tell someone you’re going to do something and you don’t, people remember that,” Daudt said. “Ultimately, the next election is the arbiter of the success of our message.”
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