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McFeely: Could One Minnesota become One America?

Gov. Walz, local legislators tout bipartisan collaboration that found middle ground during last session

Gov. Tim Walz speaks during a Minnesota legislative wrap-up session at the Hjemkomst Center on Thursday, July 18. David Samson / The Forum
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MOORHEAD, Minn. — Maybe Minnesota can show the rest of the nation how it's done.

Normal, pragmatic politics, that is. Whatever normal is these days.

Heck, maybe Minnesota can show Congress how it's done.

Or maybe not, given the insanity that passes for governance in Washington, D.C.

But we know this: Minnesota is the only state in the union with a split Legislature — the Democrats control the House of Representatives and Republicans own the Senate — and yet those two bodies were able to set aside their differences, avoid ideological flame-throwing, find compromise and (you might want to sit down for this) accomplish stuff. Even stuff that matters.

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Crazy, right?

Not according to Gov. Tim Walz, who was in Moorhead on Thursday, July 18, to speak at a Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo Chamber of Commerce legislative wrap-up at the Hjemkomst Center. He was joined by Rep. Paul Marquart, of Dilworth, Rep. Ben Lien, of Moorhead and Sen. Kent Eken, of Twin Valley.

Walz and the legislators are all DFLers, which might explain why they put on a happy face before the business-oriented (i.e. Republican-leaning) audience.

But they did have reason to crow. In today's ridiculously polarized political world, a government shutdown was probably a 50-50 proposition prior to the session. Instead, Walz worked closely with Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of Nisswa, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park, and committee chairs to slog through the details of what each side considered untouchable and what was negotiable.

"It's easier to put somebody in a black hat and somebody in a white hat," Walz said. "But it doesn't have to be that way."

Republicans were happy to kill Walz's proposal to hike the gas tax 20 cents, while claiming victory on the state's first middle-class tax cut in 20 years. The GOP gave up a huge concession in allowing a medical provider tax to stand, which allowed the DFL to hike state school aid. Democrats also got more higher ed funding (but not as much as they wanted) and a new law against wage theft.

Walz also touted a boost in Local Government Aid back to 2002 levels and more funding for rural broadband. Republicans were able to stop paid family and medical leave and quashed any attempt at gun control.

Results were decidedly centrist and, for the most part, without drama.

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Wouldn't it be nice if Congress could accomplish the same?

Marquart called Walz, Gazelka and Hortman "pragmatists."

"We want to get the job done and we want to compromise," Marquart said. "That means sometimes you have to give up some of your base's positions, and that's leadership."

Not everyone in St. Paul saw it that way. The governor and legislative leaders were accused of erasing the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches by working so closely during negotiations.

They were also blasted for excluding House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, a Republican, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, a Democrat.

To which we say: Go back and re-read the sentence about "without drama." Daudt and Bakk are both known for that. Hmmm ...

"I campaigned on focusing on a common goal, 'One Minnesota,' and people scoffed," Walz said after the forum. "It's no different than a football team or the military. You have to work with people to get things done. I am willing to compromise with you and I don't see that as a negative."

Not everything was hunky dory. There was no transportation funding because Walz's gas tax died, so the state's roads and bridges continue to deteriorate. There was no bonding bill for big infrastructure projects. An attempt to establish emergency insulin reserves failed.

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Walz said he'll push those issues in 2020. If his first session as governor is any indication, some of them might get done.

One Minnesota? How about One America? Sounds pretty good about now, even if it's nothing more than a dream.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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