I’ve been relatively unaffected by the Minnesota shutdown. I’m still working. I haven’t needed any paperwork completed. I haven’t canceled any camping trips. I haven’t suffered from the closed up rest stops. Sure, I’ve been affected in that I’m a Minnesotan and this is a massive black eye on our state and its caused great ire and embarrassment. But beyond that, everyday life has been the same.
Let’s get a few things out of the way: I’m a registered Democrat, but I voted for Independent gubernatorial candidate Tom Horner in the last election. My greatest budgetary concerns revolve around the funding of quality education and public safety. I believe the eventual solution to the shutdown will be a mix of new taxes and difficult cuts. That is, if the Republicans give an inch.
WCCO's Esme Murphy
As someone who runs hot or cold and never lukewarm, I’ve only been offended once since the state shutdown on July 1. It happened Sunday morning while watching WCCO-TV here in Minneapolis. WCCO’s Esme Murphy interviewed State Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) and State Senate Deputy Majority Leader Geoff Michel (R-Edina).
On Sunday, the Star Tribune printed the names of 138 state legislators who were still receiving their paychecks despite the fact nearly 22,000 state employees were laid off because of the shutdown.
Murphy, obligated by the good reason of any journalist worth a paycheck of their own, clumsily asked Dibble and Michel about their decision to receive pay. Not that the question itself was clumsy, but rather Murphy, who was visibly uncomfortable and framed the question as delicately as possible with both candidates.
Dibble went first. (The clip is here. The paycheck question is at 0:44. I’ve transcribed the question and answer below.)
Murphy: “Let me ask you about taking the paycheck. You have a family, as does Sen. Michel. Times are tough. You are taking a paycheck. Are you getting any feedback on that?”
Sen. Dibble: “Well, you know, a number of my constituents have asked about that. Certainly, state employees are wondering, and that’s a fair question and I totally respect the anxiousness folks have about that. I respond just by saying, you know, I’m in no position to take this hit and I would never put state employees in this position. This shutdown is a function and a result of a failure to compromise on the part of the [Republicans]. I’m working very, very hard, all the way through this shutdown. I have no savings to fall back on. I don’t have another job. It’s a completely untenable and intolerable situation. I totally understand why people are interested in that question.”
I wonder how many of the 22,000 state employees who were laid off had second jobs or savings to fall back on. I wonder have many of them find the situation untenable and intolerable. But give Sen. Dibble credit for being (somewhat) forthright and answering the question. In her next interview, Murphy twice — TWICE! — let’s Sen. Michel off the hook as he evades both times by babbling through Republican party rhetoric. (Starts at 0:27.)
Murphy: “Let me ask you the question I asked Sen. Dibble. You are amongst the majority of Republicans and Democrats who are taking a paycheck. What is the reaction you’ve been getting for that?”
Sen. Michel: “Well, two things on pay. I am personally not taking per diem, which is another form of legislative compensation. And at the beginning of the year, the state senate and the state house unilaterally cut legislative compensation, so we have tried to build that into a balanced budget. We thought legislative compensation had gotten a little too high and that we should be part of the solutions. So, that continues to be on the table for the budget we’re presenting right now.”
Murphy: “But you’re in the leadership. A lot of people of are pointing the finger to Gov. Dayton. They’re also pointing the finger to you as Republican legislative leader. Do you think it’s right for you to take a paycheck?”
Sen. Michel: “Well, people are frustrated and I think they are ready for solutions. We’ve gone past May 23, which is the legislative deadline. We’ve gone past July 1, which has put us into a shutdown. And we are very unique. There is no other state in the country — there is no other state in the country — that doesn’t have a budget set right now. And what we keep pointing to and working on is people want to see a reduction in spending — you can’t spend more than what you have — and that there’s only two governors in the whole country that’ve balanced their budget with tax increases. Only two. So, we think, uh, what this conflict- … a lot of what this conflict is about and debate with the governor is how much are we going to stand out and really be outliers when it comes to taxing and spending?”
And then Murphy relents.
Here’s my feeling: The shutdown has become an absolute cockfight. It’s all about sticking to your guns and playing the party line and building up for re-election season so you can run a campaign of principles. (“When the state was shutdown, I said there’s no way we’re adding taxes!”) The problem is people are suffering. People are without jobs. Forget the unemployment rate, the outright stubbornness of our state legislature has put Minnesotans out of work. That’s unforgivable. That’s reprehensible. And you know what makes it even worse? The fact 138 of our state legislators are still getting paid.
Someone has to hold their feet to the fire. Too bad Murphy missed her chance.