Minnesota cage match, 2017 edition (3)

I wrote about the ongoing cage match between Minnesota Democratic Governor Mark Dayton and Minnesota’s majority-Republican House and Senate here and here. It’s an interesting story that deserves national attention as a sign of the political times.

At the end of this year’s slightly extended legislative session Dayton signed all tax and budget bills. He could have vetoed any of them. Even though he professed extreme unhappiness with certain items, he signed the bills The package of budget, tax and state government bills that finally passed reflected compromises on the part of all participants including Dayton and his commissioners.

As a result of his unhappiness with certain items, however, Governor Dayton exercised his authority to veto budgetary line items to wipe out the funding of the legislative branch. Dayton explained himself in the letter posted here.

Dayton demanded that Republicans revisit selected issues on his terms after they had already given ground elsewhere to arrive at the bills that were sent to him for his signature and adjourned. Unlike some other Republicans I can think of on the national scene, they weren’t inclined to make fools of themselves.

In the letter Dayton described one provision of the special session state government finance bill as “treachery.” Dayton to the contrary notwithstanding, however, the provision was included in every draft of the bill shared with the governor’s administration. The bill was made publicly available online at 6:00 a.m. on May 24 and was sent directly to the governor’s senior staff prior to being made public. The legislature allowed for public review of the bill for more than 36 hours prior to passage on May 25 at 8:00 p.m. In addition to the ample time the governor had to review the bill, Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans and the governor’s senior staff discussed the bill language with legislative staff on numerous occasions and never raised this provision as a point of concern.

Dayton’s decision to strike legislative funding is another matter. The governor can’t do that, can he?

In search of the answer, the legislature took Governor Dayton to court. In asking a judge to weigh in on the issue of whether one branch can wipe out another, the thought is likely to occur that the judiciary might be next. It’s an obvious point and one that did not escape Ramsey County Judge John Guthmann, to whom the case has been assigned. Next stop, Mark Dayton rules the world!

The legislature’s current funding expired on July 1. In an interim ruling last month Judge Guthmann required continued funding for the legislature through October 1. He drew on the Minnesota Constitution to support his ruling. “If the legislative branch is not funded, it cannot carry out its core functions, which include those functions necessary to draft, debate, publish, vote on and enact legislation,” Judge Guthmann wrote.

I thought Judge Guthmann’s interim ruling foretold an adverse result for the governor’s position in the case. Yesterday Judge Guthmann issued his final decision in the case, ruling against Dayton on constitutional grounds. Judge Guthmann’s order and supporting memorandum are posted here.

Governor Dayton has a high tolerance for embarrassment. He has already issued a statement announcing that he is taking the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court (to which he has appointed four of the court’s seven justices). He is represented by prominent Minneapolis attorneys, one of whom is a former justice of the court himself.

Dayton has chosen to protract an ordeal that highlights the weakest and most offensive features of his public character and that lays the groundwork for one-man rule in the event of success. While expressing no sympathy for his legal position — it takes no position on the merits — the Star Tribune urges Dayton to take his case to the Minnesota Supreme Court in its editorial on the case today. This is at best an abdication on the part of the Star Tribune when we need something like an intervention.

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