Minneapolis Star Tribune. September 19, 2023.
Editorial: Bipartisanship isn’t dead in Minnesota
Recently released report from Majority in the Middle suggests cooperation more common than thought.
It’s understandable that so many are so cynical not just about politics, but governance. After all, hard-line Republicans on Capitol Hill — who won’t work with ostensibly more moderate members of their own party, let alone Democrats — are careening the country toward an unwanted, unnecessary government shutdown.
But far from Washington, politics, and thus governance, can be more productive. Including in St. Paul, where in 2023 legislators acted on a more bipartisan basis than many Minnesotans may realize.
That’s one of the conclusions from a recently released report, “The State of Bipartisanship,” from Majority in the Middle, a nonprofit organization that says it is “giving those in the political middle a place to gather outside the extremes, elevating voices of people who are modeling behavior we want to see, and working on ways to bring a little more civility and a little less partisanship to our politics.”
Majority in the Middle readily admits that bipartisanship is “difficult to measure, as it’s highly qualitative, subjective, and relationship-based.” So the organization chose a more measurable legislative metric: bill authorship.
Regarding the report, “The most important thing to know is not all politics is divisive,” Shannon Watson, founder and executive director of the organization, told an editorial writer. “The story that we frequently hear is this red-blue narrative about legislators who can’t get along and being so divided all the time.”
The 113-page report goes into granular detail, per House and Senate committee, about bill authorship. Among the areas that show more bipartisanship are the Senate Transportation Committee, where 49% of bills heard this year were from minority party chief authors, and the 44% in the House Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee. The Senate committee with the most bipartisan bills — defined as at least one author from each party — was Human Services, with 73%. In the House, it was again the Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee, with 56%.
The chair of the Senate Human Services Committee, Champlin DFLer John A. Hoffman, told an editorial writer that former U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad — notably, a Republican — was among those who inspired his spirit of bipartisanship, and that politics should not enter into the delivery of human services. During this year’s legislative session, 73% of the bills heard in committee had bipartisan authors.
The “ten-second narrative you see on TV of the national stuff” reflects an environment where “nobody’s getting along,” Hoffman said. But Hoffman said his experience suggests otherwise.
And yet while there are impressive efforts, far more needs to be done in governing Minnesota on a more bipartisan basis. And some of that starts with politics, with more legislators leading their re-election efforts by touting their ability and willingness to work across the aisle.
Watson said she met with many legislators last session, and “there were a lot of people behind closed doors who would say, ‘I do try to work in a bipartisan manner, but I don’t do it publicly because I will get a primary — guaranteed.’” Overall, Watson concluded, “there are very few legislators right now who fear losing to someone across the other side of the aisle (more than) they fear a primary challenge.”
That’s a sad reflection on both parties. And so too are the large omnibus bills passed at the end of the session, which are another major barrier to bipartisanship. It’s a bad way to govern, and, Watson added, legislators “are not as likely to vote for an omnibus bill based on the good things that are in it; they’re more likely to not vote for it based on the ‘bad things’ that are in it.”
In a true statement that shouldn’t have to be said, the report reminds why elected officials should seek bipartisan governance: “Any bipartisanship, no matter how small, is still important. Why? Every legislator, even those who run unopposed, have people in their district who didn’t vote for them. Representing all the citizens in the district, not just the ones who voted for them, is their duty.”
The “state” in the “The State of Bipartisanship” suggests a current condition. Elected officials and the public should strive to have it refer to a permanent one — like “The State of Hockey.” Minnesotans deserve no less.
Mankato Free Press. September 17, 2023.
Editorial: Infrastructure: Cities should be aggressive seeking clean energy funds
Rochester got $3.2 million to buy two new electric buses. MnDOT got $1.5 million to buy propane fueled buses for Heartland Express and Prairieland Transit rural transit programs in southwest Minnesota.
The Metropolitan Council got $17 million for electric buses and charging stations.
We’ve yet to see local communities getting big green energy wins like this from the funds provided through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also known as the Infrastructure and Jobs Act.
Mankato recently received $385,000 to fund a study of where to locate a new airport control tower. And that funding is welcome, no doubt, but we’d like to see local government dream bigger and get this money before other cities and states do.
Because much of the $1.2 trillion in funding from the infrastructure law requires states, local governments and even businesses to provide matching funds, it’s a competitive race for funding.
Minnesota was projected to get $7.4 billion in funds from the Infrastructure and Jobs Act, with $6.1 billion of that requiring some level of state matching funds. About $5.3 billion was targeted to transportation infrastructure like roads, bridges and waterways.
The Minnesota Legislature approved $200 million in matching funds for cities, counties and businesses to tap to meet their requirements for matching funds on energy projects. Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, chief author of the bill, said it’s a “once in a lifetime opportunity to build out the energy transition infrastructure.”
Mankato has plans for adding electric vehicles in the upcoming budget, but left out efforts to acquire electric buses because its Xcel Energy consultants recommended not purchasing the buses in the short term due to concerns about range and cold Minnesota winters.
The cost issue seems like it has changed with the federal infrastructure money available that is going fast. And we don’t see how the winter is warmer in Rochester or the Twin Cities, making buses viable there but not here.
The city’s report was discussed in March, and many things have changed since then. We would urge to city to re-examine its rejection of buying buses and research how much federal money would be available. But it should act this year as the funding may be gone by next year.
Examples of a planet on fire make headlines every day with wildfires, flooding and hurricanes worsened by our continued use of fossil fuels. These disasters takes lives, and now insurance companies are pulling out of disaster prone states.
All cities and counties must get a sense of urgency to reduce their use of fossil fuels. They can now do it with this “once in a lifetime” funding readily available.