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Rudy Takala's Columns

"GOP budget meets conservative backlash" (From Politics in Minnesota) (4.8.2011)

Paul Demko has a story in Politics in Minnesota talking about all of the budgetary issues I've been talking about here. Click here to view it. (Subscription required; otherwise simply scroll down.)
Speaker Zellers was on KTLK this morning with Bob Davis & Tom Emmer. He makes a really bad spokesman for the GOP. He simply cannot explain in anything but double-talk how the GOP can justify increasing spending by $2 billion. All he wants to talk about is the fact that Mark Dayton wants to increase spending as well.
That isn't the point; we all know Democrats want to increase spending. The average voter wants to know why Republicans wants to increase spending.
I will post the link for Bob's show when it becomes available. In the meantime, here is Demko's article.
In their efforts to assemble and pass an all-cuts budget, Republican legislative leaders have found themselves engaged in a session-long game of whack-a-mole within their own caucuses. Pockets of discord continue to surface periodically within Republican legislative ranks, compelling the leadership to defuse tensions. Now, however, the pressures are coming from the caucuses’ right flank.
That’s a departure from the early days of the session, when there were signs that rural, moderate legislators were balking at steep cuts to local government aid that their districts rely on to finance government services back home. Even after Republicans changed the aid reductions from permanent to one-time cuts in their so-called “phase one” budget bill, four House GOP legislators voted against the measure on the floor. Rural legislators were largely placated eventually, in part by focusing local aid cuts on the DFL strongholds of Duluth, Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Nor were pressures from the center confined to the House. Early in the session, some key Senate Republicans, including Taxes Committee Chairwoman Julianne Ortman and Finance Committee Chairwoman Claire Robling, made noises about raising revenue by closing some tax exemptions. That loose talk was quickly stamped out and replaced by GOP talking points about government living within its means.
In recent weeks, though, the loudest expressions of discontent have come from the most conservative elements of the party. There’s a small but formidable bloc of legislators who believe that the GOP’s budget bills - particularly the House finance proposals for K-12 education and health and human services - fail to go far enough in paring back government. They’re angry that Republicans are failing to follow through on campaign promises to fix the state’s chronic structural deficit by paring the state’s 2012-13 general fund spending to $32 billion - the total revenue expected for the biennium before the February 2011 economic forecast. (”When we were out there [in the 2010 campaign] talking about spending $32 billion,” one House Republican smiled ruefully, “some of us meant it.”)
Signs of this fissure in the caucus have been popping up with increasing frequency:
  • Freshman Rep. Mary Franson, R- Alexandria, took a not-so-veiled shot at the House leadership during an appearance on a talk radio show hosted by conservative agitator Sue Jeffers last month. In introducing Franson, Jeffers praised her for doing a “yeoman’s job of standing up for principles for reducing the size, scope and expense of government.” Franson’s response seemed to throw House leadership under the bus. “I had to laugh when you said principles because, as a matter of fact, we were told that there is principles and there is governing and sometimes you gotta go down to St. Paul and you’ve just got to throw your principles aside and govern,” Franson said on KTLK (FM-100.3). “I’m not going to throw my principles aside, not at all.”
  • Pressure has also begun to ramp up in the blogosphere and on talk radio. Jeffers has called for the ouster of Reps. Jim Abeler, chairman of the HHS Finance Committee, Steve Gottwalt, chairman of the HHS Reform Committee, and Pat Garofalo, chairman of the Education Finance Committee. “I still think they should step down,” Jeffers told Capitol Report. “I think they’re incompetent.” Jeffers is a conservative ideologue who once challenged former Gov. Tim Pawlenty in a GOP primary. But she also frequently appears on-air with 2010 GOP gubernatorial nominee Tom Emmer.
  • Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, has become an increasingly isolated figure within his own caucus. Last week he sparred with House Speaker Kurt Zellers on the floor, accusing him of ignoring parliamentary rules. Buesgens has repeatedly voted against GOP bills; on Tuesday he cast the lone Republican dissenting vote against the GOP HHS finance bill in the Ways and Means Committee. According to sources privy to caucus discussions, Buesgens was recently dressed down by colleagues behind closed doors. In recent weeks he’s repeatedly been spotted sitting alone on the House floor prior to session, while the rest of the GOP caucus was meeting to discuss legislative strategy.
  • Last week conservative KTLK talk radio host Bob Davis read an anonymous letter purportedly written by a freshman House Republican. It stated that conservative members like Reps. Doug Wardlow of Eagan, Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa, Buesgens and Franson are being “marginalized and beat down for taking a conservative path.” While the letter’s authenticity has been questioned, it made reference to another missive signed by a dozen GOP legislators unhappy with the course charted by legislative leadership. Drazkowski is widely believed to be a ringleader of the conservative faction, but he’s coy about the letter’s existence. “We have all kinds of communications that we put together,” he said when asked about it.
Most Capitol observers believe that the caucus unrest is relatively benign at present. “I’ve certainly heard that there are a handful of members who are not happy,” acknowledged one GOP lobbyist. “I don’t think it’s that widespread, and they are working on making it better.”
Another GOP consultant characterizes the situation similarly. “I would be reluctant to say there’s an uprising,” this person said. “There’s the potential for one.”
Drazkowski acknowledges that he would prefer that the GOP’s budget targets were lower. “I wish we would have them lower to give us some room for our cash flow and reserve accounts,” he said, “so that we could bring more fiscal responsibility.”
But Drazkowski insists that there is no significant animosity within the House caucus over spending targets. “No conflict, just 72 different ideas,” he said.
Even if the caucuses’ fault lines have played out mainly behind the scenes, though, they have the potential to crack open publicly as the budget debate intensifies. The House and Senate will finish passing all finance bills this week, but the path toward an eventual agreement with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton on eliminating the state’s $5 billion budget deficit is difficult to foresee. Dayton has proposed closing more than half of the deficit by raising taxes on the state’s wealthiest residents, while Republicans have uniformly insisted that the books can be balanced entirely through cuts.
As the May 23 deadline for adjournment approaches, pressure will increase on both sides to compromise and avert a government shutdown. That will undoubtedly ratchet up tensions within the GOP caucus between moderate and conservative elements. “I think you’re going to see the conservatives be very frustrated if leadership tries to ram bills down their throats that they don’t support,” Jeffers said.

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