At the Capitol: Political Theater of the Absurd

The House hosted an absurd piece of political theater last night.

It looks majestic, but you know what they say about appearances…

Last night, Minnesota lawmakers behaved like college students who ignore that big paper until it’s too late.

As college students in that situation are wont to do, they tried to turn something in anyway. But in this case, a whole lot more was at stake than a grade — hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money hung in the balance.

Lawmakers were constitutionally mandated to wrap up their work by midnight. With just minutes to spare, the Senate passed a hastily constructed 93-page “jobs bill” appropriating upwards of $300 million for issues pertaining to areas like unemployment benefits and energy policy.

But the bill also needed to be approved by the House before the deadline in order for Governor Dayton to have an opportunity to sign it into law. That led to the surreal scene of a Capitol staffer literally racing the legislation from one chamber to the other:

I was standing in a room adjacent to the House floor watching the final seconds tick away when I was nearly stampeded by the guy. Another staffer pulled me away from danger just in the nick of time as the bill-runner sprinted past me down a narrow corridor and brought the bill into the chamber, where it was quickly delivered to Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt.

At this point, there were less than two minutes left before the deadline. But that didn’t stop the House from voting on the bill, even as some lawmakers cried out that they hadn’t even received a copy of it.

“It’s 93-pages long and nobody in this body has gotten a copy of it,” one lawmaker said as the votes rolled in. “We have no idea what’s in this bill.”

The final vote was 75 yeas, nine nays.

Watch the political theater of the absurd unfold for yourself:

I’m too new at the Capitol to put this fiasco in its proper context, and please keep in mind that I work on behalf of the House DFL Caucus.

But ultimately, I’m a state employee compensated by the taxpayers of Minnesota. And in that role, I have to say, there’s got to be a better way to do the peoples’ business.

Sure, I’m just a cog, but I hope I can serve the people who pay my salary by doing what I can to improve the political machine so that lawmakers might someday actually have time to read and discuss big-buck bills before they vote on them.

After all, as any procrastinating college student can tell you, people rarely do their best work when they’re short on time, under informed, and tired.

What grade would you give for that performance?

— Welcome to my new blog project. To begin with, each week I’ll be publishing a couple pieces spanning the gamut from columns like the one above to short nonfiction stories to the occasional sports hot take. I’m also planning a weekly podcast hosted by yours truly and featuring topical interviews with notable Twin Citians, so stay tuned! 

As always, thanks for reading, and your feedback is appreciated.

Comments

    • atrupar says

      I truly hope you’re mistaken about that, Bob! I’d like to think the outside perspective I bring to stuff like this is part of the reason I was hired. Time will tell.

      • says

        i agree with Bob. No offense, but they probably just want to use your inflammatory prose and digital media expertise to further their narrow agenda.

        bottom line is not enough people receive adequate education and or multi-cultural experiences.

        there ought to be a competency test required to hold political office

  1. fred schumacher says

    They should have stopped the clock, like the North Dakota legislature did in its historic 1977 session, and maintain the fiction that midnight had not yet arrived. I was sitting on the floor in the Senate Majority Leader’s office waiting, while Rep. Bill Gackle was hiding in a restroom with the official copy of the coal severance tax bill, keeping any action from being taken on it. However, luckily for North Dakota, the legislature had a superb mediator in Sen. Bob Melland who came up with the compromises necessary for the legislature to finish its session. When he walked into that office, Mike Jacobs, who recently retired as publisher of the Grand Forks Herald, said to me, “here comes the deal.” Within ten minutes, everybody was on their way home. Melland was a Republican who understood the need for public infrastructure, compromise, and paying your bills. There’s nobody around like him today.

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