Mid-session conventions cramp Legislature's styleThe decision to move primary elections up a month had the unintended consequence of pushing party nominating conventions forward as well.
By: Andrew Tellijohn, E/P State Capitol Bureau
ST. PAUL -- The decision to move primary elections up a month had the unintended consequence of pushing party nominating conventions forward as well.
Those conventions landed during the legislative session for the first time, which some lawmakers say has slowed progress on budget balancing, education reform and other controversial issues.
"I think there is a real sense that we have to get through the (conventions) before anything real controversial comes up," said Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar. "I think there is some nervousness on all the governor candidates in here when they are pushing their (voting) buttons. Which group are you appeasing and which ones are you displeasing certainly becomes an issue with some of these votes."
Juhnke's views are not universally accepted. But many of his colleagues agree and the feelings stretch across party lines.
Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said he thinks holding the convention during the session has had a more chilling effect on passing potentially controversial budget cuts than waiting to find out the status of $408 million in federal funding both parties are counting on for help balancing the deficit.
"There is no popular way to solve a $1 billion deficit," he said, adding that he is not singling out Democrats who hold majorities in both the House and Senate. "If Republicans were in charge we'd have the same types of problems."
Garofalo thinks in future years the state needs to move the conventions back to late May or June to avoid this year's perfect storm: several legislators running for governor, mid-session conventions and a huge budget deficit.
"We can't have the political conventions during the legislative session," he said. "Both parties are catering to their state convention delegates."
Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, doesn't feel quite as strongly as his colleagues but he does feel the conventions have disrupted the session's flow.
"I really don't like that we're having it during session," he said. "It's just something for me about 'let's get the job we were sent here for done.'"
He wishes lawmakers had worked to finalize tentative budget bills as though the federal money was going to be available, then recessed until after the conventions.
Then if the federal money was not available the Legislature would still have nine days to fill the $408 million hole rather than having to solve the entire problem.
Other lawmakers say it is something both sides will have to get used to and add that the downsides are overblown.
Lawmakers have continued holding hearings and debating issues, and they have already accomplished a lot this year, including solving one-third of the budget problem, and passing a public works bill that often in recent years would not have passed until the session's final days, said Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids.
Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said if the Legislature was not as far along as it is the timing of the conventions might be more inconvenient. But much has been done and the federal money question already was holding up progress on budget cuts.
"The conventions aren't really having a significant impact as far as interrupting what's going on here," he said.
Hamilton added that he hopes lawmakers are not putting off dealing with issues to look good to supporters.
"You should be true, regardless, true to yourself, true to your colleagues and true to your constituents regardless of the time," he said. "If you are going to vote one way after the convention, well, you should vote the same way before it."