MOORHEAD — Minnesota Republican legislative heavy hitters made a road-trip stop in Moorhead on Thursday and tried really, really hard to be nonpartisan for a few minutes. They took down a “House Republicans” placard before a press conference and invited a couple of DFL legislators in attendance to join them before the assembled media.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, Senate Minority Leader David Hann and House Capital Investment Chair Rep. Paul Torkelson — as well as various other GOP types from the area — set up shop near the 20th/21st Street and Main Avenue intersection near the high school to urge Gov. Mark Dayton to call a special session so the Legislature could pass a bonding bill and Moorhead could get its needed underpass. Funding for the underpass, or at least $34.5 million of the original $42 million, was included in the bonding bill compromise reached in the waning moments of the just-completed session.
It had the sense of a GOP face-saving tour. Republicans in St. Paul took the brunt of the blame for failing to pass a bonding bill and especially took heat for the failure of Moorhead to get the underpass for which it has patiently waited decades. That’s as it should be. A bonding bill failed by a single vote in the DFL-controlled Senate, because only one Republican voted for it. All opposition votes belonged to Republicans. In the original House bill, Moorhead’s project was not included. And it was Daudt who failed to even offer a House bonding proposal until the last moment, leading to the chaos that preceded the end of the session.
Republicans were left to save face, which was part of the reason for Thursday’s stop in Moorhead.
Despite Daudt’s seemingly good-faith effort to allow Rep. Ben Lien and Sen. Kent Eken to join Republicans at the microphone to say a few words in support of Moorhead’s project, the intent of the stop was purely political.
The GOP’s talking point since the end of the session has been that Senate DFLers stood in the way of a bonding bill because they tried to add an amendment to fund the controversial Southwest Light Rail Transit project in the Twin Cities. They’ve posted video on Facebook with that exact message.
Thursday’s press event was focused on that, too, according to a press release handed out.
“Late Sunday, the Minnesota House passed the agreed-upon, compromise bonding bill with broad, bipartisan support on a vote of 91-39. The bill then traveled to the Senate, where a DFL Senator changed the bill to support a mechanism to increase funding for light rail, undoing the agreement. As a result of Metro Democrats’ insistence on costly, inefficient light rail through this last-minute political maneuver, the compromise bonding bill failed to pass out of the Senate.”
Daudt was quoted in the press release as saying, “I strongly urge Governor Dayton to act in the best interest of the state and promptly call a one-day special session — failure to do so, or attempts to inject unnecessary political games into the process like the one that got us into this mess would be a disservice to the Minnesotans we represent.”
So there you have it. Republicans came to Moorhead to blame Democrats for muddying up the bonding bill while putting the onus on the DFL governor to call a special session. But when a couple of Democrats showed up to hear what Daudt and Co. had to say in person, the Republicans changed their tune and offered to be nonpartisan.
It only lasted for awhile.
When Rep. Dan Fabian, a Republican from Roseau, took a swipe at Senate Democrats for “mucking things up,” it opened the door for others to start hammering light rail.
Hann then joined in by referring to the light-rail amendment as an “ill-fated attempt.”
Then Daudt again took the microphone and wrapped up the festivities by trashing the SWLRT project as a Twin Cities-centric project that will be lightly used, compared to roads. Daudt said the $1.8 billion cost of light rail, plus the ongoing costs, is too much.
“It just seems like an ineffective use of our tax dollars,” Daudt said. “I think people want money spent on our roads and bridges infrastructure.”
In the end, the Republicans did what they came to do: Blame the failure to pass a bonding bill on Senate Democrats, pin it on light rail and put the responsibility for getting a bonding bill passed onto Gov. Dayton.
The Moorhead underpass took a backseat to GOP politics.
And there was so much potential there to be nonpartisan. That potential only lasted a few minutes.