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Criticism of Ventura mounts as shutdown nears
By Laura McCallum, Minnesota Public Radio
June 20, 2001
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More than four weeks after the regular session adjourned, lawmakers continue to negotiate major tax and spending issues, but have yet to reach agreement. Some current and former legislative leaders say one factor in the protracted stalemate is Gov. Ventura's involvement - or lack thereof - in the negotiations. Ventura has largely stayed out of the day-to-day negotiating sessions, leaving the bulk of the dealmaking to his top aides. His staff says Ventura trusts his commissioners to represent him in negotiations, but some observers think the governor's presence might lead to a speedier resolution.
Employee Relations Commissioner Julien Carter briefs reporters on preparations for a possible government shutdown. Carter is the director of the administration's "Shutdown Team." In background are, left to right, Natural Resources Commissioner Allen Garber and Transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg

MPR's Lorna Benson talks with Julien Carter, employee relations director for Minnesota, who is in charge of coordinating the shutdown of state government on July 1st if a budget agreement isn't reached. Listen to the interview.

GOV. VENTURA IS A CHIEF EXECUTIVE who delegates, and who often says his commissioners speak for him. Although legislative leaders have been meeting nearly every day for the past month, Ventura doesn't sit in on the negotiations; he's represented by his top aides. The last time Ventura did meet with legislative leaders a week ago, he gave them a brief scolding before leaving the meeting.

"He said 12, 'get it done,' in about two and a half minutes," according to Roger Moe, DFL Senate Majority Leader for the past 20 years. He's negotiated with every governor since Al Quie and he says the difference between Ventura and previous governors is that other leaders had a political base of friends in the Legislature, while Ventura has only one legislative ally from the Independence Party.

"The governor by his rhetoric demonstrates basically a disdain for the Legislature, and so I'm not sure he would add much, sitting in on the meetings, not to mention I don't think he knows all of the technical details that commissioners are expected to know," Moe says.

Several people in on the negotiations say Ventura has read from a prepared statement at times. They say Ventura spends little time shaking hands or making small talk with leaders - he usually greets them, makes some general comments, and instructs lawmakers to continue to negotiate with his commissioners. In a recent Minnesota Public Radio interview, Ventura says he's gotten involved several times to try to break the stalemate, but he says the responsibility rests with lawmakers to agree on a budget.

"If it means breaking the gridlock, I'll do what I have to do, but ultimately it's got to come to them - those two - the Legislature has to do their job. I've done my job, now it's up to them to make their hard choices, they must come together and send me a bill," Ventura said.

Former legislative leaders say that's a much more hands-off approach than previous governors, who often participated in lengthy negotiation sessions. Many lawmakers cite the special session of 1989, when legislators also sparred over property tax relief for businesses.

Former DFL House Speaker Bob Vanasek says Gov. Rudy Perpich participated in negotiations that lasted until three in the morning. "We literally met in the governor's reception room. I remember taking a nap on one of the couches in the reception, and Perpich was in his office for most of that night, I think when we finally came up with a proposal, we called him at the mansion, but he was still up," Vanasek recalls.

Ventura's staff say the governor is kept informed of the progress of negotiations, and has confidence in his commissioners' ability to represent his views at the bargaining table. The governor's point person in the negotiations - Finance Commissioner Pam Wheelock - says differences between the House and Senate positions - not Ventura's absence at the table - are standing in the way of a deal.

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"I don't think that his personal appearance at these meetings is what is the issue, the handicap or the closer on these discussions. So I think it's much more philosophical differences between the interests, the groups represented at the table," according to Wheelock.

Legislative leaders agree that the divide between House and Senate views is one of the major reasons for the stalemate, along with the complexity of property tax reform and the dynamics of tri-partisan government.

Republican House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty says Ventura's presence at the table would change the dynamics. "There's a big difference between having the governor sitting there, and a commissioner or staff person; people just don't pay the same amount of attention a commissioner or staff person as they would the governor," Pawlenty says.

Pawlenty says Ventura may not be immersed in the details of tax policy, but could clarify his position on issues that arise. Senate Democrats have asked the governor to put in writing his position on two education spending proposals, but when asked about the DFL demand, Ventura said he doesn't write letters to legislators.