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St. Paul, Minn. — They adjourned without shaving one dime from the state's projected $160 million deficit. They didn't approve funding for public works projects across the state or tighten sentences for convicted sex offenders. In the end, they didn't do much. And that's upset Minnesota voters.
Fifty-three percent of poll respondents rated the Legislature's performance as "poor." Another 29 percent said "only fair," leaving a mere 12 percent to rate lawmakers' work "excellent" or "good."
Respondent Beverley Evans of Balaton counts herself among the disappointed.
"There was just always every article, any newscast I heard, there was no agreement on anything. And there's got to be a little bit. There's got to be some compromise given," she said.
Evans is a 66-year-old educator and one of 625 regular voters who participated in the statewide poll. The survey was conducted last week and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points.
Legislative leaders say they're not surprised by the public backlash. And then point their fingers. DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson says the session was held hostage to Republican social issues, including a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.
"It certainly wasn't one of our best performances, but it's a stalemate due to ideological and political differences. And I guess I would say the House Republicans not willing to meet in public and at least talk these things out," according to Johnson.
The poll shows 59 percent of Minnesotans support the gay-marriage prohibition, a point that Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum notes. Respondents are about evenly divided on the issue of expanded gambling, with those in favor having a slight edge. Sviggum points out that Republicans offered gambling options as a way to balance the budget. He says it's the Democrats who've lost touch with constituents.
"This session is one that was one that was obviously set up to be confrontational. The DFL Senate from the beginning decided there wasn't going to be any cooperation. There wasn't going to be any movement on some of the major issues of the session. And their strategy was just simply to do that," Sviggum said.
But the poll shows that voters aren't making such fine distinctions. Asked which party behaved more responsibly, the numbers were a wash: 26 percent say Republicans, 28 percent say Democrats, and a full 33 percent say neither showed much maturity.
Randy Nelson, 44, a computer systems analyst from Oakdale, says he's inclined to blame Republicans slightly more, only because they control the House and the governor's office. Nelson says Gov. Pawlenty's pledge not to consider state tax increases has contributed to the sense of gridlock.
"I think some of it goes back to him because of the no-taxes. You know, if the people in the House know that, well, this is going to be a tax increase; the governor's going to veto it. Whether or not they would present it to him for his signature just for a rejection, that would be kind of a waste of time," he said.
But Pawlenty overall scored fairly well, with 54 percent of respondents rating his performance "excellent" or "good." Another 44 percent said "only fair" or "poor." That comes despite his failure to enact many of key initiatives, including tougher sex offender sentences -- supported by 72 percent -- or new ballparks for the Minnesota Twins and Vikings -- opposed by 52 percent.
Pawlenty spokeswoman Leslie Kupchella says the governor hasn't given up, and will pursue these issues either next year or in a special session.
"He's going to continue on those fronts. And obviously there are things that we can take a look in the '05 session that we will be revisiting a number of these issues. And there's still the question, of course, about the special session. That is not out of the question at this point," she said.
Lawmakers, however, say the prospects for a special session appear dim, in part because DFLers and Republicans can't agree on ground rules to limit the scope and duration of another session.