Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Brickbats fly over special session for stadiums

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"I think all of Minnesota would agree that we shouldn't have another special session either at all, or if we do, it better be quick and orderly and productive, and we just haven't been able to get those assurances," Gov. Pawlenty said on Tuesday. He's shown here at a news conference announcing Minneapolis' selection as the site for a pond hockey tournament. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
Some lawmakers are questioning Gov. Pawlenty's leadership on the issue of a possible special session to take up new stadiums. Pawlenty said late last week that he won't call a special session at this time, saying Senate Democrats are unwilling to limit the agenda. But some legislators say Pawlenty should be building support for a special session, instead of casting blame.

St. Paul, Minn. — Pawlenty says he's still willing to call lawmakers back to the Capitol if legislative leaders can agree on a short, defined agenda. But he says he won't call one at this time, after legislative leaders told him most of their members don't want a special session. Pawlenty says he doesn't want a repeat of the last special session this summer, when a protracted stalemate led to the state's first partial government shutdown.

"I think all of Minnesota would agree that we shouldn't have another special session either at all, or if we do, it better be quick and orderly and productive, and we just haven't been able to get those assurances or commitments from legislative leaders," he said.

But some legislators think Pawlenty is using them to pass the buck on a special session. Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, a DFLer from Willmar, says the Republican governor asked the four caucus leaders to say what bills their members would support, but Pawlenty won't say what he wants.

"It's 'I kinda want it, but I kinda don't,' 'maybe, maybe not,' and that's not good leadership," Johnson said.

Johnson says Pawlenty is being "disingenuous" by blaming Democrats for his decision not to call a special session. Johnson points out that House and Senate GOP leaders also said their members aren't interested in coming back to vote on stadiums.

The Legislature's only independent, Sen. Sheila Kiscaden of Rochester, says if Pawlenty wants a special session, which only the governor can call, he should try to persuade legislators that it's the right thing to do.

"The governor has set himself up to not take responsibility for something that is his responsibility, and to allow any disgruntled legislator to say 'no,'" Kiscaden said.

Kiscaden says it doesn't appear that Pawlenty is doing much to build support for either a University of Minnesota Gophers football stadium or a Twins stadium.

But Republican Sen. Geoff Michel of Edina, the sponsor of the Gophers stadium bill, says Pawlenty is quietly meeting with certain legislators to talk about the stadium proposals.

"It takes time, and I'm impressed and quite confident that the governor is still working on this. It's kind of a political Rubik's cube; you've got to keep working at it to finally make it all turn out right in the end," Michel said.

Pawlenty is also talking to the Gophers and the Twins, who are still hoping Pawlenty will call a special session this fall. Officials with the university and the Twins say they're disappointed that there hasn't been a vote on stadium bills yet, but they aren't publicly questioning Pawlenty's leadership.

Twins President Dave St. Peter says the governor's office is trying to build consensus on the stadium.

"Gov. Pawlenty is dealing with the recent history of a special session that did bog down, and we're sensitive to that, and we understand that ... We stand prepared to work with the governor in the weeks to come in hopes of forging that consensus, getting a special session called and passing a ballpark bill," he said.

The Twins have sued their Metrodome landlord, arguing that the team is under no long-term obligation to play baseball there. The governor's office says the lawsuit isn't a surprise, because the Twins need to clarify their lease situation.

Spokeman Brian McClung says the lawsuit won't affect Pawlenty's decision to call a special session only if there's a prior legislative agreement.

Former Gov. Wendell Anderson says he doesn't blame Pawlenty for being cautious about calling lawmakers back. The DFLer knows something about protracted sessions. In 1971, Anderson presided over the longest special session in state history, which resulted in the so-called "Minnesota Miracle" that overhauled the state's education finance system. Anderson says back then, the Legislature was less partisan, and more willing to compromise.

Now, he says the Legislature is almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.

"If I were governor, I wouldn't call them in unless I had a prior agreement. So I think that makes sense. I wish that they could get together but after that long, bitter special session and the partial shutdown, I think I'd be very, very cautious before I'd call a special session," he said.

Wearing a U of M sweatshirt, Anderson said he's a strong supporter of a Gophers stadium, but says the proposal may have to wait until the next regular session in March.