The lights have been burning all night at the Capitol this past week, a sure sign that the political race is not always won by the swiftest.
Endurance counts, too.
“It’s tough,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Leon Lillie, DFL-North St. Paul. “I run marathons. … I don’t think the public appreciates how hard it is at this point of the game, the lack of sleep.”
After a long Saturday, Lillie and his colleagues in the House worked straight through to 7 a.m. Sunday, debating a bill that would allow child-care workers and home-care assistants to vote on whether to unionize. They had a few hours to nap, shower and change before they went back at it early Sunday afternoon.
The Senate pulled an all-nighter Tuesday-Wednesday debating the same bill, setting a record for 17 hours on a single bill that the House is threatening to equal.
This is unusual but not unheard of. As the session nears its constitutional deadline — this year it is midnight Monday — every moment of floor time is needed for priority bills. A dissatisfied minority can take its own sweet time or deliberately gum up the works.
Or, as is the case with the unionization bill this year, they can focus their antipathy on one bill.
There is no real filibuster at the State Capitol, but there are what might be called amend-a-thons. The majority can halt debate by voting to “call the question,” but it is considered a “nuclear option” and rarely used.
In both of last week’s all-nighters, GOP opponents peppered the union bills with stacks of amendments. In each case, unionization opponents rose early and often, debating things such as the 14- or 18-point font in union cards. Looking at the size of the typeface on a card early Sunday morning, Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, asked the sponsor: “Are you absolutely sure there is no way this would ever be changed below that?”
A Twitter hashtag was born: “#fontgate.”
High jinks abounded. During a 2 a.m. standing vote-count called a “division,” normally a matter of a minute or so, House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, assumed a comfortable sitting pose and left the GOP members standing for seven excruciatingly long minutes.
Weariness runs deep. Rep. Ron Erhardt, DFL-Edina, said he once wrecked his car while driving home exhausted after an all-nighter, and still worries about the safety of the practice.
Former House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, a Republican from Marshall who left in 2010, said poor time management from the majority gives minority members lots of power. “The clock is your best friend at the end,” Seifert said. “We felt like we were in control of the floor the last two days of session.”
In both overnighters, members had to be at or near their desks because every vote was needed. Outside the chamber, pro- and anti-union child care providers kept vigil, as if they had to match the endurance of the legislators.
Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, was facing a possible trifecta Sunday night — a second straight all-nighter, to be followed by a finale ending at midnight Monday. “You’d rather space things out in a more efficient and timely manner, but I guess this is the nature of the place,” Urdahl said. “Things tend to all come together at the end.”
Staff writer Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report.