It's fitting -- and a tribute of sorts -- that Sam Grabarski's successor as president of the Minneapolis Downtown Council is Mark Stenglein, a 15-year member of the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners.
When Grabarski left the State Arts Board to take the president's job in 1996, he recalled in a recent interview, the downtown employers who headed his organization barely knew the members of the county board. They had not many more ties with the Minneapolis City Council, and little connection with the city's legislative delegation. The working relationship between business and government leaders was several notches less than optimal.
Grabarski changed that -- and that's something in which he can take pride as he ends a 16-year stint at the Downtown Council on Thursday. The fact that Stenglein will succeed him underscores the importance the business community now attaches to public-private partnerships in solving problems at the region's core.
As business and government worked together, problems were indeed solved on Grabarski's watch. Target Field was built, anchoring the baseball Twins in Minnesota. Downtown gained thousands of new residents. Crime rates dropped. The state property tax rate structure was made fairer to businesses. Greater MSP was formed to promote the region to potential investors around the world. The new business-funded Downtown Improvement District is chipping away at nuisance issues, such as getting trash collected on the weekends.
And this month, the Legislature approved a new downtown stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. That eliminates a big item on the "to-do" list Grabarski will hand to Stenglein.
The list remains long. The council's Downtown 2025 plan, released six months ago, is full of proposals to make the metro core healthier and, in turn, make the region more prosperous. The commitment with which his organization's business leaders and their government partners are jointly tackling the Downtown 2025 proposals is "the biggest ray of hope I see for this region," Grabarski told me. For helping to create that hope, Grabarski can take a bow.
The old feminist contention, "If only women were in charge..." was heard anew in the wake of the 2012 Legislature's May 10 approval of a taxpayer subsidy for a new Vikings stadium.
DFL Rep. Phyllis Kahn, the only still-serving female legislator from the breakthrough 1972 group of six, kept a tally of how this year's women legislators voted.
By her count, shared via Twitter, women cast 34 no votes and 28 yes votes in total. In the House, female rejection of the project ran deep: 27 no, 16 yes. The count went the other way in the Senate: 12 yes, 7 no.
Some observers were quick with the conclusion that women aren't as susceptible as men to suasion by big-time professional sports interests, or aren't as convinced that professional teams are important contributors to the common good.
But this week brought a feminist counterpoint of sorts from Minnesota Wild lobbyist Maureen Shaver, a former adviser to GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Look at all the women who worked at high levels to get the stadium bill enacted, she said.
First and foremost on her list was Republican Sen. Julie Rosen, the bill's very able Senate chief sponsor.
Also mentioned: Tina Smith and Michele Kelm-Helgen chief and deputy chief of staff, respectively, for Gov. Mark Dayton; Laura Bordelon, senior vice president, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce; Shar Knutson, president of the state AFL-CIO, and Vikings lobbyists Judy Cook and Margaret Vesel.
Each of them played a role that was played by a man the last time I covered the legislative battle to build a Vikings stadium, in 1979.
My answer to those who say that the stadium outcome at the Legislature would have been different if women were in charge? To an extent that would have been shocking in 1979, they already are.
The Citizens League's Sean Kershaw asked a question Friday that's been on my mind too: Could the process used to enact the Vikings stadium bill be a model for more lawmaking success stories in the future?
"The question is whether the bipartisanship and hard work we saw at the end of the session -- whatever you think of the stadium deal -- can be applied to issues that really matter to our future economic health and quality of life," Kershaw said in a post-session release.
Truth is, the Capitol is witness to a lot of hard work and effort on those "issues that really matter" -- educational quality, health care, fair taxation, an adequate safety net for the poor.
But unlike the stadium issue this year, those topics are typically approached by partisan teams of legislators bound to craft bills and vote for them in party blocs. That wasn't the case with the stadium bill. It's one of the few high-profile bills in which leaders stepped back and allowed their caucus members to choose their own positions.
That made for some messy, ad hoc dealmaking and late nights on the House and Senate floors. But the vote in the end reflected the will of the entire Legislature, not of the majority of one caucus or the other.
Kershaw and the Citizens League are advocates of changes in the state's lawmaking procedures to open up decision-making to more stakeholders. I'm wonk enough to listen with interest, and will report about those ideas in future posts.
For now, I'll note that procedural changes in tradition-bound institutions are hard to achieve. But leaders learning that not all lawmaking has to be a clash of partisan teams?
That can happen. Maybe it just did.
The Vikings stadium bill emerged from more than eight hours of Minnesota House debate Monday in somewhat altered, slightly battered condition. But the fact that it emerged at all, with a solid 73-58 vote, represents a major achievement by the bipartisan coalition seeking to anchor NFL football in Minnesota.
The bill’s House co-sponsor, DFL Rep. Terry Morrow of St. Peter, wore a game face as Game Day wore on and 39 amendments were offered, 11 of them successfully. “We’re making the bill better,” Morrow said. “We’re in a position to get the Vikings to their final best offer.”
The amended House bill attempts to summon Vikings and NFL officials to negotiations one more time in a conference committee – provided the Senate succeeds Tuesday in passing its version of the bill. The House version seeks to extract an additional $105 million from the team in construction costs, add 10 more years to the Vikings’ lease, and increase the state’s share of the proceeds of any future sale of the team.
Lesser changes also were attached, giving more House members a chance to tell skeptical constituents that they improved the bill before voting for it.
The amendment that the pro-stadium coalition feared the most failed, for now. Backed by a bipartisan cohort of legislators who dislike any expansion of state-sanctioned gambling, the change would have replaced e-pulltabs as a stadium financing source with a tax on in-stadium purchases. It went down on a 57-74 vote, indicating that while resistance to gambling is not the majority view, it runs deep.
Passage of a major bonding bill for public building projects has been uncertain for much of the 2012 legislative session. But a fresh observer of the Minnesota House Monday -- Game Day for the Vikings stadium bill -- would never guess as much.
A $496 million bill crafted by a bipartisan rump group sailed smoothly through the House on a 99-32 vote, with every DFLer in the chamber joining a majority of Republicans in voting yes.
A similarly positive reception for the bill is expected in the Senate later in the day.
Why the weeks of angst and delay? House Republican leaders tried to make the bill small enough to win the votes of all, or nearly all, of their party's fold. The problem was that the smaller the bill became, the less likely it was to attract any of the DFL votes needed to achieve the 60-percent supermajority a bonding bill requires.
The bill's direction changed in recent days when leaders settled on a Goldilocks size -- neither the $775 million big bill proposed by Gov. Mark Dayton, nor the $280-million tiny version (one of several) proposed by House bonding chair Larry Howes, but a "just right" $496 million.
House GOP leaders deserve credit for putting the will of a bipartisan majority ahead of the desires of the most conservative members of their caucus.
Creativity and a lot of hard swallowing went into those 99 yes votes. The creative piece: a new $50 million competitive grant program for local business development projects, administered by the Department of Employment and Economic Development.
While the bill does not fund long-planned convention center projects in Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud, those communities can compete for a grant from that fund.
Among those swallowing hard before voting yes were Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, a champion of the excluded Southwest Corridor light rail project, and Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, her party's environmental conscience, who lamented the underfunding of measures to combat the invasion of Asian carp in the state's waterways. It had to pain Republicans Howes and Dean Urdahl, leading voices for a long-overdue $240 million renovation of the State Capitol, to agree to the modest $44 million down-payment the bill includes.
Still, this mid-sized bonding bill is big enough to remove the "do-nothing" tag from the 2012 Legislature. And its bipartisan backing bodes well for the rest of the lawmaking Game Day has on tap.
Legislators can't buy a cup of coffee at the Capitol without somebody questioning their motives. Roll out a radically new stadium funding scheme a day after the originally scheduled session adjournment date, as leaders of the Republican majorities did Tuesday, and suspicion that a poltical trick was afoot was understandably rampant.
Gov. Mark Dayton's angry initial reaction indicated that he shared the skeptics' assessment. But his calmer tone Wednesday afternoon, after meeting with the GOP proponents of using general obligation bonds to pay for a stadium, suggested that he no longer doubted the sincerity of the GOP effort.
After Thursday's quick GOP retreat from their idea, no one should. If adding the stadium to the bonding bill had been a political stunt, as many Capitol wags first surmised, the resistance the idea encountered from state bonding authorities would not have deterred them. The majority leaders would have pressed on. They even might have succeeded in giving political cover to GOP legislators who don't want to be accused of doing nothing to prevent an NFL exodus from Minnesota, but don't support putting e-pulltabs in many of the state's bars to pay for a new stadium.
What they would not have succeeded in doing is building a stadium or retaining the Vikings. The bonds that the GOP plan would authorize likely would not have passed legal muster, and could not have been issued.
House Majority Leader Matt Dean, an architect by profession and the "architect" of the withdrawn bonding idea, said he spent several hours with state, Minneapolis and Vikings officials Wednesday examining the narrow question: Would general obligation bonding work? State officials' analysis convinced him that the rules governing those bonds, which are backed by state income and sales taxes, would preclude their use for this project, he said.
Dean's chastened tone and the somber faces of GOP leaders as they briefed Capitol reporters Thursday foreshadowed a tense few days ahead for state lawmakers. Republicans plan to bring the bonding and stadium bills up for crucial votes on Monday.