Sen. Warren Limmer’s new office in the politically toxic Minnesota Senate Building has a smashing view that includes a close-up of the State Capitol, St. Paul’s High Bridge, the downtown Minneapolis skyline and the northwestern horizon that stretches toward his own district in the Maple Grove area.
“I’ve got it all. I’ll never get any work done,” Limmer joked Thursday, the day he and fellow GOP senators moved into the building they once bitterly opposed — and which many in his party brandished like a weapon against DFLers. “I’ll just sit up here and daydream.”
DFL legislators quietly pushed through funding to build the nearly $100 million stone-and-glass edifice in the final hours of the 2013 legislative session, handing Republicans a potent talking point that many believe was a factor in the DFL’s loss of its House majority in the next election in 2014. “A luxury office building for politicians” is how attack ads described it.
“I think in a couple of very tight races it might have been the deciding factor,” Limmer said.
Last month, Republicans added to those gains by taking control of the state Senate, which set up Republican senators to now seize the best offices from DFL colleagues, who moved in a year ago. On Thursday, a team of movers toted boxes, desks, computers and other senatorial bric-a-brac from the old Republican offices in the nearby State Office Building to the top floor of the building they spent the past few years disdaining.
“They built it, we fought it, we lost and now we’re moving in to get to work,” said Bill Walsh, director of public affairs for Senate Republicans. He noted that GOP senators had planned for some time to move in eventually, but decided more than a year ago to wait until after the 2016 vote because elections typically mean a reshuffling of legislative office space. “Otherwise, we would have moved twice in a year’s time for no good reason,” Walsh said.
The new building’s champion was Senate DFL Leader Tom Bakk of Cook.
He defended it as a necessary component of the $300 million restoration of the Capitol, which displaced all of its occupants for the past three years.
Republicans still say the new building was unnecessary, pointing out that a good portion of the space that once was occupied by senators and their employees in the reopened Capitol will now sit empty for much of the year.
“The Capitol was one of the few really working Capitols in the country,” Limmer said. “Now, I haven’t really figured out what it’s going to be.”
A spokeswoman for Bakk said he had no comment on the GOP’s move to a building that he had strenuously defended against their barbs.
With the GOP seizing the DFL’s Senate majority, Bakk has been displaced from his prime, third-floor corner office by the new Republican majority leader, Sen. Paul Gazelka of Nisswa. (Don’t worry too much for Bakk. His new second-floor office still looks toward the big white dome across the street.)
“Clearly, they don’t mind moving in too much, because they jumped at the chance to get the best views,” said Sen.-elect Dan Schoen, a DFL state representative from Cottage Grove who just won election to the upper chamber, as he lugged a large monitor to his second-floor office that faces away from the Capitol.
“Are they a little disingenuous? Sure. But campaigns are disingenuous — they’re full of lies and ridiculousness.”
Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said it was not hypocritical for her colleagues to move in. “The taxpayers had money taken from them to make this building happen,” Benson said. “We don’t want to disrespect the taxpayers’ investment.”