After hours of debate on sweeping spending bills in the DFL-controlled state House, a recurring tactic has emerged amid the stacks of Republican amendments piling up on a bench just feet from the speaker’s rostrum.
From a proposal Tuesday to see where Democrats stood on voting rights for violent felons to a failed effort to force a vote on a state “Green New Deal” last week, House Republicans have used the amendment process to try to divide the DFL majority — and fish for 2020 campaign fodder.
“If we’re effective with our messaging and showing how out of touch they are with kind of mainstream voters, it sets us up well to win the majority back, and we feel very optimistic about that,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.
On Tuesday, Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, sought a House vote on whether Minnesotans convicted of violent crimes should be allowed to vote. He attached it to a new DFL measure that would restore voting rights to all felons still on probation. Before the vote, Nash said that he wanted each Democrat to put their position on the record.
“That’s not me saying that,” Nash said, “that’s them saying that.”
In an earlier debate on higher education funding, Republicans pushed amendments targeting a DFL-backed provision to increase state college tuition grants for immigrants in the U.S. illegally, who are not eligible for federal aid. One proposal would have repealed a law that allows students here illegally to qualify for in-state tuition rates and state aid. Democrats opposed, and eventually defeated, that proposal.
Last week, Democrats sidestepped a measure that would have forced a full House vote on a Minnesota Green New Deal. The GOP move echoed a recent vote in the U.S. Senate to put Democrats on the record on an ambitious plan to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.
“I think it’s tough to be in the minority,” said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. “You have to get creative to make yourself relevant.”
Winkler said House DFL leadership has encouraged its caucus to “vote the way they believe” and that leaders think “candidates who believe in the work they’re doing can sell their record” on the campaign trail.
Rep. Raymond Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, countered Nash’s violent-felon voting rights amendment Tuesday with a measure that would instead prevent those convicted of voting fraud from participating in elections until they complete their probation terms.
“A lot of these votes are as much about doing what’s right for the state of Minnesota as well as how does this position us for the next election,” Dehn said of the amendment process. “I’m going to be honest, part of that is going to be, ‘They not only want to allow murderers and rapists in your neighborhood, they want to let them vote.’ ”
In a separate debate on wolf hunting restrictions, Nash donned a “Wolves of Fort Snelling” pin.
As colleagues chuckled nearby, Nash proposed that the House vote on whether — if Democrats felt so strongly about preserving the wolf population — to set loose breeding packs of the carnivores throughout the metro area. In the metro area, he quipped, there are almost no cattle to be lost.
“[And] what a good way to hear them howl at night,” Nash said, before copping that any suggestion of a House vote on the topic was in jest.
“Yes, it’s lighthearted,” he said. “I withdraw.”
Staff writer Torey Van Oot contributed to this report.