Sometimes the information that doesn't make it into an editorial is too good to leave on the cutting room floor.
That's the case with comments from Ralph Burnet, the realty icon and arts patron whose ire-filled interview with me last week both inspired and helped shape the Star Tribune's Jan. 17 editorial on Legacy Amendment funding for the arts. The editorial questioned whether special interests with a tenuous connection to the arts -- among them Star Tribune competitor Minnesota Public Radio -- have had too much say in how the millions generated by the ballot measure will be spent.
Calling Burnet a firebrand on the topic is an understatement. I'd barely introduced myself when Burnet let fly with this statement: "I am absolutely fumed about this." Burnet believes that what he calls "nonarts" people are diverting the Legacy funds away from the arts organizations that make Minnesota a cultural mecca. The real arts people, Burnet said, had "their lunch eaten" when lawmakers specified in a 2009 bill that a big chunk of Legacy funding generated over the next two years go to zoos, radio and organizations promoting civics education, among other things.
"I'm surprised they don't have Dairy Queens in there,'' said Burnet of lawmakers and the special interest-laden 2009 bill. Burnet believes Legacy money should go to the arts groups voters had in mind when they approved the ballot measure. It's a sure bet that lawmakers will be hearing a lot more from this outspoken supporter of the Minnesota arts.
Former state Rep. Ron Erhardt of Edina is angling for a comeback -- as a DFLer. The leader of the rump Republican group that helped DFLers override Gov. Tim Pawlenty's 2008 transportation bill veto was dumped by his GOP party in 2008. He ran as an independent and came in second in what may have been the year's most-watched legislative contest. It was won by Republican Rep. Keith Downey; DFLer Kevin Staunton placed third.
Erhardt, who served 18 years in the House and was once one of the state Republican Party's most prolific fundraisers, sent letters to DFL activists this week announcing his party change. He said he intends to challenge Staunton, who is also running again, for DFL endorsement.
Erhardt's experience, and that of the other five GOP transportation bill overriders, illustrates the high cost today's political parties are exacting for cooperation with the opposition party. Only one of the Override Six was reelected in 2008 without an intraparty challenge; only two of them still serve in the state House.
This year, a group of DFLers in Winona are exhibiting a similar insistence on strict party discipline. They're backing Winona City Council member Debbie White over 12-term Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona. Pelowski's vote against a DFL attempt to override Pawlenty's 2009 tax bill veto is a factor in their effort to unseat him.
Minnesota voters have split the levels of power at the statehouse between two or more parties for the past 20 years, evidently expecting elected officials to exhibit enough bipartisanship to govern. But during the same years, political parties' tolerance of bipartisan action by their elected officials has diminished. It's no wonder that political parties in this state and nation look increasingly not like the facilitators of democratic governance that they are supposed to be, but like impediments.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.