Under siege, sponsors of stadium bill act like pros

  • Article by: LORI STURDEVANT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 5, 2012 - 6:11 PM

Republicans Julie Rosen and Morrie Lanning had every reason to fly off the handle last week, but they didn't.

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Stadium bill author Julie Rosen, R, waited patiently to resume discussion of her bill in front of the Senate Tax Committee on April 27.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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"Blindsided." That's the polite word for what happened last Tuesday to the two chief sponsors of the Vikings stadium bill, state Sen. Julie Rosen and state Rep. Morrie Lanning.

If these two Republicans uttered sharper words when they learned that their own party's leaders had been plotting to yank the financial heart out of their bill, they spoke far from people bearing notebooks and recording devices. When microphones were present, they both played it professionally cool.

"There hasn't been any agreement to any new idea at this point," Lanning soothed about his majority leader's notion that general obligation bonds could provide the state's contribution to an NFL stadium.

"It's a thought," allowed a collected Rosen, even as a similarly stung Gov. Mark Dayton spluttered to reporters about "cynical, underhanded politics."

I've long admired these two legislators, but never more than that day. They knew that House Majority Leader Matt Dean's idea was likely to collapse on its own. They understood that it might do so without bruising their bill if they weren't the ones to knock it down.

The ability to hold one's tongue is an all-too-rare, often-underrated lawmaking skill. It's one of many tricks of the trade that these two have mastered since they arrived as part of the Class of 2002.

Of course, last week's two-day detour into the general obligation bonding weeds wasn't the stadium bill's biggest test. That's due tomorrow, when the bill Rosen and Lanning helped design is expected to reach the House and Senate floors.

Vikings fans have plenty of reason to be nervous, but not about the two chief sponsors who will make their case.

Lanning, 67, knows something about managing public-sector complexity. He was Moorhead's mayor for 22 years while he also served as a vice president at Concordia College, where he was an administrator for 39 years. His crowning mayoral achievement was securing construction of a major hotel and convention complex. It took 18 years -- putting the Vikings' dozen years of pleading into useful perspective.

"I have plenty of patience and perseverance," Lanning said last week. "I've had reason to be angry and frustrated, but I just keep plugging along."

Rosen, 54, hails from Fairmont. An agronomist by training, she's a workhorse whose portfolio has included some of the Legislature's most complicated issues -- human-services funding, energy and telecommunications policy, pensions.

With one glaring exception -- her leadership this year in denying Senate confirmation to Dayton's public utilities commissioner Ellen Anderson -- Rosen's record of bipartisan lawmaking is solid.

In fact, it's raised Tea Party eyebrows. Last week came word that a GOP archconservative, first-term Sen. Al DeKruif of Madison Lake, is e-mailing Republican leaders in the newly drawn district he shares with Rosen to test their interest in replacing her. He had indicated earlier that he would step aside.

"No comment until after the session," DeKruif said when I asked about his plans.

Characteristically, Rosen shrugged. "It just makes me more resolved to serve people well."

Lanning and Rosen both understand something that's often lost on latter-day legislators: Making good laws requires good relationships among lawmakers.

"This place is built on relationships," Rosen said. "Some amazing relationships have been built this year because of the stadium issue."

"Amazing." The word fits what Lanning and Rosen have accomplished already this year in an institution plagued by deep partisan suspicion and incapacity to compromise. They've done much to build a bipartisan coalition of stadium backers, characterized as much by mutual admiration and trust as by desire to solve the Vikings' problem.

A win for them this week would say that their style of lawmaking can still deliver big solutions for big problems. I have no words for what their defeat might say.

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Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. Follow her blog, Minnesota Matters

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