With key players at odds, stadium faces long odds

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 18, 2012 - 6:35 AM

The Vikings, Dayton and DFLers are struggling to get on the same page.

The latest political meltdown of the Minnesota Vikings stadium plan unleashed a torrent of political maneuvering and squabbling at the Capitol Tuesday, with the governor, the Vikings and key DFL legislators struggling to get on the same page about the imperiled project.

As Republican leaders pointedly noted that just one of six DFLers on a House panel voted for the nearly $1 billion stadium Monday, leading to the plan's 9-6 defeat, a frustrated Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL leaders sought a path forward for the stadium as the Legislature continued to close in on adjournment.

"It just happens that mixture of Democrats does not reflect where our [DFL] caucus is at," House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said of the committee vote. He said "People are exploring different options" to revive the stadium plan.

But Dayton and stadium supporters also conceded the odds were growing long that a new stadium could be approved this session and pledged to be back at the task if efforts fell short this spring.

"We've got to get a stadium next year or the Vikings will leave," Dayton said, while at the same time urging stadium supporters to be patient.

"The difficult takes a while -- the impossible just takes a little longer. We'll get it next session. ... It'll probably be a better bill, it might be a better location, and a better result. ... We'll learn from this session and go on."

The DFL dilemma did not go unnoticed by Republicans.

"We can't pass the stadium by ourselves in the Republican caucus," said House Speaker Kurt Zellers, who has himself been vague on how much he will do to politically help the stadium. "This is up to the governor and the [House] Democrat minority leader," he said. "If I was the governor, I'd be livid. If I was big labor, I'd be really, really livid."

Also Tuesday, a Republican-controlled Senate panel that had previously considered the stadium plan, but did not vote on it, abruptly canceled a meeting to reconsider the project. Dayton "was only able to bring one [House] DFL vote" for the plan, "that's pretty telling," said Republican Senate spokesman Steve Sviggum, adding that the GOP was " holding off" on any more Senate stadium hearings.

Promised vote didn't come

Dayton said he had contact with two DFLers on the 15-member House Government Operations and Elections before Monday's meeting, and indicated that one DFLer promised to vote for the stadium but did not and that the other legislator never returned his phone call. He did not identify the two DFLers.

"I talked to one of them. He said he was going to be helpful, and wasn't," Dayton said.

As the panel's DFL members explained their votes, two who voted against the stadium plan declined to discuss any interaction they may have had with Dayton. Rep. Marion Greene, DFL-Minneapolis, declined to answer any questions regarding her vote against the stadium.

Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, also declined to discuss any contact he may have had with the governor. "I'm going to keep that private," said Simon.

"Look, this is one of those issues that totally defies the normal partisan descriptions," said Simon, saying that blaming DFLers was too simplistic. "You can't pin the outcome on [political] party, or geography, or gender or anything else."

Two other DFLers on the House panel who voted against the Vikings stadium plan, Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said Dayton and other supporters should not have been surprised by their votes, given their longtime opposition to a large public subsidy package for the project.

"In my campaign, [I] said I didn't support a Vikings stadium. The governor, in his campaign, said that he did. Doesn't mean we're not both on the same team," said Winkler. "We disagree on one issue. Was I clearly aware that if I could find a way to change my vote that people would like that? Sure, I mean, that's obvious."

Other key DFL figures were noticeably absent Monday. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak did not attend the meeting, even though the city planned to contribute $150 million to building the stadium and the project would be built in downtown Minneapolis.

Republicans opposed it, too

But DFLers and others said that the Vikings stadium plan failed -- not solely because of DFL opposition -- but because the House panel's Republican chair, Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, also was a vocal opponent and because the Vikings forced a vote even though the team should have known the project may not have had enough support.

"I know the governor is frustrated," Rybak said. "But I hope he also recognizes that ... a majority of the elected leadership of the city of Minneapolis took a huge political step making it the only body in the state of Minnesota that has a majority publicly supporting this stadium."

Rybak would not comment on whether city support would hold in 2013, an election year for him and the City Council, saying only that "we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Rybak said city leaders who favor the stadium plan will "keep working on it in this session," and he hopes that legislative support will build as lawmakers learned more about the proposal.

Staff writers Jim Ragsdale, Eric Roper and Rachel Stassen-Berger contributed to this report.

Mike Kaszuba • 651-925-5045

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