With three weeks until Election Day, many at the Minnesota Capitol regarded the prospects slim for any kind of agreement.
It’s the season of partisan gridlock. And there had been months of failed attempts to pass a major bonding bill, one of the Legislature’s top goals for the year. Despite the odds, an overwhelming majority of lawmakers finally united to pass the nearly $1.9 billion public works infrastructure deal.
It was a victory for bipartisanship. But the long-delayed success story was not without political fireworks. Campaign trail messaging was front and center during the week’s bonding debate.
In campaign ads this year, many Republican lawmakers have hammered home their support for law enforcement and accused Democrats of wanting to defund the police.
Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, proposed an amendment Wednesday that would have made $12.5 million for the Upper Harbor Terminal — an outdoor performance venue in Minneapolis — contingent on the city agreeing to at least maintain its 2019 funding level for Minneapolis police.
“We have seen over the course of the last several months conversations relative to defunding the Minneapolis Police Department, and I find that … alarming,” Nash said.
Another suggestion would have played on many Democrats’ opposition to the controversial Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline replacement in northern Minnesota. Rep. Josh Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, aimed to block efforts to challenge the project’s approval by the Public Utilities Commission.
Both amendments were rejected in the DFL-controlled chamber.
The two parties also clashed over Gov. Tim Walz’s face mask mandate and his — and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey’s — response to the looting and arson in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, criticized his GOP colleagues, saying they want to “score political points” more than help Minneapolis and St. Paul. Long did not propose any late amendments, but he said the Legislature needs to act urgently to provide funding for communities damaged during the unrest.
Republicans, citing looming budget deficits, decried the amount of the borrowing package and the additional spending along with it. Democrats, meanwhile, described the measure as a jobs bill that would help people struggling with the economic fallout of COVID-19.
Unlike the lawmakers in the House, senators did not get a chance to tweak the final deal, which they considered the day after the House voted and adjourned “sine die,” meaning no set date to return.
That left the GOP majority in the Senate with two options: pass bill as-is or reject it.
“The House going sine die is one of the most irresponsible things I’ve seen in my political career,” said Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point. “No voice, no choice.”
But in the end, with projects distributed throughout legislative districts across the state, it passed. Just in time for the election.
Staff writer Torey Van Oot contributed to this report.