They came with fishing poles and seed caps and dragged along some giant puppets and a couple little kids dressed as bumblebees for fun. Unlike many demonstrations at the governor's residence, however, the mood music for the morning was positive and encouraging rather than hostile.
Leave it to the Pollinate Minnesota to recognize that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
In this case, the hundred or so people from a coalition of environmental groups were trying to attract the attention of the state's top fly, Gov. Mark Dayton, who came outside for a chat as soon as the protesters started gathering on his doorstep.
They knew they had a sympathetic ear in Dayton, who had pushed hard for one of his top priorities, a mandatory buffer zone around rivers and streams to better protect them from agriculture runoff. His compromised victory on the issue however (one group called it "lipstick on a pig") had put him between a rock and a hardwood. The modest success made it nearly impossible for Dayton to veto the bill, which most environmentalists say sets the state back years, even decades, in other areas.
"It's terrible in terms of cuts, "said Paul Sobocinski, a farmer from Wabasso. "In my 20 years going to the Legislature it's the worst I've ever seen. You have a budget surplus and yet you're shorting the PCA [Minnesota Pollution Control Agency]? How ridiculous."
When the session ended and the dust settled, environmental activists discovered a deep ledger of bills designed to promote industry over land and water, finance over forests. Most of them were agreed to by a handful of people in the infamous "cone of silence" in the final days of the session, or disguised in linguistic legerdemain at the bottom of the thick bill passed out in the waning seconds of the session.
Bobby King, policy program director from the Land Stewardship Project, cited as an example the motion that eliminated the Pollution Control Agency's 48-year-old Citizens' Board, seen by this crowd as one of the few venues where they can raise their voices on environmental matters.
No one recalls the elimination of the board ever being discussed in the Legislature, and the board itself was never mentioned in the bill. Instead, it was among a batch of repeals that simply cited the numbers of the bill to be repealed. Activists saw the numbers only minutes before the vote, and didn't have time to look any of them up.
"I think it's horrible to see the Citizens Board provisions added in the last minute," said King.
During the rally, people shouted "veto, veto," while expressing support for Dayton's attention to the environment.
"We're your army," someone yelled.
Erin Rupp of the Bee Pollinators of Minnesota wore a bee bonnet as she talked to the governor. "Minnesota, historically, has been a wonderful place to be a bee," she said. But destruction of native plants has decimated the bee population in recent years, and "that is not sustainable."
Dayton listened to several of the demonstrators and cautioned against too much optimism.
"This is going to be a tough one," he said. The changes "didn't get in there by accident, and the reason they are in there is the same reason it's hard to get them out of there. They put these provisions in there in the dark of the night because they knew they wouldn't survive in the light of day."
Environmental leaders pushed demonstrators to tell friends about the destructive bill and to flood Dayton's Facebook page with pleas.
Other actions deemed regressive by the demonstrators was a measure to exempt sulfide mining from solid waste rules that protect water quality and wild rice beds, and making dedicated funds for cleanup of landfills available for other purposes.
Perhaps the most Orwellian act in the whole omnibus bill was repeal of a law from last session meant to protect bees. Plants grown with pesticides that are blamed by scientists for the decline of bees worldwide can now be labeled "pollinator friendly."
Paula Maccabee of WaterLegacy said the process of secret meetings over the final days favored corporate lobbyists. "Special interests won over democracy," she said. "It's not just that it wasn't a popular democracy, it wasn't even a representative democracy."
I'm guessing the people who engineered the repeal of the bee protection law would argue that the way the session ended would have to be called "democracy friendly." For them, it was no doubt bank account friendly.
Sobocinski was concerned that lobbying by agriculture industries would be interpreted as farmers being opposed to conservation measures, but he sympathized with Dayton's position that a veto of the bill would also hold up money designated to farming.
"I want some of that ag piece too, but not at the expense of clean water," said Sobocinski. "It makes farmers look like we don't care."
Another farmer who took a break from daily chores to see Dayton was Loretta Jaus, of Gibbon.
"Smell her hair, she just came from the dairy barn," said Sobocinski.
"Minnesota taxpayers have always made it clear that clean water and the environment is a priority," said Jaus. "Rural people want to make sure the public is included in decisionmaking. That's why the citizens' advisory board was created; it was a key opportunity for people like me to get our voices heard.
"I know the heart of rural America," Jaus said.
Dayton spoke to that heart shortly before the deadline Saturday afternoon and vetoed the bill.