This week, the Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton take the first steps in a mediation process aimed at resolving the governor’s veto of the legislative budget. For those who are unfamiliar with how we got here, a recap:
After signing every budget bill, the governor used his line-item veto power to eliminate funding for the Legislature, effectively abolishing the legislative branch. Seen as a bargaining tactic by the governor to force the Legislature back into a special session, the maneuver was ruled by a Ramsey County court to be unconstitutional as it clearly violated the “separation of powers” clause of the Minnesota Constitution.
However, Dayton appealed this ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ordered the Legislature and the governor to enter mediation in order to resolve the issue among themselves.
As legislative leaders and the governor engage in talks, we ask them to keep in mind these three points:
First, the existence of the Legislature is nonnegotiable. The Supreme Court affirmed that Minnesota has “three distinct departments: legislative, executive, and judicial.” Each is co-equal and separate; one does not have more power than the others. The court recognized the governor’s ability to use a line-item veto, but, contrary to the governor’s political talking points, it was clear that his power “may not be used ‘to accomplish an unconstitutional result.’ ” It stated that due to his action, “Minnesotans may soon be deprived of their constitutional right to three independent branches of government.”
I will not support any result that compromises our Constitution and the Legislature’s right to exist co-equally — now and forever.
Second, the members of the Legislature who have submitted this article are not interested in allowing legislative funding to be used as a leverage point against us in negotiations. During the previous legislative session, the governor and the Legislature engaged equally in legislative discussions, resulting in the governor signing into law every budget bill. Suddenly, after the Legislature had completed its work and adjourned, Dayton decided to eliminate legislative funding in an attempt to reopen negotiations and force a special session.
As far as we are concerned, all negotiations took place during the legislative session. These issues can be reviewed in any future legislative session. However, threatening an unconstitutional action to extract further concessions in a special session is a tactic that we will not support.
Third, allowing any branch of government to threaten the very existence of another branch is a terrible precedent to establish. If a mediated settlement allows this to take place, it is possible to imagine, in a future Legislature, conservatives threatening to defund the judiciary until the courts overturn Doe vs. Gomez, the court case that forces Minnesota taxpayers to fund abortions.
This “negotiating tactic” has never been used before. If the mediated agreement allows this, the future of Minnesota politics will be much more partisan and toxic. That is not a political future we wish to experience.
I am willing to sacrifice my salary during a legislative shutdown to ensure that it does not occur.
As mediation begins, we stand firm with the Minnesota Supreme Court in our commitment to a government that functions “at a level sufficient to allow the exercise of the constitutional powers committed to each branch for the ‘security, benefit, and protection of the people, in whom all political power is inherent.’ ”
If the governor’s abolition of the Legislature is allowed to stand, the people’s voice will be silenced. We will not bless such an outcome with our votes.
Andrew Mathews, R-Milaca, is a member of the Minnesota Senate. This article is also submitted on behalf of the following legislators, all Republicans: Sen. Roger Chamberlain, Blaine; Sen. Dan Hall, Burnsville; Sen. Paul Utke, Park Rapids; Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, Glencoe; Rep. Jim Newberger, Becker; and Rep. Abigail Whelan, Ramsey.