Governor, Leaders In Happy Talk Briefing

By Robb Jeffries, Forum News Service

It wasn’t exactly a kumbaya moment, but Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton wrapping his arm around Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt for a selfie set a tone of congenial cooperation at the start of a Tuesday, Feb. 13, media briefing ahead of the upcoming legislative session.

Between lawsuits filed against one another and firm convictions to clashing political ideologies, legislative leaders and the governor have a recent track record of disagreements playing out in the press — especially during the 2016 pre-session briefing, when Daudt grabbed Dayton’s arm during a heated exchange.

House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, and the other leaders said the political differences that play out in the media are not indicative of the personal relationships they share.

“The system is designed for there to be conflict,” Hortman said. “The idea is for the clash of ideas will result in the best compromise for Minnesotans. But people shouldn’t confuse our disagreements about policy with personal dislike for each other.”

During a budget showdown last year that built up to the Republican-led legislature suing Dayton over line-item vetoes, Daudt and the governor were often portrayed as adversaries in the media.

“I’m going to blame you guys a little bit,” Daudt said to reporters attending the briefing. “You like to cover conflict. That story sells on your news a little better than our selfie probably will.

“But the reality is we get along really well on a personal level. I’ve been with the governor on the fishing opener now, I don’t know how many years, and we have a great time. And we usually don’t talk about business while on the fishing boat.”

The comments came during the annual Forum News Service pre-session briefing with the governor and four legislative leaders answering questions from reporters.

The legislative session begins Feb. 20 and must end by May 21.

One issue may not be a factor in their relationship: Daudt downplayed any intention of running for governor, while not ruling it out. When one of the top legislative leaders is running for higher office, that often heightens political tension.

“I’m not actively pursuing it right now, but I’m not completely closing the door…” Daudt said of running for governor. “If we focus on (the work) instead of politics or elections, I think we can work together very well and have a good session.”

Dayton said the diversity of political views in the state means elected officials of different ideologies need to learn to work together.

“Minnesotans are very divided among themselves, and I think it’s very unrealistic to think it’s all going to be sweetness and harmony,” he said.

In the Senate, Minority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said he hopes the recently dismissed lawsuit regarding Michelle Fischbach holding the post of lieutenant governor and state senator doesn’t hamper his working relationship with Sen. Paul Gazelka, the Senate majority leader.

“I feel like we have a very, very good relationship,” Bakk said. “I did call him before a lawsuit was ever filed and said “you know, this is just business.’”

Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said both parties will need to pull together to work on the top legislative issues in the upcoming session.

“That doesn’t happen unless you have some semblance of respect for each other,” he said.