Denial, bargaining, then acceptance

The state shutdown, now finally coming to a close, has been a painful and frustrating process.

Gov. Mark Dayton and Republicans in the state Legislature have finally agreed on a way to end the state shutdown. Earlier this week House Speaker Kurt Zellers called the pending budget agreements âÄúthe essence of compromise.âÄù While it is undoubtedly good news that a special session has finally been  called and the shutdown seems to be coming to an end, to call any move the state government has made in the past six months âÄúthe essence of compromiseâÄù seems a bit absurd.

Less than 24 hours before the announcement of a special session, key GOP votes were reported as uncertain at best. Assistant Senate Majority leader David Thompson, R-Lakeville, told the Star Tribune he has concerns about the bills and isnâÄôt sure how he will vote. Additionally, DFL senators have refused to vote on the bills unless Republicans meet even steeper demands, since they claim to have been frozen out of budget talks thus far.
That legislators were wavering even at this late stage shows how unconcerned they are with the welfare of Minnesotans. To keep the state shut down and 22,000 people laid off over relatively minor quibbles is unacceptable.

Throughout the process, the Republicans in the legislature have not bargained in good faith. In any negotiation, both sides must be willing to give ground from their initial positions. Each side should not expect to get everything it wants and must be willing to accept things that it doesnâÄôt approve of âÄî this is the fundamental basis of compromise.

Being elected to a single term is not a mandate to enact major structural changes. Incrementalism is the nature of government progress. The failure of the Republicans to abide by this imperfect, yet steady process is what eventually grinded the governmentâÄôs wheels to a halt.
Attempts to blame this on the governor are misguided. Gov. Dayton has shown the willingness to accept proposals he does not agree with in order to end the shutdown. He told the GOP this in a letter he wrote to Republican leaders, saying, âÄúI am willing to agree to something I do not agree with âĦ in order to spare our citizens further damage.âÄù

But it takes two sides to compromise. Minnesotans elected a GOP legislature and a Democratic governor âÄî they donâÄôt want one-party rule or politicians to pursue an ideological agenda to the point where they become intractable. Voters want compromise and cooperation.
However, any compromise has been bitter at best. The battles at the capitol have been a stain on the reputation of Minnesota, a state that has historically been a model of cooperative and competent government. Furthermore, the lack of compromise comes at the expense of 22,000 state government workers currently out of a job, projects that will be forced into the next year, and unknown amounts of lost state revenue. The citizens of Minnesota have suffered through the longest state government shutdown in recent history because of their elected officialsâÄô unwillingness to come together and do what they were elected to do.

Minnesota voters should recognize the failures of our politicians during the shutdown and draw a few lessons to remember in 2012 and beyond. If voters elect rigid ideologues, they should expect stubbornness and inflexibility, which leads to things like a state shutting down. Frequently, a politicianâÄôs reasonableness, ability to operate honestly in good faith, and willingness to compromise are more valuable qualities than party affiliation or a laundry list of policy stances. Voters should look for politicians who can put the well-being of the people of Minnesota ahead of their own ideological agenda.

Hopefully, this shameful period in our political history is over and politicians will start making government work for the people, and not
themselves.