On Tuesday, state representative Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, wrote in a headnote for Who should decide how much lawmakers get paid?, a Rochester Post Bulletin article shared with his Facebook friends:
Democrats brought the bill to put this constitutional amendment proposal on this year's ballot through the legislature when they had full throttled control in 2013. Not one ordinary Minnesotan asked for it. Not one. It was devised by those feckless lawmakers who, knowing that we continued to squash salary increase proposals in the legislature, wanted to find another way to get their pay raised.
That description--branding the measure partisan and those favoring it "feckless--is at odds with the history of the amendment's origins that state senator Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, shared at a Republican basic party operating unit (BPOU) gathering on Thursday.
In Friday's Brainerd Dispatch, Zach Kayser reports in Aitkin County Republicans gather for constitution-themed rally:
Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, talked of her work to get an amendment to the state constitution that would take away legislators' power of setting their own pay and replace it with an appointed citizen commission. She said she discovered the idea through her involvement with the National Foundation for Women Legislators, after a delegate from the state of Washington told her about it. It's a good solution to break the legislative gridlock around the issue, she said. The fear of political blowback effectively shuts down any hope of a frank discussion on legislator pay.
"We can't ever talk about it," she said. "We can't have an honest conversation, because it's the postcard in your next election that says 'You tried to raise your pay.'"
Ruud described the rules for appointing pay commission members, that were designed to help ensure not only that there wouldn't be a partisan bias on the new body, but that the legislature as a whole couldn't exert influence on it. Appointed by the governor and the state supreme court chief justice, the 16 members of the committee are split evenly between eight DFLers and eight Republicans. In order to be eligible to serve, potential appointees can't be current or former legislators or their spouses, lobbyists, legislative employees, judges, elected officials in the executive branch, or employees of the executive branch, she said.
"We tried to make it as tight as we possibly can, so that commision cannot be part of the Legislature, or be influenced by the Legislature," Ruud said. "It's a total citizen entity."
Voters have the opportunity to mark their ballots for or against the constitutional amendment in this year's general election.
Looking over the legislative history of the amendment, Bluestem finds that however "feckless" Draz might find Ruud and four DFLers in the Senate to be (the authors of the senate version of the bill for the amendment), his painting of the bill as partisan exposes some fascinating political gamesmanship.
House Republican strategy: All about the 2014 election
The House version of the bill, HF1823, still notes six Republican authors, including Bob Gunther, Fairmont; former representative Mike Beard, Shakopee; Nick Zerwas, Elk River; Mark Uglem, Elk River; Ron Hamilton, Mountain Lake; and Tony Cornish, Vernon Center. The original version of the House bill that was introduced on May 6, 2013 also included three other Republican authors: Pat Garofalo, Farmington, (name stricken on May 15--pg. 4724), Joyce Peppin, R-Maple Grove and former representative Andrea Kieffer, Woodbury (names stricken on May 17, pg. 5423).
The House Republicans first offered a minority report that would change the amendment to make it more difficult to raise lawmakers' salaries by requiring a 2/3rds vote for a raise, then after various floor challenges, voted against the measure as a caucus
It's got the feel of the creation of a talking point for the 2014 Minnesota House elections, especially when one looks at the vote on the bill in the Senate.
Senate bill and vote bipartisan
In the Senate, the bill passed with a 43-23 bipartisan vote, with Michelle Fischbach, Paynesville; Paul Gazelka, Nisswa; Mary Kiffmeyer, Big Lake; Warren Limmer, Maple Grove; Sean Nienow, Cambridge; Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson; and Ruud voting for it.
While it's fair to call Nienow feckless (who lost his party's endorsement last spring over concerns about his defaulting on a Small Business Administration loan and bankruptcy), we don't think Draz should call the rest of them Democrats or feckless. Indeed, Senator Newman ended up being the Republican nominee for Minnesota Attorney General.
Indeed, DFL Senators Ann Rest, New Hope; Katie Sieben, Newport; and Rod Skoe, Clearbrook, voted against the bill.
Bluestem recommends that readers learn more about the amendment, and vote accordingly. The Post Bulletin article is a good start, as is Minnesota Public Radio's Here's the Minnesota referendum you haven't heard about.
“This is the right direction to go,” said Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa. “The people are going to decide.”
Photo: Does Minnesota State Senator Carrie Ruud look feckless?
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