ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Mark Dayton has rarely shown a gift for soaring rhetoric, but he’ll have to summon a little magic Wednesday for a State of the State speech that could be his last chance in a short legislative session to convince skeptical Minnesota Republicans they should unite with him.
The Democratic governor and Republicans who control the Legislature have repeatedly cited job creation as a common goal for the session. Dayton said Tuesday that he would urge a “bipartisan jobs package that combines their best ideas and mine,” and his advisers said the speech will revolve around a theme of shared stewardship and working together with an eye toward long-term objectives.
But with three weeks down, the session so far has been more notable for a quick return to the bad feelings that marked last year’s partisan meltdown over taxes and spending, and the subsequent government shutdown.
During the first week, Republicans fired one of Dayton’s Cabinet officials. Last week, Dayton vetoed four Republican bills that made numerous changes to the state’s civil legal system.
After the Cabinet dismissal, Dayton lashed Senate Republicans as “unfit to govern.” Upon vetoing the legal bills, he declared GOP lawmakers in general as “too extreme to lead.” As a result, several Republicans said, the governor has some convincing to do if cooperation with Republicans is his goal.
“I’m not sure that helps us in the long run, because how do we work together if we’re just going to be shouting things back and forth at each other?” said Rep. Rich Murray, R-Albert Lea, who met with Dayton privately Feb. 9.
The two discussed finding common ground on improving the job climate and the merits of working together, said Murray, who suggested that Dayton’s broadsides against the GOP are mostly political theater.
“I think he’s trying to appease the people on his side of the issue,” Murray said.
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, a Mazeppa Republican who is one of the most conservative members of the House, said the public and private sides of Dayton are different. The two met privately Jan. 23 to talk about the administration’s contract negotiations with several state employee unions.
“It was a very respectful conversation, and good,” Drazkowski said. “Then we see what happens publicly in these situations. It’s a stark contrast from what we saw in the meeting. It certainly doesn’t contribute to good will going forward.”
For his part, Dayton indicated a desire to use the State of the State speech — his second — to set a new tone.
“I think the State of the State is a time to be positive and talk about our shared values and commitments,” Dayton said. He said he would identify three main emphases — jobs, improving schools and reforming government. “I think we can find areas of broad agreement.”
Dayton’s advisers said he will push lawmakers to speed up consideration of bills for state-backed construction projects, including a new Vikings football stadium, and tout his proposal to give companies tax breaks for hiring veterans, recent college graduates and people drawing unemployment checks.
Dayton will argue that it’s not too late for a productive session, his aides said, and they said he will make only brief mention of his drive to raise state income taxes on the wealthy — a pillar of past major addresses and a flashpoint in his ongoing disagreement with Republicans.
Still, all of Dayton’s newly packaged jobs initiatives have so far met with varying degrees of skepticism from Republican lawmakers. Most have favored an approach to improving the climate for jobs that relies more upon reduction of business taxes and on eliminating regulations.
But several Republicans said it’s not too late for Dayton to foster a stronger sense of teamwork between the DFL and the GOP.
“We’ve got way too much business to get done here,” said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen. The Alexandria Republican was chief Senate sponsor of a bill last year to speed up the environmental permitting process, legislation that Dayton ultimately signed and has since been cited as a rare example of bipartisan cooperation at the Capitol.
Ingebrigtsen is sponsoring another bill with further changes along the same line this year, and said he’s seen early signals that officials from the Dayton administration want to work with him on it.
The window of time in which Dayton and Republicans could achieve a renewed sense of cooperation is relatively small: Already three weeks in, the regular legislative session must finish up by the end of April. Some lawmakers would like it to be even sooner.
Dayton cited the GOP approach on the civil legal system bills as an example of how not to do it. He made the same argument, he said, in a Tuesday breakfast meeting with GOP legislative leaders.
“I said this morning at breakfast, if I get four bills that we haven’t been consulted about at all coming at me simultaneously, then I assume there’s not really a desire to work things out to pass legislation into laws,” Dayton said. “But if they involve my administration and DFL legislators, in a collaborative way, if there’s a genuine desire to collaborate and make something happen — as opposed to just having a campaign slogan for the fall — then I think we can accomplish a great deal.”
PATRICK CONDON, Associated Press
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)