MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It is no secret that the Minnesota lawmakers sometimes hold raucous legislative sessions. But there’s something even many lawmakers didn’t know.
House GOP leaders installed a “mute button” to cut off their microphones if things got rowdy!
“When we found out about it, we were outraged,” said incoming Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman.
She says her Republican predecessor installed a mute button at the Speaker’s podium to silence opposition. That is why one of Hortman’s first official acts is to disable the mute button, which she says was used against unruly Democrats at least twice.
Is it true?
Legislators pointed us to May 22, 2016, a particularly contentious session. In a video from that night, angry Democrats object to rushing bills to a late night vote without having seen or read them.
When the multiple objections grow sharper and louder, Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt appears to use the master mute button in 2016 numerous times to silence all of the microphones simultaneously.
Mute buttons are rare in legislative bodies, but they are not unheard of — and Minnesota’s not the only state legislative body with a mute button. Democrats used it against Republicans in California and Rhode Island. Republicans also hit mute against Democrats in Ohio. In some states, the presiding officer must push a button so a lawmaker can speak.
In Minnesota, the microphones are “live” the moment lawmakers pick them up, and all the voices can be heard at once.
Despite its recent discovery, the origins of Minnesota’s mute button are shrouded in mystery. No one seems to know — or admit — who approved it.
The device was installed during the top to bottom State Capitol renovation, which included the House and Senate chambers. Internal emails between State Capitol project managers and Minnesota House staffers show the House requested the mute button and specified “three microphones will remain functional when mute is activated: Speaker, Chief Clerk, Majority Leader.”
At the time, Republicans controlled the chamber, including Republican Speaker Kurt Daudt and Majority Leader Joyce Peppin. The Chief Clerk of the House is non-partisan and elected by both parties.
Former Speaker Daudt is now the House Republican Minority Leader. He was not available for comment.
Hortman joked after the election about finding better uses for the device.
“We had investigated the alternative of turning it into a laugh track or an applause track, but we decided to do away with it completely,” Hortman said.
As of now, Minnesota’s House mute button is muted.
For the record, Republican leaders who control the Senate tell us there is no mute button in that chamber to silence debate.