MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota lawmakers promised on opening day of the 2019 session to make it the most open, transparent one ever.
But five months later, the $48 billion budget deal was brokered by Minnesota’s three most powerful politicians after weeks of closed-door meetings — without public scrutiny.
It’s called “The Cone of Silence” around the Capitol — a reference to the 1960s television comedy “Get Smart.” But this year, the cone excluded high-ranking minority leaders of both parties.
“With regards to the transparency, I can’t change the culture of the legislature singlehandedly, or overnight,” said Rep. Melissa Hortman, (DFL) House Speaker.
Reporters were ejected from hallways near Republican offices. And signs were posted restricting normally-accessible areas of the Capitol. Democratic and Republican leaders had agreed: a public blackout was essential.
“There are places that you have to be vulnerable and say, ‘What if we did this?’ And you never want people to know that you asked that because your base would tear you apart,” said Sen. Paul Gazelka, (R) Majority Leader.
Minnesota was once a national leader of open government, and was among the first to pass laws for open meetings and freedom of information. Now, the National Center for Pubic Integrity gives Minnesota a grade “D-minus” for accountability.
Some lawmakers say it doesn’t need to be that way. Sen. John Marty wants to require all budget negotiations open to the public including the governor, majority leader and house speaker. All of them.
“And my point is, you know, if this really is a government of, by and for the people, it should be done in the public eye,” said Sen. John Marty, (DFL) Roseville.
Minnesota’s come a long way since the days of smoked-filled rooms. But even so, the Minnesota legislature is one of only four in the country to exempt itself from open government laws it requires for others.
The Minnesota Legislature is not scheduled to meet again until February of 2020.