For a lesson in the benefits of bipartisanship, look no further than the bonding package that finally sailed through the Minnesota House and Senate last week.
Desperately needed, both as a way to make improvements across the state and as an economic stimulus during a pandemic-induced recession, the $1.9 billion proposal nevertheless remained mired in gridlock for months. Democrats and Republicans failed to reach agreement before the regular legislative session ended in May. Two more attempts in successive special sessions failed on party line votes.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt had laid down an unbridgeable condition in May: No GOP support for bonding until Gov. Tim Walz gave up the emergency powers being employed to fight COVID-19 by nearly every U.S. governor. There was no logical connection between the two proposals, just basic political brinkmanship, while the state lost precious time.
So what changed in October? According to House Speaker Melissa Hortman, a few things. With only weeks until Election Day, pressure had been building among advocacy groups across the spectrum, including the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, representing cities across the state, including in GOP strongholds.
"We knew there were Republicans who wanted some of these projects in their districts and elsewhere," Hortman told an editorial writer. "They know the value of these bonding bills."
Hortman continued to work patiently with all sides, looking for ways to address concerns and achieve compromise. She credits advance work done by capital investment chairs and ranking minority members in both bodies, the commitment in the House to vetting projects and making sure lawmakers got out to see the level of need in communities for themselves.
Hortman also credits her counterpart in the Senate, Majority Leader Paul Gazelka. Behind the scenes the two kept lines of communication open, resisted backing one another into corners and left a path open for compromise. The House and Senate versions were never that far apart. They were for roughly the same amount, and both featured a mix of building projects and some tax breaks.
Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, was among those who built support among his caucus. "The people of Minnesota are looking to us," Urdahl said. "They want us to do what they sent us here to do. And that was to take care of this state, and that is what a bonding bill does."
Hortman needed six Republicans to break the stalemate. In the end, she got 25. When it got to the Senate, the bill was passed by an overwhelming 64 to 3. The bill infuses money into bus rapid transit, dam and bridge upgrades, badly needed improvements to aging infrastructure in the state's two university systems and gives a tax break to farmers and small businesses. There's more, much more. Minnesotans will see the results for years to come.
As congressional leaders wrestle with their own brinkmanship and delays on a needed second stimulus package, they may want to look at Minnesota. Compromise and bipartisanship are not easy. They require diligence, a measure of goodwill and a commitment to the greater good.