This weekend, I wrote about the firestorm that erupted during last Friday’s conference committee hearing on the State government finance omnibus bill. I thought some harsh words were said during that meeting. Conference Committee Chairman Mike Parry just pushed that dispute to the next level with this letter to Gov. Dayton:

Dear Governor Dayton,

This morning, I received a letter from the State Commander of the American Legion that recognizes the legislature has openly and publicly defended our stance to hold veterans and the Department of Military Affairs harmless in our budget. The State Commander correctly recognized that the honorable men and women that serve in our armed forces have been a top priority with both the Senate and House for the entirety of this session.

The rhetoric being used by your administration completely disregards the legislature’s intent to provide the funding necessary to provide care to our veterans in our state’s veterans homes, to assist veterans in securing federal benefits and to maintain the readiness of our national guard. At the first hint of discretionary authority, you directed your staff to cut veterans and military affairs.

I grew up in a military household. I served eight years in the National Guard. I have been around the military and veterans my whole life and I know what leadership looks like. What you have done to the military and veterans community is not leadership.

The sound you hear is Gov. Dayton’s facade of nonpartisanship shattering. The State Commander of the American Legion isn’t an honorary title given to someone for being a swell guy. They’re picked because it’s known that they’ll be the veterans’ fiercest advocate.

Furthermore, the American Legion isn’t a partisan organization. They’ve shown their appreciation for those legislators who’ve been the veterans’ staunchest allies, regardless of political affiliation. Testiment to that principle is the praise Republican Dan Severson and Democrat Larry Haws received in 2007 for their work on the veterans bill.

When General/Commissioner Shellito said that “the legislature shouldn’t balance the budget on the backs of the veterans”, he ignited a firestorm, a firestorm that’s been intensifying since.

MMB Commissioner Showalter has been at the heart of this administration’s attack on the truth. He’s insisted that his numbers are right even though the plain language of the House and Senate bills have mocked him.

Keith Downey, Ray Vandeveer, Conference Committee Chairman Parry and House State Government Finances Committee Chairman Morrie Lanning have each taken turns lambasting Commissioner Showalter. Of the exchanges I transcribed, this might be the one that illustrates just how upset Chairman Parry got:

CHAIRMAN PARRY: General, I do admire your position. I do know that you are a soldier. And I know that when soldiers are given orders, they carry them out to the fullest and I admire you for doing that. My concern is, for all in here who are veterans, it’s time that this administration quits using veterans as a political pawn. I don’t think I have to say anymore. Stop it.

Chairman Parry wasn’t the only one to notice:

REP. DOWNEY: I’m looking at the House bill and maybe there’s some things in the Senate bill, and I know that the Commissioner has said that they’ve done some extrapolations and assumptions that revenues that they couldn’t realize so I appreciate them working off a different number but I’m looking at the House bill and we are expecting that the executive branch agencies would generate $94,875,000 in additional reductions that aren’t already factored into our other omnibus finance bills and yet you’re talking about a $90,000,000 reduction and yet we’ve just heard that from the Department of Veterans Affairs that $10,000,000 in reductions so we’re already exceeding the target so we’re talking about two of our relatively smallest agencies so we haven’t talked with Health and Human Services or the big monsters.

So, members, I just want to pull us back to the fact that these commissioners are relying on information that appears to be largely politically motivated, to somehow extrapolate from these bills to proscribe none of the things that are being communicated here. Nowhere in this bill is there a $90,000,000 reduction so if you’re getting your information from MMB or admin or wherever it comes from or the executive branch, I’m not sure how valuable this hearing is, Mr. Chair, if every single number is being presented and all of the draconian outcomes that are being represented aren’t even close to the provisions in this bill.

And if we’re going to continue with the hearing, I would like the testifiers to say that, upon the governor’s instruction, and direction from the office of management and budget, that we are going to make these cuts, that these are the Governor’s prerogatives or his priorities and not ours because they are nowhere’s in our bill. And we can continue to sit here and have the discussion with Mr. Showalter about how they were trying to come up with calculations and derrivations from our bill to support these numbers but members, I’m starting to tire of the discussions and having to constantly come back to the fact that it’s not our bill that’s driving these numbers, that it’s the Governor’s priorities.

I was stunned at how Commissioner Showalter tried manipulating the bills’ language. Time after time, Republicans exposed him as taking partisan positions. Time after time, Commissioner Showalter spoke about worst case scenarios that weren’t in the bill. In one instance, Commissioner Showalter hinted that the workforce reductions that would happen if Keith Downey’s 15 by 15 bill passed would all happen in the first year of the legislation being enacted.

There’s a reason why the legislation is called 15 by 15. It requires a 15 percent reduction in the state workforce by 2015. The last I looked, 2015 is more than 12 months away.

Commissioners Showalter and Shellito got exposed as partisans working for Gov. Dayton’s political agenda. When Commissioner Shellito said that “the legislature shouldn’t balance the budget on the backs of the military”, he crossed a bright, unmistakeable line.

Between the two of them, they said things that forced the American Legion into the fight. Like I said earlier, politicians picking fights with the American Legion leads to predictable outcomes. That outcome won’t be good for partisan politicians.

UPDATE: Apparently, Gov. Dayton didn’t like getting called on playing partisan tricks with the military. According to this PIM article, Gov. Dayton got more than a little heated:

The GOP State Government and Veterans Committee Chairs, Sen. Mike Parry and Rep. Morrie Lanning, had a closed-door meeting with Gov. Mark Dayton Monday afternoon after tensions escalated over the division’s budget bills late last week. The meeting was short and unfriendly, Parry said afterward. “Today I saw a very angry governor.”

The row started last week after Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Shellito said in a Star Tribune article that the lack of specificity in the Republican budgets could have unwanted consequences, including the closure of a veterans home and higher burial fees for veterans.

Republicans held a press conference Friday, saying Dayton and his administration were misleading the state and using veterans as political pawns. They maintained that they have preserved funding for veterans in their budget bills.

Dayton officials called the meeting today to respond. Afterward, Lanning described the meeting as more of a lecture and walked away. Parry returned to speak to the press, and said he had hoped to keep emotions out of the budget negotiations. He admitted, however, that Dayton seemed primarily upset by a letter the committee chair sent him earlier on Monday. In the letter, Parry questioned Dayton’s leadership style.

Gov. Dayton apparently didn’t like getting exposed as playing political games with military bills. Gov. Dayton’s temper tantrum that Chairman Lanning spoke to isn’t surprising considering the type of life of privilege Gov. Dayton has led.

I can’t imagine he’s dealt with that type of harsh criticism that often in his life.

When he was a senator, Gov. Dayton got criticized by Republicans but the Strib and other media allies kept saying nice things about him. Also, he never got important enough to sit on a conference committee, much less chair one.

Now he’s the guy and his administration is getting criticized by the American Legion for using veterans as political pawns. I can’t imagine Gov. Dayton taking that well.

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3 Responses to “Conference Committee Fight Intensifies”

  • M Hanson says:

    No issue with supporting the men and women who served and are serving.
    We could use a few less generals as both Gates and Rummy have tried to do. I respect the military but they like all of us make mistakes. Enough of the manlove towards the military.

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