Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Minnesota Elections: A Housecleaning in More Ways Than One...

By Jim Heffernan

Minnesota State Capitol–St. Paul Minnesota
A few thoughts on the election in Minnesota…

The legislature has changed hands, with Republicans gaining majorities in both the state House and Senate for the first time since, let’s see, maybe since Eve said to Adam, “Hey, Adam honey, come over here and try this apple.” Something like that.

But we all vote (well, we don’t all vote, but a lot of us do) and hope our candidates will win (not all of them do, but some of them do) and do what we want them to do when the Legislature convenes in January. Election over; let’s get on with our lives and let the politicians get on with theirs.

But it’s never over for winners of seats in the Minnesota Legislature. Republicans, who have now gained control of both houses, and Democrats, who have had power for so long, resent one another, not to say dislike one another. Why not say it – sometimes they truly dislike one another.

I have spent time at the Minnesota capitol during a legislative session, and here is what I experienced: Democrats take you aside and complain about Republicans and Republicans take you aside and complain about Democrats. Talk about policy issues that might, just might, benefit the state and its people is secondary.

What follows is one reason why they so resent one another -- that almost never gets reported.

When a party has a majority in either house, or, as often happens, in both houses, that party’s leaders and members have their pick of offices in the capitol. Members of the party in power choose offices closest to the chambers of the House and Senate, and also the largest offices with the best views of the capitol grounds, the towers of St. Paul in the background.

Lawmakers in the majority get to choose these nice offices, personalizing them with photographs (family scenes, poses with high officials like a president) and art on the walls, knick-knacks on their desks and favorite books. Comfortable chairs are positioned for cozy conferences with constituents or school kids who are brought there for lessons in Democracy. There was a time – I don’t know if it’s still the case – that some offices had liquor cabinets where lawmakers of the same political persuasion would gather, say, at the end of the day (or after breakfast, for that matter) for a nip of scotch, a sip of vodka, or even a humble beer.

These nice offices, close to the House or Senate chambers, become a home away from home for the lawmakers, a comfort zone, a place to reflect on how accomplished and important they are, how far they’ve come in life, and where they can have thoughts like, if only gramps and gramma could see me now. Oh, and sometimes they conduct the state’s business, which most see as their party’s business.

A person can get attached to such surroundings, even enjoying a feeling of ownership, although everybody knows the offices are owned by the state, or, as they say, “we the people.”

So, when we the people speak and say we want the OTHER political party to run things, guess what? Members of the victorious political party tell the movers to vacate the nice offices of the newly minted minority – the desks, the pictures, the knick-knacks, the opposing lawmakers themselves, who are so comfortably ensconced – and gather their stuff from a much less desirable office in the basement, or even a nearby building and move into the rooms with a view.

The lawmakers who survived the election but whose party is no longer in power get to move into the dingy basement offices formerly occupied by some of the people who will be moving into their nice offices.

That’s the way it works.

So if you ever talk quietly with a lawmaker and he or she rails against lawmakers of the other party, you’ll know one reason why they resent each other so much. It’s not fun to be kicked out of your home away from home.

And it’s coming to Minnesota in January.


Jon Leppala said...

Changes in North Eastern Minnesota, about time! 1947 was a while back, since we the people had
representatives that promote the true American Spirit of keeping the rewards of hard work. Yes, some deserve a hand up, but never a hand out.

Jim Heffernan said...

Hi, Jon..Don't recall taking political sides in that column but glad you read it. -- Jim