The one thing that Vikings Stadium proponents and opponents in the Legislature should be able to agree on: The debate was very bad for all of their reputations.
Why? Because there was an audience. While the masses usually are mostly blind to what happens in legislative floor debates, a sizeable audience of casually involved Minnesotans were engaged enough in the high profile stadium issue to seek out legislative coverage on TV or the Internet. My sense is that they were appalled.
Legislators didn’t really act much worse during the Vikings Stadium debate than they typically do at the end of any session. It’s just that they usually behave badly in relative anonymity. Usually, the only witnesses are jaded Capitol insiders, who can no longer be shocked. Capitol dwellers – legislators, lobbyists, reporters and staff – take it for granted that legislators are breathtakingly rude and disrespectful to each other. Every day, they see legislators use shallow “if she is for it, then I MUST be against it” policy logic. To Capitol dwellers, self-serving partisan pranks are de rigueur.
But this is news to ordinary Minnesotans. They hear about it, but they don’t often see it.
“I hardly ever watch the Legislature, but I tuned in for some of the big stadium debate…,” friends have been telling me. Then their eyes bug out, and their mouths gape, as if they had just caught a glimpse of Lobster Boy and the Elephant Man at the carnival’s side show. “Oh my. I had NO idea.”
This reaction came regardless of how the individual felt about the outcome of the Vikings Stadium debate. In a way, winners still felt like losers.
Lobster Boy indeed. Half-baked Plan Z’s were sprung in the closing hours of a decade long debate. The House’s top “leader” declared he was voting against the bill, but hoped it would pass. Reckless amendment after reckless amendment were added, making the bill read like the contents of an elementary school Suggestion Box, instead of the product of a decade’s worth of expert study and analysis.
In the midst of a blinding blizzard of amendments, freshman Rep. John Kriesel plaintively held up a sign from the House floor reading “Help!” From Baudette to Blooming Prairie, ordinary Minnesotans’ on both sides of the issue were collectively nodding at the sentiment.
A recent SurveyUSA poll found that only one of five (21%) Minnesotans approves of the job the Legislature is doing. That number might be even smaller among those who watched a chunk of the Vikings Stadium debate. Incidentally, Governor Dayton’s approval rating (56%) is about three times higher than the Legislature’s, despite the fact that he was in the center of the bruising stadium debate. Demeanor probably explains some of this difference. Dayton wasn’t perfect, but he wasn’t Lobster Boy.
When Dorothy of Kansas was shocked by what she found behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain, she declared “you’re a very bad man.” After Minnesotans pulled back the curtain of public indifference that usually covers up St. Paul’s secrets, they may be feeling the same way.
But most of the legislators aren’t bad people. It’s just that powerful special interests, partisan bullies and fatigue don’t bring out the best in them. Sometimes good people can be bad leaders. As the Wizard of Oz sheepishly responded in his defense, “Oh no, my dear. I’m a very good man. I’m just a very bad wizard.”
Note: This post was also featured as part of the “Best of the Blogs” feature in Politics in Minnesota’s Morning Report.