Minnesota behind closed doors (5×8 – 5/10/12)

Why we fail the integrity test, Denny Fitch’s luck and fate, the driverless car, Buster needs a home, and the view from the cab.


1) WHY WE FAIL THE INTEGRITY TEST


“We are making sure we have not had” enough people in the room to require a public meeting.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, quoted in the Star Tribune.

That’s a Minnesota senator seemingly proud in proclaiming that the spirit of the Minnesota Open Meeting Law was crushed as negotiations between legislators, Mayor R.T. Rybak, the Vikings, and other interested parties not named Minnesota Taxpayer took place in secrecy before a final bill was unveiled. How it came to be the final bill? Good question.

It was just two months ago that the Center for Public Integrity handed Minnesota a D+ because of this very situation, partly because the state doesn’t have a history of public corruption and hasn’t kept its clean-government laws up to date — like lowering the number of people in a room to require an open meeting, for example.


On the last day of June 2011, under Minnesota’s marble Capitol Rotunda, people holding signs and making speeches protested a looming government shutdown. But, most of the Capitol press corps were not listening. They were located one floor up, sitting in a quieter wing outside of the Governor’s office in folding campfire chairs, talking on cell phones and working on laptops. They were waiting to hear whether the Republican leadership and the Democratic Governor were going to compromise on a budget deal on the final day before state government functions were required to shut down.

Just hours before the midnight deadline, the two sides could not come to agreement and Gov. Mark Dayton refused to call a special session. On July 1st, 19,000 state employees were laid off, affecting licensing and regulatory services, highway construction and state parks and campgrounds.

Government observers say decision-making in the state is usually done in public and citizens have ample opportunity to have their voices heard. But last summer’s state government shutdown and budget deal provided a troubling example of how legislation gets passed with no public input at the end of a legislative session.

Weeks of closed-door negotiations between Republican legislative leaders and the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party led by Governor Dayton preceded the budget compromise on July 19th. Twenty days after the shutdown began, a special legislative session was called and the budget bills were signed into law.

By the time the government was open for business again, Minnesota’s citizens were only just beginning to discover the details contained in those budget agreements. In one news story after the budget deal concluded, Minnesota Public Radio’s Madeleine Baran reported, “Advocates for the disabled were surprised to find new policies for group homes included in the state budget bill passed last week — policies they said were never publicly discussed or debated by lawmakers, state officials, or the governor.” Reporters, legislators, advocates and critics point to this end-of-session, closed-door negotiation practice as a major flaw in state government accountability.

Maybe everybody got lucky and the legislation that emerged from the secret meetings early this morning was clean. But when the nice suits want the cone of silence lowered on what’s supposed to be an open process, there’s usually a reason.

It may well be that the stadium bill that the Senate will rubber stamp today was, in fact, the best possible deal the legislators and governor could make. We’ll never know because they don’t want us to.

2) DENNY FITCH’S LUCK, CHANCE, AND FATE

If I’d been able to produce a 5×8 for the last two days, Denny Fitch would’ve been on top of one of them. He died of brain cancer on Monday and although he was part of one of the greatest feats in the history of aviation, relatively few people recognized the name. He was one of the pilots of the DC-10 that crashed in Sioux City in 1989, after pilots reported they lost all hydraulics (including all of the controls to steer and control the plane) as it approached Minnesota airspace.

3) THE DRIVERLESS CAR

Nevada has licensed Google to test its prototype driverless car on public roads. Assuming the technology eventually becomes commercially viable, how would a car that drives itself change the way we drive, the BBC asks today.

The technology, the theory goes, eliminates the most likely part on a car to fail: You.


In the US, driver error – weaving out of the lane, drink driving and distracted driving, for example – is a factor in at least 60% of fatal crashes, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“Your automated car isn’t sitting around getting distracted, making a phone call, looking at something it shouldn’t be looking at or simply not keeping track of things,” says Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of MarketingLand.com, who took a two-minute ride in Google’s car on a closed course at a technology convention last year.

4) BUSTER NEEDS A HOME

Meet Buster, a dachshund mix who survived being hit by a car in West Virginia. Buster now walks with help from a wheelchair.

5) THE VIEW FROM THE CAB

Minneapolis cabbies apparently are spending long, boring hours waiting for a fare now that the city has expanded the number of taxis. (h/t: Ben Chorn)

They’re in the wrong city, apparently.

TODAY’S QUESTION

After resisting pressure for months to declare a position, President Obama now says he believes that same-sex couples should be able to get married. Today’s Question: How might President Obama’s stand on same-sex marriage affect your vote in November?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Moral and ethical arguments for environmentalism

Second hour: Issues in atheism.

Third hour: NPR’s Tom Gjelten.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Pakistani journalist and author Ahmed Rashid, speaking at the University of Minnesota about the fragile relationship between the U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan. You’ll hear comments and questions from former Vice President Walter Mondale as well.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Chris Faris earned seven Bronze Stars while serving with the Army’s elite Delta Force. His wife told USA Today that combat, emotional distance and all that time away nearly destroyed their marriage. Chris and Lisa Faris join Neal Conan.

Second hour: Bill Bradley served 18 years in the U.S. Senate, ran for president in 2000, and stepped away from public life after he lost. Now, as the country faces severe social, economic and fiscal problems, he poses a challenge in the form a new book, “We Can All Do Better.”

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - The Capitol crew and Tom Crann will look back at the just-concluded legislative session.

Thomas Jefferson’s garden included exotic veggies such as marrowfat peas, sea kale, salsify, chick peas, and arikara beans. Today, they’re still grown at his Virginia home of Monticello. NPR provides a visit to President Jefferson’s vegetable garden.

  • Jim Shapiro

    “We are making sure we have not had” enough people in the room to require a public meeting.

    -Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen

    I wish I could attribute the honorable senator’s arrogance to the fact that he’s a typical vote suppressing republican.

    But others in said room were not of his ilk.

    This democracy stuff is really confusing sometimes.

  • jon

    @#3 Driver less cars will be great. But I want a manual over ride, the kind that completely disconnects all the automatic controls and gives me control back.

    I look forward to being able to read a book on long car rides, or do other things.

    I’m terrified of the idea of “over the air updates” that will open my car to being cracked by unscrupulous individuals and drive me into a river.

    @#1 For those who want a stadium, they don’t care if it’s behind closed doors, just so long as the Vikings don’t take their ball and go to L.A.

    For those who oppose the financing scheme it’s just one more thing to look at and wonder who is going to get something out of this deal (My money is on the people who were in that room)

  • Jim G

    I noticed that the House Republican leadership voted against the conference bill. Why would they negotiate a compromise and then not vote for it?

  • Bob Collins

    They didn’t. Zellers, the Speaker, has been trying to kill the bill or stall it to death for weeks now. He also voted against it the other night. So did his underling, Matt Dean, the House Majority Leader. The minority leader, Thissen, voted for it on Monday night and voted for it last night.

  • MikeB

    Re: open meeting laws. It’s example #856 that MN has lost its connection to its past. What used to be a way to solve problems with the best intentions and possible results is now trumped by contempt of public service, even by those in office.

  • Jeff

    “Why would they negotiate a compromise and then not vote for it?”

    Because the most important thing to them is doing what they can to prevent Dayton from getting something that he supports passes.

  • Bob Collins

    Again, they didn’t negotiate a compromise.

    Lanning, Morrow, Hoppe, Rosen, Ingebrigtsen, and Reinart — the conference committee members, were all stadium backers from the start.

    The three House conferees all voted for the bill.

  • Jim B.

    Bob,

    Is it usual that all the members of the conference committee are those who voted for their respective versions of a bill?

  • Bob Collins

    Pretty much. It’s usually the bill authors — in this case Lanning and Rosen — and their sidekicks on the bill — in this case Morrow and Ingebrigtsen. And the chair of big committees through which it passes.

    Let’s just say there was no chance a King Baniaian or John Marty were going to get on this committee. :*) This part of the process, in particular, is pretty well gamed.

  • Jim B.

    Thanks, Bob. That seemed clear in this case but I wasn’t sure if that’s what usually happened. I’ll be interested to hear more about exactly what made it into the final bill. My sense so far is that a lot of the amendments that were added that improved the deal for the taxpayers were stripped out. Did Marty’s (weakened) amendment stay in?