Legislators, start moving to the center

We’re at the midpoint of the 2009 legislative session, and with the so-called "Easter break" next week, let’s hope that DFL leaders, Gov. Pawlenty and the GOP spend some serious time plotting meaningful strategies for what will happen when halftime is over.

Frankly, we’re concerned that there might be one of those "irresistible force/immovable object" collisions ahead, and Minnesota can’t afford to let that happen. Pawlenty is showing no sign of backing off his no-new-taxes stance, and the Democrats remain firmly committed to a significant increase in revenue — largely at the expense of Minnesota’s wealthiest residents.

We’d like to believe that some of the major players in St. Paul already are working on the end-game, that some meaningful face-saving compromises are in the works, ready to be unveiled at the proper time and place. The philosophical divide is too vast to be bridged by last-minute deal-brokering.

But we haven’t heard any inklings of such compromises. Instead, we’re already hearing rumblings that a special session is likely, that the tasks before the Legislature are too daunting to be finished by mid-May.

That’s scary. If a special session happens, it happens, but let’s keep it off the table until absolutely necessary. With six weeks to go, it’s far too early to be declaring an impasse.



Brede is good ambassador

This time, no one is going to be quibbling about Mayor Ardell Brede’s travel expenses.

In early May, Brede and his wife, Judy, will be part of a group of mayors who will spend a week in Saudi Arabia, meeting with government officials and business leaders. All costs will be paid by the Saudi government.

It appears that the Saudis didn’t select their visitors on an individual basis. Rather, the U.S. Conference of Mayors chose Brede for the traveling party.

His inclusion isn’t just a matter of good fortune. Say what you will about Rochester’s cheerleader-in-chief, but there’s no denying that he takes his "ambassador" role seriously and he is very good at it. He never misses an opportunity to spread the word about our city, and he’s been active in the Conference of Mayors since he took office in 2002.

This trip appears to be a reward for that involvement, and it will give Brede an opportunity to strengthen the connections between Saudi Arabia and Mayo Clinic, ties that can bring millions of dollars to the local economy — and in fact did precisely that in 2008.

And to anyone who might suggest that there’s something unseemly about letting the Saudis pick up the tab for this trip, our response is fairly straightforward: Some offers of hospitality must be graciously accepted, and this is one of those offers.



On the back burner again

It appears that the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage in Minnesota as a contract between a man and a woman, will survive for at least another year.

This act became law in 1997, and since then it has been the subject of numerous attempts to strengthen it via constitutional amendment, or to nullify it.

The 2009 legislative session has included four bills along those lines — including one authored by DFL Rep. Tina Liebling of Rochester, who supports gender-neutral marriage laws, and one by GOP Rep. Steve Drazkowski of Wabasha, who would amend the constitution to prevent same-sex unions. But because neither has passed policy committees in either the Senate or the House, they’re pretty much dead in the water.

In less turbulent times, we’d welcome a serious, lengthy discussion of this issue in St. Paul, but at the moment we’re somewhat relieved that this hot-button topic has been set aside. Education funding, long-term rail plans, health care reform and a host of other crucial matters demand our legislators’ full attention right now.

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