Editor's note: Last week, the Independent offered an early-season political primer from the perspective of two local DFL candidates. Today, area Republicans have their say.
MARSHALL - There was plenty of blame to share for the 2011 state government shutdown and, indeed, many Republicans and Democrats took on their share of responsibility for the breakdown in budget negotiations resulting from the Legislature's and Gov. Mark Dayton's inability to compromise on how best to plug a $5 billion hole.
The partisan fingerpointing didn't stop, however, after that compromise was reached, and Democrats will likely use the shutdown on the campaign trail this summer as a prime example of how House and Senate leaders in the GOP, in their eyes, have failed to get things done since taking over in St. Paul.
Republicans are ready for it.
"In general, I think it's something the Democrats want to bring up," said Republican Chris Swedzinski of Ghent, who is seeking a second term in office in the newly-redrawn House District 16A. "It's one of the most unfortunate things in politics - you see folks wanting to blame other people. I don't go out of my way to blame Governor (Mark) Dayton for everything I believe is wrong. I think it's a systematic issue in campaigns; Obama's continuing to blame Bush for our problems and the things he inherited across the country."
Sen. Gary Dahms of Redwood Falls, also seeking his second term in District 16, is going on the assumption the shutdown will indeed be a topic up on the campaign trail. He said if the Democrats want to bring it up, it's their choice to do so.
"I think what is happening is they're still trying to convince people they are either not at fault or they are putting the majority of fault on Republicans," he said. "If they feel they can sell that, that's up to them. I think we need to be talking about more serious issues. I don't take the shutdown lightly, I wish it hadn't happened, but that's history. Being on the inside, I see it a lot different than how it's being presented by the other party."
The media, the two say, have played a big role in highlighting political fingerpointing during the last couple of years, portraying the Capitol more as a breeding ground for conflict than a place where things get done.
"If the media shows conflict, they sell more papers, or on the news, they get more viewers," Swedzinski said. "A lot of the areas we focus on are areas where we work together, and I think if people saw that more, their attitudes toward politicians would be more pleasant. There's always gonna be a couple bad apples that spoil the bush and make it a point to be a burr under the saddle, whether they're Democrats or Republicans."
Dahms said the political blame game is played on many other issues, not just during and after a shutdown.
Swedzinski's and Dahms' challengers, for all intents and purposes, are new to the political scene (SD 16 candidate Ted Suss served in the Legislature from 1973-76), a fact that could spark some local fingerpointing. But the pair of Republican incumbents, while they won't ignore what did or didn't happen or the detrimental effects of the shutdown, would just as soon avoid talking about something that happened a year ago.
Both Swedzinski and Dahms said the Legislature needs to look ahead and continue to focus on jobs and the economy. Republicans, Swedzinski said, have been working on improving the job climate in Minnesota while holding the line on taxes.
"At the end of the day, this campaign will be about jobs and the economy," he said. "Republicans stood firm on taxes, and I believe it was a calculated decision by some to put up a strong wall against taxes. I would've been dishonest with my constituents if I did not stand firm with that."
Dahms said jobs are vital to stabilizing the state's economy. Minnesota's low unemployment rate compared to the rest of the nation notwithstanding, he said the state still has a long way to go, and increasing jobs is the best way to do it.
"In order to increase jobs, we've got to get the folks offering them to feel more confident in the economy in Minnesota so they will be more willing to start expanding," Dahms said. "We also need to make sure we get job creators from other states taking a look at Minnesota. In order to do that we have to have a Legislature that is friendly to the job creators, because they could just as well go to another state."