Jensen: GOP leaders use principles as bargaining chips in 11th-hour deals

Republicans have played into the Democrats’ hands and let them assault our principles in backroom deals for too long.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka talks with Gov. Tim Walz, House Speaker Melissa Hortman (left) and Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent (far left). (Minnesota Senate/Facebook)

It is silly season in St. Paul.

It’s that time of year when Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka goes behind closed doors with Gov. Tim Walz and Speaker Melissa Hortman to make deals to clear the docket.

Why and how does this happen?

It’s simple, our elected officials can’t get their work done on time. The self-imposed time crunch puts our baseline principles on the table to be bargained with and traded for behind closed doors rather than debated and defended on the floor of the legislature.

This week, as he prepares for closed-door bargaining with the Democrats, Gazelka has indicated some critical issues are in play. One key priority, he says, is “getting a budget done that doesn’t raise taxes.” The state is sitting on billions in surplus while hardworking Minnesotans are still trying to recover from Gov. Walz’s onerous lockdowns. That seems like the least our Republican leaders should be doing.

In addition to no new taxes, Gazelka is calling for an end to the governor’s executive powers. His opening position also includes removing any penalties against businesses that violated the governor’s executive orders, requiring voter ID, implementing provisional ballots, and licensing abortion facilities. The last line in the sand is a two-year delay on the implementation of California’s clean car emission standards.

Like many other Republicans, these are all issues I care about. The positions are not the problem, it is the process.

Your current Republican leadership is yet again falling into the same trap of making a deal with the Democrats in the 11th hour. Gazelka is using these important issues as a false flag. He brings them to the table not as principles to stand for, but as bargaining chips to use in last-minute backroom deals.

I call on Gazelka to stand firm on the priorities he has brought forward. These critical issues are a minimum of what we will accept. Anything less is complacent business as usual at a time when our state cannot let political gamesmanship win the day.

Unfortunately, this backroom bargaining process that usually ends in disappointing compromise for Republicans is nothing new. I couldn’t bear to watch this play out each session when I was in the Minnesota Senate, and I can’t bear to see it happen now.

I’ve had enough, and I am running for governor to heal this broken process.

We deserve better as a party and state than playing the Democrats’ game of give and take. Especially when that game is hidden from the public view where our elected officials can’t be held accountable for their radical positions.

My prescription for our party is to address issues head on. When I was in the Senate, I was a leader who was able to work with my colleagues to pass and implement the most significant health insurance reform in the last 15-20 years. It focused on lower costs, better options, and increased access for patients across Minnesota. The issue was the star, and if a Democrat or Republican wanted to vote against the plan they did so in open session in front of their colleagues and all Minnesotans. By shining a light on the issue and making legislators put their vote in full view, it passed with bipartisan support. This is the kind of legislative process we should expect — not the current dysfunctional way of governing.

We must end this perpetual cycle of 11th-hour, closed-door dealing. Republicans have played into the Democrats’ hands and let them assault our principles in backroom deals for too long. This is not how our legislative branch should make law and it is not how the Republican Party should defend its platform.

I hope Gazelka can hold the line and keep his promises. Anything less is unacceptable.