While state employees are returning to work after a 20-day layoff, the judge who heard arguments for funding programs during the shutdown said her job is done.
Former State Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz listened to pleas from social service agencies, bars and restaurants, car dealers and many others seeking to have their work be deemed as essential core government service. Blatz, who was appointed to serve as special master during the shutdown, was responsible for interpreting an earlier ruling by Ramsey County District Court Judge Kathleen Gearin on shutdown funding.
Her recommendations played a key role in shaping how Minnesotans experienced the shutdown. Blatz reflected on her time in the high-profile position during a conversation on Thursday with MPR's Tom Crann.
An edited transcript of the interview is below.
Tom Crann: You've been in the legislature yourself and on the Supreme Court. So you've seen a lot of state government at work. Was there anything you learned about the way state government works through this process?
Kathleen Blatz: I think that the thing that impressed me the most was the interconnectedness between government and the private sector. And by that what I'm referring to is all the licensing and permitting that's done and how if that piece is shut down in any form, that private business was just out there toiling away, it can be severely impacted.
Crann: Do you see that as a good thing, philosophically?
Blatz: Well they didn't engage me to give you that view, but since you asked I would just say that I think a lot of that should be looked at. I do understand there's some safety considerations from electrical to dredging and that sort of thing, or chemicals in water that needs to be looked at, but you really have to question the stoppage that can occur if a permit's been issued and then it's been suspended. Some of those things I think need to be looked at more carefully.
Crann: Were you surprised at all by any industries or people who came before you arguing that they were essential?
Blatz: It's how you want to look at it. If you've got a permitting and licensing function and you, for example, are a private business or a campground or something on that order, I mean nobody, well very few people would argue that, or even getting beer or something like that, necessarily would be a critical core function of government, but when you look at it from the business' point of view ... you could see why the petitioners were there. They were critically impacted, many of them, by not being able to continue on with their businesses.
So I never thought truly that the petitions were frivolous in any manner from any petitioner, but that wasn't my job that I was charged with under the judge's order. My job was to really try to pare down what money would be authorized.
I should add that Judge Gearin looked to the federal government because they also had a shutdown ... and there were orders issued. And what the Office of Management and Budget did on the federal level was to identify national security or benefit payments and really try to scale it down. And that was part of her consideration in what would continue, such as the prisons and nursing homes and regional treatment centers and that.
Crann: So would you go through this experience again, if asked?
Blatz: All my good energy would be that it would not happen again, truly. I'm always feeling as a person in Minnesota that it's a privilege to do any type of work involved with government or public service, so having been a judge and a legislator for about 27 years total, I took it as an honor and a privilege to be asked. I hope it never happens again, so I can't say yes I would look forward to doing it again, to be honest.
(Interview edited and transcribed by MPR reporter Madeleine Baran)