It's been nearly two years since voters decided to put Republicans in charge of the Minnesota House and Senate, while at the same time electing a Democrat as governor.
The incoming class of GOP lawmakers — many of whom promised to hold the line on spending and taxes and also reduce the size of state government — is dealing with the big push for a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings.
Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said last year's session was a big success for reform-minded freshmen, but he thinks this year has been a step backwards. Chamberlain said the proposed $1 billion publicly subsidized Vikings stadium is at the top of his list of frustrations.
"It's little wonder that the citizens have little faith and trust in their elected officials sometimes when they see this happening. It's probably wise that they don't," Chamberlain said. "It is frustrating. I would hope that we would be focusing on other things. There are more important other things.
"The Vikings are important to keep here, and we want to do that. But there are other things, and this is frustrating."
Chamberlain said he wants a stadium, but he won't support the current bill. He would rather see taxpayers lend money to the team than pay outright for a big share of a new stadium.
Another first-termer, Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, said he also wants a stadium, but he's waiting to see what the financing plan looks like in the final bill. Dahms said he thinks a new Vikings stadium is good for the state of Minnesota. He said he'll let voters decide in November whether he was right.
"When I campaigned two years ago, I campaigned on the basis that I wanted to come here and do what I felt was best for the people of Minnesota," Dahms said. "I've been involved in politics long enough to know that you cannot possibly keep everybody happy. So, what you have to do is you have to do what you feel is best for the state of Minnesota."
Opinions are similarly mixed in the Minnesota House. Rep. Bruce Vogel, R-Willmar, said he is currently a "no" vote on the stadium. His main objection is the use of charitable gambling revenue to help fund the project. But Vogel said he could vote for the bill, if supporters come up with a new financing plan.
"Most people are in favor of a stadium. In my district, I think it's overwhelming that they're in support. But most of them do tell you, though, that they don't want to see any public dollars going towards it, and that's the key," Vogel said. "If we can do this without talking general tax fund dollars to build this stadium, for sure we'll have a deal put together."
Republican legislative leaders have repeatedly insisted that the passage of a stadium bill will take a strong bipartisan effort. Freshmen Democrats are also torn over the issue. Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, said she has been wavering on which way to vote. Moran said she likes the idea that a stadium bill would benefit thousands of construction workers.
"I am a strong advocate and supporter of the fact that we need to create jobs, and we need to bring jobs to our state and really get our economy moving," Moran said. "Families are hurting. They're hurting really, really bad, and we need to create those jobs."
As a St. Paul legislator, Moran said she doesn't want her city left out of the stadium bill. She said she would definitely vote for the stadium if the final version of the bill includes some relief for St. Paul's debt to the state for some key public facilities. If not, she said she might vote against it.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include a more specific characterization of Sen. Dahms' position on the stadium bill. Sen. Dahms provided us with more information after the original story was published.
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