Minnesota lieutenant governor deliberately skips duties

Senate President Michelle Fischbach smiles at photographers in the gallery.
Senate President Michelle Fischbach smiles at photographers in the gallery prior to convening the Minnesota Senate as the 2018 legislative session got underway Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018, in St. Paul, Minn.
Jim Mone | AP

Minnesota's Republican lieutenant governor and state Sen. Michelle Fischbach missed a meeting Thursday of the state's Executive Council, at least the second official duty of the lieutenant governor she's skipped since taking on the dual roles.

Fischbach and the lieutenant governor's office have become political pawns in a power struggle at the Capitol since she ascended to become Gov. Mark Dayton's second-in-command in January. The longtime Republican lawmaker is fighting to keep her seat in the Senate — protecting the GOP's one-seat majority in the chamber — maintaining that she can hold and perform both jobs.

But Fischbach's chair was empty at the Thursday meeting of the Executive Council, a five-member panel of the state's top constitutional officers, including Dayton, which oversees the state's finances and guides responses to emergencies. In January, Fischbach sat in the crowd during a committee to discuss Capitol security but did not participate or preside over the meeting, as state law dictates.

Fischbach said she was busy in the Senate on Thursday, and said she's meeting her only constitutional obligation as lieutenant governor: "to stand in line in succession for the governor."

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"I had committee and all kinds of things that I had to do today here at the Legislature," she said after presiding over the Senate floor session as its president on Thursday.

Two months after automatically becoming lieutenant governor when Dayton appointed her predecessor to the U.S. Senate, Fischbach still has not taken its oath of office. Minnesota's constitution requires all elected officials to be formally sworn in before executing any of the duties of their jobs.

Fischbach was noncommittal about ever taking that oath.

Dayton and Fischbach have had little public interaction since a December lunch, weeks before she ascended to the job as his second-in-command. She has declined the lieutenant governor's larger salary, as well as additional security and office space that comes with the job.

Democrats have called Fischbach's dual roles a clear constitutional violation, though a Ramsey County judge dismissed a constituent's lawsuit last month, saying it was filed too early. Senate Democrats have said they'll appeal or file another legal challenge.

If she's forced out of the Senate, it would trigger a special election in her heavily Republican district in central Minnesota — and Fischbach has said she'll run in that contest.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk was mum on when they may head back to the courts. But he guessed that Fischbach's decision not to take the oath of office or perform the lieutenant governor's duties was part of a legal strategy.

"I think somehow she thinks that if she's not discharging the duties, she's not the lieutenant governor," he said. "I think they're pinning all their hopes on that."