Editorial Roundup: Bipartisanship isn’t dead

Published 8:50 pm Friday, September 22, 2023

It’s understandable that so many are so cynical not just about politics, but governance. After all, hard-line Republicans on Capitol Hill — who won’t work with ostensibly more moderate members of their own party, let alone Democrats — are careening the country toward an unwanted, unnecessary government shutdown.

But far from Washington, politics, and thus governance, can be more productive. Including in St. Paul, where in 2023 legislators acted on a more bipartisan basis than many Minnesotans may realize.

That’s one of the conclusions from a recently released report, “The State of Bipartisanship,” from Majority in the Middle, a nonprofit organization that says it is “giving those in the political middle a place to gather outside the extremes, elevating voices of people who are modeling behavior we want to see, and working on ways to bring a little more civility and a little less partisanship to our politics.”

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Majority in the Middle readily admits that bipartisanship is “difficult to measure, as it’s highly qualitative, subjective, and relationship-based.” So the organization chose a more measurable legislative metric: bill authorship.

Regarding the report, “The most important thing to know is not all politics is divisive,” Shannon Watson, founder and executive director of the organization, told an editorial writer. “The story that we frequently hear is this red-blue narrative about legislators who can’t get along and being so divided all the time.”

The 113-page report goes into granular detail, per House and Senate committee, about bill authorship. Among the areas that show more bipartisanship are the Senate Transportation Committee, where 49% of bills heard this year were from minority party chief authors, and the 44% in the House Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee. The Senate committee with the most bipartisan bills — defined as at least one author from each party — was Human Services, with 73%. In the House, it was again the Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee, with 56%.

The chair of the Senate Human Services Committee, Champlin DFLer John A. Hoffman, told an editorial writer that former U.S. Rep. Jim Ramstad — notably, a Republican — was among those who inspired his spirit of bipartisanship, and that politics should not enter into the delivery of human services. During this year’s legislative session, 73% of the bills heard in committee had bipartisan authors.

The “ten-second narrative you see on TV of the national stuff” reflects an environment where “nobody’s getting along,” Hoffman said. But Hoffman said his experience suggests otherwise.

And yet while there are impressive efforts, far more needs to be done in governing Minnesota on a more bipartisan basis. And some of that starts with politics, with more legislators leading their re-election efforts by touting their ability and willingness to work across the aisle.

Watson said she met with many legislators last session, and “there were a lot of people behind closed doors who would say, ‘I do try to work in a bipartisan manner, but I don’t do it publicly because I will get a primary — guaranteed.’” Overall, Watson concluded, “there are very few legislators right now who fear losing to someone across the other side of the aisle (more than) they fear a primary challenge.”

That’s a sad reflection on both parties. And so too are the large omnibus bills passed at the end of the session, which are another major barrier to bipartisanship. It’s a bad way to govern, and, Watson added, legislators “are not as likely to vote for an omnibus bill based on the good things that are in it; they’re more likely to not vote for it based on the ‘bad things’ that are in it.”

In a true statement that shouldn’t have to be said, the report reminds why elected officials should seek bipartisan governance: “Any bipartisanship, no matter how small, is still important. Why? Every legislator, even those who run unopposed, have people in their district who didn’t vote for them. Representing all the citizens in the district, not just the ones who voted for them, is their duty.”

The “state” in the “The State of Bipartisanship” suggests a current condition. Elected officials and the public should strive to have it refer to a permanent one — like “The State of Hockey.” Minnesotans deserve no less.

— Minneapolis Star Tribune, Sept. 19

About Editorial Roundup

Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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