Dayton, lawmakers choose a mediator in veto case
ST. PAUL – Political pressure didn’t do it. A legal dispute brought all the way to Minnesota’s highest court didn’t succeed at it. Can a retired district court judge bring peace to the feud between Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican lawmakers?
They — and the Minnesota Supreme Court — believe it is possible.
On Tuesday, Sept. 12, Dayton and lawmakers announced they picked attorney and experienced mediator Rick Solum to guide them through their dispute. Later in the day, the Supreme Court accepted that pick.
“He was at the top of our list and I’m told he was at the top of the Legislature’s list,” Dayton said Tuesday. “I read the examples of where Judge Solum had successfully negotiated some very controversial issues with very divided parties. … He’s very skilled with this.”
Former Hennepin County Judge Solum has been involved in helping with disputes involving the Minnesota Vikings, the city of Minneapolis and the Minnesota Twins, among others. When he was at the Dorsey and Whitney law firm a decade ago, he was named one of Minnesota Law and Politics’ “Super Lawyers.”
The politicians had little choice but to sit down with Solum or someone similar. Last week, the Minnesota Supreme Court ordered them into mediation instead of settling the dispute between Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature over Dayton’s controversial line-item veto of the House and Senate’s funding.
Solum told Minnesota Public Radio News that he’ll start by going back and forth between the two sides, rather than putting the feuding politicians in the same room.
Dayton said he will start mediation with the same five demands he made when he first vetoed the House and Senate funding: the Legislature undoing three tax breaks and two pieces of policy that Dayton signed into law this spring as part of a broad budget compromise.
“All five of the issues … they’re all very important,” Dayton said.
Republicans say they’re not interested in changing anything passed this session.
“I’ve talked to members of the Legislature and they’re not interested in revisiting bills that were bipartisan, that the governor agreed to, that are now law,” said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa. “My goal in mediation will be to restore funding for the Legislature so we can continue to work for the people of Minnesota, and prevent a default on the payments for the new Senate Office Building so the state’s credit rating remains intact.”
Details about the mediation will likely remain under wraps.
“Typically, there would be concern that public following of a mediation while it is occurring is probably counterproductive to the success of the process for obvious reasons,” Solum told MPR. “With respect to what happens at the end, obviously if there is a settlement, that would be known to everybody. If there is not a settlement, what kind of disclosure there would be about the process would be up to the parties.”
Dayton said he would keep his comments minimal as the mediation goes on.Background
The two sides have been battling since May over Dayton’s line-item veto of the House and Senate’s two-year, $130 million budget. Dayton says he zeroed out their budget not because he doesn’t want the House and Senate funded, but as a way to gain leverage over provisions elsewhere in the $46 billion state budget.
Republican leaders said that they were unwilling to renegotiate over those items — Dayton, they said, knew what he was signing — and that the governor’s veto of the legislative budgets was unconstitutional. They took Dayton and his finance commissioner to court over the veto.
A Ramsey County District Court agreed with the Legislature, saying Dayton’s veto was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court on Friday disagreed: In a brief order, it said the veto was constitutional but that “this conclusion, however, does not end the matter.”
The order also said the court wants more information about whether it — or any court — could order the Legislature funded while the dispute drags on and said the political branch should work out its differences, rather than forcing the justices to do so.