Capitol Update for March 20, 2009

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This week’s update from lobbyist John Tuma:

“I almost had heart failure before it was over.”
– Charles A. Bender, May 12, 1910*

This was a quote from the wily right-handed pitcher of the Philadelphia A’s, Charles A. Bender, to a reporter at the conclusion of his May 12, 1910, no-hitter against Cleveland.  Bender’s life story is an amazing testament of the human will rising above circumstances.  He was born in abject poverty on the White Earth Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota.  He was the son of an abusive German immigrant farmer and an Ojibwa mother.  He ran away from home in his early teens and, thanks to a Catholic priest, found himself at a boarding school in Pennsylvania.  It was there the young Bender discovered he could hurl the ball better than most.  At age 19 he was discovered by the great Connie Mack, owner and manager of the A’s.  He went on to earn a reputation as one of the most respected big-game pitchers in Major League baseball for over a decade that included three World Series championships.  He was the money pitcher you wanted on the mound in a critical game — three times being the opening-day pitcher for the Philadelphia A’s in the World Series.  Despite his baseball dominance, he silently suffered through years of prejudice because of his Native American ancestry.  He never felt fully accepted as he lived with his baseball nickname “Chief” Bender.  Today he has a place in baseball immortality as the first Native American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

He had the reputation of being an extremely crafty pitcher while still possessing a dominant fastball.  He was credited with being the first Major League hurler to perfect the pitch known as the slider, a nasty pitch when perfected.  It starts at the strike zone as if it is a fat fastball waiting to be launched by a professional hitter, but at the last moment the ball snaps away and down, causing the batter to swipe at empty air.  Just when the batter is feeling comfortable and ready to score some runs, he is left scratching his head.

This week for the environment Green Team, we felt like we were facing old Charles Bender in his prime firing wicked sliders at us.  On Monday, the Minnesota Clean Car bill was scheduled for a hearing in front of the House State and Local Government Operations Committee because of the rulemaking within the bill which is in the jurisdiction of that committee.  Unfortunately, our chief author had to pull the bill from the agenda; we are facing challenges resolving some of the concerns raised by members.  Adding to the struggle for the Clean Car bill was the announcement this last week by the Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) that they now oppose the bill.  They have been one of the shining lights in the farming community supporting this progressive initiative.  Unfortunately, one of the most vexing arguments we have faced this session from legislators and organizations like MFU is that Minnesota does not need to join the other 14 states that have already passed the standards demanding more fuel-efficient and cleaner cars because the federal government under President Obama’s leadership will make it happen.  Frankly, this is a lame excuse by legislators to avoid leadership on the issue of reducing global warming pollution.

On the Safe Mining to Protect Our Water legislation our opposition was not even trying to be crafty with any sliders, but rather simply fired a fastball at our heads.  It’s called a “bean ball” in baseball terminology.  The opposing pitcher simply fires one up around your chin to make you nervous for the next pitch.  We were told by the mining interests that they had no intention to try to work on behalf of the betterment of Minnesota’s waters or taxpayers.  They informed us they saw no need in trying to find any common ground with our sensible legislation.  They boldly stated they would be around the whole session if they had to, just to kill our bill.  We informed them that we hope they were paid by the hour because we weren’t going anywhere.  We have no intention of being intimidated and we’re digging in at the plate, focusing on the next pitch.  We are very fortunate to have strong authors in Rep. Alice Hausman and Sen. Jim Carlson.  They continue to push for hearings and additional supporters within the legislative process.

The Building Sensible Communities legislation continues to make progress.  It passed out of the House Local Government Division on another unanimous voice vote.  The bill will have its final policy hearing in the Senate on Thursday of next week in the Education Committee.  Therefore, it will meet the first committee deadline which is on Friday of next week. The local governments continue to play fair and have provided meaningful improvements to the legislation.  The central piece of legislation now calls for a 17% reduction of global warming pollution from 2005 levels by the year 2025 for cities within the Metropolitan Council jurisdiction.  This is accomplished by requiring metropolitan cities to focus on reducing vehicle miles traveled while putting together their development plans.  This will be accomplished by providing effective modeling during the planning process.  Those models will be developed by University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies.  To help accomplish this goal by 2025, cities have agreed to an earlier planning cycle which would now be completed by 2015 as opposed to 2018.  Legislation requires the Metropolitan Council to apportion to each of the cities their global warming pollution reduction goals.

Even though the cities are on board to work with clearly defined mandatory reduction goals, the Metropolitan Council seems to be reluctant.  For the first time the Metropolitan Council finally spoke up regarding this legislation in committee.  They have been noticeably silent at all the previous hearings on SF549/HF898.  They expressed support for the “overall goal” of legislation, but felt the global warming reduction targets should only be voluntary suggestions to the cities.  They further felt that the goal of a 17% reduction by 2025 might be “too aggressive.”  They have promised to enter into additional conversations with our authors, but we know goals without accountability will only leave us with a lack of progress.  We’re fortunate that we have savvy enough authors in Rep. Frank Hornstein and Sen. Scott Dibble, who clearly see through the “voluntary compliance” rhetoric left over from former President Bush’s era.

This legislative session has generally lacked focus not only in the environment area, but across several policy areas.  So far the highlight of the policy issues that have been moving in the session has been medical marijuana, which might explain why there’s a lack of focus.  Of course, the real reason is the massive budget deficit the Legislature faces this year.  The pieces around the environmental funding are starting to come together.  Fortunately, with the passage of the Legacy Amendment we have resources for our Great Outdoors.  The conservation portion of the funding is moving forward with the adoption of lists of projects from the Lessard Council.  The old coalition of cities, businesses, agriculture and environmentalists (known as the “G-16”) that helped give us the Clean Water Legacy  is still working together on recommendations for the Legislature to preserve and protect our lakes, rivers and streams.  Therefore, despite the budget woes we’re hopeful for meaningful progress in the area of environmental investments.

Though we have seen some nasty sliders this last week, we are still in the game.  The nice thing about the Legislature is that, like baseball, the game is not over until the last out.  You can trust that the Green Team will still be coming to the plate swinging hard until the last out of the session.

*Chief Bender’s Burden: The Silent Struggle of a Baseball Star. Tom Swift, University of Nebraska Press, 2008.

3 Responses to “Capitol Update for March 20, 2009”

  1. John Helland

    I love John’s historical vignettes each week, and today so timely with Chief Bender along with the start of Spring and the soon-to-be baseball season. Thank you, John!
    And, if I can use another old baseball aphorism…in the immortal words of Yogi Berra…”it ain’t over til it’s over”!
    The Green Team will continue to tout the bills we all care about until session’s end.

  2. Frank Ongaro

    John – very interesting interpretation of industry’s position. Not accurate, but ceative.

    The industry is working with the regulators to protect our water and the companies will be protecting the taxpayer.

    See you Monday


  3. John Tuma


    Thanks for the comment.

    Any time you are willing to sit down and talk about ways to protect Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, streams and economy, let us know.



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