Guns! (
by Steve Timmer
Feb 22, 2018, 12:00 PM

There are no Caesar’s wives

In the wake of the Florida school shooting last week, the subject of gun control has appropriately and perhaps finally, animated political discussions around the country, including in the Minnesota governor’s race. And maybe, just maybe, it’ll be young people – Millennials are now the biggest voter cohort – who will lead the way on public opinion, just as they did on GLBT issues. We just have to get them to the polls. Kidding. Sort of.

Other than an unseemly lust for craft beer, I am with the Millennials. Again, kidding, I like craft beer, too.

In the race for the DFL endorsement for governor, there has been a bit of a clot at the doorway to prove bona fides on the gun control issue. Congressman Tim Walz, according to JP Coolican, has “evolved” on the issue and now supports an assault weapons ban. Rep. Erin Murphy has been quick to point out that Walz gets good grades from the NRA.

I have not decided, frankly, who I think that the DFL should put up for governor. Two of the four candidates still in contention have been to Drinking Liberally. Erin Murphy delivered some excellent remarks on health care. Rebecca Otto, who I must admit is my sentimental favorite because of her position on sulfide mining in Minnesota, was also a DL guest. Rebecca is the only candidate for the DFL endorsement who has won a state-wide race, too, multiple times, including a primary race intended to take advantage of her stance on sulfide mining. It didn’t work.

Congressman Tim Walz will be our guest at Drinking Liberally on March 8th, and if I was a betting man – and I am – I think that Rep. Tina Liebling will be at Drinking Liberally on either March 15th or the 22nd. So trackers, mark your calendars.

“Evolving,” in political terms, means you wet your finger, stuck it up, and you can see which way the wind blows. It isn’t entirely unpejorative. In some ways, the congressman is easy to beat up on this issue, and Rep. Murphy has. But without meaning to take sides, there is something else that you need to consider. And it’s a little inside baseball, so you need to stick with me.

In the 2012 election, a miraculous thing happened. Both houses of the legislature turned over from Republican control to DFL control. Personally, I attribute this to the titanic efforts marshaled (by my friend Carolyn Jackson and others) to defeat the amendments for the gay marriage ban and the photo ID requirement for voters proposed by the Republicans and the turnout that came out to defeat the amendments.

Consequently, in 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions, the DFL had the whole table: the House, the Senate, and the Governor.

But somehow, and inexplicably (not so inexplicably, as we’ll see in a moment), on campaign finance disclosure, they screwed it up. Let me tell you how. I almost still can’t believe it.

You all, or most of you, anyway, remember the decision in Citizens United that permitted corporations and nonprofits to make contributions for messaging in political campaigns. In his opinion, Justice Kennedy said we should not worry about these contributions because laws existed or would be passed to expose the contributors of such communications so that voters would know their identity. For the most part, naturally, they didn’t exist.

The DFL moved election bills in 2013 that included “electioneering and disclosure” language. The language survived in the final Senate bill, but the language included in the House bill by then Rep. Ryan Winkler was stripped out. (Longtime readers here may recall that I’ve written before that the “electioneering and disclosure” language was in both final bills, but it wasn’t in the House bill; that according to the Revisor’s Office.)

In other words, the House leadership team of Speaker Paul Thissen and Majority Leader Erin Murphy, could not hold their caucus together and keep this important language in the bill. It didn’t come back in the conference committee, either. One of the members of the conference committee, by the way, was new Majority Leader Kurt Daudt. He wouldn’t really become the Majority Leader until after the election in 2014, but I think he was really elected on the day of the conference committee vote.

Ol’ Kurt was practically licking his chops during the brief committee hearing (taking only long enough to drop off the still-copier-warm copies of the conference report bill – without the electioneering and disclosure language). He knew that the Ben Golnik’s Minnesota Jobs Coalition and Norm Coleman’s Minnesota Action Network were gearing up to facilitate anonymous smear jobs on DFL politicians across the state. The Jobs Coalition and Action Network, and now others, traffic in anonymity and a lack of transparency because the legislature couldn’t get this done.

The session in 2013 was the high point in getting electioneering and disclosure provisions into the law. We all know what dark money s**t shows the 2014 and 2016 cycles were like. The current one won’t be better.

It is open knowledge that it was the MCCL and gun interests that submarined this important legislation. But it was DFL leadership, including House leadership, that failed to keep it from happening.

There are no Caesar’s wives on gun issues here.

The current regime on gun regulation – or lack of it that we have – is explained as much by the political and legislative precursor chemicals as anything. It is important to ask the candidates what they intend to do about the political system that has presented us with what we’ve currently got.

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