Sen. Gene Dornink is running for re-election this fall.
After the closing gavel came down on the 2022 Minnesota legislative session at midnight on May 22, no one was more frustrated with the lack of progress than Sen. Gene Dornink, who represents the current District 27 and plans to run for re-election in the new District 23.
I also shared my frustration with the legislators in last week’s column.
“I know it frustrates people when we don’t get our work done,” Dornink confessed. “Everybody in that room was frustrated.”
But, he quickly pointed out, “we weren’t going to spend money without tax relief.”
The hang-up with Minnesota’s lawmakers is what to do with a $9.25 billion surplus. As it goes with politics, especially now more than ever before, republicans have one idea while democrats have a totally different idea. Dornink is republican.
What made things even more interesting is that the surplus came about in a non-budget year with lawmakers fully funding government at $52 billion for two years during last year’s session.
“We want to give the money back. It’s the people’s money,” Dornink said, adding the two sides simply couldn’t come to an agreement.
DFL Gov. Tim Walz proposed “Walz Checks” in which Minnesotans would get rebate checks with a big chunk of the surplus. Not surprisingly, Dornink thinks the idea is bad. He points to the governor as using it as a ploy to get re-elected.
Dornink said he couldn’t even fathom the idea of naming rebate checks after oneself like the governor’s proposal. When I mentioned the idea of “Dornink Checks,” Dornink quickly shot back, “Don’t you even dare. I don’t need a pat on the back every time I do something.”
Dornink reiterated what needs to be done.
“We need to give the money back to the people.”
But not in a way as being tied to one’s name with the back drop of election year theatrics.
Asked about how to stop the gridlock at the capitol, Dornink paused and said: “It’s a deep question and a good question.”
Dornink accused the governor of meddling where he shouldn’t be. He pointed out how Walz made it clear during a phone conversation to the house chair in the late hours of the session how he would not support an agreement DFLers already had agreed on pertaining to the state government bill. At that point, the DFL-controlled house pulled its offer off the table, according to Dornink.
“That’s frustrating to see,” he said. “That seems like a problem to me.”
Dornink said the right thing to do would have been to allow the process to work with the bills being passed in the House and Senate. He pointed out how the governor still has the opportunity to veto a bill once it is passed.
But with re-election looming, Walz is focused on keeping his perfect record alive of no vetoes. Walz is headed to becoming the only governor in state history to serve a full term without issuing any vetoes. And, of course, he doesn’t want that mark on his back just months before the election.
If anything, this shows the game playing that goes on in state politics, often to the detriment of citizens.
Asked about Gov. Walz’s leadership, Dornink had more to say.
“He has brought too much D.C. politics to the state,” Dornink said, referring to Walz when he served many years in U.S. Congress prior to be elected governor. “State government isn’t broken, but D.C. is.”
I asked Dornink to provide a letter grade on how the legislature performed this year. He thought for a moment and offered “it’s hard to grade.”
Instead of providing a grade, Dornink pointed to some good things that were done by the legislature this year. They include: the reinsurance bill, unemployment trust fund, front line worker pay and the agriculture bill.
“We didn’t finish our work as there is more to do, but there was good legislation,” said Dornink.
All politics aside, Dornink did agree on one thing.
“Both of us need to do a better job.”
And that may be a tall order to fill as Minnesota is the only divided legislature in the country.
“Divided can be good… if you are working together,” Dornink said.
And as we have painfully watched over the past few years, going in hot pursuit of working together seems to be difficult for both republicans and democrats.