The Truth is Powerful

The politics of obstruction, Minnesota-style

Due to COVID restrictions, the Minnesota State Capitol remained fenced off to the public Jan. 4, the day before the start of the 2021 regular session of the Legislature. To the heap of arguments being amassed for torching the U.S. Senate’s filibuster rule, permit me to add the Minnesota Legislature’s checkered experience with bonding bills.

“Huh?” you say. What do public works bills in St. Paul have to do with the U.S. Senate’s rule that 60 votes are needed to end debate and proceed to a vote on a bill?

Please bear with me: Bonding bills at the State Capitol and just about any politically sensitive, non-money bill in the U.S. Senate have one de facto thing in common. They require a supermajority — coincidentally, both 60% — to become law.

Both of these lawmaking conventions arose in the 19th century and sprang from sentiments not all deemed worthy today, including states’ rights and aversion to public debt. Both work to empower the minority, giving those who lost the previous election what amounts to veto power over the actions of those who won.

And both supermajority requirements are getting skeptical scrutiny in the harsh light of latter-day partisanship. They’re begging a question: How […]

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