GOP revises ugly politics of division

By CYNTHIA MOORTHART

Following the rancor of last year’s legislative session that shut down state government, Minnesota lawmakers returned to St. Paul this week chastened and pledging “unity.”

That new mood lasted all of minutes.

In their first act, Senate Republicans voted to slash $444,400 from the DFL staff budget, potentially forcing the elimination of a dozen or more jobs. No such cuts befell the party in power.

Also left over from last year are highly divisive and politically charged proposals to amend the Minnesota Constitution.

Already passed – and appearing on the ballot this fall – is a proposed amendment to ban marriage for same-sex couples. Republicans further seek to require a state-issued photo ID in order to vote, limit the ability of workers to organize, and compel a legislative super majority in order to raise taxes.

Each of these may play well with a certain constituency – the obvious calculation in an election year. But they will achieve nothing beyond further dividing Minnesotans and damaging our state’s ability to govern itself in a fair and decent manner.

Courts already have held that voter ID laws passed last year by Republicans in other states failed to meet the burden of proof that they “did not have the purpose of denying or abridging the right to vote.”

Voters in Ohio last year overwhelming turned back similar efforts to limit the authority of labor unions. Requiring a super majority on matters of revenue have crippled states’ abilities to respond to economic challenges, plunging them into budgetary chaos when things go wrong. There’s a reason only 15 states have adopted such measures since the first (Arkansas) was enacted in 1934.

But nothing is so obviously politically inspired as the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, given Minnesota courts have upheld the prohibition for decades.

Following the 2000 elections, when 4 million evangelicals stayed home from the polls, GOP political strategist Karl Rove warned that strong Christian turnout was key to future Republican wins. With a national election in the balance four years later, measures banning same-sex marriage were credited with delivering GOP victories in nine of the 11 states they were on the ballot.

With positive ratings at historic lows, Republicans had every reason to rethink the values and priorities that have put them so at odds with so many Minnesotans. Instead, they’ve chosen to reprise the ugly politics of division – an obvious effort to game the system given such dismal prospects that they could win on merit.

Editor’s note: Cynthia Moothart is policy director of the League of Rural Voters, a Minnesota-based nonprofit working to strengthen rural communities nationwide.

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