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Capitol Chatter: Capitol quiet after stadium debate dominated

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ST. PAUL -- The Capitol is quiet after days of chants, cheers and songs like "Skol, Vikings."

The Vikings stadium issue that dominated the just-completed session climaxed with a love fest among state, Vikings and Minneapolis leaders after the House and Senate passed the plan to build a $975 million stadium.

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Lost to many people amidst the debate was the fact that it is the largest-ever state government construction project. The bill, with $348 million of state funds, rivals the size of the largest public works bills that fund projects at college campuses, parks, roads and other state facilities statewide.

Also all but lost was a comment by Chairman Ted Mondale of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission claiming that the state actually will make a profit during the life of the stadium.

Mondale said the stadium is not just for Minnesotans.

"This is something you drive from North Dakota and pay $100 a ticket..." he said about what is being described as a first-class stadium. "And it is the best day of the year."

And it almost did not happen, Gov. Mark Dayton said.

The House had voted to force the Vikings to pay $105 million more than the $427 million they already pledged for stadium construction costs. The Senate opted for a more modest $25 million increase.

From what Dayton said, it appears negotiators were $15 million apart late Wednesday, with time running out. Eventually the Wilfs, the family that owns the Vikings, relented.

"The Wilfs stepped up in a big way," Dayton said.

While many legislative leaders complain that the media has paid too much attention to the stadium issue (some media outlets have dedicated reporters to cover almost nothing else), the public also is interested.

Lawmaker after lawmaker said no other issue has come close to generating the type of public reaction as did the stadium. Almost all appeared to be in favor of building.

Even some who opposed the stadium proposal said there was a silver lining: People who never were involved in government learned about it because they care about a stadium.

If he had his way

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, is best known for chairing the Senate public works funding committee, the panel that recommends what state facilities get state money.

He became interested in the committee, after spending his early career mostly dealing with higher education issues, following the 1997 Red River flood. Since then, he has obtained millions of dollars to right flooding.

Red River communities have received most of the money they need, Langseth said, but a bit more remains to be done. While he is not running again, he has someone in mind to take up the fight.

Just to make sure the Red River Valley keeps getting help, Langseth said he hopes that Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, can become chairman of the public works funding committee. Of course, that only could happen if Democrats regain control of the Senate, control they lost two years ago.

Stumpf's district in the extreme northwestern corner of the state also has been affected by Red River flooding, especially the infamous 1997 event.

In announcing he is running for a new term, Stumpf said he would work for communities with unfinished flood projects in the area.

Things got tense

The end of a legislative session tends to be tense, to put it mildly.

The normally reserved Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, got caught up in that emotion and let slip a word not normally used in the Minnesota House.

"I am sorry," he immediately said. "I am an uneducated hog farmer."

Then he added what really worried him: "My mom will be washing my mouth out with soap."

Fighting pain

Legislators are known for fighting politics and policies that bother them, but Rep. Mark Murdock fought something else in the Legislature's waning days.

The quiet Ottertail Republican underwent rotator cuff surgery near the end of session and missed a few days. Despite on-going pain, he returned on the last day, a marathon day, to vote for a Vikings stadium.

However, the pain convinced him to leave before those retiring from the House delivered retirement speeches. He is leaving after two terms to spend time with family.

On a hook and a prayer

Gov. Mark Dayton was leaving a Friday news conference, heading home to pack for the Saturday fishing opener, when a reporter cast one final question: What are you using as bait?

"Prayer," Dayton quipped as he walked out the door.

Check for invasives

The Department of Natural Resources says it is serious about stopping the spread of aquatic invasive species.

"We are setting the expectation of the angling and boating public that they will follow the laws to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, that they will be checked for AIS violations and that they will cited if a violation is found," Lt. Col. Rodmen Smith, DNR enforcement division assistant director.

Increased patrols were set to begin during the weekend walleye opener.

Minnesota law prohibits the possession or transport of any invasive species, even if a boat owner does not know about a hitch hiker.

Such species include zebra mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil and spiny waterfleas.

Fines can range up to $1,000.

Stadium credit

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said the turning point in getting a Vikings stadium approved came on April 13, a Friday he now considers lucky.

The Cook Democrat was returning home from his Canada cabin at the end of the Legislature's Easter-Passover break when his telephone rang.

It was Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, who asked if Bakk could get enough votes to pass the stadium bill out of a committee where it was stalled for weeks.

Bakk said he talked to Democratic-Farmer-Labor committee members and got enough votes to get the bill moving again in the Senate.

Twitter complaints

Twitter has become a valuable source of political information about what is going on behind the scenes.

After Democrats, in the Senate minority, chipped in enough votes to pass a public works finance bill, Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, tweeted: "Senate bonding bill supported by 18 of 37 GOP and 27 of 30 Dems. Who is in the majority again?" (The same was true for a stadium construction bill, with 21 Democrats in favor and 15 Republicans.)

Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, also took swipes at his leaders: "If a Majority Caucus needs most of the votes from the Minority to pass a bill, what does that say about their leadership?

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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