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Minnesota Opinion: Now is not the time to sit out, play politics

Whether you're a supporter of Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, you can agree: The guy is a bit of a bulldog, not shy about boldly stating where he stands on everything from early-childhood education to spending the state surplus to carbon emissions. His staff is quick to pump out statements and releases packed with numbers that support his positions. His department directors even routinely travel the state to push for his priorities.

So it was a bit odd last week — and more than a little disappointing — when the governor said he'd be stepping back and not participating in state budget negotiations until later on in the process, until after negotiators from the Senate and House work through their differences and come to consensus. The governor and his spokespeople, including in an interview Wednesday with the Duluth News Tribune, argued that the governor's positions are well-known, detailed in letters to lawmakers and elsewhere.

They may be, but the governor's active participation now would help to assure that the budget bill that eventually reaches his desk is veto-proof. He'd be helping to head off the last-minute shenanigans — or "end-of-session gamesmanship," as Dayton warned against in a letter to lawmakers last week — that have marred recent legislative sessions. Last year, a bonding bill, transportation deal, tax cuts and more all failed to get done in the chaos of the closing minutes at the Capitol.

Failure this year won't just be frustrating and maddening; it could mean a devastatingly ugly, politically-damaging-to-everyone, expensive-to-taxpayers state government shutdown. That very-real scenario is likely if lawmakers fail to pass a two-year state budget before their adjournment May 22, now just a month and a day away.

Every precaution should be taken to avoid a shutdown like the one in 2011. That can include the governor as an active participant throughout negotiations, not just at the end, so he could offer reminders about and compromise with regard to what he'd accept and what he might veto.

Perhaps even more troubling than the governor's comments were statements made recently in the St. Paul Pioneer Press by the Northland's own Sen. Tom Bakk.

"I have one ambition that I think about every day," the DFL Senate minority leader from Cook said when asked whether he was considering a run for governor, "(It's) about how we flip the majority (in the Senate), and that is what I am spending all my political considerations on. And it will continue to be that until we make that flip."

Really? Only one ambition, and it's for his DFL Party to win political control? That's where he'll direct his considerable political powers? Not in getting the state budget done? Not in fighting for critical contituents' projects in a bonding bill? What about Minnesota travelers facing not being able to get on airplanes because Minnesota remains an outlier still out of compliance with federal Real ID regulations?

Bakk's politics-first focus may thrill party loyalists, but it doesn't well-serve his constituents — or Minnesotans who only grow more frustrated when lawmakers and other state leaders don't do the work they were elected or hired to do in St. Paul.

All of them — especially the leaders of the leaders like Dayton and Bakk — are needed in these critically important days ahead. A state budget and other work aren't just priorities; they're mandatory. This is no time to sit on the sideline or to focus on politics.