Margaret Anderson Kelliher: The fight for Minnesota governor

MAK faces her toughest test yet, but could make history

Kelliher made clear she wanted to put the contentious campaign behind them. "To a class act, the mayor of Minneapolis, my good friend, and it's always hard to run against a good friend. Thank you, R.T. Rybak. And your family."

A week later, Kelliher courted the crowds in a white circus tent on the State Fairgrounds while waiting for a debate on clean energy policy to begin at 1 p.m. sharp. It was a few minutes late getting started, and even a slight delay could spell disaster for Kelliher's tight schedule.

Dayton and Entenza were at the debate too, as well as Independence Party candidates Tom Horner and Rob Hahn. Emmer was noticeably absent, a fact everyone seemed to remark upon. (Emmer's campaign later told reporters that he was at his son's First Communion ceremony.)

Margaret Anderson Kelliher
Nick Vlcek
Margaret Anderson Kelliher
Margaret Anderson Kelliher
Nick Vlcek
Margaret Anderson Kelliher

When it was her turn to speak, Kelliher pointed to her legislative record. Three years ago she helped pass a bill that forced utility companies to commit to generating 25 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2025.

"We have been—and I have been—a champion of protecting our air, water, and land," Kelliher told the crowd.

At 1:45, less than halfway through the debate, Kelliher stood up suddenly. "I have to leave and I'm sorry about that," she told the crowd, and all in one motion left through a flap in the tent and boarded a waiting car.

The crowd looked confused. After a few minutes the debate resumed.

In the meantime, Kelliher and her campaign press secretary raced to Minneapolis, where they joined the tail end of the May Day parade. For the next hour, while her opponents debated recycling in St. Paul to a couple hundred people, Kelliher was the only gubernatorial candidate in front of a crowd of tens of thousands.

On May 5, Kelliher was on a flight bound for Washington, D.C., to attend a Cinco de Mayo event at the White House. During a layover in Chicago, she checked her Twitter account and learned that the Minnesota Supreme Court planned to make a ruling on Pawlenty's unallotment case later that afternoon.

Before her plane left the ground, Chief Justice Eric Magnuson had made his decision. Pawlenty's unilateral cuts to the budget were ruled unconstitutional.

Kelliher was a loud critic of the unallotments, so she immediately trumpeted the decision as a victory. She was doing reaction interviews with Twin Cities news outlets as soon as she landed in Washington.

By the time Kelliher returned to St. Paul, the Capitol had melted down. The legislative session was almost over and the court's ruling unraveled nearly $3 billion in cuts.

Kelliher's critics blamed her for a potential governmental gridlock. With only two weeks left to balance the budget, options were limited and the resolution had dire implications for her campaign.

The final week of the Legislature's session, the important work was done behind closed doors. All week, legislators met with Pawlenty behind the scenes to try to negotiate a deal that would end the session on time. Given that it was the last week, the Legislature had no choice but to ratify the majority of Pawlenty's cuts, but the Democrats wanted something in return. Namely, they wanted Pawlenty to budge on a bill unpopular with Republicans that would put poor and low-income Minnesotans on a Medicaid program.

The political aspirations in the room were immense, and nobody wanted to give an inch. Few had more at stake than Kelliher. Much of her campaign is based on taking on Pawlenty, and leaving the negotiations as a loser could have been a crippling blow.

Hashing through the particulars would require a special session. The session went all night and into late morning. At one point, Rep. Bud Nornes (R-Fergus Falls) fell asleep during the negotiations and hit his head, sending him to the hospital.

The Legislature adjourned around 10:30 a.m. with a passed budget. A couple of hours later, Pawlenty was bragging about his win to the national press. He didn't budge on Medicaid. The Democrats had come out with almost nothing to show for all their squawking.

"We have some pretty clear values and principles in mind that we adhere to and when it relates to those core values, and principles we don't compromise," Pawlenty righteously proclaimed to the national media.

Kelliher doesn't concede defeat, however. Just because the Legislature ratified most of the unallotments doesn't mean Pawlenty got off scot-free.

"The whole point is no one person gets to make those decisions," she says. "His national Washington, D.C., spin-folks are out there working Politico and working Time magazine and working the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. And the reason they're doing that is because that unallotment lawsuit was a giant black eye to Tim Pawlenty. And if I helped land that punch a little bit, I'm proud of that work."

Twenty-seven hours after the all-night finale to the legislative session, Kelliher relaxed in her campaign office near the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. It was a grueling last few days, but a climactic ending to her career as the House speaker.

« Previous Page
Next Page »