They Shoot, They Score!
Every year they arrive from all corners of the state, from the inner cities and the prairie farms, the suburban cul-de-sacs and the dying small towns. Starched and wing-tipped, they enter the great legislative halls more than 200 strong, presenting the very picture of decorum as they wheedle and pummel one another out of more than a billion dollars of your money--legally, of course. Because they are the ones who make the laws.
The 1998 legislative session has been an especially momentous and contentious affair. It began when an estimated $1.9 billion surplus landed in lawmakers' laps just as they were compiling their wish lists for the biennial Capital Improvements bill. Otherwise known as the "bonding" bill, Capital Improvements is where big-ticket items like new schools, municipal buildings, parks, and economic-development projects are paid for--and where slabs of legislative pork are carved up and handed out. "You'd think having more money would make it easier," says wily Senate Tax Committee chair Doug Johnson (DFL-Tower). "But it is just the opposite. It is like a feeding frenzy."
And there's nothing like an election year to whet a politician's appetite. This November Minnesota voters will decide the fate of all 134 House members, and, more significantly, choose a new governor. With incumbent Arne Carlson having decided against another run, campaigns for the state's most powerful political office are well under way in both parties, adding yet more levels of intrigue and intensity to the legislative agenda.
The political pushing and shoving has been particularly bruising in the skirmish over $65 million in potential state funding for the $130 million RiverCentre arena in St. Paul, future home of the Minnesota Wild, the expansion franchise slated to return the National Hockey League to the Twin Cities two years from now. Carlson included St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman's RiverCentre funding proposal among his bonding-bill requests to the Legislature, and the House okayed the entire $65 million in its version. But the Senate went out of its way to do nothing for RiverCentre, resulting in a faceoff in the joint capital improvements/bonding conference committee, where five members from each legislative body are hashing things out at this very moment.
Although Carlson has threatened to veto any bonding bill that does not include RiverCentre, state funding is far from a sure thing. The hefty price tag alone is enough to pique the interest of the Capitol's major players. Add to that the sports-team mystique and last year's contretemps over funding for a Twins stadium and you've got the makings of a real brouhaha, with political lives at stake (not to mention the financial future of Minnesota's second-largest city). This past week's conflict-of-interest revelations involving former St. Paul City Council President Dave Thune and the contractor tapped to build the arena only mean the scuffle is destined to occupy local hearts, minds, and headlines for some time to come.
Needless to say, we at City Pages love a good brawl, especially when the combatants are out of shape and wear ties. And with Carlson throwing his weight around while Coleman, Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, and a host of other politicos engage in their own fancy footwork, this scrap over hockey is starting to look like a gloves-on-the-ice, jerseys-over-the head melee the likes of which haven't been seen around these parts since 1993, when dastardly Norm Green put on his black hat and rode our beloved North Stars down to Dallas. In the waning moments of the funding fray, as much for our own amusement as for our
readers' edification, we couldn't resist offering the following chronicle of all the slap shots and cheap shots that have made it so darn entertaining to watch these guys spend our money.
NOTE: In honor of the venerable game of hockey, which places nearly as high a premium on good sportsmanship as politics does, we've come up with some suitable measures to chart the performance of the major players:
Stick-Handling Ability: Can he score in tough situations?
The Penalty Box: If he were to be whistled down for something, what would be the most likely infraction?
Power Play: Does he put the team at a one- or two-man advantage, or is having this guy on your side more like playing shorthanded?
ST. PAUL MAYOR NORM COLEMAN
During the closing days of the '97 session, Hizzoner was a ubiquitous presence in the halls of the Capitol, whizzing from committee to committee and cutting loose with a barrage of belated plans for luring pro hockey to his fair city. What only weeks earlier had been a proposed $51 million renovation of the existing St. Paul Civic Center to convince the NHL's Hartford Whalers to relocate became a $130 million new facility for an expansion franchise. And the state's share of the funding would have to be hammered out before the NHL's June meeting, just around the corner. A majority of legislators squinted hard at this freewheeling interloper who had recently switched political parties from DFL to Republican and was in the midst of a re-election campaign--and sent him crashing into the proverbial boards. There would be no hockey money for St. Paul, and that was that.
Or was it? "When the Legislature turned us down, I thought hockey was dead," says Dave Thune, president of the St. Paul City Council at the time. "A couple of days later, I get a call from the mayor's office telling me to come to a meeting in the basement of the St. Paul Hotel." When he arrived, Thune says, he found Coleman and the city's financial wizards busily crunching numbers. The Mayor had not yet begun to skate!
With the clock ticking toward the NHL's deadline, Coleman persuaded his City Council to take on what state lawmakers had turned down. The terms of the deal included a $35 million contribution from the hockey team's private ownership, with the city of St. Paul adding another $30 million through ticket surcharges and parking revenues. As for the other $65 million, not to worry: Gov. Carlson promised to include it in his bonding request to the 1998 Legislature. And the governor, Coleman assured the Council, always gets what he wants in a bonding year.
Unfortunately, the NHL required something more concrete than a politician's word. So the City Council had to guarantee that if the state didn't come up with the additional money, the city would. To underscore the financial risk, the Standard & Poor's rating service responded to the city's decision by lowering its assessment of St. Paul's credit profile from "stable" to "negative."
Coleman, however, was a veritable one-man breakaway. The feel-good momentum from the hockey deal having served as a springboard to an easy re-election victory, he promptly announced his candidacy for governor--a brilliantly audacious maneuver that has enabled him to claim that legislators opposed to funding the arena are playing gubernatorial politics at the expense of St. Paul's economic vitality. Unlike last year, he has made himself scarce at the Capitol this session, preferring to rally the electorate with sucker punches such as his call for Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, the Legislature's staunchest hockey foe, to "Let my people go!" Uttered during a recent luncheon speech at the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce, the sound bite drew criticism from Jewish legislators who complained that it was tacky to compare nonsupport for RiverCentre with Moses' legendary plea to the Egyptians. Coleman, who is himself Jewish, replied that they should "lighten up."
"The way Norm has played it, it's 'I got hockey and now it's your job to pay for it,'" posits Sen. Sandy Pappas (DFL-St. Paul), who was defeated by Coleman in the mayor's race. "Norm says things have gotten political. Well, he should have thought of those ramifications on his city before he decided to run for governor."
More likely, Coleman knew precisely what he was doing, says Sarah Janecek, who analyzes the moves and motivations of Republicans for the newsletter Politics in Minnesota. "Norm wins either way," Janecek notes. "If the state comes through with the money, then he has gotten the hockey arena funded. If the state doesn't come through, then he can rightfully claim it's because they are playing politics."
Janecek's colleague Wy Spano, the newsletter's Democratic analyst, takes it a step further: If the Legislature denies funding for the arena, then it's in the self-interest of the people of St. Paul to get Coleman elected governor so he'll be in a position to bail out the city during the 1999 session. "That's a big advantage for a Republican running statewide," says Spano. "Usually they're measuring how big a margin they have to overcome in St. Paul and Ramsey County."
Not surprisingly, Roger Moe has a more jaundiced view. "If anybody thinks they can run statewide on a position of taking $65 million in cash--$105 million if you bond for it and pay the interest--out of the general taxpayer's pocket," says the senator, "then they have another thing coming."
But what Moe misses (or prefers to ignore) is that like Ronald Reagan, Coleman's charisma isn't based so much on fiscal responsibility as it is on peddling hope. In addition to taking advantage of his St. Paul voting base and the traditional Republican strongholds, this governor wannabe can take his campaign to the dozens of depressed burgs whose main centers of commerce consist of gas stations, liquor stores, and video-rental outlets. He can cite the economic malaise that afflicted downtown St. Paul when he took office and the coups effected by his can-do crew, from Lawson Software to the Minnesota Wild. To folks desperate to believe that better times lie just beyond the lousy trench they're in, Norm Coleman has a wonderful bridge for sale.
Stick-Handling Ability: Though a showy skater and a proven scorer, he frequently finds himself offsides and has a tendency to lose his man on defense.
The Penalty Box: Two minutes for roughing.
Power Play: One-man advantage. It would have been two if linemate Thune hadn't been whistled for interference.
GOV. ARNE CARLSON
For nearly all of his considerable adult life, Arne Carlson has made his living as a politician. This year the former Minneapolis City Council member, state representative, state senator, and state auditor finds himself a wizened lame duck in search of a legacy. Certainly Minnesota's robust economic health has been a memorable feature of his two terms as governor. But as political analyst Wy Spano points out, when it comes to legislative achievements (with public-school vouchers being a notable exception), "Arne has more of a history of stopping things than he does of successfully passing things. Now, with this latest bonding bill, the governor is saying, 'This is what I want.'"
Carlson's bonding recommendations add up to more than a billion dollars, a figure greater than what either the House or the Senate passed. It is loaded with monuments, including $252 million in funding for the University of Minnesota, a number of new parks and trails, some convention centers (most prominently $87 million for the expansion of the Minneapolis facility), and $65 million for RiverCentre.
Another important codicil in Carlson's gubernatorial will concerns his successor. Although there has been no official endorsement, he clearly favors Coleman, despite the presence of Joanne Benson, his lieutenant governor and Coleman's chief rival for the Republican nomination. At least as far back as a few years ago, when then-Democratic Mayor Coleman supported Carlson's voucher plan, the two have been kindred political spirits. As Coleman was lobbying the Legislature and cajoling the NHL last year, Carlson provided crucial support: A written pledge that he would work to secure state funding was instrumental in the league's approval of St. Paul's application.
"After we got the team, the governor told the people of St. Paul, 'Woe be unto any legislator who doesn't support funding,'" says St. Paul lobbyist Joseph O'Neill. And sure enough, when the Senate blithely removed RiverCentre from its bonding bill, the governor came out fighting. "Apparently they think I'm already gone," he snarled, and threatened to veto any bonding package that doesn't include full funding for both the UM and the St. Paul facility.
Throughout the current session, Carlson has employed his veto authority like a brutal cross-check. Early on, the rumor ran through the Capitol that before signing the bonding bill he would simply line-item veto large projects favored by legislators. Most frequently mentioned was a possible veto of the Minneapolis Convention Center expansion, a notion that fed nicely into St. Paul's inferiority complex with respect to its larger Twin City. The fear was especially palpable among members of the House, who need to brag about bringing home the bacon during their upcoming re-election campaigns. Rep. Dee Long (DFL-Minneapolis), for one, acknowledges that she and her colleagues are supporting RiverCentre in large measure because Carlson is holding the convention center hostage.
With $65 million for the arena in the House bill and nothing in the Senate's, there's obviously room for compromise within the conference committee. Opinions vary widely on how much will be enough for Carlson, who can either sign the bill as is, surgically alter it with line-item vetoes, or reject the entire package and send the legislators scrambling to come up with another bonding bill before the close of session April 9.
"I think the governor will get the whole loaf. However, it is possible that the recent stories about Thune and [RiverCentre contractor] Mortenson might cut into it a little," predicts Sarah Janecek, the analyst for Politics in Minnesota. "But there has got to be some money there for the arena. It's virtually impossible to give all that money to Minneapolis and then ignore St. Paul." Janecek's colleague Spano, meanwhile, believes Carlson "might settle for something less than the entire amount for the University and the entire $65 million for hockey. If I were St. Paul, I'd be happy getting half a loaf, because they can always come back and ask for the rest next session." Moe, the man most responsible for creating the House-Senate standoff, concedes that "the governor needs to feel there is enough of his program in the bill to make it fair. But let's go to the extreme: If he gets everything he wants except the hockey arena, would he veto the bill? I don't think so."
As might be expected, while the conferees deliberate, Carlson maintains his hard-line position. "The governor has said he considers a bill without such things as the St. Paul civic-center proposal to be unappetizing," says his spokeswoman Jackie Renner. And what would the governor do if the conferees came up with, say, $30 million? Carlson, responds Renner, "doesn't want to engage in hypothetical situations." Even after the embarrassing revelations regarding Mortenson and Thune, the governor, after meeting with Coleman, pronounced himself firmly behind the deal.
Perhaps the biggest factor working against Norm Coleman and hockey is that this is Carlson's last hurrah: He wants the bonding-bill projects as much as the legislators do. He also wants to make a living in the corporate world less than a year from now, and, according to one lobbyist, there is at least as much corporate pressure to expand the Minneapolis Convention Center as there is to throw money into an arena St. Paul has already committed to building. By wielding his veto stick, the governor could spite his own legacy. And by all appearances, it's not going to be easy to get the Senate conferees to roll over.
Stick-Handling Ability: An aging vet who's still respected for his stamina and his solid presence in the goal crease.
The Penalty Box: Two minutes for cross-checking, two minutes for high-sticking, and a five-minute major for fighting.
Power Play: One-man advantage.
SENATE MAJORITY LEADER ROGER MOE
After teasing himself with the idea of running for governor at various points during the 1980s, Roger Moe has become content with commanding the Senate with an iron will that is often camouflaged by his rural Scandinavian self-effacement. Those who figured the hockey arena was in for a smooth legislative skate made the classic mistakes of underestimating his power and taking his low public profile for a lack of passion.
The roots of Moe's profound antipathy toward RiverCentre stem from the frantic last days of the '97 Legislature and the special session subsequently called to attempt funding a new baseball stadium. Though the media spotlight was trained on Gov. Carlson and legislators such as Loren Jennings and Keith Langseth, Moe was also a heavy hitter in the negotiations, toiling behind the scenes to hammer out an agreement. He was stung when his colleagues, bowing to public opinion, firmly rebuffed every proposal for a new ballpark.
"You have to go back to the discussion about the baseball stadium," Moe says when the subject of RiverCentre is broached. "I must confess I misread that, because I view the Twins as an asset and believe they are worth saving, and the reaction of the public and my colleagues made it clear they weren't willing to do anything. Well then, what about pro hockey? If you cannot use general-fund dollars to keep a baseball team you already have, what is the rationale for using those dollars to get a hockey team that has been promised to come here?"
A longtime Capitol lobbyist offers this translation: "Roger went out on a limb for the Twins last year and the limb got sawed off. He is going to ram that down everybody's throats when they try and talk about hockey."
According to a couple of Senate members, it didn't help that when Moe was working for baseball late in the '97 session, Coleman and his St. Paul lobbyists offended the majority leader procedurally as well as politically by trying to piggyback their last-minute proposals for hockey funding, and engaging in ridiculous parliamentary maneuvers on the final day of session to keep the issue alive. Before the '98 session, Moe sent a message to the metro-area lawmakers that he would look favorably on a funding package that linked RiverCentre with a baseball-park proposal. But Coleman, feeling that Carlson was his ace in the hole, ignored the Senate honcho.
Bad idea. With Moe in charge, and without an imminent re-election campaign to complicate matters among its members, the response in the Senate has been predictable. Before the arena bill got out of the Finance Committee, its funding had been slashed from $65 million to $10 million. When it came to the floor, even that evaporated. "I was talking to Randy Kelly [who sponsored the RiverCentre bill in the Senate]," says one DFL legislator. "We see Roger walk down the aisle and start talking to another senator. 'That's one of my votes,' Randy says. And I told him, 'Not anymore.'"
After the Senate cut RiverCentre from its bonding bill, Kelly planned to offer an amendment that would let members reconsider the project. Fine, Moe responded, but that $65 million has to come from other areas of the budget. "If that amendment had come, I was prepared to say you have got to take the money from Como Park and the Phalen Corridor and the Penumbra Theatre and Metro State," Moe says, ticking off other St. Paul projects in the bill. Kelly got the message and shelved the amendment idea.
Moe's Senate conferees are surely adopting a similarly tough bargaining position. Even before the Mortenson-Thune story strengthened his hand, Moe had dug in on his opposition to RiverCentre, fortified by his baseball-stadium grudge and his belief that St. Paul gave away too much in its negotiations with the hockey team. He said as much in a lengthy op-ed piece recently in the Pioneer Press, concluding with this zinger: "Don't count on the Legislature throwing $65 million into the pot for a questionable deal it had no hand in negotiating. And don't blame us for acting in the public's best interests." Mortenson and Thune added a few IQ points to those words and, with the bonding bill at a crucial stage, Moe isn't going to let Coleman and Carlson forget it. Suddenly his mundane, methodical style looks pretty good next to the swashbuckling St. Paul mayor. Wielding the legislative authority to deny Mortenson's noncompetitively bid contract on RiverCentre, he has already compelled the Wild ownership group to release more financial information about the deal than it had intended. And with more info comes more opportunity for criticism and investigation.
While it's tempting to attribute at least some of Moe's vitriol to a desire to lay waste to Coleman and his plans, he swears this is not so: "I've been accused of playing politics, and let me just say with all due respect that Norm Coleman is a friend of mine. How I read this issue has to do with the discussion on baseball, not politics."
Stick-Handling Ability: Tenacious back-checker, tough in his own end. Steady player who doesn't score a lot but is always there with an assist.
The Penalty Box: Two-minute minor for tripping, five-minute major for fighting.
Power Play: Even strength.
REP. STEVE TRIMBLE
The people for whom Steve Trimble (DFL-St. Paul) speaks in the House of Representatives are mostly working-class, blue-collar folks from the East Side of St. Paul. Many of them can ill afford the financial hit that could ensue if the RiverCentre arena project were somehow to blow up in St. Paul's face. But hockey is intimately woven into the fabric of their community, and it would stand to reason that the six-term legislator would be foursquare in support of state funding for the arena.
Trimble also happens to be a shrewd politician. "Metro State [University] is putting together a nice little complex on the East Side, and a lot of that is his stuff," says Wy Spano, the political analyst. "A lot of people at the Capitol grumble about what should be done. He's persistent and he understands what it takes to get things done. You have to be willing to trade. Steve obviously can do that."
Trimble authored the RiverCentre bill in the House and shepherded it through the Economic Development Finance Division (which he chairs) and the Capitol Improvements Committee (of which he is a member). Speaker Phil Carruthers tabbed him as one of the five House members on the bonding-bill conference committee, where he is, in the words of St. Paul lobbyist Joseph O'Neill, "probably the main player on our side."
A college history professor by trade, Trimble has an acerbic, occasionally condescending wit that he uses to skewer his St. Paul DFL colleagues in the Senate. "I thought if they weren't going to support the arena, they'd fund a big package for other things in St. Paul as an alternative. Instead they sent over this piddly thing that has only about $15 or $20 million worth of small projects in it. It's crazy to think that would be as good for St. Paul as an arena." (Told that Sandy Pappas claims there's more than $58 million for St. Paul projects in the Senate's bill, Trimble replies, "Yeah--if you count things like a new building for the BCA [Bureau of Criminal Apprehension], which might get built here.")
"The Senate says the arena is like the Twins stadium," he continues. "Hello? There are a lot of different things the arena will be used for. But unless the Promise Keepers hold together long enough to stage another rally, the only people using the Twins stadium will be the Twins. What's really going on is the senators have this little political agenda that thinks if we don't get the arena funding it's somehow going to hurt Norm Coleman. I think if anything people are going to be mad at the senators, as they were when I went to my precinct caucuses. People said, 'Why are the senators willing to make us risk our property taxes just because they're mad at Norm?' And I agree with them. It's crazy reasoning by the senators."
Of course, the way the legislative process works, if Trimble wants state money for RiverCentre, he has to sway at least three of the five senate members on the conference committee.
Stick-Handling Ability: A wicked slap shot and the ability to carry the puck make him a potent offensive force. Cagey poke-checker.
The Penalty Box: Two minutes for spearing.
Power Play: One-man advantage. Win or lose, he's a hero for trying.
SEN. GARY LAIDIG
The Republican legislator from the tony suburb of Stillwater is spinning out a populist yarn many Republicans and Stillwater residents might regard as tantamount to class warfare: "I occasionally ride the bus in to work--every legislator ought to do it and get into the real world. On the 16A you see people with grocery bags who don't have a car. You see people who are looking for work. You see Minnesotans. I felt like standing up one morning and saying, 'Listen up! We have these private investors, very wealthy people, who are putting $35 million into this building and they want taxpayers to put in $100 million but they want to control this facility and get practically all the receipts from it. How many think that is a good idea?' And Joe Lunchbucket, the guy who has to ride the bus to work every day, is thinking, 'I gotta spend 40 bucks to get a ticket to see pro hockey and I still have to pay for all this indebtedness?'"
Laidig's words lend credence to Sandy Pappas's contention that "not all the Republicans are going to support this thing just because the governor wants it. The governor is a lame duck and [Lt. Gov. and gubernatorial candidate] Joanne Benson has said she's opposed to state funding for hockey. There are a lot of Benson supporters who served with Joanne when she was in the Senate--off the top of my head, I can think of Dean Johnson, Gary Laidig, Martha Robertson, and David Knutson."
What makes Laidig special is that he's the only Senate Republican on the conference committee. His moderate politics and ties to Benson add up to no love for Coleman, whom he refuses to mention by name. Instead he says, "People who have a personal agenda make decisions differently than people who don't. If you don't have a personal agenda, you ask what impact this deal will have on taxpayers' revenues. But if your personal agenda is furthered by getting a hockey team, you don't care to ask that question.... If a buck comes across the counter at the arena, where does it go? Is there a shoebox for the state of Minnesota, for the city of St. Paul, for the owners of the team? From what I can tell, there is one shoebox and that's for the owners."
As for Carlson, Laidig acknowledges that "the governor said in his letter [to the NHL] that he would make a proposal and he has, and he is very serious about that. But we all kind of beat our chests sometimes. My wife is a school psychologist with a doctorate in child psychology, and she always says you are better off to watch what people do rather than what they say."
The same might apply to Laidig himself. When the question is put to more than a half dozen lobbyists, legislators, and pundits, a small majority predict Laidig will eventually see his way to supporting the arena, Joe Lunchbucket be damned. Even Joseph O'Neill, St. Paul's lobbyist, says, "I think we'll be all right with Laidig." Those who think the senator will come around view his harsh rhetoric as an opportunity to score points against Coleman while he can, or to strengthen his bargaining position in the conference committee, where his priorities include new buildings for the UM (especially the school of architecture, a 15-year project of his that currently has no funding in the House bonding bill).
On the other hand, he might actually be telling the truth.
Whatever the case, as the only politician on the conference committee from both Carlson's party and Moe's legislative body, Laidig is a pivotal figure in this game; whichever direction he goes is likely to be the way the committee resolves its part of the arena debate.
Stick-Handling Ability: Skates with great élan, enhanced by his ability to improvise. Good on faceoffs and grinding in the corners, but passing and ability to get the biscuit in the basket remain question marks.
The Penalty Box: Two minutes for roughing.
Power Play: Even strength (it's difficult to know which side he's on).
SEN. DOUG JOHNSON
A large black-and-white plaque squatting on a shelf in Doug Johnson's office at the Capitol is emblazoned with two words: Governor Johnson. It was given to Johnson by a fellow legislator more than four years ago. Johnson has been waiting a lot longer than that for it to come true. But the 55-year-old chair of the Senate Tax Committee has never made a serious bid for the office until now. "You have to wait for the planets to line up," he says. "But if it's not this year, it's never."
This year the DFL field is crowded with candidates who either have famous last names (Humphrey, Mondale, Freeman) or a history of running for statewide office (Marty and Dayton). Because all of them are prominent, pro-choice politicians from the metro area, they're cannibalizing each other's support. Johnson, on the other hand, is pro-life and hails from the Iron Range, a profile that almost automatically gives him the lion's share of two voting blocs. It may well be enough to earn him a plurality in the DFL primary late this summer.
In that race, and more certainly in the general election if Coleman turns out to be the Republican nominee, funding for pro sports facilities will be a significant campaign issue. Johnson is on record as being against both the Twins stadium and the hockey arena. ("The player salaries are just out of control," he explains.) But as Wy Spano points out, a DFLer can't win statewide if he loses big in St. Paul, and right now Coleman can paint Johnson as one of the senators trying to stick that city's taxpayers with a $65 million tab.
It's an ironic situation for Johnson, who, as one lobbyist puts it, is "the king of pork. He's one of the most powerful people in this building, because he knows how to maneuver money to people." In the Senate tax bill, for instance, Johnson inserted a provision that exempts the sales tax on the construction materials used to build RiverCentre and expand the Minneapolis Convention Center. But he knows that's not enough to assuage the people of St. Paul. And so he came up with a brilliant way to have his anti-hockey vote and finesse it too.
Rather than give St. Paul $65 million for a hockey arena, Johnson wants to give the city $65 million to retire the existing debt on the recently constructed St. Paul Convention Center, which as its stands is being paid off with city tax money. "The governor and everyone are trying to make a comparison between funding for the Minneapolis Convention Center and the arena in St. Paul, but that's apples and oranges," the senator argues. "This would make it apples and apples. It would make the state's position more consistent: We fund convention centers everywhere else. Why not be fair and treat St. Paul the same way we treat Minneapolis, and Duluth, and Fergus Falls? I'm surprised St. Paul didn't think of doing it this way," he adds, taking a shot at Coleman. "I only thought of it the other day, but then it really wasn't my job to have to figure it out."
Indeed, the biggest problem with Johnson's proposal is the fact that he broached it after the Senate had already put together its bonding bill and nixed the arena. (He raised the matter on the floor of the Senate anyway and expressed disappointment that it wasn't picked up in the media.) But the recent flap over Mortenson and Thune resuscitated Johnson's proposal as a compromise measure; Sen. Pappas made headlines this past weekend when she suggested much the same thing. Johnson may yet get to execute his plan or make political hay trying.
To come up with a way to get St. Paul its money in the wake of a Coleman failure would certainly mesh nicely with the gubernatorial-campaign spiel the senator is already rehearsing. "I would never change parties or flip-flop on the issues, and I would have made sure this deal was a sure winner for the St. Paul taxpayers," says candidate Johnson. "The people of St. Paul deserve to have that."
Stick-Handling Ability: Ferocious forechecking and adept passes make him a proven asset on offense--big assist man. Nimble skater with good peripheral vision. But desire to be traded has resulted in questionable desire and motivation.
The Penalty Box: Two minutes for interference, two minutes for cross-checking, and game misconduct for being the third man in a fight.
Power Play: Even strength, though he'd been playing shorthanded until very late in the game.
THE PEOPLE OF ST. PAUL
"Let me tell you something about the people of St. Paul," says former City Council President Dave Thune. "One morning last year I woke up and heard on the radio that we were making this big pitch for [then-Minneapolis-based] Lawson Software. I went over and talked to the city officials in Minneapolis and assured them they would have an opportunity to make their own offer to keep the company, that there wasn't any border war. When I got back over here, people were going, 'What are you doing? What are you talking to them for?' People here do have that pride about getting things, about building this place. I think Sandy discovered that when she was seen as being against hockey during the mayoral election."
Pappas agrees. "At the time we made the deal, I think people did get drawn up in the enthusiasm of hockey. It was, 'Why does Minneapolis get all the teams? Why don't we get a team?' The reality is that the hockey team could have gone to Target Center, but this is the fabric of St. Paul: We are a hockey town and we feel a little inferior compared to Minneapolis, and this deal feeds into that inferiority complex. One of my favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quotes is that it is easier to be enthusiastic than it is to be reasonable."
While the argument has always gone that what St. Paul lacks in clout it makes up for in character, the ever-popular George Latimer was most celebrated as mayor when he was building big downtown monuments such as Galtier Plaza--despite the fact that they were financial disasters. Devoted as he was to neighborhood development and conciliation with Minneapolis, Latimer's successor Jim Scheibel was a one-term mayor who was thought not to be up to the task.
Now the citizens of St. Paul have a leader who learned his history lesson well. Norm Coleman has talked and acted with a big-city panache from the get-go, luring Lawson across the river and bringing in an NHL team. Ostensibly the enthusiasm is over the economic revitalization of downtown, but with St. Paul pressing tight against its debt capacity and bond raters making nervous noises, that forecast is still somewhat cloudy. What is certain is that pride is again on the upswing among denizens of St. Paul, and with it the willingness to hope for a better future, regardless of the odds. As his easy re-election demonstrates, they credit Coleman for stoking it.
Put simply, St. Paul wants to be a player, and Norm Coleman has put them in the game. Whatever the Legislature decides, five weeks from now the Civic Center is coming down and in its place the RiverCentre will go up. The citizens of St. Paul have gone out and bought themselves a big-league building for a major-league franchise in the sport that best represents their heritage and their pugnacity. Now all they have to do is pay for it.
Stick-Handling Ability: Occasionally out-of-control, but a passionate bunch capable of pulling off an upset. May have traded away too much.
The Penalty Box: Game misconduct for fighting, plus two minutes for too many men on the ice.
Power Play: Two-man disadvantage.
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