Darrell Ehrlick: Senators eschew party favor for local values

2011-06-12T00:00:00Z Darrell Ehrlick: Senators eschew party favor for local valuesBy DARRELL EHRLICK | darrell.ehrlick@lee.net Winona Daily News

It's got all the elements of a good story: upstart politicians yearning for change, going to the Capitol and then defiantly telling party leaders there's a new sheriff in town.

So far, that's been the plotline of the story about the freshman Republicans sent to St. Paul after last year's election that saw the Legislature take a hard turn to the right.

You know the story: The young-Turk GOPers who have a mandate but, more importantly, have an ideology.

It makes for a good yarn. But I'm beginning to think it's about as reliable as the reports from Hansel and Gretel about a mean ol' witch.

I can see why the story of these Republicans has caught ahold of Minnesotan imaginations. It's a satisfying and heroic tale for conservatives, and it fits in well to the archetypes many DFLers have about those who sit on the opposite side of the political aisle.

So, for your consideration, I present two freshman senators from our area, Jeremy Miller and John Howe.

While it's safe to say I believe both have been absolutely wrong in going along with the Republican's near-obsession with protecting the rich and social-wedge issues, both have done some decidedly moderate and not-necessarily glitzy work.

For example, Miller responded to what has become a very recent scourge in Winona: the dangerous drug "plant food."

He's also worked to find a solution to the vexing Green Acres problem - without having to rewrite entire sections of

state code. He also broke ranks with the party because he thought a measure to cut higher education would too deeply cut places like Winona State University.

And you'd have to read pretty carefully but, while Miller appears opposed to taxing the highest earners in the state, he hasn't taken all talk of taxation off the board.

Not exactly a raving ideologue.

His colleague to the north, Howe, is also proving to be a man who seems more about getting work done than getting the party's work done.

A week ago, the Daily News' editorial board took aim at the state Republican party, which has stiffed many counties after racking up bills related to the 2010 gubernatorial bid that saw DFLer Mark Dayton beat GOP candidate Tom Emmer.

We reasoned, "State Republican lawkmakers have urged the state to live within its means. That may be good advice, but it becomes cheapened - if not discredited - when the same party can't live within its own means."

Howe quoted that and several other passages from the editorial in a letter he sent to GOP caucus members. Howe chipped in $250 of his own money to help satisfy the debt, and urged others to do the same. As of Tuesday, he hadn't gotten a count of who else in the party was ponying up, but he was pretty sure the issue was nearly finished.

To Howe, though, that's not the point.

"This is embarrassing and painfully indefensible," he wrote. "This damages us not just on the local level, but statewide as well. It is spreading through the political blogs, and must be reason for much head shaking in watercooler conversations.

"If we are the party of personal responsibility and accountability, we'd better show it."

Those aren't mere words Howe was spouting in a show of political disgust.

He not only donated to the cause, he's taken the fight personally.

He said he's frustrated because he brought the debt issue to party leadership more than a month ago. He was told then it would be taken care of.

He said he was shocked to read in the Daily News that it was still an issue. Apparently, leadership was waiting for a "certain person who had money left over from the election" to settle up with the counties.

Nevertheless, Howe is trying to ensure the debt - honestly made - gets paid.

Like the GOP politics or not, it says more than I could write that Howe is taking responsibility even though he had nothing to do with it.

His rationale? He's a Republican and the party preaches fiscal responsibility.

Maybe that's one of the reasons why Dayton had Howe to lunch recently.

Howe said the lunch was a great, honest conversation about the budget and priorities.

He said they talked about what was possible - and impossible. For example, Howe, along with the party, seems to be toeing a hard line against increasing income tax.

"With the population getting older, income tax isn't stable," Howe said. "But I think we can look at broadening sales tax to raise some funds, as well as keeping things like food, medicine and clothing tax-free."

Howe also expressed some discomfort about the GOP's $34 billion budget. The keyword contained within, of course, being "budge."

Republican legislators say they're unwilling to consider a budget that is more than $34 billion. Howe can't help but wonder if it was a good strategy to draw a $34 billion line in the sand.

"We boxed ourselves in," Howe said.

Don't fool yourself: There's still plenty of rancor and puffery going on at the Capitol. Still, despite the nonsense, there remain pockets of sanity, cooperation and precious middle ground.

Miller and Howe may be showing signs of growing out of their party and into their districts.

Ehrlick is the editor of the Winona Daily News and can be reached at 507-453-3507 or by email at darrell.ehrlick@lee.net.

Copyright 2015 Winona Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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