Southwest legislators: We spoke up!

As elected officials, we welcome efforts from our constituents to hold us accountable. In this extremely well-informed and active legislative district, constructive debate and critique are time-honored traditions. As challengers of the status quo ourselves, we would expect no less from our constituents. Imagine our surprise, however, at an assertion in the June 26 Southwest Journal by Sean Wherley that we were passive spectators unwilling to raise our voices against Gov. Pawlenty’s budget cuts and unwilling to offer a plan to counter the effects of his budget. As three of the strongest voices within our DFL caucuses, it would be difficult to sit by and allow someone take away from our efforts. We feel it is important that our constituents know the truth, and to unequivocally refute the writer's claims.

It is important for District 60 residents to know that each of us, individually and as a team, worked tirelessly and very visibly with citizens, the media and elected officials, from Mayor Rybak and the City Council to Hennepin County Commissioners and our local neighborhood organizations, to form a united front in opposition to the draconian cuts Pawlenty and his legislative allies were trying to inflict on our city and on our state.

After hearing from people here in Minneapolis and in Greater Minnesota, Democrats in both the House and Senate offered budget plans that did exactly what the writer and thousands of others felt was the right thing to do: namely, balance the budget through a fair and reasonable mix of tax increases, anchored by a progressive income tax hike that also included some cuts in state government. The plans set forth by House and Senate Democrats met the challenge of a historic budget deficit without abandoning Minnesota's proud tradition of progressive, fair and activist government. The plans asked those at the top to pay a little more so that core services like education and health care would be protected, and our overall quality of life would not be downgraded. In the end, we voted against every single Republican-sponsored budget bill.

Had Mr. Wherley bothered to contact us during the legislative session, he would have learned that the District 60 DFL legislators not only supported the tax policies he espouses, but took an active leadership role in promoting them. For example, Rep. Anderson Kelliher led the effort to develop the House DFL budget plan; Rep. Hornstein offered amendments in the House Transportation Finance Committee and on the House floor to increase tax revenue to offset transit cuts; and Sen.Dibble was a strong voice to preserve and increase affordable-housing money and to oppose Senate leadership's decision to strike a premature session-ending budget deal with Governor Pawlenty and House Republicans.

As community organizers, we all thought it was important early in the session -- even before the full release of the Pawlenty budget -- that we hear from constituents and gather input on the budget. Our style is to collaborate and work in coalition, rather than impose solutions and pontificate. At our first town hall meeting in February, we made our views about a fair and balanced budget clear and, more importantly, that this was a meeting to hear from our constituents -- and we got valuable input from many people. The writer was at the meeting, and we deeply regret that he chose to remain silent during it rather than give voice to his obviously strong feelings about the issues that he instead raised much later in his flawed op-ed piece.

We share the frustration of constituents from District 60 and people across the state over the budget outcomes from the session. The Republicans won the election and leveraged their enhanced power to force a draconian budget, even in the face of overwhelming public opposition. Republicans wouldn’t raise taxes one penny in order to ameliorate nursing home cuts, tuition increases, K-12 education cuts or public safety service reductions that undermine our quality of life and our economic desirability. The Governor did however, lead the charge of imposing over half a billion dollars in fee increases.

We will continue to work together, with our constituents, to make sure that Minnesota’s status as an economic leader with a uniquely high standard of living is not sacrificed to Governor Pawlenty’s vision to remake Minnesota into a low-tax, low-service, low-justice state - we can and must do better for the future of our city and our state.

Sen. Scott Dibble,

District 60

Rep. Margaret Anderson Kelliher,

District 60A

Rep. Frank Hornstein,

District 60B