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May 27, 2004
Did Any Drive Home Afterwards?

The Democrats in the Minnesota State Legislature had quite a time in the closing hours of its last session, when they fired Cherie Pierson Yecke just to show their solidarity. Apparently, the DFL fortified themselves with more than just a healthy dose of partisanship, as local station KMSP found out when a news crew looked behind the scenes in the session's final hours:

Late at night, in the closing days of the legislative session, lobbyists, state workers and even some lawmakers gathered in offices at the State Capitol to drink beer, wine and liquor, KMSP-TV reported Wednesday night. The station showed trash cans full of beer, wine and liquor bottles and suggested that at least some the alcohol of might have been provided by lobbyists. Lobbyists are not allowed to give gifts to legislators. ...

KMSP said state policy forbids state workers from drinking on the job, even during rest breaks and overtime work.

Getting wasted on the taxpayer's time -- that's the new DFL motto in Minnesota. KMSP found a number of lobbyists in DFL offices while the Senate debated issues like the new lowered threshold for drunk driving. While the Senate made driving drunk easier to prove, they failed to pass any laws making legislating drunk illegal. On the other hand, it explains why almost nothing of consequence passed during the Lost Weekend of the Minnesota Legislature -- not a new bonding bill, not any steps to close the small $160 million gap in the state deficit, not even any headway on combating sexual predators.

But our esteemed Senators had plenty of time to party on, dude. In fact, the party starts at the top and works its way down:

The station said it also saw lobbyists, state workers and lawmakers drinking in the office of Senate President James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul. KMSP said it never saw Metzen drinking, and that he did not respond to requests for comment, but Rep. Scott Wasiluk, DFL-Maplewood, came over to his office while the House was in a late-night session.

"I came to raid your whisky,'' Wasiluk said.

"That's what it's there for,'' Metzen replied.

The station showed Wasiluk back on the House floor for a vote on a health care issue, looking sleepy. It also showed him at another point misunderstanding what was taking place on the floor as he monitored the session on TV from Metzen's office. Sleep expert Dr. Mark Mahowald said the combination of sleep deprivation and alcohol hurts decision-making ability.

What would we do without sleep experts? Perhaps next session, the good doctor could testify to that, along with the breaking news that drinking too much causes hangovers and that we should all take a shot whenever anyone says, "Hi, Bob!"

So what do our honorable representatives have to say for themselves? It's all KMSP's fault for catching them:

The station taped someone carrying a cooler into the office of Senate Majority Whip Linda Higgins. The Minneapolis DFLer was on the Senate floor at the time, in the final hours before adjournment, but several people were in her office drinking. KMSP said most of them were lobbyists. One lobbyist was sitting behind her desk, drinking a beer.

Higgins issued a written statement to KMSP saying it was unfortunate that its news team was "failing to focus on the dedication of members and staff who work round the clock ... to pass important legislation.''

I'd say that the members and staff passed a lot that evening, but I'd hardly call it legislation. (Legislation in Minnesota usually resembles the product of another bodily function, as demonstrated by the drunken firing of Yecke.) Speaking of legislation, though, Rep. Wasiluk suggests a bill for the next session:

Wasiluk issued a statement to the station saying: "I sincerely apologize for my recent behavior. If the public feels additional laws should be passed to improve public confidence in the work of legislators, I would vote for it.''

Unfortunately, Minnesota already has laws against drinking on the job, as well as accepting gifts from lobbyists. Perhaps no one thought to make sure that the law covered both situations occuring simultaneously, but I'd guess that the Attorney General can work around that difficult situation, if he chooses. However, since our Attorney General happens to be the uberpartisan hack Mike Hatch (DFL, natch), I'd say that Norm, Cliff, and the rest of the gang from Cheers probably won't get too much flack from the law.

The guys at Fraters Libertas, no strangers to the drink themselves, have a few pointed things to say about our Leshisslayyshure. The Elder gives it to them straight up:

I've been to enough conventions and election night affairs to know that most of the best political conversations and insights are shared over a cocktail. It's all part of the game.

But not while you're debating the pressing the issues of the day, discussing compromises, and casting votes. One of the yahoo legislators in this case was actually kicking back and drinking while voting was being conducted on the floor. As a representative you have a responsibility to your constitutes to perform your duties to the best of your abilities. You cannot allow your faculties and judgment to be impaired by alcohol .

The other disturbing aspect of this story was the fact that most of the drinking taking place in the legislative offices was being done by lobbyists. I usually tend to dismiss the claims that lobbyists run the government and they're ruining democracy, blah, blah, blah, but the idea of a pack of cackling lobbyists sitting around and pounding wine coolers in the office of the Senate Majority Whip while she's on the floor gives one pause. That's just a little bit too cozy for my comfort.

Saint Paul, on the other hand, is reminded of a Seinfeld episode called The Red Dot, in which George is caught by his employer having sex with the cleaning woman in the office. The Saint has the transcript of the scene, but sets it up with this observation:

Actually it might not be such a bad idea to outlaw legislating while drunk. It seems only fair since the government has already outlawed the citizens from voting while drunk. Seems to me if we can't ease the pain of Minnesota government by drinking ourselves numb, they shouldn't be able to either.

Getting back to Wasiluk's laughable reaction to the allegations, the parallels are striking with the Seinfeld episode where George gets confronted by his boss about having sex with the cleaning room at his office. (Yes, there is a direct reference to all significant human endeavors in either the Simpsons or Seinfeld). ... Lord knows the DFL won't take any substantive remedial action on Wasiluk. But here's hoping the folks in his district in Maplewood have the same good sense as George's boss, who responded to ridiculous excuses in the only appropriate manner:

Boss: You're fired.

Now the DFL wants Governor Tim Pawlenty to call a special session in order to pass a bonding bill, which would allow them to add pork to the booze. Pawlenty should instead close down Animal House/Senate and consider some way to put Otter, Bluto, and the rest of the Senate boozehounds on double-secret probation. While he's at it, he should check into a special prosecutor to look into all that free booze -- and anything else -- supplied by the lobbyists to the DFL.

UPDATE: Senate DFL leader Dean Johnson says this about a special session:

He continued to emphasize that any special session must be limited in its agenda and be only a few days long. "We're not interested in spending our entire summer and fall here in St. Paul," Johnson said.

No kidding. The detox expenses from a summer-long binge would be enormous.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 27, 2004 3:34 PM

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