MARSHALL - Is the divide between Republicans and Democrats in Minnesota becoming greater?
Many legislators would agree it is and have been outspoken about it. Some are choosing to leave their seat voluntarily as opposed to seeking re-election.
Sen. Claire Robling, a senior Republican from Jordan, announced Friday that her fifth term will be her last and said partisan politics is why.
"Statesmen are vanishing as partisanship deepens," at the Capitol, she told the Associated Press.
Partisanship is always a player in politics, at both the state and federal levels, and last year was a prime example.
In 2011, Minnesotans were the victims of a 20-day shutdown that occurred under the watch of a Democratic governor who presided over a Republican-controlled Legislature. Only one piece of legislation - the ag bill - got passed on time, and the two sides failed miserably to compromise on the best way to fix a $5 billion budget shortfall. So on July 1 the state went into full shutdown mode.
Things won't get that bad this summer, but legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton are nevertheless worlds apart on a bonding bill.
Former State Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall, who went through numerous political battles during his stint in the House from 1997-2010, thinks partisanship got its foothold in Minnesota when party designations were introduced for elections in the early 1970s.
Two decades later while serving in the House, Seifert actually put together a bill that would take the partisan slant out of elections and go back to the old system that didn't include a capital letter after a person's name - at time when name recognition outweighed party recognition. That bill never got a hearing.
"I thought it might have been something for people to look at," Seifert said. "But things certainly got tougher as time went on. You see (partisanship) more in finance bills; I think almost every finance bill last year passed on a strictly partisan vote. When I chaired the State Government Committee in 2005, I had almost all the Republicans and about half the Democrats vote for my bill. That just shows how things have changed. You can't satisfy everybody."
Seifert said as time went on during his tenure, bitterness grew and the tone of debates became more and more nasty and vitriolic, almost to the point where some legislators lost sight of the bill they were voting on. He said today, social media have only added fuel to the partisan fire.
"It's really put a lot of people on a hair trigger," he said. "It's just instantaneous savagery. Things go out on Twitter if you're saying something on the floor that goes against the grain."
In the 2005 partial government shutdown, legislators and then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty couldn't come to an agreement on budgets for K-12 education, transportation and human services, so the state went into a partial shutdown for eight days. That year, the Legislature was made up of a Republican House and a Democratic Senate serving under a Republican governor. However, Seifert said, the House was anything but GOP-heavy, as it was made up of 68 Republicans and 64 Democrats.
"In 2005 there was some partisanship," Seifert said. "I think some people thought the Democrats in the Senate purposely held things up because they could take advantage of a shutdown in the elections. "Everything was extremely close that year. If one guy was gone or was sick, you couldn't get a bill passed."
Southwest Minnesota State University Political Science Professor David Sturrock said the Legislature has become more ideological and partisan since annual sessions began in 1974, meaning the "job of legislator has become more of a full-time occupation," he said, and because of interest groups' ability to get legislators "to take hardline positions on that group's core issues, which makes compromise more difficult."
DFL Rep. Lyle Koenen said partisanship has become more of a problem in recent years, compared to when he took office 10 years ago.
"I think it's worse now," said Koenen. "Look at photo ID. Last year, the Republicans passed it as a bill and Governor Dayton vetoed it. Instead of trying to work with Democrats and the governor this year and finding language we could all agree on, they just wrote the bill as a question on the ballot for November. That way, they didn't have to negotiate with Democrats."
Koenen said there are more extremists today at the Capitol, whether they lean to the left or the right.
"To some of them, not a large number, but some, it almost seems like compromise doesn't mean compromise, it means you're giving up. I think that's part of the problem," he said.
At the federal level, Democratic U.S. Sen Al Franken, who has only been in Washington for three years but has seen more than his share of partisanship, said it comes down mostly to philosophical differences that are, at times, next to impossible to overcome.
"We have a representative in the House that on certain issues will not move from his philosophy at all and a minority leader in the Senate who is intent on filibustering anything he doesn't approve of."
Franken says he makes efforts to reach across the aisle to his colleagues, both on personal and professional levels. Sometimes, he said, there are issues when people from opposite parties have no problem compromising.
"Even on issues that are very important to some people you can find bipartisanship, especially when it's regional," he said. "Certainly ag policy is one of them. (U.S. Sen.) Amy (Klobuchar) and I will agree with (Republican South Dakota Sen. John) Thune on ethanol, for example, whereas we might disagree on a number of other things."
Franken also noted that No Child Left Behind reform legislation also passed on a bipartisan vote.