Purple Caucus Works To Find Unity

With the end of the 2016 legislative session only a few weeks away, the session is heating up. Supplemental budget proposals will be finalized soon, bills are leaving committees to be heard on the floor, and the process of negotiating an end to the session has begun in earnest.

While Republican and Democratic Party leaders can and will get into partisan battles during these negotiations, members of the Minnesota Senate’s Purple Caucus have been working hard to hammer out points of unity. As a representative of a very politically diverse district, I am proud to be a part of that work as a member of the caucus. The Purple Caucus includes both parties, with Senators Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) and Roger Reinert (DFL-Duluth) acting as co-chairs.

When I teach my students about American politics, I tell them that parties have important roles to play in our political system, but it’s important to keep in mind the larger goals of public service. A bipartisan caucus can be a great opportunity for members of opposing political parties to engage on issues they all care about.

Members of the Purple Caucus do just that, and in this case, our unifying factor is our pride in our state. (Senator Reinert may have named the caucus after joint military exercises involving blended “Purple Units,” but as a Vikings fan, I like to think it extends to our NFL team as well.) The Purple Caucus meets regularly to talk about positions we have in common, and have outlined four principles that we will speak up for as the session draws to a close.

First, Minnesotans expect the 2016 legislature to pass a Transportation Finance Bill, a Tax Bill, and a Bonding Bill. The transportation and tax bills are still pending from last year, when the session ended before either bill was passed. I believe that sustainable transportation funding is critical to our state’s economic development, and will save taxpayers money in the long run. A tax bill with carefully targeted middle-class and property tax relief will give some money back to Minnesotans, without busting the budget in future years.

The Purple Caucus also supports the passage of both a Bonding Bill and a Transportation Finance Bill, and that roads, bridges, and transit should not be funded through borrowing in the Bonding Bill. Bonding is an important tool that the state uses to upgrade, repair, or build new state infrastructure, and leaning on this borrowing to fund roads and bridges would crowd out needed investments in other areas. I am concerned that overly-politicizing the state’s bonding by including individual transportation projects would jeopardize their eventual completion and, furthermore, be bad for our long-term fiscal health.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the Purple Caucus has called for increased transparency in the legislative process. The end of last year’s legislative session was disappointing to everyone, with closed-door meetings and negotiations often locking out not only the public, but even elected officials not part of their party leadership. We believe that all legislators and the public should be included in the final decision-making process.

The Purple Caucus also encourages like-minded members of the Minnesota House to join our efforts, prioritizing our common ground as we finish this session. We may not always be successful, and there are still major differences between our parties, but acknowledging and fighting for our shared goals will make our state a better place for everyone. The Purple Caucus adheres to the following principles, as developed by the Speak Your Peace Civility Project: pay attention; be inclusive; not gossip; show respect; be agreeable; apologize; give constructive criticism; and take responsibility.