Nate Silver wrote an interesting piece yesterday on the psychology of having one party so close to a super-majority in a legislative body. His piece is about the U.S. Senate, but it got me thinking about the Minnesota State House — unlike the Senate, there is no super-majority requirement for cloture, but a super-majority is required to overturn a veto in the State House, as we saw earlier this year with the passage of the transportation bill. On that bill, six House Republicans voted with the DFL majority to override, and were promptly excoriated by their own party for having done so.
From Nate’s piece:
You have conflicting incentives here: perhaps your constituents support the bill, but your party caucus certainly does not; you might have mixed feelings about it personally.
There are four possible outcomes to this dilemma:
a. You vote for the bill and it passes.
b. You vote against the bill, but it passes.
c. You vote for the bill, but it fails.
d. You vote against the bill, and it fails.
Which of these four outcomes is the most desirable for you? Probably this one:
You vote against the bill, but it passes. This way, your colleagues in the Republican caucus will be happy. But, your constituents will probably be reasonably happy too. They get the piece of legislation they wanted, and in time, your nay vote will almost certainly be forgotten about. And your risks are pretty well hedged: if the bill becomes unpopular later on, you can always remind the voters that you were against it.
That pretty well models the pros and cons in the State House, but substituting an override vote for cloture.
It got me wondering — can the DFL expect to accomplish even less than the landmark transportation bill? Its majority in the House will be even closer to a super-majority than it was in 2008, but the Republican caucus leadership has put the fear of God (or worse, a primary) into its members. Kathy Tingelstad is gone. Ron Erhardt is gone. Neil Peterson is gone. Jim Abeler may be the best possibility for the DFL in its search for moderate veto-override crossovers, having evaded a primary challenge and a big middle finger from his party leadership, but his vote alone still leaves the DFL a couple of votes short of an override.
Of course, the lay of the political land is a bit different in this upcoming session, with a massive budget deficit to face and more than a few new faces on both sides of the aisle. Whether anything positive gets done this session will be a measure of the political skill employed by both parties’ leadership, as well as that of Gov. Pawlenty.