Rep. John Thompson (Photo: Kevin Featherly)


This week’s topics: Booted from caucus; righteous cause; power rankings


Welcome to Session/Law Sound-off, the weekly current events quiz where we approach smart folks from across the political spectrum and they tell us what’s on their minds. Their views are entirely their own.


This week’s Sounding Board (left to right): John Kaul, Nick Zerwas, Corey Day, Rob Doar and Carlos Mariani

This week’s Sounding Board (left to right): John Kaul, Nick Zerwas, Corey Day, Rob Doar and Carlos Mariani


Query 1: After resisting calls within his own party to resign because of old domestic abuse allegations, Rep. John Thompson has been booted from the DFL House caucus. He says he’s not quitting and expects to keep serving on “critical committees.” Can he find a way to remain an effective legislator under these circumstances?

John Kaul, photographer, retired long-time lobbyist: I doubt it. We’ve never had Wisconsin residents serving in the Minnesota Legislature before. It’s is probably a bad precedent, especially with his track record. [Editor’s note: Kaul makes cynical reference here to Thompson’s July 4 traffic stop in St. Paul, when he was found holding a Wisconsin driver’s license that he renewed just the previous November. Later reports indicate that Thompson has since obtained a Minnesota license.]

Nick Zerwas, lobbyist, former GOP House member: My belief is it’s going to be extremely challenging for Rep. Thompson to have, quite frankly, any relevancy whatsoever. The Legislature is built upon relationships. And it just seems like his approach, his style and his inability or unwillingness to create meaningful relationships in the Legislature has probably doomed his career.

Corey Day, public affairs consultant, former DFL executive director: It becomes extremely difficult when you don’t belong to a caucus, or you don’t hold critical committee assignments, to be an effective legislator. We see that going on in Congress right now with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. She has been booted out of her committee assignments. All she is, pretty much, is a loud crazy voice. So I think it’s going to be pretty hard for him to be effective if he doesn’t have a caucus behind him and what comes with having a caucus staff—research and whatnot. But the voters will have their day, and their say, about whether he stays in the House.

Rob Doar, political director, Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus: No. I think similar to what happened with Rep. Erik Mortensen, once you have had your staff effectively minimized to one or two people without the resources of a major caucus, you have severely compromised your ability to represent your constituents. [Editor’s note: In May, just months after he was welcomed to join, Mortensen, R-Shakopee, was kicked out of the breakaway New House Republican Caucus.]

Carlos Mariani, DFL House Public Safety committee chair: Yeah, he can. It sort of will be tough. He won’t have access to the caucus resources to do the work he needs to do. But he will have access to other House resources—nonpartisan staff, etc. We should treat him the same as we have others in the past in that the situation. I’m thinking of [former GOP Rep.] Mark Olson, who was provided a legislative assistant. I would expect that we would do the same. It should be equitable treatment. I think for John to be effective, he probably needs to own up to whatever missteps he has taken and be very upfront about that, number one. And then, number two, I think he needs to stay focused on the work that he wants to do, without mixing that up with his own personal issues. That’s going to be hard. What triggered all this was the traffic stop and, obviously, if he’s working on police reform issues—which I would expect he would—it is going to be hard for him to separate out all of his personal experiences. I mean, after all, Philando [Castile] was one of his best friends. So that’s going to be tough. I think we all have to do this to some degree, but we don’t let those experiences prevent us from working in an arena where we’ve got to be able to compromise to address our particular issues. His ability to compromise and negotiate is going to be tested. And he is going to have to step up to do that. [Editor’s note: Rep. Mark Olson, R-Big Lake, was suspended from the House Republican caucus in December 2006 following his arrest for domestic assault. He was allowed a session-only staff member while awaiting trial, but he was officially expelled from the caucus after his misdemeanor conviction. Olson did not to file for reelection to his House seat, but later tried unsuccessfully to win an open Senate seat.]  

The Board of Pardons include, left to right, Attorney General Keith Ellison, Gov. Tim Walz and Chief Justice Lorie Gildea. Here they mull a June 2019 petition. (Photo: Kevin Featherly)

The Board of Pardons include, left to right, Attorney General Keith Ellison, Gov. Tim Walz and Chief Justice Lorie Gildea. Here they mull a June 2019 petition. (Photo: Kevin Featherly)

Query 2: Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea this week appealed to her own court to overturn a ruling that the law requiring unanimous votes on the Board of Pardons is unconstitutional. If she loses, pardons could be granted over the chief justice’s objections by a vote of just the governor and attorney general. Do you think the chief’s cause is righteous?

Kaul: I think a two-thirds vote would sufficient to grant clemency. It’s just so hard to get even unanimity of opinion in this polarized age, even on the weather or the value of vaccinations.

Zerwas: The way we have it established in statute is for there to be a unanimous opinion of the pardons board. If individuals believe that is no longer the right way to proceed forward, they should change the law in the legislature, not through litigation. I would hope that the law remains intact. It would encourage people who are interested in changing it to seek a legislative remedy.

Day: I’m a believer that when it comes to certain cases, like the [Shefa] case that she’s addressing, a simple majority should suffice. So I don’t really believe it’s righteous. Especially when a case comes with a threat of deportation, I think a majority should suffice.

Doar: Yes. I don’t know about the constitutionality of it. But personally, I would favor a unanimous decision by the board in order to grant somebody a pardon. If you’re going to pardon somebody, it needs to be pretty clear and convincing that the person should be released. It shouldn’t be just a simple majority.

Mariani: No. I don’t think so. The reason is that law is meaningless unless it has compassion and reflects the very real experiences of people involved with that law. Her problem, quite frankly, is I believe she is out of step in many cases with the sense of the people about laws needing to be compassionate. It’s really hard to be empathetic while making a technical argument about something that, in the end, is going to produce a non-compassionate application of the law. [Editor’s note: The news gods move at the light speed. Within an hour of wrapping up these interviews, the Supreme Court issued an order in this case. The chief justice prevailed in her appeal and the unanimity requirement was ruled constitutional and will remain in place.]  

Stock photo: Kelly Lacy,

Stock photo: Kelly Lacy,

Query 3: But for a … questionable? … call by an official that Dalvin Cook fumbled while sitting on the turf, the Vikings probably would have won their game last week against Joe Burrow and the ostensibly inferior Bengals. Minnesota’s power rankings slid seven spots to No. 24. Are they really the eighth worst of the league’s 32 teams?

Kaul: Well, the last time I watched a Vikings game was when Brett Favre was the quarterback. But I remember what Gene McCarthy said about what it took to be a great football coach: Someone who is smart enough to understand the game and stupid enough to think it matters.

Zerwas: They were last week, if not worse! [Laughs.] But I thought Dalvin’s comments were really, really gracious and mature. The media tried to get him to bite, to kind of go after the ref’s call. He said we need to go out and perform at a high level and win these games and if we’re going to leave it to the overturning of a call on the field, then we haven’t done our part leading up to that. We don’t see that very often in professional sports—someone saying that we screwed that one up a bit, we need to do a better job. So I really appreciated Dalvin’s comments on that following the game.

Day: As a Packers fan, I would say, yes, they are. [Laughs.] It’s understandable that a fumble cost them that victory. But they were playing the Bengals. And the fact that it comes down to a last play like that and a fumble onto the turf to get beat by the lowly Cincinnati Bengals says a lot about where the Vikings are, unfortunately.

Doar: They could be even worse than that.

Mariani: [Laughs.] No, they’re not. I don’t believe so. This is partly tongue-in-cheek, but kind of serious, too: We have them right where we want them. We’re being under-estimated!  


Session/Law logo by Kirk Anderson