Our House: The Capitol Project Podcast

Episode 1: How Power Really Works

July 31, 2023 Season 1 Episode 1
Our House: The Capitol Project Podcast
Episode 1: How Power Really Works
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Three former Capitol insiders detail what the public doesn’t normally see about how power really works, and doesn’t, at the Capitol. Guests: Stephanie Andrews, Andy Dawkins, and Kevin Lindsey

0:00 Introduction
5:38 What was your "welcome to the Capitol" moment?
9:38 What makes the Capitol a confusing place?
18:16 Do you feel as though the Capitol is accessible?
37:53 Do you think transparency prevents things from getting done?
42:51 What do you wish somebody had told you at the beginning that would have been helpful?
44:29 Conclusion


Welcome to the People's House. 

Did you climb the marble steps and see the view? Were you moved by the visions and the statues?  

Do you feel that the government is you? 

Welcome to the people's house.


Alan Berks 

Hello, and welcome to the first episode of Our House, a podcast that pulls back the curtain on how Minnesota State government really works. I'm Alan Berks,


Leah Cooper  

and I'm Leah Cooper, in this podcast you're going to hear people say things about the political process that you won't hear in the news.


Andy Dawkins

I think every legislator I knew got elected wanting to do good for their community. And it's a system that kind of corrupts, and everything has to pass through an hourglass that has a bottleneck that power can thwart all the good intentions you might have.


Kevin Lindsey  

But I think that there's a spirit right of people who come to the Capitol of thinking that we're all in this together, there should be some common thread which ties us together. So there should be some rules of how we operate and treat one another. But unless you have the votes, you can't hold people accountable. If they don't abide by sort of that social contract.


Stephanie Andrews  

if I had a dime for every time, you would say it's more complicated than that. That's kind of the lifeblood of the capital, that everything you're working on is more complicated than it appears.


Welcome to the people’s house… 

No justice, no peace. No justice, no peace.

Welcome to the people’s house

No justice, no peace. No justice, no peace.

Welcome to the people’s house


Leah Cooper  

Alan and I are not just your hosts. We're also the co-artistic directors of Wonderlust Productions. In 2018, we created a play that was performed at the state capitol based on the true stories we gathered from people who work there.


Alan Berks  

Here's the context. The Capitol had just been restored physically, while the partisan divides that we saw in the media seemed to be growing wider, like cracks in its foundation. We wanted to know how our government works on a day to day basis when it feels like everything is falling apart.


Leah Cooper

We listened to hundreds of stories from state workers, civil servants, policy experts, issue advocates, lobbyists, reporters – people who had devoted their lives to the business of government, often behind the scenes. Then we made a play. They put all these ideas together in one drama 


No justice, no peace!

I’m nonpartisan staff, 

so you don't care? 

No, that's not what nonpartisan means. I work for both sides. I'm a civil servant.

What about being on the right side?


Leah Cooper 

In the process of putting together this show, we learned that the Capitol is very much like theater. There's what you see on stage, which has been carefully choreographed to affect you in very specific ways. And then there is the messiness of what happens behind the scenes where the script gets written and rewritten, where different actors demand that their parts work in certain ways, where a director tries to move everyone in the same direction to a single goal: where compromises happen.


Alan Berks  

But theater is entertainment. The theater of government, on the other hand, has a direct effect on what happens in people's lives. What happens behind the scenes seemed to us like the stuff that we all -citizens- should actually be watching.


Leah Cooper 

And so “Our House” - the podcast - was born. In each episode we’ll sit down with people whose work revolves around the Capitol to learn about some of the mind boggling realities of how laws are made and budgets are passed.


Alan Berks 

As one of our guests says “there are rules, but also there aren't any rules.”


Leah Cooper 

In this first episode, Alan sits down with three people who no longer work directly at the Capitol, but whose intimate knowledge of how the Capitol works touches on all the issues we tried to capture in the play.


Alan Berks  
Who really has access to power? 


Leah Cooper 
Why are things hidden? Is transparency always positive? Or does invisibility sometimes have value?


Alan Berks

How does change actually happen?


Leah Cooper  

How can we have a government that truly represents us? In this episode, we talk with Stephanie Andrews, who worked close to 17 years for what is now the Minnesota Management and Budget department, formerly known as the Department of Finance.


Alan Berks  

and also Kevin Lindsay, who served as the Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights Under Governor Mark Dayton


Leah Cooper 

and Andy Dawkins, former DFL representative Andy Dawkins, who represented district 65A for 16 years.


Alan Berks

I should point out that Andy Dawkins was actually in our show at the Capitol. That's one of the things we do – we bring in people from the community to act alongside professional performers. It keeps us honest, and Andy seems to have had a pretty good time.


Andy Dawkins 

You know, I learned things too.  Here I was in the capitol for 15 years, and I saw these things in the play I said “wow, yeah, that's right.” And I hadn't really thought about it as much as I had before that. So a lot of insights from great things that I - and I sure didn't know about the ghosts in the capitol before I saw that play and things like that. But it was really fun. And I wish I would have had a chance to sing more except I flunked the singing part.


Alan Berks 

Theater doesn't actually have grades. But Andy can't really sing. We let him sing anyway. It's actually hard to stop Andy from doing things once he sets his mind to it.


Leah Cooper 

Everyone at the Capitol has some amount of idealism in them. 


Alan Berks  

So we started our conversation by asking our guests when they realized that this wasn't going to be like some kind of model UN conference,


Leah Cooper  

or like the Schoolhouse Rock cartoons that we all saw about how a bill becomes a law.


Alan Berks

I asked them if they remembered the moment where they, as a naive rookie, got schooled by a seasoned vet. For Kevin Lindsey, it was around coalition building.


Kevin Lindsey

So as a commissioner seeking, especially the Department of Human Rights, because we're a relatively small agency, it says within the statute, we can call on and get assistance from any of the other agencies. And that's more of the spirit as it relates to practicality. So when I'm gonna be calling various agencies trying to get workforce goals, opportunities for more people of color, more women to be able to work, I’d hear one thing, and then we'd go into a meeting with the governor, and then I'd hear those same people say something very different, right? So always constantly massaging going back and massaging it. Because after the first meeting, I said, Oh, this is - 


Andy Dawkins 

-gonna work great.


Kevin Lindsey

Well, it's different. When you practice law, if you say something in front of the judge, you can take that to the bank, because people aren't gonna go back. That doesn't necessarily always work at the capitol in that way.


Leah Cooper

Kevin, just dove right in. What he's describing is what makes people very cynical and upset about politics and politicians.


Alan Berks  

But as you will hear over and over again, in this podcast, it's more complicated than that. 


Stephanie - did you have a welcome moment like that?


Stephanie Andrews

I think the great, the great fun of getting to work with a couple of administrations means that I think that each time I kind of had a different one, right, because you have a new team, and you're kind of getting to know people differently. And the thing that sticks in my mind is, is when we had an independent governor elected, and there weren't any rules. I'd been in the job a couple of years. And, and so kind of knew what you did when a governor was elected, you had a very short time to get a budget together. And so you had lots of quick relationships you were trying to form so that you could know each other well enough to make really big decisions in a three week period. And none of that was even in place to start with. And so that was a moment, I can actually see the room we were sitting in with a view of the Capitol. And the table was piled, you know, five feet high with stuff, none of which made any difference, because we just didn't even know where to get started. And that was one of those like, well, there's nobody who's going to do this other than this team. And we got to put something together. That was one of those where I really felt the weight of public service and what what was happening in this really crazy political moment. And just the intellectual challenge of that was fun. It was really fun.


Kevin Lindsey  

I think that's what's really interesting about the capitol, because in some sense, there are rules, but they're not really rules, I mean…


Andy Dawkins

Only one rule! You got the votes or not?


Kevin Lindsey 

To some extent.


Stephanie Andrews

Lots of ways to get there. 


Kevin Lindsey  

There’s absolute power. If you have the votes, then you can change the perspective, right. But I think that there is a spirit, right, of people who come to the Capitol of thinking that we're all in this together, there should be some common thread which ties us together. So there should be some rules of how we operate and treat one another. But unless you have the votes, we can't hold people accountable. They don't abide by sort of that social contract.


Andy Dawkins  

I think every legislator I knew got elected wanting to do good for their community. And it's a system that kind of corrupts, and everything has to pass through an hourglass, that as a bottleneck that power can thwart all the good intentions you might have. I was going to be the chair of the tax committee by seniority, but I was told no Dawkins, you won't be able to raise enough money for us, because you're going to be too extreme. So we can't make you the tax chair. So there's the powers that thwarted me in that.


Alan Berks  

So just to explore that a little more. I know that. I know things don't go the way that they appear they're going to go and also that Uh, things can shift on you in ways that don't seem, that don't make a lot of sense sometimes at the Capitol, but you're, you have a very clear view that it's a power corrupts situation. Do you guys share that view that that that's the problem is is that aspect or are there other things that sort of make it very, very confusing and complicated place?


Kevin Lindsey  

I think of what Andy said, I think that there are people, for example, when we present a budget for the Department of Human Rights, right. So there would be some folks that I could see getting uncomfortable in their chair when I would be grilled by members of their party. And I would be having a conversation the next day or two days afterwards, you know one on one conversation, they would apologize, or they would look down at their feet, I would say, you know, I just didn't feel like I could say anything. And I kind of knew going in, you're gonna vote as a block. Right? And whether it's committee assignments, maybe it's fundraising, and whatever it is, right? It's very difficult for people to bring their whole authentic self - even elected officials - on how they vote, because they’re tied to a kind of party caucus.


Andy Dawkins  

Stephanie, you got one? I got one to go with that.


Stephanie Andrews 

I just I just want to follow on that a little bit. Because I'm not sure that I don't know, I think lots of things about power corrupts, I certainly that resonates the idea of just empathy for how hard it is to be in those situations, as a legislator, as a commissioner as a somebody sitting at the table, because you're being in that spotlight with all these people looking at you, judging you, making assumptions about what you believe. And it is a really intense place. And it doesn't always bring out the best in people. Sometimes it does. And that's the beautiful thing where power doesn't corrupt always, sometimes it, people step up into it. And you can see people that find themselves in a moment and tell the story that moves a committee, and something breaks free. And those are amazing moments, I would give up 10 of the power corrupts moments to see one of those things. So


Alan Berks

I just want to stick with Stephanie for a second. Because in your job, I think – I will just speak for myself. I didn't know that you existed. Like I thought there were legislators, there was the executive branch and that it was all politics, you know, all the way down. Yeah. And there are people who are working across administrations, and how does your role affect these interactions that Kevin and Andy are talking about? 


Stephanie Andrews  

Yeah, it's, and it’s this really interesting space where you're //needing to know political stuff and be ready to understand political trade offs, and be deeply aware of policy considerations. And you're in that middle space. And so helping people like Kevin and other commissioners translate what they want to do into a big document that ends up moving, helping legislators understand what are the implications of things in ways they may not know, because they can't know everything. The thing I will add here is whenever we were bringing in new staff to the Budget Office, we would, one of the things we would talk about, both in the interviews and in training is you are all in with bringing your perspective into that budget decision making process. So the governor has the best information possible. And then the governor decides, commissioners decide what's going to be in the budget. And if you get to the table and you're asked, what’s the? What's the governor's position, the only words out of your mouth have to be what is in that. What the governor the \person with the election certificate what they get what they believe. And the hardest things are when a legislator will say, but what do you really think? And and to say, in your head you have to go right back to “The Governor's recommendation is…” and that is a place where some people really can't, they don't they don't like, that space because it feels like they're giving up their own thoughts and I always felt like it was such a privilege to be in that decision making space and then really understanding that my own views on that - it's not the not the point - it is helping - it sounds so earnest - helping democracy work! Like it’s making sure that the perspective there are the people that got to vote and the person that I'm talking through, or it's coming through me in that way.


Leah Cooper  

This was one reason why we wanted to create the play we did - people like Stephanie working endlessly behind the scenes across administrations to just make people's lives better. There's a whole scene we called the love song to process


 CHORUS

The State of Minnesota,

My North Star, my dear.

I hold your interests close to my chest

And think about only what’s best 

For you. You. You. You.


When I dream about your eyes

And the nays, and the ways

We disagree. I hope you see.

I’m just trying to be 

The best

Keeper of the Rule of

Law.

For you. You. You. You.


 CIVIL SERVANT

It’s the process that matters. The process is beautiful.


 LEGISLATOR

But my constituents still don’t have a road!


 EXPERT

You only think of your constituents. We’re thinking of the best interests of the state. 


 CIVIL SERVANT

But we’re not supposed to make a big deal because we’re non-partisan


 OSCAR

So non-partisan we shouldn’t even be talking to you.


 SHEILA

How do you act like you don’t have opinions when you see the outcomes going badly?


 OSCAR

Because being in the room matters. During the Marriage Amendment debate, I know that me being a gay man made a difference. Legislators, my colleagues, lobbyists, could see a person they knew who would be affected by the law they were writing. I didn’t ever stop being nonpartisan but I know that if I stay in the room, I can make a difference. It’s the process that matters.


 CIVIL SERVANT

We believe in the process.


 CIVIL SERVANT and EXPERT/CHORUS

We are non-partisan

We work for everyone

We stay in the background 

where truth can be found.


Leah Cooper 

All right, let's get back to the conversation. Here's Andy Dawkins


Andy Dawkins  

Talking about actual political power and how it works. So, my district happened to be one of the poorest voting districts in the state, maybe the second poorest of the percentage of the residents that vote. Also the highest in poverty, okay. And one of the highest, if not the highest in rental properties and having tenants be my constituency. So I go into the Democratic caucus to try to argue for increasing the renter's credit, or to just get some homeownership funds. And people say, ‘Well, Andy, you get elected with 80% of the vote, you're gonna get reelected, no matter what, we gotta do something in the suburbs, or somebody who's got a close race that they need to have the money to say they did it. And renters, they don't vote. So we're going to do it more for homeownership, or more for the reduced property taxes.’ And I'd say, ‘My people need this, you guys come on!’ And then I go back to my district and say, ‘You guys gotta quit voting for Democrats all the time, maybe’ and, and especially knocking on doors, the African American community, you guys get so taken for granted, let's start a third party. And I seriously went out there trying to do that, because it was just really hard to get my caucus to do the things that my district needed.


Kevin Lindsey

I think that whole piece of swapping votes. So again, to this extent, if there's a block of folks that one party thinks that they can always reliably come to, they will always ask them to make a concession, or some type of trade off, and I can think of a particular time in which something was being voted on. And they literally, were counting the votes. And they were saying, Commissioner, please don't pursue XYZ. Because if you do, we think this will peel off one or two votes, this will fail. And


Andy Dawkins

You won't get anything at all. 


Kevin Lindsey 

Yeah. Right. Now we did get some things that we wanted. And x y, z only passed by one vote. So I relented with it.


Alan Berks

So when you think about sort of how - I mean in a sense you're talking about who has access to power, right? And in many ways, the play that we created out of all of these stories, and I can hear resonances, just from you guys talking. Is about sort of whether the capitol really is accessible to people, or whether it's not accessible. That you have be in a wealthier suburb, you have to represent a wealthier suburb in order to get anything you want. So your experience at the Capitol, did you feel as though it was accessible or inaccessible? And how did you guys kind of navigate that?


Andy Dawkins  

It takes a breakthrough moment, like Stephanie was talking about, and then you can actually have the people see they have the power, but not often enough. 


Alan Berks  

Could you just, What do you mean, “the people see they have the power.”


Andy Dawkins 

Before President Clinton put the AmeriCorps program into place, I had this notion that we should have young people going to work in their communities to get their college educations paid for. And I put the bill together and I was touring around high schools and colleges to try to recruit a volunteer lobbying force to get it done. I'm at North High in Minneapolis and I said by the way I'm calling it the Minnesota Peace and Power Corps, but it's got to get a better name. Some kid I wish I knew who he was, was said “call it Youth Works!” So we passed the Youth Works legislation with $10 million with just because the young people came to the Capitol. Just because myself and Howard Ornstein brainstorm that during the spring break, we tour the state and go to the high schools and have them organize a media conference in their community in their small towns, and invite the local legislator to come. And the local legislator couldn't say no anymore. And we got our 10 million bucks because the kids’ lobby came to the Capitol. The people came and the people won.


Alan Berks

Okay, that's a good story.


Stephanie Andrews

That’s a great story. 


Kevin Lindsey

Yeah, I mean, we had two constitutional amendments back in 2011. So, you know, people were like, Well, why would you want to go around the state, talking and trying to encourage Minnesotans to vote against this, because the polling is clear. Is that driver's licenses? Everybody has one. So therefore, that's not a huge barrier. And again, let's not impede on people, religious beliefs, and if they're so opposed to same sex couples getting married, we shouldn’t enforce that as a state. 


Andy Dawkins

Oh, good for you. Go, go, go.


Kevin Lindsey

So, you know, setting up 20 meetings and conferences kind of around the state, going around and having conversations. That was, you know, fantastic. I even remember Josie Johnson, at one point saying, you know, we're like six or seven percentage points down at like a month and a half, saying sweetheart you did so wonderful. But I think we're gonna fall short. I think we're gonna do it, right? And sure enough, we did we it. We beat. We’re the only state-


Andy Dawkins

That was a big one.That's huge. That was a huge one


Kevin Lindsey 

-to defeat both of those amendments.


Alan Berks

You obviously were working inside the building in a non partisan role. Do you have thoughts on access? Somehow the people, I think what we're talking about is how the people get access.


Stephanie Andrews 

Yeah, yeah, I think that, you know, it often became noise that was… that you kind of plowed through the people in the hallway to get to the hearing room on time. And I love these two stories that Kevin and Andy just shared, because it is that, like, the Capitol becomes the focal point. But it is all of those conversations and communities, which is really where you can see it happen. And so that day in the Capitol, like I know, a lot of people spent a lot of time getting to there, those are maybe some of the least effective  - from my perspective - things because it is those individual conversations and communities where legislators then hold that, that feeling of a person or a family or an organization and bring it back. And we, I remember seeing that so often, when you kind of feel like, okay, it's the day when all the people who are representing blank, they're going to come and it's going to be loud. And there'll be 12 hours, the committee hearing could go on forever. But that wasn't ever or rarely how things really moved. 


Andy Dawkins

That’s right.


Stephanie Andrews

And so if I was going to do a workshop, I would say do more of that stuff.


Andy Dawkins  

The day on the hill that you see all the time, it just doesn't work.


Stephanie Andrews

The day on the hil, it’s just not it.


Alan Berks

Okay.


Kevin Lindsey  

And I would also say get to know, the nonpartisan staff who supports the elected officials because


Andy Dawkins

Relationships.


Kevin Lindsey

Yeah, because it's great that your bill got a hearing and one of the chambers, but if it doesn't have acompanion at a certain point in time. It doesn't matter how much your, quote unquote, legislator is going to bat, because that bills gonna die. Right? So you've had a great meeting at the Capitol, you’ve got great visibility, but if you don't know the inner workings of the game, then you won't be successful. And that's an access point. Right? And this is the piece of why I think it's really important to have people of color and women as interns. Because how do you learn the rules of the game in that way? Because they're not going to give you a pamphlet. 


Andy Dawkins  

No, no, no, exactly.


Alan Berks  

I think I just got confused there. And I’ve been listening to stuff for a while. So you said you have this stuff. And then that bills gonna die? Why is it gonna die? 


Kevin Lindsey  

Well, let’s say that you are my representative. And you are good enough to be able to as a junior - you are a freshman. This is the very first time that you've been in, because they don't always necessarily tell the first-term elected officials how it goes as well. Right. So you have opened your doors to me, you've heard me, you're a passionate advocate, you write it up. But if your bill doesn't make committee deadline at a certain point in time, so it can get to management and budget and have a fiscal note attached to it: How much that this bill or this law is going to cost the state of Minnesota? At some point in time, then that bill just dies. It can't go forward, can't ever become a law, there's not going to be a chance for that bill to come to the House floor and to the Senate floor to be voted on. It's just a procedural aspect of how the chambers work.


Andy Dawkins  

First step, first step  – have a chief author that is going to be your champion, your bulldog, your Yeah, I get it and I really love it. Second step make sure your chief author knows how to figure out the inside workings, goes to the committee chair before there's a committee hearing. Says this is what I want to try and get done. Committee chair asks the questions, well is it good this way or bad that way, what are you going to be so on and so forth. If you don't wire it ahead of time it ain't gonna go nowhere.


Alan Berks 

And then you're also talking about there's certain sort of non partisan aspects of procedure, you need to know how different people are playing different roles, so that your bill goes through all of those things appropriately and doesn't die.


Kevin Lindsey 

Well, for example, in my current capacity as CEO of the Minnesota Humanities Center, someone was asking me about my thoughts as to legacy and how they could use legacy funding. So in the state of Minnesota, there's a dedicated Legacy Fund. Well, they wanted to use it to build a building. Now, this is a bill, it's already been drafted. And that's a no-no under legacy. So Minnesota management budget is going to say that this bill cannot go forward. They've spent a lot of time getting it to that point. And I wonder in my head, well why is it that that wasn't flagged earlier on. So to Andy's point, having someone who understands the particulars of how it works is critically important.


Stephanie Andrews  

I love the idea of it being the people's house and thinking about, how do people build relationships and understanding ahead of the moment they need it. And so there's that that furror of emotion when there's something that has to happen, that's often when people get engaged, and and what we're hearing here about all the details that go into making something happen, or the fact when it matters, that you knew someone who cared about your issue, like getting, being a part of that ahead of time, that's how it really becomes a place where citizens can walk in and out and feel and feel good about it. So that's what that's what I think of it is, it's playing for the long game. Issue by issue, the Day at the Capitol, those are harder places. I love the fact that the play highlighted some of the places where people in long term jobs or positions kept learning things. And that's, in my view, kind of what it's all about.


Alan Berks  

Yeah, yeah, I remember somebody saying to me - I don't think it wound up in the play -  that change can actually happen, but it takes 20 to 30 years every time. You just have to play the long game, is what I remember.


Kevin Lindsey 

Yeah, I think one of the mistakes that we think about as to the capital, is that it's like a game, in the sense that there are certain identified rules. And if you do X then it will lead to Y that leads to Z, right? Really, we're talking about a democracy in which I respect Andy, Andy respects Stephanie, Stephanie respects Alan. And we're all trying to work together to figure that out. And what you want, what you want, that may all change. So we all have to change with that to make that reality for people. So that's a much fluid, a very fluid thing, very fluid dynamic. The capital can be that. Because it can't be a place where I'm not getting heard, so I'm going to have a rally. It can be a situation in which I can put collaborations together. It can be a situation where the rules need to change for school, so we're going to put our thinking caps on, we're gonna come up with some specific rules, and we're gonna bring it back to school. And as we've already said, every four years is different. We're always reevaluating what the priorities are. So again, just like a relationship between spouses, what you might want, the first year in your marriage is very different than the 10 year,, very different than the 20, very different than the 30. And it's very fluid.


Stephanie Andrews 

I love the word fluid, I think that is just such a great way to capture both the possibility of it, and why it's so hard, because, you know, it is like a river moving along, and you don't know when it's going to be the right time to jump in. So you got to get ready and get your water wings on or whatever, to keep the analogy too long. But I think that that is so much the case of why trying to figure out what's going on, people think they get the playbook. And then it's gonna go like that. And it never goes like that. It goes a little bit like that. But being able to understand different pages are really the way things can get down there.


Alan Berks  

Is there a story you can share when there was the playbook. And then there was what actually happened?


Stephanie Andrews  

I think that every the end of every legislative session, there are stories like that, you know, when you're trying to close up a bill and I was in the situation a couple of times, I'm thinking of one state government bill that we were trying to close up and I was representing the administration in that room. And there were a couple little tiny things that shouldn't have been big deals, and they were and they were to individual legislators and trying to put that together. And in the end, we got to a solution that didn't really make sense from day one. But it made sense on day, whatever we were, 300. And people were ready to make the deal. And so mostly, if I had written up I here's my plan A to B to get this bill done. I wouldn't have thought of Step F, which is where we ended up. If I had a dime for every time you would say it's more complicated than that. That's kind of the lifeblood of the capital. That everything you're working on is more complicated then it appears at the front.


Andy Dawkins

Unintended consequences.


Stephanie Andrews 

Unintended consequences, exactly.


Alan Berks  

Also in the play is that legislators or commissioners, they're like here, this is the thing I want to do. And then the nonpartisan staff comes in and says, it's more complicated than that. 


 LOBBYIST

Just when I think we’ve successfully lined up the support for my client’s bill, the nonpartisan staff will come in with questions and concerns and slow down the entire process.


 LEGISLATOR

Exactly! I can’t get a road built for my district without years of nonsense—


 EXPERT

Nonsense? You think it's simple? What about the environmental impact? 


 CIVIL SERVANT

What if it will harm important historical sites? Whose land will the road be built on?

Will it cut through historically marginalized communities? Will the vendors be selected in a fair process?


 EXPERT

In my agency, we have to come up with a way forward that balances all the competing interests—regardless of who is the governor. If it’s a pro-business or pro-automobile governor, we go a little one way. But we don’t completely ignore the other side of the issue. Because the parties will shift. And the state will still be full of different people.


 CHORUS

The State of Minnesota,

My North Star, my dear. . .


Andy Dawkins  

I think another way to frame this is to talk about the issues that we know a vast majority of Minnesotans would agree on, but bumps up against the status quo. So why doesn't it happen? Because the status quo has the power. And how do we try to change that so that the vast majority of Minnesotans have the power?


Alan Berks  

I would just push back on that just a little bit? Because I'm not sure like, if things are more complicated, like there are statutes, there's, there's other people to consider, than the people that you thought this would benefit. But this affects other people differently. Isn't that where things get…? Like, this seems like an obvious idea. But it's more complicated than that, because it's going to have unintended consequences, rather than simply a binary battle between the status quo and…


Stephanie Andrews  

People say ‘devil is in the details,’ and we would say no, the law is in the details, actually, that part of what you're needing to do is move from Big Picture concept to details. And that's where there are usually tensions and different opinions all throughout that.


Kevin Lindsey  

The ban the box law comes to mind. So in this situation, we like to think of employers will know best they will hire the best people, government get out of the way. All right. So what the law now requires is just simply for an employer to delay asking the question if someone has committed a crime, until after they've identified who the applicant pool is for interviews, okay, so 20 applications, take a look at it, don't ask them any questions about who's committed a crime, get down to five, then you can ask the question. Okay. That's just ridiculous. I mean, why would you want to interfere in this right, and you provide reams and reams of data as relates to the number of people who never even get to that point in the interview, right. And then you talk about folks that do tremendously well as employees because they don't want to stumble again, they want to be very successful within this space. So I think that there is the power dynamic of those who have it and being able to try and control it. And then there's also just the whole idea of any change at all. And all of us being human, and any change is difficult. And therefore, my initial reaction is to be against it. Even when data is provided.


Andy Dawkins 

But gun violence, for example - huge issue. So many people want more reasonable gun safety legislation right now, to his day, tomorrow, for a long time. And what does that run up against? That it doesn't change? How come we can't get there? And the example I have is back when we were trying to do the assault weapon ban back when I was there. And Roger Cooper, the legislator from Bird Island, Minnesota came up to my desk, and he said, you know, Andy, I want to vote with you on this, I totally get it what you're trying to do I understand your district has so much gun violence that you need to get this passed, and so on. But guess what, if I vote for it, the NRA is going to run somebody against me in my next election. And I'm going to lose just because of that, because they'll put all that money on my opponent. So if you want me here to help you on all the other things that got going on that you want to get done. I gotta vote against you on this one.


Alan Berks 

I just wanted to come back to I know you said that you said a little bit earlier was just that you said that people think it's a game and that there's a rulebook. And in a sense, you are describing that almost as like it'd be better if there was a rulebook, and then people could know how to handle it. But I know that what we heard a lot of and that is also in the play. There's a whole scene basically, that what we think what we citizens like me, who has not had a lot of experience at the Capitol, and had zero before we decided to do this play, what we see and what we think we see is like nothing about what's actually happening. Right? Like, it does appear – and now that I do know – it does appear that this stuff on the top that's in the media is a game and the show piece of theater basically, right? Like these people are having private conversations with you about how they actually feel. But they're not voting that way. And they're not, they're not asking you questions in the hearing that represents their actual feeling. What do you, I mean, that's what creates a sense of cynicism about ever getting anywhere near the state government and getting anything done.


Kevin Lindsey 

Yeah, I think that's why it's so complex and the difficulty of it, right. So there are the folks that are elected officials, and they want to ensure that they're able to continue to fundraise, maintain the power and kind of do whatever they want to, and they're making trade offs there. So therefore, there's a public persona, in which they're going to say, and do certain things, but then they also need to be able to pass some type of legislation in the time that they're there, so they're going to have a separate conversation with you over drinks or squash or whatever the place is, they're doing that. And then they also have to find some way to actually get administrative agencies to do their bidding as well. So again, you can continue to poke sort of administrative agencies in the eye. But if you want to actually get your idea really implemented, you have to have some type of relationship with them.


Andy Dawkins 

How often does the media do what you're doing? To really get in and figure it out? And media just does the surface story, the headline  - 


Kevin Lindsey

who won who lost - 


Andy Dawkins

Yeah and very little investigative reporting, or these days, and all that kind of stuff, and all in social media replaces it that has absolutely the wrong facts going forward. That's all that stuff. That's why it's great that you're doing this podcast. And I think another example of people power having the chance to really make it is that 40% of Minnesotans identify as independents. Not Democrat, not Republican, not leaning Democrat, not leaning Republican, true independents, okay? Who taps that power base is who wins elections, I don't think that the Democrats or Republicans quite get that yet as to what's going on out in the countryside. And this year, rank choice voting is coming up, and it might have a chance to pass. But the Democrats as a party gotta decide, Oh my gosh, does this threaten our future? But if we do, and we and we pass it, that's a given then the Independents are gonna like us. So we'll win the independent vote by doing this. And there's this trade off of do we give up some of our power in order to get more power? In which way is that gonna go?


Alan Berks 

There's a line in the play. And when I say “a line in the play,” somebody told us something, just like you guys are telling us something. Where that lack of transparency about what's actually happening, versus what we think is happening because of the media is necessary. We wouldn't get anything done if we were actually transparent. If people actually knew about these conversations, nothing would get done. You think that's true? 


Stephanie Andrews  

It's really hard to work on trade offs in public, because most of the influence into the legislative process is single issue. And most of the decisions are made across issues. And so trying to get to a place where just as Andy's talking about the trade offs that someone's looking at… You know, if they do this, then this happens. That's not the way most people who are coming to try to influence the Capitol, they're not bringing that whole bag of 15 things that they care a lot about here and a little bit here. But that is how bills get done. That's how especially funding decisions get made. So it is, I think it's great to figure out how to bring citizens more into the the trade offs. There was, when I was in grad school, one of the things that actually got me interested in the budget job I ended up doing was this little budget simulation, where it said, here's an amount of money, at that point, probably much smaller than a single one of our budget numbers now. But split it up, you have to do this and this and this, and this, how would you do it. And we as a class played around with it a little bit. I think the Minnesota Budget Project might have done that at some point, too. But it's a really great exercise to put yourself in the place of how do you make those trade offs when you care about not only one thing, but five things, and you have to you have to go up on one and down on another. And that's the place where it is really hard for the average citizen to to understand what's going on. And I don't think that, I mean, people have lives to live, so they can't be involved in every single piece of that. So it’s hard. 


Kevin Lindsey 

It even goes to elected officials, right? So there's a false assumption that all the elected officials have equal amount of knowledge on all these respective issues. They clearly do not. I mean, there's some times you can tell, I'm gonna listen to Andy on that because I don't have the bandwidth to figure that out. I'm gonna listen to Stephanie on that, because I don't have some bandwidth to figure that out. So this extent of enough being communicated in the public space to kind of keep folks, elected officials informed and maybe constituents informed. Could there be more information? Yeah, I think there probably could be. But it also takes someone who's very skilled at doing that. Because again, to this point, that's a high level of negotiation that is now going on by using the media and bringing them into that space. To take a step back, I think, what is practical for a lot of communities, especially the ones that aren't getting what they should be getting, they continue to be high areas of concentration of poverty, speaking and demanding that both parties really step up, and really tell them what their strategy and their plan is, would be really helpful.


Andy Dawkins

That'd be good, for sure.


Kevin Lindsey

Not getting into the nitty gritty of all the details, but just consistently, what are the four or five things in education? What are the four or five things in housing? And then saying to the leadership, how are you moving that forward? That doesn't happen nearly enough.


Andy Dawkins

There's a saying that, you know, you learn all this by osmosis and hanging around rather than getting taught in a textbook. But if you can make the deal without putting it in writing, if you can make the deal without saying it out loud, then that's the better chance that - because you two people making that deal, don't have to have anything that proves that they did or they didn't, okay? And I think that oftentimes if you go behind the scenes and say, Look, your endgame here is that you want to end up with a bonding bill that has this in it right? But in order to put this into the bill on the House side, and then the Senate has to take it out, because they don't like it. And they really don't like it, you get to get a nice little vote here that it's going to look good in your district, but it's never going to be really the law. But you don't put that right onto a newspaper report, you just you kind of do that behind the scenes. So there are definitely times to have conversations that are not going to be recorded in the media. But that's how you get things done.


Kevin Lindsey 

I was at a committee hearing one time, and we had taken testimony from maybe half the testifiers. The chair kind of looked at a phone, then looked at a member of the other party's caucus, they both went outside for about five minutes. And then they came in and said there was no need for any other to testify. And they were done. And because they had figured out what they would do with this bill. And it was so clear that some other deal had been struck somewhere else, which is going to impact what this committee was going to do right there.


Alan Berks  

I think that particular example is going to intersect with a lot of the episodes in terms of access transparency, how this works, how this should work, how it might work differently, how it works well in certain ways. I want to wrap up this conversation. You guys have, you were everything we could have dreamed in terms of getting into the weeds and telling stories and talking to each other. Do you remember that start? We started out with sort of how did you how did you wind up in the capital? I’m going to ask you two quick questions. One is,What do you wish somebody had actually told you about it at the very beginning, that would have been helpful?


Andy Dawkins  

You gotta be ready, when the time comes. It might not be here right now. But be ready. The price of an attack, it's a good alternative, or strong alternative or something, just gotta have gotta be ready. And the timing is everything. And it might not seem like this is gonna happen today. But tomorrow, it could just be right there in front of you, and you better be able to jump on it.


Kevin Lindsey  

I would say something very similar to that is this whole idea of continuing making contingency plans. and especially for a Commissioner, ensuring that your staff is aware of such political contingency plans. So they don't feel like oh, this was jarring, you were gonna do this and now all of a sudden, you’re gonna… and it's like, well, there are variables out there, there's some things that we're we're giving. People want it to be black and white and know directly. And that's this gap. It is having a couple of plans and being flexible. Right. Right.


Stephanie Andrews  

That flexibility and adaptability, they're the name of the game and getting stuff done that you care about means you keep learning, you keep building relationships, to be ready. Because you don't know when the opportunity when the path all of a sudden is going to open up for something to get done. And so everything you can you can grab into your brain and your relationships and, is going to help you get done what you want to get done.


Leah Cooper 

That was Stephanie Andrews, who worked for 17 years in Minnesota Management and Budget and Kevin Lindsay, who was the Commissioner for the Department of Human Rights, and former Representative Andy Dawkins. See, that's why we wanted to make a play because these people are fascinating.


Alan Berks 

And they have experience that helps them understand how things work, but even they contradict themselves while they're talking. So at the end, right, they talked about how you have to be ready for your moment, you have to seize the opportunity. You have to be flexible, and adaptable. But then in other moments, they say you got to know the rules. And you got to have somebody who knows the rules because if you don't do it exactly the way it's supposed to be done, it'll never get done.


Leah Cooper

Right. And they say sometimes things get done because a bunch of people show up at the Capitol. But then other times they say the way things get done is behind closed doors. And both of these things are true.


Alan Berks 

Right, sometimes it's about who has the money and influence in that way. And other times it's who's shouting the loudest and pressuring people in that way, basically.


Leah Cooper  

I mean, ultimately, my biggest takeaway is it's this incredibly flawed human process. You know, when we went into this, I think I had this really naive idea that everybody who works at the Capitol understands all the rules, that there's procedures. And if you can just navigate them in just the right order, you get things done. But that is so not what's happening. What's happening is a bunch of people who mean really well are showing up to work and trying to figure out a constantly shifting set of circumstances. And they have good days, and they have bad days. And sometimes things work. And sometimes they don't, but it's the long game. It's the showing up every day.


Alan Berks 

Right. And one thing that Andy says is you can't learn any of this just from a textbook, you have to learn it from being there, which is kind of why we made the play - which is entirely why we make the play - so that you could get immersed in that world and see characters and people interacting and kind of get a shortened version of everything you would get if you were if you were in the building for 17 years. And by doing that, we're hoping that this podcast can help get people past the frustration that they might hear when they're listening to people contradict themselves about what makes change. Because what we learned and what each of these different people will tell us over the course of this podcast is that all of these things work. Sometimes, in some order.


Leah Cooper 

Eventually.


Alan Berks

 It's like you got a machine with a bunch of different levers and a bunch of different buttons. And you don't quite know which order you got to pull the levers and press the buttons, or which buttons you always have to press and which levers you do. So you just have to kind of try them all and keep trying them in order to get things done. But, there are levers and buttons. And you can pull them and you can press them. And that's one of the other things that we took away from this experience was that because it's people, it's accessible to you. You can talk to them, you can get to know them, and you can put pressure on them or you can join a coalition to do that. It's just hard to know which of those things is always the thing you need to do. And we're going to explore that in the rest of this podcast.


Alan Berks 

On our next episode, we talk about the culture of the Capitol with Roger Moe, the longest serving Senate Majority Leader in Minnesota history.


Roger Moe

“If I ever write a book, one of the chapters is “never sweep the table.” Yes, you have a trifecta, but you always want everybody to walk away from the table with something. You never sweep the table in this business, because it comes back to haunt you.”


Alan Berks 

And Athena Hollins, a representative from the north and east side of St. Paul, who is in her second term


Athena Hollins

“It is a process that I wish average people knew more about, I wish they understood more of the nuance. Because, you know, I understand that feeling I was that person being like, why can't you get this done? And now that I'm here, I'm like, Oh, I see why we can't get this done. You know, even in the most ideal of circumstances, it's really just so much more complicated than the average person understands it to be.”


Leah Cooper

You’ve been listening to “Our House” - I’m Leah Cooper


Alan Berks

I’m Alan Berks - “Our House '' is a podcast of Wonderlust Productions. Our production assistant is Frances Matejcek, our editor is Marianne Combs, and our sound designer and audio engineer is Peter Morrow with help from Rachel Briese. Music was composed by Becky Dale. Lyrics by myself and Becky Dale. For detailed credits on the making and performing of the play and the original cast, visit our website at wlproductions.o-r-g


Leah Cooper

The professional actors you heard in this episode were LaTanya Boone, Megan Kim, Adam Whisner, Bradley Greenwald, Siddeeqah Shabazz, Ernest Briggs and Pedro Fonseca.


Alan Berks

 Big thanks to our partners and supporters who have made this podcast possible, including the Minnesota Humanities Center, Eastside Freedom Library, In Progress Studios, MinnPost, The Theater of Public Policy, and the Elmer L. and Eleanor J. Andersen Foundation. See the thank-you page on our website for a full list of the donors and foundations who make all of our work possible. 

Leah Cooper

Thanks for listening!


Introduction
What was your "welcome to the Capitol" moment?
What makes the Capitol a confusing place?
Do you feel as though the Capitol is accessible?
Do you think transparency prevents things from getting done?
What do you wish somebody had told you at the beginning that would have been helpful?
Conclusion