Sometimes it isn't easy to be a Minnesota Vikings fan. Clearly, that wasn't the case on Thursday last week when the Vikings selected offensive tackle Matt Kalil with the fourth pick overall and then moved to nab Harrison Smith at 29th overall in the NFL Draft. Vikings fans got to enjoy a pretty good buzz after that first round, but only a few days later less positive stories seem to be taking over.
A former Viking player (Michael Bennett), a current* Viking player (Caleb King), and the spouse of a former Viking player (Amy Senser, wife of Joe Senser), have all been in the news for bad stuff. And there's always the stadium situation to hang around like that dark cloud over Winnie the Pooh's friend Eeyore--provided that cloud was a mess of partisan politics.
More about the partisan games that could affect the stadium bill after the jump.
The stadium bill is stuck in a queue behind two other bills, a tax relief bill and a public works bonding bill. It looks unlikely that the stadium bill will be subject to a floor hearing until those two bills are settled. This is exactly the situation that proponents of a special session for stadium legislation had hoped to avoid, but at the time a special session could have been called, the stadium location was uncertain and the legislation wasn't finished being written. Once again, the Vikings are waiting on the Minnesota Legislature.
Waiting on the Capitol is not an ideal situation for the Vikings to find themselves in, after all, these legislators are the same folks who, with an assist from Gov. Mark Dayton, led Minnesota to a state government shutdown last year and have left the stadium bill to die in committee a couple of times since it was introduced. Waiting gives stadium opposition more time to get entrenched, it provides an opportunity for the bill to be subject to complicating amendments, and it cuts into the dwindling time available in what has become a prolonged legislative session.
As with so many of the issues involved in the Vikings' troubled quest for a new stadium, party politics are playing a role in the bill's progress. Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, was quoted in Tuesday's St. Paul Pioneer Press in a statement that seems to strongly hint at partisan game playing.
"Our priorities very clearly all along have been that the bonding bill, or infrastructure bill, and the tax bill are our No. 1 priorities, and the governor's No. 1 priority is the stadium. So if we can come to an agreement on all of them at the same time, they can all come up."
That seems like a not very coy way of saying that if the Republicans get what they want in terms of the tax bill and the bonding bill for public works, then the DFL governor might get his preferred stadium bill passed.
And, as if that isn't enough malarkey, there's been a suggestion from state GOP leaders that they could cut the state's stadium contribution significantly if the stadium was roofless. True, losing the roof would cut the project's cost, but a roof was considered key for a multi-purpose facility located in Minnesota. While football fans might not be opposed to an open-air stadium and enjoy the idea of getting back to football's gridiron days when men were men and butts were frozen to bleachers, the lack of a roof might make it difficult to attract other users during winter months. That's kind of a big deal.
The Metrodome, despite it's drawbacks as a facility, has not suffered from under-use. In the course of a year it hosts between 290 and 300 events, only 10 to 12 of which are Vikings games. That means the Vikings would be in the new stadium only about 4% of the time and the rest of the time the organization that runs it (either the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission or a new organization) would try to book other events there. Given that this is Minnesota and we've been known to have snow as early as October and as late as April (sometimes even May), any of the events currently hosted at the Metrodome during those months, or even the rest of the year, that need to take place indoors would have to find a different facility, thus making it difficult for the stadium to book events year-round and cutting into its ability to generate revenue to pay for the facility's upkeep. Again, that's kind of a big deal.
When this GOP-backed idea came to light at the state capitol on Tuesday, there was a frenzy of press conferences. Gov. Mark Dayton was openly derisive not only of the idea of an open-air stadium but also of the Vikings, going so far as to suggest that the team had been sneaking around for secretive talks with Republicans about a roofless stadium. Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president of public affairs and stadium development, answered back saying that the team gave House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, information Dean requested, but that there was nothing secretive about it. Bagley went on to say that the team was solidly behind the agreement it has spent months negotiating.
The Vikings have consistently said that this bill is it. They aren't working on any other stadium deals in Minnesota, but if this stadium bill doesn't pass the state Legislature in this session the team can start talking to other cities about relocating. It would appear the team is all in wants to call, seeing exactly who has what cards. Unfortunately, Dayton, Minneapolis leaders, and DFL leaders in the Legislature are still staring down Republicans in the Legislature and trying to figure out who's bluffing.
Although it wouldn't be the first ludicrous idea to come out of the Capitol, it is hard to believe leading Republicans are serious about a roofless stadium. While it would be cheaper to construct, it provides significantly less usability to the people of Minnesota, as well as altering the stadium's funding source. To float an idea like that when the legislative session has already gone past the self-imposed deadline of April 30, seems strange. In fact, it seems so strange that the only way it makes any kind of sense is as a bargaining tactic with the governor. This latest stadium ploy looks more like legislative Republicans proving they can derail a project the governor campaigned on, in a wide variety of ways. For his part, Dayton seems committed to showing he's so committed to the current stadium legislation that he could turn on the Vikings if there is even a whiff of the team working under-the-table with Republican leaders at the Capitol. According to the Minnesota constitution, the governor and Legislature can continue to fight things out until May 21, but there are a limited number of days to bring bills to the floor.
The Vikings are committed to their current stadium bill in an all-or-nothing way and are trying to keep the stories coming out of Winter Park positive, but the bad ju-ju that has a way of stalking our team (are we still setting a record for arrests?) may have a lot less to do with whether or not a deal gets done in the current session than party politics do and that is concerning. While the GOP and the DFL fight it out the Vikings are waiting. But one way or another, their days of waiting are coming to an end. Let's just hope they end with a new stadium in Minnesota rather than Los Angeles.
I know the song isn't a perfect fit for the situation, but it's Eric Clapton so I don't care. And yes, that is Phil Collins on the drums.
*Tuesday after he was released from jail the Minnesota Vikings cut Caleb King from the team so, technically, he's also a former player. But he was a current player at the time he allegedly severely beat a guy.