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Minnesota pols in tough position as Vikings stadium vote nears

  • By Associated Press
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Zellers could have been speaking for many of his fellow lawmakers when he struggled to describe his position on a $1 billion Vikings stadium bill before a vote that could be critical to the team's future in the state.

"I won't vote for it, but I want to see it pass," the Republican said in an interview late last week on sports radio.

With votes scheduled Monday on a huge public payout, 200 lawmakers are under pressure from plenty of people who oppose the project -- but worry they will be blamed if it fails. A defeat this week, while not fatal, would accelerate fears that the state could lose its most beloved team.

The Vikings haven't openly threatened to leave Minnesota, and are committed to playing in the 30-year-old Metrodome this season. But stadium boosters, led by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, say punting on the proposal could set up a nightmare three-peat for Minnesota sports fanatics. After all, the state lost the NBA's Lakers to Los Angeles in 1960 and the NHL's North Stars to Dallas in 1993.

"Nobody wants the Vikings to leave the state of Minnesota. Nobody wants that to happen," said Rep. Sarah Anderson, a suburban Minneapolis Republican who is undecided how she'll vote on Monday. "It's just a matter of figuring out whether this package will work and is a good deal for our taxpayers."

Stadium support doesn't break down neatly -- it has Democratic and Republican backers, but also plenty of opponents in both parties.

Fiscally conservative Republicans loathe the potential handout, but the party's business wing wants to preserve a valuable asset in the city's core. Democrats -- especially the party's labor base -- crave the thousands of hardhat jobs that would come with a new stadium.

The Vikings would have to kick in $427 million -- which isn't enough for some lawmakers.

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"I'm concerned about whether the owner is footing enough of the bill," said Sen. Julianne Ortman, the Senate's deputy Republican leader. "I'm really concerned that what we've got is a minority partner in this project dictating the terms, wagging the dog if you will."

Vikings fans have roamed the Capitol for days, adorned with face paint, horned helmets and purple-and-gold superhero costumes. Schoolchildren on field trips have shown up to the Capitol in jerseys. The team even brought out star running back Adrian Peterson late last month to glad-hand lawmakers.

Some would-be opponents are tripped up by their fandom. Rep. Chris Swedzinski, a Republican from rural southwestern Minnesota and a likely yes vote, said some of his most hard-right constituents want the stadium. He called it "a beast all on its own."

"I've got folks that I know are active in the tea party that have said, you know, I'm going to suspend my rational thought right now, Chris," Swedzinski said. "I know what I believe and I know where this country's headed if we continue down this path - but don't lose the Vikings."

Stadium supporters say even if the bill isn't perfect, it's time to settle the issue.

"At this time, in this political climate, it's probably the best we can do," said Rep. Paul Marquart, a Democrat from northwestern Minnesota. "We're fourth and inches. Let's push this thing across the goal line."

If the bill passes the House (it can be read at http://bit.ly/Vikingsbill), it will go to the state Senate. Numerous amendments are expected to be offered, and a long debate is likely.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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