One of the latest developments in the shutdown saga is the hobbling together of, in the words of the Washington Post, “a group of bipartisan Minnesota ‘elder statesmen.'” Is this some major breakthrough? Let’s look more closely.

The first figure is Walter Mondale, the former vice president and famous DFLer. The second is Arne Carlson, a former governor who was elected in 1990 and 1994 on the Republican ticket.

Despite his party label, Carlson publicly criticized the Republican who succeeded him in office (Tim Pawlenty). During the 2010 election cycle,  he chose to endorse a gubernatorial candidate (Tom Horner) who belonged to the Independence Party. He also endorsed an incumbent Democratic Party member of Congress, Rep. Tim Walz. For those and other transgressions, the Republican Party of Minnesota banned Carlson (and some other former office-holders) from participating in party activities. The third person mentioned by the Post is David Durenburger, the former U.S. senator. Like Carlson, Durenburger was banned by the party for his post-office endorsement of non-Republican candidates. That action, whatever its wisdom, is a sign that today’s Republican party has moved away from Carlson’s political ideology. More significantly, so have the endorsement of these former office-holders.

Another “elder statesman” is John Gunyou. He served in Carlson’s cabinet, and like his former boss, has identified himself as a Republican. Yet he was last seen as the would-be running mate of then-Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher–a Democrat.

The group is chaired by two former legislators, DFLer Wayne Simoneau and Republican Steve Dille.  The last time the Taxpayers League of Minnesota scored Dille, he voted with the League only 17 percent of the time.

It also contains two business executives, former Wells Fargo CEO Jim Campbell and former Medtronic Vice President Kris Johnson. Not knowing anything about these two people, I won’t comment other than to say that executives in large corporations are not necessarily known for their adherence to small government.

The administrator of the group is Jim Schowalter, Gov. Dayton’s budget director, hardly a disinterested party to the talks.

No wonder the Post concluded, “Despite the group’s bipartisan nature, some Republicans were skeptical.” And for a skeptical Republican found not Sen. Dave Thompson or Rep. Joyce Peppin, but Sen. Geoff Michel. Despite having Taxpayers League lifetime rating of 78 percent, Michel is often seen by conservatives as “not one of us,” so his criticism of the group ought to carry more weight.

It’s a free country, so these individuals are certainly welcome to form any study or pressure group they’d like to be part of. I’m glad they’re interested in getting together to talk about some important issues that the state faces, and I’m glad they are willing to put in some time to do so. But while they may have carried different party labels into office, it’s not clear to me that the members of this group represent a wide range of thought.  If the idea is to come up with a creative or “third way” around the budget dispute, I’m not convinced it will work. Instead, it looks more like an attempt by Bryers to sell Natural Vanilla, French Vanilla, Homemade Vanilla, and Extra Creamy Vanilla as fundamentally different products.

By the way, we simply don’t need this group. The Minnesota Constitution and Minnesota practice already designate two parties to address the difficult questions of budgeting. They’re called the governor and the legislature.