ST PAUL, Minn. — Rep. Melissa Hortman was never fond of the mute button her predecessor installed in the speaker's lectern in the House rostrum in 2015.
Within days of becoming Speaker of the House this week, Hortman had the special button disabled and replaced with an unmarked one that has no function.
"The mute button has been uninstalled. I do not have the ability to mute the chamber," Hortman told KARE.
"I have a gavel, and a gavel was good enough from 1858 until 2015, and a gavel is good enough for me."
The very existence of mute function wasn't known to most lawmakers until the end of the 2016 Session, when then-Speaker Kurt Daudt deployed it to cut off all 134 microphones in the House Chamber simultaneously.
It seemed to instantly silence an uproar as Democrats raised objections to the parliamentary maneuvers Republicans were using to close a debate and end the session.
Those inside the chamber could still hear Democrats' display of exasperation, but those watching at home or on archived official recordings heard nothing.
Lawmakers soon learned the equipment had been installed a year earlier during the restoration of the historic State Capitol. The entire chamber was being rewired, so it was the best time to add that feature.
DFL lawmakers raised questions about the button, labeled "Chamber Mute," and posted a snapshot of it on Twitter. In floor speeches they argued the very notion of a mute button was undemocratic.
Then-Majority Leader Joyce Peppin defended the button as a way of trying to maintain order. She pointed to the chaotic finale of the 2015 session, when legislators were shouting at Rep. Daudt as he presided over the closing seconds.
"Our microphones are all 'hot' at all the time," Rep. Peppin told House colleagues.
"Technically we could all stand up and scream at the same time."
Others have pointed out that the special acoustics of the curved ceilings inside the historic chamber allows sound to travel from the floor up to the rostrum, where the Speaker and House Clerk sit. The noise level, they argued, can be overwhelming.
An unmarked black button now occupies the spot once held by the mute button.
"There’s a dummy button there, and I if I push it nothing will happen," Hortman explained. "We thought about should we change it to an auto-tune button? Should we have a laugh track? Some special sound effects? But we went with nothing!"
The wiring remains intact, in case a future speaker decides to revive the special mute button. But for now, the mute dispute has ended.