It’s called partisan politics: When legislatures or governorships switch political parties, it’s usually “our team is out, your team is in” and all ideas are off the table when the new team takes charge. One of the things Americans hate most about this idea is the attitude that the other team can’t possibly have any good ideas. Here in Minnesota in November, the political parties traded control of both the state Legislature and the governor’s office. As his first official act as Governor-elect, Mark Dayton decided to keep Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel at his current post, the one he has held in the Pawlenty administration.
It speaks well of Gov. Pawlenty that after his most bitter battle with the Democrats — the veto override over transportation funding and the Senate action to boot Carol Molnau from the job — he picked a man to run the Department of Transportation who could get the career professionals there to pull the oars in the same direction and work with the Democratic Legislature.
At the same time, it’s a testament to Gov.-elect Dayton to retain Tom Sorel and put him at the center of his vision to build a modern Minnesota transportation system for the 21st century.
Making transportation work for Minnesotans means getting people and freight where they need to go and when they need to get there, and at a reasonable expense. As Tom Sorel knows, it means creating communities that are less dependent on driving so that families can own fewer cars and have more transportation choices and freedom. Over the last two years, Commissioner Sorel has trumpeted the importance of agency accountability and delivering on quality of life, sustainability, and a multimodal transportation system that connects options to drive, take the bus, ride the train, bike, or walk.
Fresh Energy worked closely with Tom Sorel on sensible communities policies, intercity rail planning, and the landmark Complete Streets legislation of 2010. Complete Streets is a common-sense program that assures that when we redesign roadways (or upgrade that old arterial highway running out of town), there will be safe opportunities for people to walk and bike, and when we build new bridges they won’t just be limited to use by cars.
Now we’re working with department and transportation planners in communities across the state to implement the policy, one that received bipartisan support because it’s good for families, seniors, and it helps save money on gasoline and cars.
I applaud Mark Dayton’s choice of Tom Sorel as commissioner of transportation and look forward to our continued partnership with him, building a transportation system for the 21st century.
Michael Noble is the executive director of Fresh Energy, a nonprofit organization based in St. Paul. A version of this article appeared on Fresh Energy’s website.