H. Blair Klein, the Minnesota Senate’s first full-time professional researcher, died this week of pancreatic cancer at age 73.
Klein, who had worked briefly in the Attorney General’s Office under Doug Head, was hired as Senate counsel in 1967 to build a small staff of lawyers who could assist the Senate and its committees in researching and drafting bills and amendments.
The counsel staff had grown to eight lawyers by 1971, when Klein moved to Wyoming to practice law in the field of oil and natural gas. He was retired and living in St. Croix Falls, Wis., at the time of his death.
Former Sen. John Milton, now of Afton, said he grew up two houses away from Klein in St. Paul and that “Blair broke new ground for the Minnesota Legislature when he established the position of Senate counsel, and recruited others for that group at the Capitol.”
“I saw him last four years ago, and we spent two delightful hours catching up,” Milton said. “He was a shining star.”
The Senate counsel’s office was created at the behest of the late Sen. Gordon Rosenmeier, the legendary legislative powerbroker from Little Falls.
Rosenmeier was a strong believer in the Legislature as a separate and co-equal, if not superior, branch of government. He wanted to equip the Senate with professional staff members who could provide the body with research and advice independent of the executive branch.
The House of Representatives created a nonpartisan Research Department about the same time. But Rosenmeier was a lawyer and, unlike the House leadership, he wanted lawyers to assist the Senate and its committees.
Klein, who held degrees from Princeton University and the University of Minnesota Law School, gave the senator what he wanted and built a staff that was well regarded by members from both sides of the political aisle.
He remained involved in government after he left the Senate, serving as a justice of the peace in Wyoming and later as town clerk for St. Croix Falls Township.