The 11 DFLers — more or less — and the half-dozen Republicans — give or take a few — in the running for governor are likely to garner most of the political headlines in the coming months as they pick up endorsements or, in many cases, fall by the campaign trail wayside.
But the real political and policy impact in 2010 will be made by an even-lesser-known cast of characters both inside and outside the Capitol as Minnesota faces a bunch of tough, familiar issues.
Believe it or not, there are Republican and DFL legislators who actually would like to break the mind-numbing standoff between DFL legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Pawlenty and create legislation that attempts to solve the state’s problems.
With that in mind, here’s an alphabetical, opinionated list of political players to watch in the coming months:
Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis. Hers is hardly a new voice. She richly deserves praise for creating many of the health programs that have served the poor in the state. Now, her job may become more difficult. She may need to be flexible enough to accept changes in some of the programs she did so much to create.
Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka. If she doesn’t jump into the U.S. House race against Rep. Erik Paulsen, does she have the moxie and connections to play a role in getting Senate DFLers to be more than puppets in the gamesmanship of Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller?
Rep. Laura Brod, R-New Prague. She once was considered a likely gubernatorial candidate but took herself out of the race late last spring, citing health concerns. Brod at least doesn’t sound as extreme as many of her Republican peers, but does she have the desire or the courage to slide a few steps outside the comfort of the far-right base?
Tom Dooher, president of Education Minnesota, the teachers’ union. In a political system filled with narrow-minded players, perhaps none is so narrow-minded as Dooher. He may be popular among teachers, but he needs to help rekindle Minnesota’s belief in the absolute value of education. He can’t do that by saying, “Me, me, me.”
Rep. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis. With one learning session under his belt, watch for him to start making his considerable presence felt. Hayden stands out — he’s a big man with a big smile, and he’s black — in this hugely white Legislature, where people of color are seldom heard.
Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington. As chairwoman of the House Tax Committee, she has tried to create meaningful tax reform that would both make the system fairer and provide the state needed revenue. But, of course, such a move would mean stepping on some powerful toes. It’s easier for legislators to talk about reform than to implement it.
Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont. She has the smarts and the heart, but does she have the will to help lead Senate Republicans beyond the just-say-no mentality of Pawlenty and Senate Minority Leader David Senjem?
House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm. He has a ton of political talent and could be an even bigger factor now that House Speaker Margaret Keilliher has tied her legislative hands with a bid to be governor. Sertich plays a number of key roles, including acting as a bridge between the lunch-bucket DFLers of the North and their tree-hugging colleagues from the metro. In the name of job creation, he could reach out to Republicans in seeking ways to improve both the state’s business climate and its bottom line.
State Republican Party Chair Tony Sutton and his sidekick, Deputy Chair Michael Brodkorb. Will this duo demand party purity, or will they try to broaden the base? They appear to be true believers in a far-right philosophy that will make it all the more difficult for Republican legislators to occasionally drift toward moderation.
Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove. He has succeeded gubernatorial candidate Marty Seifert as House minority leader. It remains to be seen whether he has the desire to make the Republican House members more than an echo of Pawlenty vetoes. Early returns don’t look promising.