GOP legislative leaders’ organizational plan calls for fewer gavels, more transparency

New House Majority Leader Kurt Zellers outlined a new committee that's considerably simpler than the old DFL plan shown on the chart.
Photo by Mary Lahammer
New House Majority Leader Kurt Zellers outlined a new committee that’s considerably simpler than the old DFL plan shown on the chart.

The first step of the new Republican majority’s legislative plan was unveiled this afternoon. Basically, it comes down to this: fewer gavels.

Leaders announced today that the number of legislative committees will be cut from 25 to 16 in the Senate and from “38 to 40” committees to 24 in the House. The committees that have survived — in some cases, renamed — will be more closely aligned between the House and Senate than in the past.

“We campaigned on reform,” said new House Speaker Kurt Zellers in announcing the new alignment. “We must start with ourselves first.”

Two things become instantly clear from today’s announcement.

Much tidier flow chart
One, Republicans can create a much neater flow chart than DFLers. Zellers pointed to the old chart, shook his head and said, “To understand this, you had to understand math and geometry.” Indeed, the old chart was a mass of lines going hither and yon.

This new Republican flow chart, with fewer committees? Very tidy.

“We want to make government more user-friendly,” said the Senate’s new majority leader, Amy Koch.

Second, the new Republican leaders aren’t afraid to step on toes. The reduction, by slightly more than a third, of committees in the two chambers means fewer gavels to be passed out to fewer people desiring to head a committee.

Seante Majority Leader Amy Koch
Seante Majority Leader Amy Koch

Yes, some of those old committees were hopelessly obscure, but legislators can be a little on the egotistical side. It’s better to be the prince of an obscure committee than just another member of a committee with more clout.

Lobbyists filled the room for this unveiling of the new, more streamlined organizational map. Presumably, this new system changes their parts in the legislative drama as much as it changes the parts of legislators.

Under the old system, lobbyists were among the few people in the Capitol who had any idea where a bill was headed. Under the new system, however, they’ll be able to focus their persuasiveness on fewer, but more powerful, people.

Thissen praises streamlining, raises a concern
Paul Thissen, the new DFL House minority leader, pointed out the potential good and bad in the new system in a statement he released at the same time the Republicans were showing off their new design.

“A streamlined committee structure makes sense and both parties have been working on it,” Thissen said.

But he also expressed a concern.

Rep. Paul Thissen
Rep. Paul Thissen

“My fear,” Thissen said in his statement, “is that Republicans will use their new structure to reward the anonymous corporations who helped pay for many of the seats they picked up.”

Zellers laughed off Thissen’s concern as “campaign cheap shots.”

Koch said that one of the many strengths of the new system is that it brings “transparency” to the process. Even those watching at home will be able to follow the progress of a bill much more easily than in previous years, she said.

Both Koch and Zellers also said that there will be cost savings under the new system, although they didn’t push that aspect too hard.

Koch guessed that the new structure will save about $250,000 in the Senate; Zellers guessed a slightly larger savings in the House. Savings would come because with fewer committees, there will be some reduction in legislative staff and perhaps some reduction in the per diems collected by some legislators who now will serve on fewer committees.

All of this is inside baseball, the leaders acknowledged.

Many of the changes revolve around combining finance committees and policy committees. In the past, for example, a bill dealing with virtually any law or regulation had to go through both policy and finance committees. No more.

More of the game will be unveiled Wednesday when the new leadership announces committee chairs.

The leaders said that the new charts and reduced number of committees only symbolize the real reform they have in mind when the session actually begins.

But over and over again, they pointed out the reform is more than symbolism. And always, all of the leaders talked in terms of how the reforms will matter to “business.”

“One-stop shopping” for business leaders in dealing with the Legislature is how Zellers put it.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 11/16/2010 - 05:34 pm.

    Combining finance and policy will have one, very simple, very damaging effect. It puts the bean counter types in a position to veto any creative idea, no matter how important, useful or helpful it would be to the citizens of the state.

    With the bean counters in charge, no innovation of any kind is allowed, except that which limits costs and expenses and maximizes returns (which for these people means lower taxes so that they and their wealthy friends can further pad their own pockets – i.e. maximized returns for their own pocketbooks).

    Even very successful companies which put their bean counters completely in charge gradually whittle themselves down to nothing until they close their doors because workers are seen by bean counters as nothing but “expense,” rather than the being seen as the very backbone of any productive enterprise.

    We can expect the same will be attempted within the state government under this system, except that it will be any and all needs of the individual citizens of Minnesota who will be seen as an unnecessary expense.

    For children, the disadvantaged, the disabled, the elderly and infirm, the bean counter’s constant cry, “we can’t afford it,” will become “we can’t afford you.”

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 11/16/2010 - 05:36 pm.

    And what is wrong with these Republican leaders that they think the citizens of Minnesota should not be expected to be able to comprehend “math and geometry?”

    If they, themselves don’t understand such lower-level math skills (which my 5th grade granddaughter understands quite well), how on earth are they qualified to serve in the legislature?

  3. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 11/16/2010 - 06:26 pm.

    Way to go Republicans! You’re 0.016% of the way to closing that deficit and the only price was a little ignorance.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/17/2010 - 05:51 am.

    Republicans have great faith in the power of a modified organization chart to change the world. Just because there are 35% fewer committees, doesn’t mean there is 35% less work. And while staff might be reduced by 35% in these difficult times, I am pretty sure there won’t be 35% fewer lobbyists.

    There are still 201 legislators in St. Paul. And until that changes, the size of government remains the same. For whatever that’s worth.

  5. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/17/2010 - 06:56 am.

    …”One-stop shopping” for business leaders in dealing with the Legislature is how Zellers put it….

    My goodness, what a telling phrase that is.

    By the way, where can one view the “simplified” flow charts of the new configuration? After all, if it is available to the “shoppers”, why shouldn’t it be available to the “bystanders”?

  6. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/17/2010 - 07:14 am.

    Two additional comments:

    First, much of the “confusion” shown in the chart in the picture merely has to do with how the different entries in the two columns are aligned. It could be arranged so that there are far fewer crossing lines. An obvious effort went into making the chart more “confusing” than it really is.

    Second, the eliminated committees are

    * Finance,
    * Game, Fish and Forestry,
    * Early Childhood Finance and Policy,
    * Housing Finance,
    * Local Government,
    * Civil Justice, and
    * Transportation and Transit Policy.

    It, again, is telling what committees are eliminated. After all, from their elimination, the GOP is sending the message there are no current or future issues that specifically fall under the purview of those committees.

    After all, finances are secure and stable, there are no problems in the housing market, local government is on sound footing, the justice system is fully funded, there are no controversies or upcoming battles in transit funding, early childhood education is a real priority and there are no controversies related to the Legacy funding.

    Nothing to see here, after all $500,000 in savings is a cheap price to make all of those issues go away in a substantial way.

  7. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/17/2010 - 08:36 am.

    “A streamlined committee structure makes sense and both parties have been working on it,” Thissen said.”…but it got hung up in committee.

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