Republicans, who rolled through elections just two weeks ago, will keep on rolling today when they announce a new structure for Minnesota legislative operations.
Planning is always easier than execution, but so far this new Republican majority is making it look oh-so-easy. Their plan:
• They’ll align House and Senate committees.
• They’ll cut the number of committees and subcommittees.
• They’ll cut support staff.
• And they’ll reduce the legislative budget.
“The people who voted for us are looking for results,” said Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, the new House majority leader. “The process needs to be cleaner and the footprint smaller.”
Whack, trim, cut. Done.
The new Republican leadership may be able to carry this momentum deep into the coming session.
Almost certainly, the Republican majority will be a tougher foe for Gov. Mark Dayton (assuming he ends up with the election certificate) than the old DFL majority was for Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
For now, at least, there is a unity among Republicans that seldom existed among DFLers. New Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Dean all sound like the same person: “Jobs, the economy, the budget are the priorities.”
In fact, unity is easier among Republicans than it was for DFLers.
The makeup of the Republican caucus is more narrow philosophically than in the DFL caucus. There may be Republican legislators who think moderate thoughts, but they don’t utter them publicly for fear of losing support among the activists back home.
DFL legislators come from across the political spectrum. They spent as much time arguing with each other — over taxes, education policy, health care, the bonding bill, what time to break for lunch — as they did with Pawlenty. Additionally, DFL House leaders always had to contend with former Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller before taking on Pawlenty. Pogemiller often seemed to go his own way until the closing minutes of a session.
Even in its chastened minority status, it’s hard to imagine DFL legislators coming up with the unified support for Dayton the Republican minority gave Pawlenty.
Oh so many differences between the new majority and the old.
A positive difference: The new leaders come from at least mildly competitive legislative districts. The old leaders, Pogemiller, Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Tony Sertich, could not have figured out a way to lose in their home districts.
Dean calls his home district “political rubber.” He lost a special election (to current State Auditor Rebecca Otto) in 2003. It’s a district that President Obama carried in 2008 and Amy Klobuchar carried in her Senate race against Mark Kennedy in 2006. But it’s also a district that George W. Bush easily won twice, a district in which Norm Coleman triumphed over Al Franken.
“It’s a smart district,” said Dean. “From a majority leader standpoint, it’s a good district to be from. You’d better stay in touch with voters.”
But there’s also a negative difference from the new leadership over the old: These Republican leaders all come from the suburbs. Though the ‘burbs may represent the bulk of the population, they don’t reflect the state’s diversity in any way.
Dean, however, offers an assessment that on the surface sounds stunningly narrow. He comes from a district that includes the beauty and prosperity of such places Stillwater and Marine on St. Croix.
“The most beautiful district in the state,” Dean says. “It’s lovely. It’s the best place to live in the state. Beautiful and yet close to everything the cities have to offer.”
But in the next breath he says that “the suburbs really are in a vice.” He claims that the recession has caused more “anxiety” in the suburbs, including his district, than anywhere else in the state. Suburban districts are filled with people who have suffered the greatest losses in their 401(k)s, the greatest losses in home values. He notes that in his district there are many people who live in homes that have crashed in value.
That somehow people in Marine on St. Croix are suffering more than people on the Range, or in sparsely populated rural counties or in impoverished inner-city neighborhoods is a hard concept to grasp. Try selling the idea in north Minneapolis that a diminished 401(k) is an extreme hardship.
Like other Republican leaders, Dean says that social issues will be on the back burner. But unlike Zellers and Koch, he implied that those issues could come into play in the coming session.
“We will not leave behind the people who put us here,” he said.
But he also believes that social issues are less divisive statewide than the economic issues that the Republican majority has focused on.
“I’m not saying it’s going to be easy,” Dean said. “Saying you’re going to make government smaller is easier than actually doing it. Saying no to people you like, saying no to things that would be nice to have isn’t easy.”
But, Dean said, it will be done. And the first step comes today with the streamlining of the legislative process.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.