These new committee chairs will play key role in shaping revamped Minnesota state budget

Former Gov. Al Quie stood in the back of the room this morning as the new Republican majority introduced the array of lawmakers who will chair legislative committees beginning in January.

“Just curious,” said Quie, who ended up supporting Tom Horner in the gubernatorial race.

As the new heads of the committees were about to be unveiled, Quie, a religious man, had a political parable:

In 1954, when he was making his first run — for the Minnesota Senate — he had one major issue.

“I wanted to give liquor control agents the power of arrest,” he said.

Quie won his race, introduced the bill on his one big issue and sat through hearings.

A problem arose.

“After listening to the testimony in the hearings,” he said, “I decided I was wrong.”

The lesson: Good political leaders have to have the strength to be able to change their minds.

It’s hard to imagine that the new Republican leadership will include many mind-changers. The “no new taxes” attitudes of the last eight years will not shift. The idea that deep cuts can be made in government services is etched in the souls of the new leaders. The belief that there are too many regulations on businesses is deeply held.

So, here’s a quick rundown of the leaders — the key and quirky choices — who will help shape the next budget.
The big chairs
• Tax committees: Julianne Ortman (Senate), Greg Davids (a surprise choice on the House side).

State Sen. David Senjem
State Sen. David Senjem

• Ways and Means/Finance: Claire Robling (Senate), MaryLiz Holberg (House).

• Bonding: Dave Senjem (Senate) and Larry Howes (House).

Of this crew, Senjem and Howes are likely to be the most moderate and supportive of substantial bonding bills.

Quirky choices
Michelle Fischbach, who not only is going to be president of the Senate but also will head the Higher Education Budget and Policy Committee. Fischbach is a major “pro-life pol.” Despite claims by Republican leadership that social issues will be set aside, watch for Fischbach to push the social agenda.

In the House, the most intriguing player to watch may be Tony Cornish, who will be head of the Public Safety Committee. Cornish is very conservative, likes cowboy hats and will have some hang-’em-high thoughts on crime and punishment.

Other key players
The health and human services category swallows large portions of the state budget, meaning it’s an area of the budget that will have to take huge hits under the Republican goal of balancing the budget without increases in revenues.

In the House, that means Jim Abeler, who will chair the Health and Human Service Finance Committee, and Steve Gottwalt, who will chair the Health and Human Services Reform Committee, will be very busy.

Their counterpart in the Senate is a David Hann, a true-conservative believer who will lead the Health and Human Services Budget and Policy Committee.

Missing in action
Michael Jungbauer predicted to the Star Tribune a few days ago that he would be “punished” for participating in a Senate committee that investigated the collapse of the I-35W bridge. Despite his seniority — he was first elected in 2002 — he did not get a gavel.


“Oh no,” said the new Senate majority leader, Amy Koch.

State Sen. Amy Koch
State Sen. Amy Koch

Other Senate leaders chimed in, supporting Koch.

“In the old days,” said Geoff Michel, “everybody got a chair. We’re not doing that anymore.”

In the House, a couple of veterans didn’t get a gavel: Morrie Lanning of Moorhead, for example, although he’s one of the party’s most senior members. His problem: He has shown dangerous streaks of moderation. And Mark Buesgens, a seven-termer, also goes without a gavel, likely because of his recent DWI woes, and also because he’s more libertarian than Republican.

Player to watch
Edina’s Michel is a caucus leader in every sense of the word. He’s also to chair the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Committee, which will be very powerful as the Republican majority attempts to “open Minnesota” to business.

Like so many of his peers, Michel seems to be a true believer that if government would get out of the way, business leaders would create jobs and growth for the state that would solve most problems.

“We want to make Minnesota attractive to job creators,” he said. “If the job creators are freed, that’s going to put people to work and increase revenues for the state.”

In Michel’s view, job creators need fewer taxes and regulations.

He was saying this on a day with headlines highlighting unsafe levels of lead in the air in parts of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s hometown, Eagan. The lead is apparently a byproduct of Gopher Resource Corp.

Are Republicans too eager to dump regulations? Are they putting too much faith in the behavior of business leaders?

State Sen. Geoff Michel
State Sen. Geoff Michel

“Government needs to make decisions quicker,” Michel said, “but not in a way that endangers the health and safety of people. With all the advances in technology, we can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can move more quickly, without putting people at risk.”

The Republicans are quite pleased with the work they’ve already done in making decisions, in cutting the number of committees in the two bodies.

But they’re also quickly discovering that sometimes simplification isn’t as simple as it may seem.

The day after Kurt Zellers, who will be the next Speaker of the House, proudly showed off the new streamlined committee structure, he was asked about how members would be chosen to fill out the new committees.

“We’ll put together a committee on committees,” he said.

He caught himself and smiled, sheepishly.

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 (4)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 11/17/2010 - 07:05 pm.

    No argument about reducing the number of committees, nor about aligning or synchronizing House and Senate committees. Both are good moves.

    As for the rest, I’m less sanguine. For one thing, I’ll be more than surprised, I’ll be amazed if the culture wars are not reignited.

    Regarding Senator Michel and the Republican prescription for job growth…

    “…Michel seems to be a true believer that if government would get out of the way, business leaders would create jobs and growth for the state that would solve most problems.

    “We want to make Minnesota attractive to job creators,” he said. “If the job creators are freed, that’s going to put people to work and increase revenues for the state.”

    In Michel’s view, job creators need fewer taxes and regulations.”

    “Freeing” the job creators had me laughing out loud. The image of corporate boards in shackles, forced by an evil government to actually pay people a living wage while unable to pollute the environment at will or allow their prejudices to determine who gets promoted on executive row is an interesting one…

    To all the Republican B.S. about job creation and taxes, I offer two words and a postal abbreviation:


    Osceola, WI

    500 jobs lost. A town and a county, at the very least, not to mention 500 families, devastated economically. It had nothing to do with taxes. It had nothing to do with regulations. It had everything to do with the fact that Mexican workers will do the same job for 1/3 the pay of non-union workers in Wisconsin, and the CEO has prior experience running factories in Mexico.

    Just to rub salt in the wound, Polaris will likely get a tax break because, since the headquarters are still in the U.S., they can take credit for exporting snowmobiles and ATVs to foreign countries. They just won’t mention that they also exported 500 jobs.

  2. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/17/2010 - 08:04 pm.

    Since we are not creating the new industries essential for real job growth, I believe the unemployment rate will stay stubbornly high at around 9% for years, much like Germany saw for decades. The jobs that decamped for China or were vaporized by the Internet are never coming back.

    With tens of millions of individuals wiped out, and most of the rest recovering from a halving of their net worth, don’t hold your breath for a consumer spending boom. Frugality is here to stay. Business’s have also probably figured out that starving, bankrupt consumers don’t buy much.

    Where will the demand be coming from for these new business’s that lower taxes will create?

  3. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 11/18/2010 - 10:28 am.

    If cutting taxes and regulations created jobs, then certainly Nevada would lead the nation in jobs. Zero corporate taxes and zero personal income taxes. They lead the nation in unemployment.

    Minnesota is attractive to employers because of education and infrastructure. Republicans want to cut the things that attract jobs. It’s ludicrous.

  4. Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 11/18/2010 - 05:31 pm.

    I agree the economy has to grow to sustain the levels of services Minnesotans want, but “Get out of the way” is hardly a rigorous analysis of the issue.

    I’d love to see some actual growth strategies and benchmarks put forth that this do-nothing policy will support. That won’t happen though, because then these true believers would have to be accountable for what they have wrought.

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