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).
• 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.
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.
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?
“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.