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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published December 24 2010

SW Minnesota lawmakers take on leadership duties

ST. PAUL – Two southwest Minnesota lawmakers will spearhead rural interests when the 2011 Legislature convenes at noon Jan. 4.

Sen.-elect Doug Magnus of Slayton and Rep. Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake, both part of the new Republican legislative majority, not only will lead the Legislature’s two agriculture committees but also hold high overall leadership responsibilities.

In 2011, their jobs in GOP leadership may be more important than as committee chairmen, given the fact that it appears there may be little significant activity in the ag committees.

The pair, friends and former roommates, took different routes to their leadership roles.

Magnus did not seek the assistant majority leader job, but fellow Republican senators picked him while he skipped out of a meeting to attend a House retirement party. When he returned to the Senate meeting, Magnus learned about his new job when fellow Republicans congratulated him.

No Republican senator has experience being in the upper body’s majority, but Magnus brings a background in the House majority that can prove helpful as Republican senators take control.

In 2009, Magnus decided not to run for re-election to the House. But when Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy, retired, Magnus looked at a shrinking list of retiring farm-area lawmakers and decided to seek a Senate seat.

Hamilton needed to rebuild his Republican credentials.

In 2008, Hamilton became a member of the “Override Six,” a half-dozen GOP House members who joined Democrats to override a Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty veto of a bill raising transportation taxes.

“It was one of the decisions I made because I thought it was the right thing to do for the people I represented,” Hamilton said about highway benefits in his district that could come from more revenue.

Hamilton was in leadership then but resigned before fellow Republicans who opposed the tax increase could vote him out.

“I knew it would take some time to rebuild the strain on some of the relationships and also to win back some of the trust of individuals,” Hamilton said. “I think that is why I am so honored to be elected by my peers as majority whip. A lot can happen in two short years.”

As whip, considered the third top job in the House, one of Hamilton’s jobs is to make sure Republicans are staying in line with their caucus.

Hamilton and Magnus are not among those who get up to speak on nearly every issue.

Being leaders and agriculture chairmen helps their southwest area.

“It puts our areas in a real good position,” said Magnus, a Vietnam war veteran and farmer who spent years as state and national soybean organization leader, visiting countries around the world.

Magnus was House author of the controversial Job Opportunity Building Zones, designed to attract businesses to rural Minnesota by offering tax breaks. That has worked, he said, despite naysayers.

While JOBZ or something similar could be debated, one thing Republicans and DFL Gov.-elect Mark Dayton agree needs to be discussed is reducing the number of state government regulations while speeding permitting processes.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com