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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published May 15 2011

Minnesota Political Notebook: New legislators create new end-game questions

ST. PAUL - Fifty-four Republicans serving their first year in the Minnesota Legislature face their first end-of-session circus, and no one knows just how they will react.

Many of the new Republicans in the 201-person Legislature come from the tea party faction, a conservative and libertarian movement wanting smaller government and lower taxes. Because of their large numbers, they and some existing lawmakers who agree with that philosophy hold many of the cards as legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton try to figure out a new state budget while filling a $5 billion deficit.

Leaks from private Republican meetings throughout the session make it apparent all is not sweetness and light. Reports of strong disagreements between members who want to stick to their ideological stances are reported to conflict with more experienced members, conservatives and moderates, who feel compromises are needed.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said in a Forum Communications interview that the tea party set is learning the need to compromise.

He admitted that some members early this legislative session refused to compromise. But as the session wore on, they began to realize that if they wanted something in a bill, they often had to give up something.

“It’s definitely a maturing process,” Zellers said.

“We have already jettisoned” some measures Democrats saw as the harshest bills, but were supported by most new Republicans, Zellers said. Those were provisions championed by two-term Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, to reduce the state workforce and take other moves unions oppose.

Zellers said that it takes a long time to get used to being a lawmaker. “This is a really confusing place when you come down here for the first time,” he said.

On the other hand, Dayton said that Republicans have yet to find a way to turn their campaign rhetoric into legislation that works.

Nolan backed

A state lawmaker and Bemidji native wants a former congressman to return to Washington.

If Republican Chip Cravaack still represents the area after new congressional district lines are drawn next year, there is a push for Rick Nolan to run.

“It is time for Chip Cravaack to pack up and come back to Minnesota – the Tea Party is over in the 8th Congressional District,” Ryan Winkler said. “Job No. 1 for DFLers in northern Minnesota is defeating Chip Cravaack – and Congressman Rick Nolan is the candidate to do it.”

Nolan lives and runs a Crosby business. He served in Congress in the late 1970s.

Winkler’s family still lives in the Bemidji area.

The problem for all U.S. House candidates is they don’t know how districts will be shaped. The Legislature and governor are supposed to draw new lines before Feb. 21, but if history repeats itself, a judicial panel will do the job.

Former state Sen. Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, bought a Duluth home so she could run against Cravaack, but there is no guarantee Duluth will continue to be part of his district.

Tying one on

Rep. Tony Cornish walked into the House chamber the other day wearing a white tie festooned with guns and holding a yellow one with the wording: “Man + women marriage.”

It was not surprising for the Good Thunder Republican, who usually wears either a handcuff or an M-16 rifle lapel pin. Cornish has a collection of ties that has drawn a lot of attention, especially a yellow one that proclaims, “Police line, do not cross.”

Cornish said he has each tie specially made, with the design silk-screened onto the fabric, at a $60-per-tie cost.

He is a police chief and former game warden.

Lousy timing

Rep. Phyllis Kahn fought to allow Sunday alcohol sales but pulled her proposal because it was apparent more work remained to be done.

The next morning, the Minneapolis Star Tribune printed a poll showing that 62 percent of Minnesotans favor Sunday sales, which now only are allowed in bars and restaurants.

Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, laughed after she saw the poll story.

“I couldn’t see worse timing,” she said.

While it is doubtful that the bill will come back this year, Kahn and Senate author Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, expect to continue working on the bill next year.


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