Click here to read a story about Elk River’s new legislator, Nick Zerwas.
by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
The new legislative session (2013–14) began Tuesday, Jan. 8, with lawmakers talking of good will and working together for the benefit of the state.
“I think the rancor starts on Monday,” laughed Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka.
House and Senate members were sworn into office shortly after noon with House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, officially elected by their respective bodies to their leadership posts.
“I really have high hopes for this legislative session,” said Thissen addressing the House.
Bakk spoke of the need for a gritty realism.
“The campaign is over and it’s now time to govern,” Bakk said.
“That means being honest with Minnesotans about our challenges and how we aim to resolve them. We each represent all of our constituents, not just one party or only those who voted for us,” he said.
Democrats hold the reins of state government, controlling the governor’s office, all state constitutional offices and the Legislature.
Despite expressions of bipartisanship, a small dustup occurred in the House as Republicans attempted a parliamentary maneuver.
“I’m not going to be rolled over,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, prior to start of session.
If he has to call the Democrats out, he will, Daudt said.
Still, session opening in the House was marked more by hugs, hand shakes, friends and supporters.
“It’s really nice,” said newly elected Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker, of serving in the Legislature. His district stretches into parts of eastern Sherburne County, including Orrock Township and a portion of Big Lake Township.
A paramedic for 25 years, Newberger speaks of people being “wired” for certain professions.
And lawmakers are no different.
“I think it’s a gift,” he said of the impulse for public service.
Thissen, speaking about the early bills, cited a school funding shift legislation — repayment next biennium — jobs and property tax bills, others.
House Democrats are going to fulfill promises they made during the election, he said.
Democratic legislative leaders have stressed the primacy of the state budget.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to release his proposed state budget Jan. 22, setting off a process honed by the release of the February budget forecast later in the session.
The February forecast provides the final numbers for legislators to use on which to base the budget.
Area senators spoke of the need to get things done.
“We owe it to our citizens to get the job done,” newly elected Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, said.
He was excited to represent his district and hopes to be part of a bipartisan effort to fix the budget, to work to create more jobs and to get the economy going again, Hoffman said.
Sen. Melissa Wiklund, DFL-Bloomington, represents District 50 and hopes to be an active force in solving education issues.
She served on the Bloomington School Board prior to being elected to the Minnesota Senate.
Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, says he is honored and privileged to be taking his oath of office Tuesday. He credits his wife, Kari, for pointing him in this direction. He served on the city council for 11 years prior to gaining a seat in the Minnesota Senate.
“For a farm kid from Glencoe, this is like going from A-ball to the Major Leagues,” Osmek said.
Newly elected Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary’s Point, said her entire family was in the Senate gallery to watch her first day of service.
Her husband, Phil, a former National Hockey League star, was at her side during the opening session of the Senate.
Former Rosemount High School Principal Greg Clausen, now a DFL senator from Apple Valley representing District 57, brought his mother, also a former educator, with him for the opening day ceremonies.
“It is a special day to reflect on the history and tradition and take on a responsibility to serve the state and its people,” Clausen said. He will serve on education and higher education committees. He already said he is part of a legislative group which will introduce an education initiative at a news conference Thursday.
Lawmakers face a projected $1 billion state budget deficit in the upcoming two-year budget cycle.
But Thissen also indicated that a floor vote on same-sex marriage could happen this year in the House.
Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, expects one.
“I think something will happen this year,” Hansen said.
Same-sex marriage advocates want a vote.
Minnesotans United for All Families Campaign Manager Richard Carlbom views the session as the right moment.
“We believe 2013 is the best time,” he said.
Carlbom feared that the momentum might have waned following the defeat in November of the proposed amendment to ban same-sex marriage, but senses it hasn’t.
“I’m not going to proclaim victory,” he said when asked whether the votes existed to pass same-sex marriage legislation.
Chuck Darrell, of Minnesota for Marriage, indicated the group would be active at the State House.
“In fact, the defeat of the Marriage Amendment was not a referendum to legalize gay-marriage. Far from it,” Darrell said in an email.
“However, we are taking this threat to marriage very seriously. Minnesota for Marriage will not leave the field,” he said.
The Minnesota Legislature is primarily a male body, with men outnumbering women about 2-to-1.
The gender ratio is less sharp than found in recent legislatures in the Dakotas, Iowa and Wisconsin.
(Editor’s note: Political Editor Howard Lestrud contributed information for this story.)