Last week as I pulled up to my parking stall, the Capitol Security Guard met me as I exited my car in front of the Capitol and told me “I couldn’t park there. That space was reserved for Senators.” I quickly introduced myself, showed him the parking permit on the dashboard, and he apologized several times. “Welcome to the Senate,” he said. He now gives a friendly wave every time I drive by. The Golden Horses high atop the Capitol still eye me suspiciously as I enter the employee door two stories below.
The first day of the session, Tuesday February 12, was pretty exciting. The first meeting of the day, the Senate DFL caucus, started promptly at 10:41am. Larry Pogemiller, the Senate Majority leader, and Taryl Clark, the assistant Majority leader, introduced me and several new Senate staff members. I am still learning names and faces. We also talked about the plan for this session. There are several deadlines that both the House and Senate have agreed upon. These deadlines are to ensure key issues get through committee, to the floor for debate, and to the Governor’s desk on time. The major issues included Transportation, Health Care, Bonding, Environment and Energy, and the Budget. While the plan looks and sounds good, it will be interesting to see how it plays out.
The first floor session of the Senate took place at noon on Tuesday. Not much business occurs on the first day of the session. We passed a couple of resolutions, some housekeeping type duties, dealing with postage and interns. We also took some time to honor Minnesota’s Nobel Prize winning laureate, Leonid Hurwicz, an Economics professor from the University of Minnesota. He is currently 90 years young. The gavel sounded the end of that day’s session 45 minutes later as many of the senators and staffers continue to greet me and offer their assistance.
After an afternoon of answering constituent mail, emails, and phone calls, I attended a reception honoring Best Practices for several organizations including Minnesota Community Action Partnerships. There are some amazing programs out there helping people out of impossible situations to find jobs, homes, help for their families and children. It was a great event.
On Wednesday, February 13, I boarded a bus from the Capitol with several other Senators and Representatives and headed up to St. Cloud to hear the Governor’s State of the State address. I was glad I attended, even though I didn’t feel the speech was especially inspiring or visionary. The best part of the trip was the ride in the bus with two veteran legislators, Senator Jim Vickerman (DFL – Tracy) and Senator Dennis Fredrickson (R- New Ulm). The two men have 50 years of experience between them. I learned a lot in the short trip about politics, politicians, the Senate, and the upcoming session. Meeting gentlemen like this reaffirms my belief that the party label need not be the determining factor in how we accomplish things at the Capitol. Their wisdom is truly inspiring.
At about 5pm today I presented my first bill before the Public Safety Committee. It came up pretty quick. Yesterday I was told by Senator Higgins that the bill would get a hearing before her committee so I needed to bring in my people to testify. The bill is a companion to a similar bill being introduced in the House by Representative Bly. It is part of a bonding request to bring some needed start up money for a new Safety Center here in Northfield. I appreciate the support of those who showed up to testify. City Administrator Al Roder and Police Captain Mark Taylor were part of the contingent and did an excellent job of presenting their plan for a new Safety Center. The committee asked some tough questions and we realize it will be a tough sell in a year with over 4 billion dollars in bonding requests and under 1 billion dollars to distribute. I was glad to have them nearby for my first bill presentation.
Tomorrow the work begins in earnest. The calendar is filling up with consituent requests for time. More committees begin their regularly scheduled time slots and the bills will begin their long march to the Governor’s desk. So far so good. I feel I am one step ahead of the fray. And each day brings new perspectives and new insights as to how this place really runs. I continue to look forward to the challenges and work ahead.