Posted at 3:20 PM on March 28, 2007 by Bob Collins (7 Comments)
OK, I have to say it. The folks at the top of the Power Rankings, really aren't the most effective legislators. I say it here because tomorrow I'm going to say it on the radio and I like to think of the MFL as being just a little ahead of my broadcast pals. Cathy Wurzer is interviewing me (taped) tomorrow for a piece they'll run on Friday morning. Morning Edition may cut it out --or maybe not -- but I have to at least get it on the record.
That's not to say Reps. Jim Abeler, David Bly, and Frank Moe -- and a few others -- aren't good legislators. I guess they are. And they seem inclined to work with the other party (although I also contend that the Republicans left at the Legislature are more moderate than a lot of the ones that got tossed and many might even fall into the category of the RINO (Republican In Name Only) that the right-wingers hung on a lot of them.
But here's where MFL departs from real life and where, I think, the idea of awarding points just to the lead authors on bills makes a lot of sense. Lead authors work with the revisor on the bill in the first place, they carry the bill, they testify before committees. It doesn't take a lot to file a motion to get your name added to a bill after it's already been written and filed.
But I've been watching a lot of floor debate the last few weeks and it is a rare moment, indeed, when I see the top 5 House members rise to debate a bill. Why? Because it's not really their bill. It's the lead author's bill and that's the person who does most of the work.
So who is the most effective legislator? For my mind -- this year -- in terms of raw effort, it's Sen. Ann Rest, followed closely behind, I think, by Sen. Linda Berglin, and Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon. Both have been tireless in committees, not only the ones on which they serve, but also testifying on legislation they're sponsoring.
But maybe that's just me. I'd have to give Rep. Tom Huntley some consideration this year too -- and, frankly, many others.
Speaking of Prettner Solon, she got some big points today with SF60, the bill that's intended to help solve Duluth's pension mess. It came out of conference committee and it was still SF60. She, along with Rest, Sen. Betzold, Sen. Bakk, and Sen. Senjem, scored the First conference committee (CC) points of the year.
That's 30 bonus points right there.
Being the chief author of a bill is just one of the many duties of a legislator. There are 201 different scenarios. Allow me to expand on just one legislator who with who I am familiar.
Rep. Frank Moe is an Assistant Majority Leader. One of his official duties in that role is to guide and assist the new Democratic Freshmen legislators. Rep. Moe has often commented in public and in private how impressive this new crop of legislators is. That aside, it is no secret that many of these new legislators won close races in "swing districts" and are already being targeted by the Republicans for the 2008 election.
As a result, there are many bills, and especially amendments, that are presented on the House Floor and in committee by the Republican minority that are little more than thinly disguised attempts to get legislators of the opposing party to make a "bad vote" that could be used against them back home. BTW, both parties have engaged in this bit of strategy for years, especially by the minority party and this year it just so happens that the House Republicans are in that unenviable position.
It's not easily seen on TV as Rep. Moe is seated towards the back of the House Floor but if one sits in the House gallery during a floor session you will often see Rep. Moe offering advice and direction to members of the DFL freshmen class as to what is happening on the House Floor where the action can often be quite unpredictable and frenetic. Rep. Moe doesn't give many speeches on the floor, he's busy doing his job.
It's much like how the Twins 3rd base coach gives direction to Nick Punto as he is flying around the basepaths on a hit-and-run. Punto is fully capable of making the decision whether to slide or not, but sometimes a bit of veteran coaching is helpful.
This is but one example as to how the effectiveness of a legislator is not fully appreciated by the number of MFL points he/she may have or for that matter how often they speak in committee or on the House Floor. Are Reps. Emmer, Kohls, and Westrom more effective Republican legislators than Abeler or Tinglestad because of the volume of testimony they deliver on the House Floor or in committee? Rep. Mark Olson must lead the pack in amendments offered and floor discussion, but as for effectiveness...?
On the other hand their are a number of Democratic Senators and Representatives who are a bit low in MFL points yet they are extraordinarily influential legislators as they shepherd complicated Omnibus bills through the process which is extremely time consuming, yet is not reflected in MFL points.
The MFL point system is not flawless yet if legislators were to rate the effectiveness and work ethic of their fellow legislators I would bet that their list would include most of the MFL point leaders.
Posted by mike simpkins | March 28, 2007 5:18 PM
First, we have to look back at the election that brought all of those freshmen in. And, darned right they're smart. They're smart enough, also, not to sit down and shut up in the face of the leaders of their party. And their party leaders are smart enough to recognize it's not 1992 anymore.
I recall last year ... quite early in the campaign... telling anyone who would listen that District 56 (Woodbury) was percolating and something was going on there and that maybe ... just maybe... it was a good sampling for Minnesota.
MPR wasn't interested in it, mostly because they checked back with the DFL (at my insistence), which had left 56 off "key" districts (they said Marsha Swails might have had a chance if Karen Klinzing were a man).
Well, of course 56A and 56B *AND* the Senate seat all shifted from Republican to DFL.
That was because of the candidates -- in this case Rep. Marsha Swails, Rep. Julie Bunn and Sen. Kathy Saltzman, who were (and are) smart enough to persist in the face of the DFL's "write if you get work" attitude toward candidates in the suburbs.
To be fair, the Republican candidates in many of those districts were probably also too comfortable with the "this is a Republican district" mantra.
Beyond that, Mike, I generally disagree, except for what I wrote in the Pelowski posting. I do think the bottom of the Power Rankings is more accurate than the top.
I think the reason the MFL exaggerates the importance of bills is that the House allows so many legislators to sign onto a bill and becausae it's so darned easy to hop on everything that moves.
My point isn't that Moe isn't doing his job or that he's not very good. Clearly he is. But I would say teaching other legislators how Kelliher, Sertich, Huntley, et al., are working...doesn't make the teacher more effective -- as a legislator THIS year . Its impact may be felt in future years.
Take a look at the Motions and REsolutions section of any House Journal. You see the same names there on almost EVERY motion to add an author. Why? What is the purpose of doing that? What is the value of having your name on a bunch of bills you didn't author and don't push, just because you can?
But , yeah, the job of a whip or assistant leader is more than just legislating. I'm just saying for the *right now* of it all, I have to go with what an individual's work means to the "little people" (us), and grooming the next crop of leaders doesn't really made much difference in the right now. It's for the next session.
Anyway, you're right, there's more to being a legislator than being a chief author. But I don't believe there's more work involved than being a chief author. And, yeah, I get the whole "they're working hard on the omnibus bill" thing, but I still think the omnibus bill process is a backroom, out-of-the-public's eye artifact that shouldn't be rewarded with points. (g)
One other note on the session, having read Tom Scheck's report tonight on the new Senate DFL tax strategy. If everyone goes back and looks at the election results again, you'll find that the DFL regaining control was the "perfect storm." Everything clicked and they got lucky in a lot of races.
Nothing wrong with that unless you approach things as a mandate. I've never seen a political party yet NOT consider a mandate.
If, indeed, a recession comes along.... IT becomes the DFL's "Iraq" in the next election and the GOP will do very well with that. And we know that because they've done very well with that in the past.
Methinks the next 5 years are going to be tumultuous with rapid shifts in political power.
Posted by Bob Collins | March 28, 2007 5:47 PM
Bob, I find myself agreeing with you almost 100%. I hope that doesn't scare the Beejezuz out of you!!! There are often very important reasons why some legislators are asked to sign on to a particular bill and can be influential in getting it through the legislative process. That being said, I agree that the Chief Author should get the bulk of the points. And do I see some legislators signing on to bills for apparently no valid reason...absolutely.
I also agree that the DFL was the recipient of a perfect storm and a huge tailwind last fall. I too was EXTREMELY disappointed in the lack of help that our new candidates received from the State DFL last fall. However, I've tempered my feelings quite a bit since then as I came to realize some other dynamics that were in place. First, the State DFL was most concerned with protecting what they felt were vulnerable incumbents. That in itself sucked up a lot of resources, not leaving a whole lot for the newcomers.
As for the State DFL being "clueless" in swing districts? Well, I worked on the ground throughout the 7th and 8th CD'S last fall and honestly believed that we had some GREAT candidates that should have been targeted and weren't. John Ward, Rick Olseen, and Al Doty won because they were outstanding candidates. The State DFL had little to do with their victories. In swing districts, it's the quality of the candidate and the type of campaign organization they build that is of primary importance. I agree with you on that. In fairness to the State DFL, Mary Olson WAS targeted and the DFL was very helpful in that race. On the other hand we lost a number of very close races in the 8th, Melissa Jabas, Ron Berry, Gail Kulick-Jackson among others, who very may well have won if they had been given some additional resources. We will never know.
We also caught the Republicans a bit off-guard and by the time they realized that some of their incumbents were in trouble, it was too late. I doubt that will happen next time around.
I also agree with you that the Democratic tax strategy in the State Senate is fraught with danger...or it may be brilliant. Time will tell, but it gives me cause for concern. Same thing with the political machinations regarding the Iraq War. If it becomes viewed as the Democrats War...that changes everything. We agree again.
I don't know if the next 5 years will be tumultuous or not. I am however concerned about the next six months with Silva in the Twins starting rotation. That will be tumultuous with rapid shifts of power depositing non-sinking sinkers into the left field seats!
Posted by mike simpkins | March 28, 2007 6:48 PM
I wonder who they thought the vulnerable incumbents were.
Other than Dean Johnson, of course.
I'll have to get back to the Senate tax strategy just as soon as I figure out what the heck Pogemiller is doing. I *think* he was hoping for a bunch of "Willing to pay for a better Minnesota" lawn signs to spring up after he released the original targets.
That didn't happen.
Right now, it kinda feels like they're playing right into Pawlenty's hands.
But it could well be they're planning for a short stay in power (the House, now, I'm talking about) so might as well swing for the fences while they can still get on the field.
I know what the right is thinking, I know what the left is thinking. As usual, I'm most interested in what the middle is thinking.
Posted by Bob Collins | March 28, 2007 6:54 PM
I totally agree on awarding more points to lead authors. I am a huge beneficiary of co-author points and generally feel that it favors teams with House members because Senate bills only have 5 authors while House bills have up to 35 authors.
Early on I dumped my strategy of second term legislators for House Chairs and smoking-ban co-authors. That took me from 13th to 3rd pretty quick.
Here are some rule revision suggestions:
1) I think it would be cool to award points for Roll Call votes that succeed and subtract points for bills that fail. Score them like Palooza points.
2) A ratio of bills introduced to bills passed would be a cool way to award end of the session bonus points.What better
way to judge efficiency?
3) Appointment to conference committees suggest influence and should be worth points.
4) Also, my understanding is that in most fantasy games you have to choose who to play and who to bench for a week. It would be interesting to force captains to "play" and "bench" players before the committee schedule comes out for the following week.
Posted by Matt | March 28, 2007 7:46 PM
Frankly, it makes a lot of sense to spend money on first-term incumbents, especially.
Who did the DFL see as vulnerable incumbents? Well, from what I heard during the session last year, there were a lot of Dems that won narrowly in places like Rochester or the 2nd ring suburbs, for example, Reps. Liebling or Ruud. Then there were people further out state that were under pressure, like Rep. Sailer.
But, they all won their races. There's only so much money to go around, and because of the political system that greatly favors incumbency, probably too much money is spent conservatively. But you could easily throw a bunch of cash away on challenges that don't pan out. It's a tricky balance, I suppose.
Posted by Bill Lindeke | March 29, 2007 10:40 AM
True, I know there were vulnerable incumbents, from what I understand, however, few were getting a lot of help from the state Party.
I know, however, that the DFL wanted to protect some of those seats they picked up in special elections -- Taryl Clark and the Minnetonka-Plymouth area.
But outstate? I don't think the DFL was doing much outstate.
And I said, I know the DFL was pretty much ignoring the East metro, 'ceding it to the GOP.
Posted by Bob Collins | March 29, 2007 10:43 AM