Minneapolis to rule at Legislatureby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
A pair of lawmakers from Minneapolis, one of them an outspoken critic of Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, will lead the Minnesota House and Senate. Senate DFLers selected Sen. Larry Pogemiller as majority leader. Pogemiller has been a frequent critic of Gov. Pawlenty over the past four years. House Democrats last night elected Margaret Anderson Kelliher as the next speaker of the house.
St. Paul, Minn. — The 44 DFLers in the Senate selected Pogemiller, a brilliant and combative political tactician who often speaks his mind, as Majority Leader. The DFL commands hefty majorities in both the House and Senate, but Pogemiller struck a conciliatory tone when asked about his past political squabbles with the governor. Pogemiller says he doesn't foresee any problems as long as Pawlenty wants to work on issues that move Minnesota forward.
"We're all starting with a clean slate and I think the voters spoke strongly just now, and I think we're all going to get the work done," says Pogemiller.
Senate DFLers wasted no time in selecting Pogemiller to lead their caucus. They needed to find a replacement for former Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson who was targeted by social conservatives and lost his reelection bid on Tuesday.
Senate DFLers picked Pogemiller over five other candidates, who represent suburban and rural districts. The choice came as a surprise to many political watchers.
"It sends a message of 'We're going to do battle,'" said Sarah Janacek, a Republican and publisher of the newsletter Politics in Minnesota.
Janacek says Pogemiller has been a highly partisan figure during his 24 years in the Senate. During that time, he's served as chair of the Senate Education and Tax Committees. As Tax Committee chair, he often sparred with officials of the Pawlenty Administration and was a vocal critic of the governor and his policies.
Pogemiller says he needs to be more careful now that he speaks for the entire caucus. Whatever posture he takes, Janacek says there will be a clear difference at the Capitol after eight years of GOP control in the House.
"The DFL controlling the House and the Senate is going to present the governor with unified DFL initiatives," Janacek says. "So we're going to have a much different dynamic than we've had over the past eight years."
Pawlenty's spokesman issued a statement saying the governor looks forward to working with Pogemiller. Before Pogemiller's selection, Pawlenty held a news conference where he struck a moderate tone and vowed to work with Democrats.
The match-up sets the stage for two masterful political chess players. Both are adept at anticipating their opponent's moves months in advance.
A day after setting a conciliatory tone, the House DFL caucus chose Leaders less known for confrontation than Pogemiller. House DFLers unanimously endorsed Rep. Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, as the next Speaker of the House.
They also elected Tony Sertich of Chisholm as House Majority Leader. Sertich said their main focus will be on the bread and butter issues that helped them regain the majority.
"It's not really about where your from it's where you're going. And as a state, I think under the new control and the change that's happening in Minnesota, we're going in the right direction," says Sertich. "Our issues of education, health care and property tax relief is going to propel us forward more than where we're from."
Sertich will help set the agenda, and try to sway votes on important legislation in his new role. His selection means that there will be at least one rural member in a major Leadership position. But the key concentration of power, the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader, will be centered in Minneapolis.
Pogemiller dismissed the notion that the Leadership is too concentrated in the Metro area. He said Tom Bakk of Cook will chair the Senate Tax Committee and Tarryl Clark of St. Cloud is Assistant Majority Leader.
"This is one state and I think we've seen in the past when we've had strong rural Leaders that it doesn't so much matter as long as people have a statewide perspective and that's what we're going to have here," says Pogemiller.
But one Republican contends Democrats in the House and Senate are out of touch. Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall says the DFL is not interested in representing the entire state.
"What they did is turn to the far left in terms of inner city Minneapolis, people who won 80 plus percent of the vote in extremely liberal districts, for their Leadership," Seifert says. "There is no voice for the suburbs; there is no voice for the rural areas. Tim Pawlenty will provide the balanced voice as well as my caucus."
Seifert says he's running for House Minority Leader now that current House Speaker Steve Sviggum says he's not interested in the position. His caucus will meet next week to select the Minority Leader. Senate Republicans are scheduled to meet later today to choose the head of their caucus.