Ceremonies over, lawmakers get to work introducing themselvesby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
Several state senators are expected to detail some of the specifics on their key initiatives, a day after all 201 legislators were sworn in and formally elected their leaders. The first day of session is always exciting for members and their families. But there was a bit more excitement this year since a quarter of the Legislature is new.
St. Paul, Minn. — The first day of the 2007 legislative session was mostly pomp and circumstance. Lawmakers and their families walked through the Capitol and went through the formalities of being recognized.
A lot of the names called during roll call are different from last year. There are 53 new members in the House and Senate and most are Democrats. That party extended its control in the Minnesota Senate and retook the House for the first time since 1998. Many members sat with their families and soaked in the ceremonies of the first day.
"Well, this is such a beautiful chamber. I've been here before to visit, but it feels different being here as a member," said Rep. David Bly, DFL-Northfield, who first ran for his seat in 2002 and lost by 44 votes. He ran again and lost again in 2004. Now, after three runs, he's the representative from District 25B.
"I do have a better understanding having run several times of what it takes to win and what it means to be here," he said. "I'm very honored to serve the people of Minnesota and having door knocked and talked to people that it's a pretty awesome charge to be given. Hopefully, I'll do a good job and represent the people."
Bly holds one of the 19 seats that the Democrats picked up in the November election. They now hold 85 seats in the Minnesota House. Republicans hold 49 seats.
The change in power means former Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum of Kenyon is now a back bencher in both figurative and literal terms. Sviggum watched from the back of the House chamber as Rep. Margaret Kelliher of Minneapolis took the gavel as speaker.
This is the first time since 1993 that Sviggum will not be in charge of the House Republican caucus. He said on Minnesota Public Radio's Midday program that he's struggling with the change.
"I'm going to miss it a lot," Sviggum said. "I'm certainly somewhat sad. I've noticed already, just in the last month and half, how less I have been requested to come and speak to groups and go to other parts of the state to speak to them."
House Republicans will also have to get used to their new minority leader, Marty Seifert of Marshall.
Many will also have to get used to life in the minority. Despite recent calls for bipartisan cooperation, many in the political minority expect to have a difficult time getting their bills heard in committee and expect to be outnumbered on the House floor.
Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, who was elected to the House in 1998, the same year the GOP took control, says he hopes to use his political experience to get his initiatives heard.
"We've all been in the minority in one way, shape or form," he said. "On different bills, on different ideas, on different pieces of legislation. It's a lot bigger body of water now that we're in the minority but you take the lessons that you've learned."
The Senate will also have a new leader. DFLer Larry Pogemiller of Minneapolis has replaced Dean Johnson as Senate majority leader. Johnson lost his re-election bid to Republican Joe Gimse of Willmar. Gimse hopes that Democrats won't hold hard feelings over his victory.
"I'm going to come here as Joe Gimse with my hand extended and willing to work on both sides of the aisle," he said. "I've been around here now for two months since the election and I haven't felt any animosity whatsoever; not a harsh word from any individual or a bad stare. I hope that continues."
For his part, Pogemiller also extended an olive branch to the Republican minority. He picked Sen Dennis Frederickson, R-New Ulm, for a leadership position. Frederickson will serve as president pro tem of the Senate. Pogemiller says the move shows that the DFL caucus is willing to work across the aisle.
"I think it will be one of a series of demonstrations that the Senate is going to function collaboratively and bipartisanly," Pogemiller said.
Pogemiller says he expects the Senate to take quick action on a two-year budget. Passing that budget is the main task for lawmakers before they are constitutionally required to adjourn on May 21.
- Morning Edition, 01/04/2007, 7:50 a.m.