Capitol Update for February 13, 2009

Posted by .

This week’s update from lobbyist John Tuma:

“The selection of a chief author seals the fate of many bills… An author who possesses sound judgment and a competitive nature can steer to passage a bill that in less talented hands would not pass.  Consequently, proponents give great care to selecting and recruiting the best possible legislative authors… like… drafting a quarterback… Quality makes a difference.”*
– Jack Davies

Former Minnesota State Senator Jack Davies is absolutely correct on the selection of a chief author to a bill, and he should know.  Jack was first elected to the Senate in 1958 at the age of 26 while still a law school student.  During his 24 years in the Minnesota Senate, he earned a reputation of one of those go-to quarterback chief authors.  He was a progressive liberal from Minneapolis entering a Senate which, at the time, was a conservative club of old patriarchs.  To my young Obama friends, he was a progressive long before being progressive was cool.

For the first 14 years of his legislative service as a minority member, Jack learned how to become a savvy coalition builder succeeding where lesser senators would fail.  Fortunately, fate smiled on Senator Davies and the Minnesota Senate became a partisan body controlled under the DFL by the early 1970s.  He quickly became a key leader in the Senate.  He was the driving force behind some of the nationally recognized education and judicial reforms that came to distinguish Minnesota as a leader.  In part due to his excellent grasp of the process, he was elected President of the Senate in his last term which ended in 1982.  He went on from there to serve as a Justice of the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Judge Davies was also a distinguished law professor who happened to write a little book for West Publishing entitled “Legislative Law and Process in a Nutshell,” which gave us the above quote.  For those of you young and aspiring legislators or lobbyists, this is an absolute essential read.  I read it when I first was elected as a representative and it has always been an excellent guidepost of both process and strategy.  Those of you who have worked with me know I will often use quotes from it like, “the big hairy arms strategy” (You can find that one on page 119 by the way.)  Also, if you want to talk with the author himself, you can often find Judge Davies still working the halls of the Capitol in his retirement championing, among other things, justice issues.  He’s one of the great legislative icons in Minnesota.

I like Judge Davies’ football analogy because it fits for this week in the legislative session.  The political game for the session up until this point has been a very boring first quarter due to very tentative legislators living in fear of the big deficit.  Finally this week, we’ve seen activities around MEP’s top three bills and we have something worth cheering about.  We’re very optimistic for the rest of the game because the environmental Green Team has taken Judge Davies’ advice and handed the ball to some real good quarterbacks (chief authors) to guide some of our top initiatives down the field.  The Vikings might learn a thing or two from our quarterback drafting strategy.

Our bill for Building Sensible Communities to reduce global warming pollution was the first to see action by getting a hearing in the Senate this week.  SF549 is in the capable hands of chief author Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis).  Joining him on the bill as co-authors are Senators Ann Rest (DFL – New Hope), Rick Olseen (DFL-Harris), Jim Carlson (DFL- Eagen) and Steve Dille (R -Dassel).  It was in the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday, February 11, that SF549 had its first hearing.  Chair Satveer Chaudhary (DFL-Fridley) gave the bill a full and fair hearing and helped guide the bill to a unanimous committee endorsement.  The main focus of the bill is to assist communities in developing land-use planning to offer Minnesotans more transportation and housing alternatives.  Fewer miles traveled means less vehicle pollution and global warming.  John Bailey (1000 Friends of Minnesota), Chuck Dayton, (Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group), and Julian Marshall (Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Minnesota) led the effort to outline the benefits of the bill.  John Jaschke, of the Board of Water and Soil Resources testified in favor of the provisions requiring the inclusion of carbon sequestration in determining the public values of wetlands.  They all did a solid job advocating for the bill.

Local governments expressed concern about provisions changing the environmental review process to include global warming pollution.  Sen. Dille offered an amendment to remove the section, which was successful despite our author’s objections.  Nonetheless, all the provisions dealing with improved community planning to reduce global warming pollution remained.  The Building Sensible Communities legislation in the House will be introduced soon and our chief author will be Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL – Minneapolis).  The Green Team is putting together a great lineup of co-authors and expects hearings soon in the House.

Our quarterbacks for the Clean Car Bill are skilled veterans of this battle.  HF690/SF674 is back in the capable hands of Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL – Brooklyn Park) and Sen. John Marty (DFL – Roseville).  These two authors have shown they possess “sound judgment and a competitive nature.”  They are joined by an excellent slate of co-authors, including   Representatives Ann Lenczewski, Maria Ruud, Kate Knuth, Debra Hilstrom, Frank Hornstein, Tina Liebling, Kathy Brynaert and Kim Norton.  On the Senate side, the co-authors are Senators Katie Sieben, John Doll and Jim Carlson, and Senate Transportation Chair Steve Murphy.

Both the House and Senate bills received their introductions on Thursday.  As a kick off, the bill authors had an excellent press conference Thursday morning which received significant coverage.  Interestingly, in the House the bill’s first committee stop will be in Frank Hornstein’s Transportation and Transit Policy and Oversight Division as opposed to the Environment Policy and Oversight Committee.  Our chief author was concerned about delays and made the quick call to change plays.  Another good call by Rep. Hortman, because the bill will have its first hearing on Wednesday of next week at 1 p.m. in the State Office Building Room 5.

The final MEP initiative that needs a bill is Safe Mines to Protect Our Water.  The bill should receive its introduction next week.  We are excited to announce our two quarterbacks for this major initiative.  On the House side, longtime environmental champion and House Capitol Investments Chair Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul) will be taking the ball.  She is a respected veteran legislator with a long history of success.  On the Senate side, we are excited the Safe Mines ball will be in the hands of Sen. Jim Carlson.  He is a first term senator, but don’t underestimate him.  The Senator brings a great deal of passion and commitment to environmental protection.  Our authors have already been doing an excellent job working behind-the-scenes building the necessary momentum to pass this type of major reform.

Certainly football and politics can be contact sports.  In the football world, it is essential to have a courageous quarterback who’s not afraid to stand in the pocket and fire a pass completion even though he knows he is going to take a hard hit.  But it is also worth noting that the quarterback and the chief author make up only one player on the team.  To be successful in any team contact sport, like football or politics, you need all your team members doing their jobs.  We have a daunting task ahead of us to win on these three major initiatives.  Therefore, it’s time to strap on our helmets and knock some polluters on their backsides.

*Legislative Law and Process in a Nutshell, Jack Davies, West Publishing 1986, pp 99-100.

Comments are closed.