Legislative Leadership and the Environment

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The leadership positions in the legislature are quickly filling.  It looks like there is some good news for the environment and some little flags that give me pause.  I am hoping for you input on the players as well.

So here’s the lineup as I know it right now.  In the Senate, the DFL have chosen Senator Larry Pogemiller from Minneapolis as the Majority Leader.  Assisting him will be the aptly titled Assistant Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, from St. Cloud.  The Republicans have now chosen Senator David Senjem, who represents northern Rochester and an area northwest of the city, as the Minority Leader.

In the House, the DFL majority have chosen Representative Margaret Anderson Kelliher, also of Minneapolis, as the Speaker of the House.  The second ranking Democrat, will be Majority Leader Tony Sertich of Chisholm.  He and I attended Hamline University at the same time, though that really isn’t all that relevant to the conversation at hand.  The Republicans are slated to choose their Minority Leader on Saturday I believe, with the top contenders being Reps. Eric Paulson, Marty Seifert, and Steve Smith – that’s the word on the street anyway.  So, let’s break it down.

Senate DFL

Much ink, real and virtual, has been used to question the choice of Sen. Pogemiller as Majority Leader and to talk about his personality.  I’ve always thought that he played up a certain persona while chairing the Tax Committee to counter-balance his House counterpart  Rep. Krinkie (a.k.a. Dr. No).  Thus, I rather expect him to change his tune a bit now that he is more of a soloist, but that may be just me.

Environmentally, I think the combination of Sens. Pogemiller and Clark should be good news.  He has roots to environmental activism in his past (namely MPIRG).  She received quite a bit of accolade for her past work from the environmental community when she won a special election roughly one year ago.  Together, they will have quite a bit of influence over the committee makeup, which will in turn influence what bills – good or bad – get bottled up.  I have more faith in the committees they will craft than I would have had with some of the other leadership contenders.

I know others are not as optimistic as me about the Senate under Sen. Pogemiller.  Thus, I’d love to hear your perspective on him in the comments below.

Senate Republicans

I am told that the Republicans went with Sen. Senjem because he is well liked by his caucus and is considered a consensus builder.  Makes sense to me.  Glancing at one environmental scorecard seems to indicate that he’s fairly middle of the road – not the lowest score, definitely not the highest.  What worries me most is the role he played in the “Jobs, Energy, and Community Development” Committee last year.  I recall one hearing in particular on the bill to clean up mercury emissions from Minnesota coal-burning power plants where he did his darndest to produce the results that the Power Company lobbyists most wanted to see.   I also heard a rumor that he worked against a statewide Renewable Electricity Standard, but I don’t know what role he took with that.  He’s not a man who has obtained widespread media attention, so do share if you can provide any insight.

House DFL

It should prove interesting to watch the interplay between Speaker Kelliher and Majority Leader Sertich.  Speaker Kelliher made a number of strong floor speeches last session to advocate for environmental legislation.  I don’t think I’ll shock anyone by stating here that the Iron Range tends not to be represented by vocal environmental champions.  Rangers have often played a role in undermining legislation supported by MEP member groups.  Having said that, I’ll note that it’s been a while since I chatted with Rep. Sertich about these issues, but I’ve always found him to have an open door and we could certainly be worse off if others were in his position.  Looking at an example like the coal-gasification plant that some want to build (six of) on the Range, while I have mixed feelings about the technology and dislike building new coal plants, I believe he worked hard for it in part because of a genuine desire to create jobs while minimizing environmental impact.   

A call for new committees

There’s no particular need for the DFL to maintain the same committee structure as past sessions, particularly in the House.  Given the prominence that energy issues received this election cycle, it seems like a wise move to me to create a committee dedicated to energy issues.  There is much work to be done on the topic and public demand for new choices is high and growing higher.  The nation needs Minnesota’s leadership in this arena again. 

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