for PDF format
of Meeting with Geoff Michel
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, December 29,
Johnson, chair (by phone), Lee Canning, Chuck Clay, Paul Gilje, Jim
Hetland (by phone), John Rollwagen
speaker: State Sen. Geoff Michel,
assistant minority leader, Minnesota Senate
Context of the meeting:
The Civic Caucus is continuing its inquiry into aspects of Minnesota's
election system as they relate to polarization and paralysis of the State
Legislature. Today is one of many planned sessions to obtain views of
Implications of the Star Tribune sale--Before
getting into the interview with Michel, attendees discussed briefly the
implications of this week's sale of the Star Tribune to an
investment group. Lee Canning, who is a former associate publisher of
the Star Tribune, reminded attendees that newspapers are
experiencing dramatic decreases in readership, particularly among persons
under 40 years of age. In an effort to reach such readers the paper
devotes far more space to entertainment than ever before. One person
wondered how long it will be before the St. Paul and
Minneapolis papers become one.
Introduction of Michel--Michel,
a Republican, who was just re-elected to a second four-year term in the
Minnesota Senate, and represents Edina and West Bloomington, was
introduced. He is leader of a new group of bipartisan legislators known
as the 2020 Caucus. His occupation in private life is as an attorney with
Securian Financial Group.
Comments and discussion--In
Michel's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the following
points were raised:
1. Thanks to the Civic Caucus--Michel
thanked the Civic Caucus for its seriousness of purpose and love for the
state. He thanked the Civic Caucus for the work it has been doing and is
pleased to see the group's upcoming schedule (meetings set on January 5
with State Sen. John Marty and on January 19 with outgoing Senate majority
leaders Dean Johnson.
2. Is all politics local?--Reminding
the group of former Massachusetts Congressman and Speaker of the House
Thomas "Tip" O'Neill's comment that "All politics is local", Michel thinks
the 2006 elections were different. As a Republican Michel was hoping that
the unpopularity of the President would not extend down to other
elections. But it is clear to him that the 2006 elections were very much
a nationalized election, with the Iraq war and other national issues
having an effect on local elections.
Michel wonders if changes in communication since O'Neill made
his comment in the '80s are a factor, such as the Internet and 24-hour
cable news. It's easier to be connected to national and international
3. Outlook for the 2007
is optimistic about 2007, with the Legislature enjoying a $2 billion
surplus, not a $5 billion deficit like four years ago.
4. Review of the "2020" Caucus--Michel
recalled that he and State Sen. Scott Dibble met with the Civic Caucus
about one year ago to discuss the newly formed "2020" Caucus in the State
Legislature, a bipartisan group of House and Senate members. Of the 23
original members, 22 were re-elected. Ray Cox, the only person defeated,
came from a very politically balanced district in Northfield, and lost by
less than 50 votes.
More than 50 new faces will be in the Legislature, about
one-fourth of the body. Michel is hopeful that more legislators will
choose to be part of the 2020 idea. The 2020 Caucus is divided fairly
evenly between the two parties and between metro and outstate. Although
2020 Caucus members tend to be younger, with fewer terms served, one of
its newest members is veteran State Sen. Ann Rest, DFL, Michel said.
The group took the "2020" name, because that will be the first
year when senior citizens outnumber schoolchildren. The group wants to
spotlight demographic change and to take steps to deal with change. The
Caucus will be pushing two main ideas in the 2007 Legislature:
a. Extending budget
budget projections are made for the upcoming two- and four-year periods.
The 2020 Caucus wants to add a third projection, going out for a longer
period of time.
b. Long term care changes--Minnesota
needs to find better alternatives to nursing homes. The 2020 Caucus is
excited about recent legislation in Vermont. Following is an explanation
of a new proposal, provided by Michel from a 2020 Caucus news release:
Modeled after an award-winning program in Vermont, the 2020 groupís
proposal would enable greater use of current state funding for home-based
and community-based care giving of those in need of long-term care. Since
the cost of home-based and community-based care is usually far less
expensive than traditional nursing home care, existing funds will go
Under Vermontís Choices for Care program, Medicaid-eligible seniors who
need someone to tend to their needs have the choice of being cared for at
home by a family member, friend or neighbor, who gets paid by the state.
One year after enacting it, Vermont officials say it is reducing the
number of people sent to nursing homes, cutting the cost of
taxpayer-funded care, bringing family members together, and improving life
quality while giving people a choice as to where they want to live.
Returning to a
discussion of the 2020 Caucus, Michel said that the Citizens League is
functioning, in effect, as its staff. He has great confidence in Sean
Kershaw, executive director of the Citizens League. Kershaw was part of
a recent news conference announcing the 2020 Caucus initiatives for 2007
Problems of gaining media coverage--In
response to a question, Michel said that while electronic media did not
come to the 2020 news conference, that the Pioneer Press, Star Tribune,
and Associated Press were represented. A good news article then appeared
in the Pioneer Press, plus an editorial in the Star Tribune.
6. Make legislative districts
more competitive--Moving on to
a discussion of possible changes in the elections system, Michel said the
big change he would work for is to change redistricting to make districts
more competitive. This means, he said, that the job of redistricting
ought to be handled outside the Legislature, as is true in some states.
With a political split of 70-30, legislators are virtually locked in for
20 or 30 years and never needs to look over their shoulders. Both the GOP
and DFL have such districts, he said. By contrast, he said, legislative
districts in the western suburbs are very well balanced. Such districts
make for energetic and alert legislators.
Michel said he also favors term limits for legislators and, in
response to a question, said he intends to draw up a term limit bill.
Other 2020 Caucus members might not be as interested in term limits as he
is, Michel said. Electoral reform has not come to the top of the 2020
agenda, he said. Asked about how to develop good leadership with more
turn over, Michel said he values experience but believes that it can be
over-valued, particularly when seniority is so often rewarded and
honored. Someone who becomes a committee chair strictly because of
seniority is given enormous power over whether bills can be heard or not.
Michel said he agrees with a member of the Civic Caucus who
inquired about making "competitiveness" a requirement in a new system of
drawing legislative boundaries. In the continuing discussion on this
point, it was noted that the summary of a Civic Caucus meeting a few years
ago, made reference to other states' efforts at changing redistricting.
The summary of the meeting stated: "In Iowa the Legislative Service
Bureau has the primary responsibility for drawing proposed congressional
and legislative districts, subject to legislative and gubernatorial
approval. The Legislative Service Bureau is prohibited from making
competition a criterion. That is, the Bureau is not allowed to look at
the political composition of proposed districts. In Arizona an entirely
different approach is taken. There, the non-partisan commission is
required to make the districts competitive. Arizona is one of six states
that place final authority for redistricting in a commission. The other
five states are Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Jersey and Washington. Indiana
employs a 'fallback' commission if the legislature is unsuccessful in
passing a congressional plan."
In addition to competitiveness, Michel thinks that attention
needs to be given to compactness and community.
7. Instant runoff voting?--Michel
is encouraged that Minneapolis will experiment with instant runoff voting
(where, in races with three or more candidates, voters rank candidates in
order of preference, with the winner ultimately receiving a majority).
Right now, fair or not, he said, Republicans are cool towards instant
runoff voting. Republicans see that the 3rd and 4th parties are more on
the left and that the votes from these parties will be very influential in
selecting the winner.
8. Possibilities of
response to a question, Michel said he had not heard of before, but is
somewhat intrigued by, the possibility of having three legislative offices
at-large in the same district, with a requirement that a political party
could not nominate more than two persons for the three offices. Such an
approach would guarantee that a least one elected person would be from the
minority party in each district.
9. Ways to re-enfranchise the
middle--Verne said it might be
helpful if we look at the overall strategy of keeping control from getting
into a few hands, whether on the left or the right. Such devices as
redistricting, term limits, instant runoff voting and multi-office
districts are being suggested as ways to strengthen the broad middle,
where most voters are. Michel replied that changes in redistricting and
term limits are his preferred options.
10. Change precinct caucuses--Michel
said he is not a fan of precinct caucuses. Precinct caucuses are
grass-roots political party meetings that occur in February every two
years as the first step in the political endorsement process. He said it
is terribly difficult to convince one's neighbors to go to such meetings
and then to follow up with county legislative conventions. The precinct
caucuses normally attract a small group who are passionate about one
subject or another. The subjects that attract such interest aren't the
bread-and-butter issues of budgeting but more narrow subjects, often on
social matters. As an alternative to precinct caucuses Michel favors
opening the primaries to multiple candidates from the same party.
11. Problems with the legislative caucuses--
(Attn, reader: Yes, the word "caucus" appears in many different
contexts. If you're confused, here's a brief road map:
--Civic Caucus: a non-profit
organization that is reviewing the elections system and which conducts the
meetings from which this and other summaries are prepared.
--2020 Caucus: a
bi-partisan group of legislators of which Michel is a member and which is
attempting to get the state to take a longer range view of issues.
--Precinct Caucus: the
grass-roots political party meetings that occur in February every other
year as the first step in the nominating process for elective office.
--Legislative Caucus: the
groups within the Legislature that handle organizational matters within
the Legislature and, in more recent years, have played a major role in
financing and conducting legislative campaigns. Four Legislative Caucuses
are in the Minnesota Legislature, the House DFL Caucus, the House GOP
Caucus, the Senate DFL Caucus, and the Senate GOP Caucus.)
The role of legislative caucuses in campaigns is huge and
growing, Michel said. For the last six months of 2006 the GOP and DFL
Caucuses were targeting each others' legislative races. It's very hard
to shift gears in this process, Michel said. That is, it is difficult to
work with a legislator of the opposing party on trying to pass legislation
and then to shift gears and start raising money and finding candidates to
defeat your colleague on the opposite side of the aisle.
The legislative caucuses are doing most of the dirty work in
the campaigns, that is, attaching the opponent in ways that the candidate
would never think of doing.
In the past two legislators on opposite side of the aisle
would conduct their own campaigns without the legislative caucuses being
involved. In such situations they could work together in the
Legislature. Both would know that they'd need to campaign for
re-election, but each would know that legislators in the other party
wouldn't be actively working for their defeat.
Verne urged that Michel and others read the summary of our
meeting with Sheila Kiscaden to get a detailed look at the role of the
legislative caucuses in closely-fought races in the Rochester area this
12. Unlimited fund-raising
ability in legislative caucuses--Michel
contrasted the law governing contributions to individual candidates'
campaigns with that governing contributions to legislative caucuses.
You can give $100 to a legislative candidate before encountering any
statutory limits on giving. But you can give $1 million (or any amount,
without limit) to a legislative caucus, he said.
13. Possible changes in law--Asked
about supporting limits on contributions to legislative caucuses or limits
on how much legislative caucuses can spend on individual races, Michel
said he believes that if you limit spending in one way, another way will
be figured out to direct the money. It was noted that David Schultz has
recommended strict limits on the amounts that can be given to any
14. A change in attitude in St. Paul and Washington, DC?--Verne
mentioned that many state and national elected officials seem to be
talking increasingly about cooperation with one another, in light of the
recent elections. Is it possible, Verne asked, that there'll be a change
in attitude this year? Michel said he is optimistic that the Minnesota
Legislature in 2007 could be the most productive in 10 years. Consensus
on environment, education and health care seems very possible. The new
Democratic majority in the Legislature will want to have a positive
record, as will GOP Gov. Pawlenty. The DFL wouldn't like to be blamed if
there is a shutdown in state government because of polarization. He's
not so optimistic about Washington, D.C.
He wishes that the legislative bodies would get away from
permanent campaigning and get about the business of governing.
15. Where healthy retirees
choose to live--Jim Hetland
said that he hopes the state demographer, in longer term forecasting as
recommended by the 2020 Caucus, will evaluate where retirees in good shape
choose to live. Will they move out of the state, or will tax credits be
needed to encourage them to stay?
16. The Civic Caucus
for Michel and others that the Civic Caucus is trying to demonstrate to
the Citizens League and others that new ways of sharing information and
participating in public affairs are needed. We would be very pleased if
the Citizens League, for example, would adopt our process, Verne said.
Michel said we still need face-to-face dialogue. He said he prefers
face-to-face, one-on-one contact with legislators, constituents and others
when discussing legislation.
thanked Michel for meeting with us this morning.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. Core participants
include persons of varying political persuasions, reflecting
years of leadership in politics and business.
A working group meets face-to-face to
provide leadership. They are Verne C. Johnson, chair; Lee
Canning, Charles Clay, Bill Frenzel,
Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland,
John Mooty, Jim Olson, Wayne Popham and John Rollwagen.