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Meeting with John Hottinger
8301 Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, April 6, 2007
John C. Hottinger,
consultant, former majority leader, Minnesota Senate
Verne Johnson, chair;
Lee Canning, Chuck Clay, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, and Clarence Shallbetter
A. Context of the
is another in a series of meetings on possible changes in the
political/elections process to strengthen representative democracy.
B . Welcome and
and Paul welcomed and introduced John C. Hottinger. Hottinger served in
the Minnesota State Senate from 1991 to 2006. He served as majority
leader in the 2003 session. The newsletter Politics in Minnesota
named him "Rookie of the Year" in 1991. He has a B.S. degree with majors
in journalism and economics from the University of St.
Thomas, and a law degree from Georgetown University. He has held several
positions in the Council of State Governments, including co-chief
executive officer in 2004. He said he is currently writing a book about
history and baseball--tying contemporary events to notable World Series'--
that will be published next April
C. Comments and
Hottinger's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the following
points were raised:
Importance of legislative turnover--Hottinger,
who chose not to run for re-election in 2006, said he likes the concept of
legislative turnover, although he is opposed to term limits. He sees a
tendency for incumbents to become unduly resistant to change in policy
areas where they previously have sponsored successful legislation.
A seeker of solutions--Hottinger
said that he is a Democrat but has worked well with people on both sides
of the aisle. Ideology and political labels don't define whether you are
seeking solutions. On occasion he has found that some people with
political views widely different from his own are much more interested in
finding solutions than are some people whose political views are much
closer to his.
Changes since 1991--When
he began serving in the Legislature in 1991, he said that legislators then
were much more cooperative and interested in better policy than today. He
gave as examples the establishment of Minnesota Care, providing subsidized
health coverage for eligible Minnesotans, and a crime bill in 1992, even
though it was an election year.
He recalled that when he first got involved with the Council
of State Governments(CSG) that officials from other states always would
say that Minnesota was different because innovative policy change was
possible here. You don't hear that anymore, he said. The CSG is an
organization of all elected and appointed officials in the 50 states, from
the executive, legislative and judicial branches.
Governing Magazine, in February 1997, published an
article by a professor from Rutgers, that contrasted a drop in leadership
in Minnesota with a rise in leadership in Tennessee. See: http://www.governing.com/archive/1997/feb/legis.txt.
In discussion with Civic Caucus members Hottinger said that he
agrees that Minnesota's leadership position in the nation has declined in
Faith in younger generation--Hottinger,
representing the Mankato-St. Peter area, frequently has spent time with
students at Minnesota State University-Mankato and at Gustavus Adolphus
College in St. Peter. He also spent last spring speaking at over 15
colleges around Minnesota
about civic involvement. He senses that students have a strong interest
in public affairs and are hungry for good information even though their
voting participation leaves something to be desired. Students are active
in political parties and get much of their public affairs information from
part sources. He said that the experience at both local
institutions is not identical and that voter turnout is higher among
Sources of public affairs information--While
a decline in public affairs information from mainstream media is of wide
concern, Hottinger said that young people are quite adept at gaining
information from diversified internet sources.
Reducing cynicism about government--Hottinger
said his efforts are concentrated in three areas to provide what he called
"attractive access" for people in three areas: access to information,
access to the voting booth, and access to the decision-making process.
He's done a great deal of work with officials of Canadian provinces and is
impressed with their system of questioning one another. We're so close
to Canada yet know so little about their system, he said.
Development of a new center--Hottinger
is working on the development of a new Center for Intergovernmental
Cooperation and Civility, with an emphasis on relating state governments
in the USA to one another and to Mexico and to Canada.
Access to the voting booth--Despite
some small possibilities for fraud, Hottinger comes down on the side of
increasing access to voting for people. He regards voting as a right, not
a privilege. We have a good system to protect against fraud and ought not
to hold back on expanding access because of a few possibilities for
abuse. Very few people are going to risk a felony simply to add one vote
to a candidate's total. He said Nelson Rockefeller had the same concept
in improving welfare: that potential fraud can be contained while access
In response to a question Hottinger said he believes that it
is possible to overcome problems and give voters the opportunity to vote
via the internet. He has talked extensively with elected officials in
Oregon, which has an extensive program of voting by mail.
Support for instant runoff voting--He
likes the proposal to allow voters to rank candidates in order of
preference. Such a system means that someone can support a minority party
candidate without fear of wasting a vote. With IRV a voter could support
a third candidate without harming the chances of either of the two main
candidates, because ultimately the second choices of people supporting the
third candidate would be allocated to the other two candidates.
In discussion it also was noted that IRV will re-enfranchise
moderate voters, who will be able to support moderate candidates without
favoring someone on the far left or the far right.
Impact of legislative caucuses
running campaigns--The group went on to discuss the major role
that the majority and minority legislative caucuses in the House and
Senate now play in running campaigns. Hottinger said that the legislative
caucuses--while always concerned about gaining majorities in the past--are
now chiefly absorbed with winning elections instead of developing sound
public policy in the Legislature.
Hottinger said that when he was majority leader in the Senate,
he had unbelievable pressure to raise money. His role was to raise the
money and decide how to spend it.
The political parties no longer play a significant role in the
election of state legislators. That job has been taken over by the
legislative caucuses. And the money raised by the caucuses dwarfs the
money raised by individual candidates' campaign committees, sometimes on
the order of 10 to 1.
Hottinger agreed that controversy is present over whether
legislators feel more beholden to their respective caucuses because of the
substantial role caucuses play in raising money. The obligation to
support the caucus position on a given issue because of campaign financing
is significant but not as strong as many persons would think. The desire
to have a caucus position prevail is very strong, irrespective of campaign
Asked further about the declining role of political
parties--and the increasing role of the caucuses--in running legislative
campaigns, Hottinger said need for money is the main reason, not the
decline in the importance of the parties.
While our system of campaign finance urgently needs
improvement, things are bad elsewhere, too, Hottinger said. He was
visiting with a legislator from Oregon recently who had spent $800,000 in
a campaign, which is significantly more than has been raised in the most
closely-contested legislative races in Minnesota.
Importance of campaign finance--Hottinger
said he ranks the issues of campaign finance at the top of any list of
needs for improving the state's election system. The biggest
barrier to accomplishing changes in campaign finance is opposition from
certain strong single-issue organizations. The campaign finance
question produces widespread cynicism in the public.
Differences between the House and
Senate--It's important to understand that differences between
the House and Senate occur even without their being controlled by
different parties. Conflicts are inevitable in the Legislature but
sometimes the biggest conflicts are between the two bodies. “Caucus ego”,
which he defines as an overwhelming interest in being perceived as a
“winner” at the end of session, sometimes undermines the larger importance
of finding viable approaches to policy. One significant source of
conflict is resentment that House members feel over the creation of the Minnesota State Colleges
and University system (MnSCU). A law passed in 1991 and that went into
effect in 1995 merged the state's community colleges, technical colleges
and state universities into one system. House members felt the change
was forced down their throat in the final minutes of a regular session,
Reduce the number of committees
--The current House structure is unwieldy, awkward and
self-defeating, with its 35 committees, Hottinger said. Everyone wants to
be a committee chair; bills must be referred to too many committees
before reaching the floor. He believes the Senate has an equally complex
and burdensome committee process. One of the biggest problems is the lack
of coordination between the committee structures and the failure to have
joint hearings or even joint committees, as many other states successfully
Hottinger believes the number of House and Senate members
should be reduced. He would not support a unicameral Legislature,
however. In a unicameral, too much power will be concentrated in one
individual, from one part of the state, as chair of an influential
committee, such as transportation. The bicameral approach offers a check
on such power.
Some uncertainty was present over whether the state
constitution prescribes the number of legislators. The key
constitutional phrase, Article IV, Section 2, reads as follows: "The
number of members who compose the senate and house of representatives
shall be prescribed by law."
is less concerned about how frequently the Legislature meets than what it
discusses. He has no objection to a more professional legislature with
higher pay. He said provincial governments in Canada pay legislators as
much as $120,000 a year. The second year of a biennium should
concentrate on one issue that needs serious attention, such as health
care, he said. In discussion on this point it was noted that in previous
years the Legislature had tried to limit the off-year session to
non-budget or non-bonding issues. Now budget bills and bonding bills are
passed every year.
Ways to stimulate higher voter
turnout--The group turned to a
discussion of a national effort spearheaded Fair Vote to create a national
popular vote for President. Hottinger said that turnout for voting for
President now is light in certain states that are heavily Republican or
heavily Democratic because the winner in those states is usually a
foregone conclusion. A national vote for President would mean that every
voter would have influence, irrespective of the state. He said he
supports a national vote for President, even using the approach advocated
by Fair Vote that enables the electoral college to be effectively
It was noted in discussion that increasing the turnout for
presidential elections doesn't necessarily produce a higher turnout in
state and local elections. Hottinger believes more effort to demonstrate
to potential voters how much their lives affected by legislative decisions
will help contribute to higher turnouts.
Opposition to cluttering the state
constitution with revenue-raising measures--Hottinger
said he supported the Civic Caucus position last fall in opposition to a
measure that created additional constitutionally-guaranteed revenues for
transportation. He also opposes similar efforts for environmental and
arts issues that are actively being considered by 2007 Legislature.
Change the system for selecting
judges--He is very opposed to
turning the selection of judges over to a partisan politically-charged
elections process. He likes most of the recommendations from a
commission headed by former Gov. Al Quie, although Hottinger prefers a
merit selection system without retention elections.
Support for change in redistricting--Hottinger
said he supports changing the redistricting process. He said he likes
the approach in Iowa.
19. Possibility of a "package"
approach for improvement--It was noted in discussion that
currently a host of suggestions are being offered for changes in the
elections process, including many that didn't come up today. Hottinger
said he agrees that a package proposal would be a good way to consider the
changes, rather than placing each in a separate bill.
Public's attitudes can change faster than the
noted that the public can change much faster than the structure of our
political institutions. As an example, he cited moderating views among
Republicans on gay rights.
Faith in younger people--Based
on his connections with youth at Minnesota State University-Mankato and
Gustavus Adolphus College, as well as at the other higher education
institutions he spoke at last spring and as observing his own three
children, Hottinger said he has a high degree of confidence in the younger
generation's commitment to improving government.
22. Thanks--On behalf of
the Civic Caucus, Verne thanked Hottinger for meeting with us today.
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.
Click Here to
see a biographical statement of each.