here for PDF format
of Meeting with Dan Larson
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, April 13, 2007
Sen. Dan Larson,
chair, Senate Elections Subcommittee
Lee Canning, Chuck Clay, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, Jim Olson (by phone),
and John Rollwagen
Context of the meeting:
The Civic Caucus is visiting with many knowledgeable individuals in the
elections process in
as part of the Caucus' inquiry into ways to strengthen representative
democracy. The Minnesota Legislature is considering several
election-related bills. Today's meeting is with the chair of the Senate
committee which passes on these bills.
Welcome and introduction--Verne
and Paul welcomed and introduced State Sen. Dan Larson, chair, Senate
Elections Subcommittee. Larson, a resident of Bloomington, has served in
the Legislature since he was first elected to the House in 1998. In 2006
he was elected to the Senate. He is the author of several
election-related bills in 2007, including advancing the date of the state
primary, establishing a presidential primary election in Minnesota, easing
voter registration, and campaign finance regulations on elections for
Comments and discussion--In
Larson's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus the following
points were raised:
1. Need for earlier primary date--Larson
said he is chief Senate author of a bill to advance the state primary from
September to June, effective in 2010. The bill is on the floor of the
Senate and the House. Larson said he has not asked for a floor vote yet
because some legislators are opposed. The current interval between the
primary and general election is too short, he said. The political parties
spend most of the summer trying to figure out who their own candidates
will be, rather than campaigning against candidates from the opposing
Caucus members discussed whether unendorsed candidates are put at a
disadvantage with an earlier primary, because there would be less time to
campaign against an endorsed candidate.
about the Governor's position on the early primary bill, Larson said he
understands that the Governor is generally supportive, provided the bill
doesn't have other issues attached.
2. Role of legislative caucuses in selection of
acknowledged that legislative caucuses now play a significant financial
role in tight legislative races. He disagreed that the legislative
caucuses are the determining factor in who is picked to run for office.
Larson contended that party officials at the local level play a major
role. He cited an example in 1998 from a Richfield legislative district
where the House Republican caucus wanted Verne Wilcox to be nominated and
the local party preferred
Erlander. Erlander became the nominee.
3. Problems with precinct caucuses--(Precinct
caucuses are distinct from legislative caucuses. Precinct caucuses are
grass-roots precinct-level gatherings that each political party holds
every two years for purposes of selecting convention delegates and for
straw votes on issues and candidates. Legislative caucuses are
permanent majority and minority organizations in the House and Senate that
manage the flow of legislation and, in recent years, have played major
roles in legislative campaigns.)
said he has long been concerned with poor attendance at some precinct
caucuses. He recalls that some precinct caucuses couldn't be called to
order because of poor attendance. There's no easy answer on what to do
about precinct caucuses, he said. He thinks that moving the primary to
June might serve to increase the importance of precinct caucuses because
party endorsement will be more important.
the meeting discussion returned to the precinct caucuses, when a Civic
Caucus member noted that precinct caucuses seem to attract a
disproportionate number of single-purpose interests. Larson said he
believes more people would attend precinct caucuses with the right
approach to the citizenry. He personally made special efforts in his
district to improve attendance and was pleased with the outcome. People
who never had attended a caucus before, and never had thought about doing
so, found participation to be very satisfying.
4. Prospects for a presidential primary in
said he is chief author of a bill for a non-binding presidential primary
in Minnesota, but he is not optimistic about the bill's chances. Such a
move would alter the dynamics of how political parties in Minnesota select
delegates to the national conventions, and many party people aren't
excited about such a change, he said.
move its precinct caucuses to February 5 in 2008, which is the date that
New York and California and several other states will be holding their
presidential primaries, he said. The motivation behind such a change is
that straw votes at the precinct caucuses might give
more of a voice in selection of presidential nominees. Larson thinks
that it would be better if
would hold its precinct caucuses two weeks later in February, at the time
of the Wisconsin primary. It is very possible, he said, that a likely
nominee will not come to the forefront on February 5, thereby increasing
the potential influence of
precinct caucuses two weeks later.
5. Favorable inclination toward instant runoff
voting (IRV)--Larson said he likes the idea but is somewhat
concerned about whether it is too complicated. He will be interested to
watch how the city of Minneapolis, which has adopted IRV for local
elections, handles the implementation, he said. It was also noted that
major efforts are under way to place IRV on the ballot in
this November. Under IRV, the voter ranks candidates in order of
preference; first choice votes for defeated candidates are reallocated so
that a winning candidate ultimately receiving a majority of votes cast.
In discussion a member
noted that with IRV candidates will need to appeal to a broader range of
voters, thereby reducing the influence of single-interest groups.
6. More partisanship and less compromise and
consensus?--Larson said House
members and Senate members hardly have a chance to get to know one
another. Their offices are in different buildings and, outside of
conference committees, have little reason for interchange. Before changes
in lobbyist laws in the 1990s, legislators would get together informally
in evenings--at lobbyist-sponsored events. But those don't occur any
more. Such a change means, however, that legislators can go home and be
with their families at night--provided night legislative sessions aren't
changes in communications technology have had their effect, too, he
said. It is so much more important today to give an immediate response
to a political accusation, he said, because of the influence of blogs.
Continuous monitoring of blogs is required, along with providing immediate
responses, because an unfounded rumor, if not countered within 48 hours,
becomes thought of as "fact".
7. Importance of quality public affairs
information--Members of the Civic Caucus said that they have
major concerns about the lack of coverage of the Legislature by mainstream
media. Some bright spots remain, such as the work of Erik Eskola of WCCO
radio, but many other outlets don't provide anywhere near the coverage
they used to. Larson said that more experienced reporters are needed at
the Legislature. It is so difficult to provide quick orientation on a
complex issue for someone who hasn't had extensive experienced reporting
on such an issue in the past.
8. Placing taxation-and-spending measures in the constitution--It
was noted that the Civic Caucus last fall unsuccessfully opposed an
amendment to the state constitution that was adopted by the voters,
providing a guaranteed portion of the state sales tax for
transportation. Additional such proposals are active in 2007, for
outdoors and the arts. Larson said he's not a great fan of constitutional
dedication but he is supporting the outdoors and arts amendment . He
supported the transportation amendment and is supporting the outdoors and
arts amendment because roads, water and arts don't have the advantage of
having a face behind them. Thus, they don't have as great a support in
the Legislature. Larson agreed that another constitutional amendment
that he supports, to guarantee health insurance for every Minnesotan, also
has revenue implications.
of long-term revenue sources for Minnesota, Larson said that a reduction
in the size of the work force because of retirement of the baby-boomer
generation will mean the state income tax won't be as productive. He
likes the idea of broadening the base of the state sales tax to include
such exempt items as clothing. That could be done now, he said,
accompanied by a reduction in the sales tax rate.
9. Possibility of popular vote for President--It
was noted that a national organization, Fair Vote, is trying to get
individual states to commit their presidential electors to vote for the
winner in the popular vote for President nationally. The effect would be
to accomplish a national popular vote for President without repealing the
Electoral College. Larson said he had not heard of that idea.
10. Support for bipartisan redistricting commission--Larson
said he is a co-author on a bill authored by State Sen. Ann Rest for a a
constitutional amendment to establish a nine-person redistricting
commission that would draw legislative and congressional district
boundaries. Four persons representing the majority and minority in the
Legislature would named. Those four, by unanimous vote, would select the
other five. If they fail to act, the Minnesota Supreme Court would make
The text of the bill
may be found at: http://ros.leg.mn/bin/bldbill.php?bill=S0595.0.html&session=ls85
of the Civic Caucus raised a question of whether such a bill should
include a requirement to make districts competitive. It was noted that
such a requirement is specifically prohibited in
11. Selection of judges--Larson
thinks judges should not be selected by the current political elections
process. He said he is aware recommendations made by a commission headed
by former Gov. Al Quie, and intends to study the Quie recommendations
during the interim.
12. Learning about independent expenditures for
legislative races--Larson said one can turn to the Minnesota
Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board, http://www.cfboard.state.mn.us/,
and learn the total amount of independent contributions that were made on
behalf of each candidate. Immediate disclosure of all contributions is
needed, he said.
13. Potential for Governor-Legislature
agreement--Looking toward the
last six weeks of the session, Larson said he has hope that the Governor
and Legislature will reach agreement. The Legislature needs to submit a
plan; the Governor needs to respond, including, of course, the possibility
of veto, and then the two bodies need to get together.
14. Thanks--On behalf of the Civic
Caucus, Verne thanked Larson 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.