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Summary of Meeting with Marty
Civic Caucus, 8301 Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Thursday, October 25, 2007
State Rep. Marty Seifert, Marshall, MN, House Republican Minority
Attendance: Verne Johnson, chair;
Chuck Clay, Bill Frenzel (by phone), Paul Gilje (by phone), Jim Hetland,
Jim Olson (by phone), and Wayne Popham (by phone)
A. Context of the meeting —The Civic
Caucus week-by-week is exploring issues with a variety of thought leaders
about the political and governmental process in Minnesota.
B. Welcome and introduction —Verne and
Paul welcomed State Rep. Marty Seifert, MN, House Republican Minority
Leader. Seifert is a graduate of Southwest Minnesota State University and
taught at Marshall Senior High School. He was elected at age 24 to the
Minnesota House of Representatives and now is serving his 11th year. He
was majority whip from 2001 to 2006 and has served as Minority Leader
since November 2006.
C. Comments and discussion —In
Seifert’s comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus, the following
points were raised:
1. Reducing excessive polarization —Seifert
suggested several possible changes that he feels would reduce polarization
in the political process:
a. Return legislators to a non-partisan ballot —Seifert
recalled that Minnesota Legislators were elected on a non-partisan ballot
from 1913 to 1973. During that time legislators weren’t identified by
political party on the ballot.
b. Give legislators more assurance of having
bills heard —Seifert believes rules should be changed to
guarantee a legislative hearing for at least three bills sponsored by
every legislator, regardless of party. He recalled that as chair of the
State Government Finance Committee he guaranteed a hearing for every bill
in that committee sponsored by any member of the House, regardless of
party, seniority, or anything else.
c. Move to more of a part-time Legislature —The
House majority has established more than 100 committees, subcommittees,
task forces, and other groups that are imposing extreme time demands on
legislators to be able to continue to hold regular jobs.
2. Concentration of power in a few legislators —Seifert
was asked to comment on a Lori Sturdevant column in the Sunday Star
Tribune a few weeks ago in which State Rep. Alice Hausman discussed the
comparative authority of top legislative leaders with that of committee
chairs and other legislators. Hausman was quoted as saying that committee
chairs are not able to exercise all the leadership that normally comes
with the office of chair.
Seifert replied by stating that it is his belief that Sen. Larry
Pogemiller, Senate Majority Leader, inserted a significant
provision--building inflation into revenue estimates--into major tax
legislation without the knowledge of the chair of the tax committee.
3. Possible change in precinct caucuses and party
endorsement of candidates — Seifert said something needs to change
but he’s not yet ready to do away with precinct caucuses. Seifert said he
likes a recommendation from a commission headed by former Minnesota
Secretary of State Joan Growe in 1995. The commission recommended a change
in state law concerning how a candidate would get on the ballot. Major
party candidates for state and federal offices would need to receive at
least 20 percent of the vote on any ballot for that office at the party
endorsing convention before their name could be placed on a state primary
election ballot. If a candidate didn't receive the 20 percent, he or she
could still make the ballot by submitting a petition signed by the number
of eligible voters equal to 10 percent of persons voting on the nomination
for that office at the last state primary.
4. OK to advance the primary date to August, but
not June —While not wild about changing the date of the
primary, Seifert accepts the idea of a August primary, before the State
Fair. Such a change would mean that intra-party battles wouldn’t be taking
place at the fair. Such a change should be enacted in 2008 to be effective
in 2010, said. He is opposed to a June primary, he said, because such a
change would have the effect of requiring legislators who don’t intend to
run again to declare that fact before the end of the session. With a June
primary, filing deadlines for office would occur while the Legislature
still is meeting. If it is known that some legislators are lame ducks,
such knowledge could reduce the influence of such legislators during the
balance of the session.
5. Instant runoff voting (IRV) not right for
general election, but might be acceptable for primary election —Seifert
doesn’t like the idea of requiring voters to rank candidates across
parties in the general election, so he is opposed to IRV. He would fight
tooth and nail against IRV in the general election. The second or third
choices of voters would benefit either Republicans or Democrats depending
upon the political leanings of the smaller parties. In response to a
question, Seifert said he might be OK with IRV in the primary, because the
second and third choices of voters will remain within one political party.
Nevertheless, he doesn't endorse IRV because it is too complicated. A
questioner noted that candidates in a primary election now don’t have to
appeal beyond a narrow base of supporters. If IRV were in existence in a
primary election, then candidates would have an incentive to seek broader
support within the party, beyond any narrow base related to a special
interest or political leaning.
6. OK to remove redistricting from the
Legislature —Seifert supports removing redistricting from the
Legislature and placing the responsibility in a commission. He has no
strong feelings whether the Iowa approach (retaining some potential
legislative influence) or a more independent commission should be used. He
said the current districting of the Legislature, ordered by the court,
seems pretty fair, because Republicans first were in control of the House
with 82 seats and now the Democrats, under the same redistricting plan,
are in control with 85 seats.
7. Growing role of legislative caucuses in
organizing and financing campaigns —As minority leader Seifert
assumes chief responsibility for enlisting Republicans to run in all 134
House districts in 2008. Consequently, he is spending a great deal of time
traveling around the state talking with potential candidates. On the
matter of financing, Seifert said that independent expenditures have grown
immensely with the courts ruling in favor of free speech. A member of the
Civic Caucus noted that in an earlier meeting a speaker had outlined in
detail the very intensive role that the legislative caucuses play in
certain highly competitive election contests. Sometimes the caucuses
prepare and pay for campaign brochures that feature attacks on the other
party’s candidates—without the knowledge of their own candidates.
8. Voters turned off? —Seifert
disputed claims that Minnesotans are cynical about polarization and
paralysis in state government and aren’t bothering to vote. Minnesota
always ranks among the top five states in voter turnout, he said.
9. Opposition to Legislature’s giving special
interests access to preferred financing via the constitution —Seifert
said he is opposed to guaranteeing to arts and outdoors interests a share
of the state sales tax via a state constitutional amendment. He recalls
that after voting “no” the next day game and fish interests came into his
office proclaiming they were able to vote State Sen. Dean Johnson out of
office after he opposed such amendments and that they would vote Seifert
out of office, too. It is important, Seifert said, that the Legislature
not abdicate its responsibility on revenue-raising and spending. Seifert
said a poll taken at a citizens’ meeting in Hugo, MN, the other night
produced only three votes in favor of the Legislature’s enacting
constitutional amendments to give preferred revenue protection for some
functions over others.
10. Support for a part-time Legislature —Seifert
said he would prefer that the Legislature meet in regular session every
two years and drastically reduce the amount of time in session during the
other year. Such an approach would allow legislators to spend more time in
their regular jobs and with their constituents. He recalled a previous
session in which the Legislature didn’t meet on Friday, so legislators
could go home for time for things like town meetings, real jobs, family
and other constituent meetings in
11. Concern over transportation funding —Seifert
bemoaned the fact that the Legislature couldn’t agree on a transportation
bill in the recent special session, despite the fact that the Governor,
who originally was opposed, said he’d support a 5-cent increase and that
was a logical compromise to make, given that the DFL had proposed a
Continuing the gas tax discussion, Seifert noted that the money for the
gasoline tax is not distributed equitably according to where the
congestion is greatest, the 15 counties that make up the Twin Cities
metropolitan area. He acknowledged that he is a rural legislator but he
believes more new money should be going to the urban area, which has the
congestion. Existing funds should not be ripped from the rural area.
Provisions of the state constitution guarantee special treatment to rural
areas in distribution of the gasoline tax, he noted. For example, only 62
percent of the gasoline tax can be spent on state trunk highways, with the
other 38 percent going to counties and cities. Other provisions guarantee
additional benefits to rural roads, irrespective of needs, he noted.
Seifert favors passage of a $1 billion bonding bill in 2008, with $500
million dedicated to roads and bridges.
12. Concern over MnDOT —Certain recent
decisions by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) are not
passing the “coffee shop test”, Seifert said, meaning that the decisions
aren’t supported by average folks in the main street coffee shop. He cited
specifically the decision by MnDOT to award the contract to the highest
bidder for rebuilding the collapsed 35W bridge in Minneapolis. A member of
the Civic Caucus wondered whether changes in the structure of
decision-making on transportation need to be made.
13. Concern over funding of education —Seifert
said he voted against the education funding bill for the first time last
year. The bill provided a 2 percent increase in the first year and a 1
percent increase in the second year, with some additional money for
special education. Some majority DFL legislators seem to consistently
favor money for welfare over education, he claimed.
Continuing his comments on education, Seifert noted that in 1972, the year
he was born, the school year was 6.3 days longer than it is today. Today
the school bus companies and the coaches seem to have the most influence
over the length of the school day, with some high schoolers finishing
their school day by 2 p.m.
He spoke against federal mandates that are not adequately funded. The
federal No Child Left Behind act is a “disaster”, he said.
Much more attention is needed to equalize funding among school districts
across the state.
It’s vital, he said, for immigrants to be immersed in English, even though
such ideas might not be deemed politically correct. We’re cheating people
out of the American dream by not insisting the immigrants become fluent in
reading and writing English.
14. To whom is the legislator responsible and
accountable? —Seifert said he is responsible first to the
people of his district, who elected him. Second he is responsible to the
state of Minnesota, and third, as minority leader he is responsible to his
caucus. He mentioned that what is good for a district might not be good
for the state as a whole. The biggest ethanol plant in Minnesota is
located in his district. But he also needs to be asking, in representing
the people of the state, whether the move to ethanol is the best strategy.
15. Change in selection of judges —Seifert
supports a change. He knows three district judges in and near Marshall,
but has no idea of who the rest of them are in other southwestern
Minnesota locations, such as Fairmont and Worthington. He likes the
approach of merit-based appointment with a retention election as proposed
by the commission headed by former Governor Al Quie. The retention
election gives the people some influence over the process, he said. Under
the Quie proposal, judges would be subject periodically to an election in
which voters would choose only whether the judges should remain in office
or not. If voted out of office, a replacement would be appointed by the
governor from a list of candidates approved by a merit-based commission.
In some ways, Seifert still likes the idea of voters electing the judges,
but perhaps by voters in each judicial district Reform has to take place
one way or another.
16. Thanks —On behalf of the Civic Caucus, Verne thanked Seifert 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.