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Summary of Meeting with Tony
8301 Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Present: Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, and
Clarence Shallbetter (all by phone)
State Rep. Tony Sertich, Chisholm, MN, DFL majority leader,
Minnesota House of Representatives
A. Context of the meeting--Today's
meeting is one of several meetings the Civic Caucus is conducting with
elected officials and others, concerning the status of representative
democracy within Minnesota.
B. Introduction--Paul introduced State
Rep. Tony Sertich, Chisholm, MN, DFL majority leader, Minnesota House of
Representatives. Sertich was first elected to the Minnesota House in 2000
at the age of 24, making him the youngest member of the Legislature.
Sertich is a graduate of Hamline University where he received degrees in
theatre and political science. In late 2006, he was elected House majority
C. Comments and discussion--In
Sertich's comments and discussion with the Civic Caucus the following
points were raised:
Sertich's role as chair of the House Rules
Committee--Sertich highlighted two major responsibilities. One
is to handle the business aspects of the House, including human resources,
budget, and supplies. The other is to set up the calendar for the House in
consultation with the Speaker.
To whom Sertich is accountable--Sertich
said he is responsible to the district he represents, to the state as a
whole, to his DFL caucus, and to the House of Representatives.
Strong partisan divisions evident--A
Civic Caucus member commented that it appears very difficult for the
Legislature today to reach consensus because of polarization among members
of the Legislature. Sertich replied that trust needs to be rebuilt between
competing factions and legislators need to look beyond the next election.
A member replied that so many legislators don't know one another
personally. Sertich said that the Iron Range Delegation hosts a party
every two years for legislators and staff of all political parties so that
members can get to know each other better.
Standoff between House and Senate?--A
member said it seems that a standoff between the House and Senate occurs
almost automatically, irrespective of party. Sertich agreed that tension
exists between the two bodies but he is proud of what the Legislature did
this year, on time. Most, if not all, budget bills were on the Governor's
desk a month before adjournment.
Difficulty with precinct caucuses--Sertich
acknowledged difficulties with precinct caucuses. Many in the younger
generation prefer to do things on-line, than simply attending meetings.
He's not comfortable in suggesting a change, because he likes the
face-to-face opportunities offered by precinct caucuses.
In a follow-up question, Sertich was asked why a political party would put
so much pressure on everyone to support endorsed candidates, who often
emerge from within a questionable precinct caucus system. If the precinct
caucus system is flawed, shouldn't the party be more open to challenges to
endorsed candidates? Sertich said the main reason for discouraging
challenges is the desire to avoid intra-party competition and concentrate
resources on inter-party competition.
Impact of the growing influence of legislative
caucuses--(Legislative caucuses are permanent organizations of
the majority and the minority within the House and Senate, as
distinguished form precinct caucuses, the name given to once-a-biennium
gatherings of citizens at the precinct level.) Sertich said it is
important for the legislative caucuses to play a significant role in
enlisting candidates to run for the Legislature. All legislators ought to
face competition in elections, even so-called "safe" incumbents, because
an election campaign requires everyone to stand accountable to the
A member noted that some legislators believe that legislative caucuses
play too strong a role in local legislative campaigns. Some legislators
complain they don't even know in advance about--and are uncomfortable
with--brochures prepared by legislative caucuses that attack their
opponents. Another member inquired whether legislators who are elected
with significant legislative caucus support aren't obligated to support
the caucus position. Sertich said his caucus imposes no such obligation on
its members. Continuing the discussion, a member noted that much of the
financial support today for legislative caucuses seems to come from
Returning to the question of influence in selection of candidates, Sertich
said that his legislative caucus tries to stay out of competition at the
local level until a preferred candidate emerges. Then the legislative
caucus tries to help that candidate get elected. Referring to himself,
Sertich said he would not be in his position today were it not for the
local people supporting him.
Support for a June primary--Sertich
favors moving the date of the state primary election forward to as June.
He is not troubled by proximity of a June primary to a spring legislative
session. A June primary will encourage the Legislature to finish its work
early. Incumbents who haven't filed for re-election would see their
influence enhanced because there'd be less political posturing.
Retain some legislative oversight in
redistricting-- Sertich discussed proposals to transfer
redistricting from the Legislature to an outside commission as long as the
Legislature had some form of oversight.
Opposition to term limits--Sertich
said he opposes term limits. The state gets considerable benefit from
experienced legislators. Moreover, the State Legislature has had 70
percent turnover in recent years, without any requirement for term limits.
In response to a question, Sertich said committee chairs now must
relinquish their positions after three terms.
Support for meeting annually--Sertich
would not support returning to one legislative session every two years.
With instant communication widespread today, the electorate is insisting
that issues be faced immediately, not be delayed for up to 18 months until
the next biennial session would begin.
Support for constitutional amendment on
outdoors--Asked about the Legislature's growing tendency to
abdicate its responsibility and refer certain tax and spending issues on
to the voters, Sertich said he supports a pending constitutional amendment
for clean water and the outdoors. He has witnessed repeated failures in
the legislative process to get sufficient funding, and he sees the need
for long-term assurances for financing. A member replied that it is
difficult to see why clean water and outdoors deserve special treatment
when almost every function of government can make the same argument.
Sertich was asked why the Legislature not only would give constitutional
protection for certain functions like the outdoors but also give special
interests preferred access to the Legislature on how the money should be
spent. Sertich said that provision has not yet been decided. It was in the
Senate version, but not the House version.
Instant runoff voting merits
consideration--Sertich likes the idea of instant runoff voting
(IRV) and is inclined to support enabling legislation for cities in
Minnesota. Special interest groups don't like IRV, he said.
Question of matching dollar needs for
transportation with funding sources--A member noted that
constitutional dedication of the gasoline tax to specific levels of
government produces a mis-match between needs and funding. Sertich said he
struggles with the fact that our local units of government need the funds,
Continuing the discussion of transportation, another committee member
noted that the "needs" for all types of transportation in Minnesota are
astronomical. To think Minnesota has trouble raising the gasoline tax even
5 cents, the kind of funding that would be required to meet the "needs" is
impossible to reach. Thus, the member said, the state urgently must find a
way to set priorities in such a way that cuts across units of government
and types of transportation.
Sertich replied that he just returned from a national legislators'
conference where the discussion focused on providing a variety of sources.
A member replied that transportation has many sources of revenue available
to it, including varieties of user fees and capturing land value benefits.
Thus, the member suggested, general taxes, like sales taxes, ought to be
preserved for other functions which don't have access to the kinds of
revenue sources available to transportation. The member noted, for
example, that major new development is contemplated at I-494 and Hwy. 100
on the Bloomington-Edina border. Such development will impose additional
transportation costs and also will enhance land values in the
neighborhood. Why can't the public capture some of the windfall from
increasing land values? Sertich said he is looking for new and different
reliable sources for transportation.
Asked about whether all additional dollars for transportation ought to be
placed in one fund, Sertich said he doesn't want to short-change local
Possible restructuring of transportation
decision-making--Sertich was asked to comment on a proposal for
restructuring transportation decision-making in a Civic Caucus report
issued in 2003. That proposal calls for a governor-appointed
Transportation Commission that would present comprehensive transportation
plans to the Legislature. Sertich replied that the Legislature ought to be
in on making appointments to such a commission.
15. Thanks--On behalf of the Civic
Caucus, Paul thanked Sertich 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.