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Responses to This Interview
of Meeting with Steve Sviggum and Roger Moe
Civic Caucus, 8301 Creekside Circle #920, Bloomington, MN 55437
Friday, February 8, 2008
Guest speakers: Roger Moe, former majority
leader, Minnesota Senate, and Steve Sviggum, former speaker,
Minnesota House of Representatives
Present: Verne Johnson, chair; Charles
Clay, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland , and Jim Olson (by phone)
A. Context of the meeting--In several
meetings concerning polarization and paralysis of the Minnesota
Legislature, the issue of redistricting has come up repeatedly. The Civic
Caucus today invited two participants on an advisory board to the Center
for the Study of Politics and Governance at the Humphrey Institute,
University of Minnesota. The advisory board issued recommendations on
redistricting in January 2008.
B. Welcome and introductions--Verne
and Paul welcomed and introduced Steve Sviggum, former speaker, Minnesota
House of Representatives, and Roger Moe, former majority leader, Minnesota
Senate. Sviggum retired from the House in 2007 after 29 years of service.
He currently is commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Labor and
Industry and a member of the faculty at the Humphrey Institute. Until his
departure from the Minnesota Senate in 2002, Moe was the longest serving
majority leader in the Senate in the state's history. He currently is
president of a consulting business, National Strategies, Inc.
C. Comments and discussion--During
Sviggum's and Moe's comments and in their discussion with the Civic
Caucus, the following points were raised:
1. Broad based support for change in
redistricting--Sviggum said he never has seen such a strong
line-up of support for an issue as he has with redistricting. The Humphrey
Institute advisory board includes Walter Mondale, former vice president;
and Arne Carlson, former Governor; as co-chairs, plus Al Quie, former
Governor; Kathleen Blatz, former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme
Court; Joan Growe, former Minnesota Secretary of State, and others in
addition to Moe and Sviggum. The group was assembled by Larry Jacobs,
director of the Center for Politics and Governance at the Humphrey
2. Sviggum's view on why change is needed--Sviggum
outlined reasons why the Legislature should not be drawing boundaries of
congressional and legislative districts:
a. Inherent conflict--There's an
inherent conflict when legislators redistrict themselves, because their
chief interest is how to create districts that will give them the best
chance of being re-elected.
b. Lack of success--With one
exception, since the 1970s, the Courts have ended up drawing the
boundaries, because the Governor and Legislature couldn't agree. The
exception, he noted, occurred in 1992 when the issue would have ended up
in the courts, except for a technical glitch--failure to veto on
time--that nullified the Governor's veto.
c. Issue preoccupies the Legislature--When
redistricting is on the table legislators are preoccupied with the issue.
Sviggum remembers that even some legislators of the opposing party have
been so concerned with their own districts that they have sought out
Sviggum's help. Sviggum recalls that in 2002 the court's plan was handed
down when the House was in session. He could almost feel the vibrations
throughout the House chamber. Immediately almost everyone left the chamber
to see what happened to their own districts.
d. Fair plan produces more balance--A
major benefit from a non-partisan (bi-partisan) redistricting commission
is the potential for more balance in governing. More legislative seats
that could be competitive in elections would result, and the consequence
of more competitive seats would be more balance in the governing decision
making in the House and Senate. Even if only five Senate seats and 10
House seats were to be put in the competitive column it would add greatly
to the legislative balance in consideration of governing decisions.
3. Moe's view on why change is needed--Moe
said he was on the Senate redistricting panel in 1971, and was majority
leader in 1981, 1991, and 2001, so he has been involved in the last four
a. Astounding concern by legislators--You
wouldn't believe, he said, how legislators become preoccupied with the
smallest of details when redistricting is being considered. It was common,
he said, for legislators to approach him about a certain precinct or
township, claiming that small area was essential for their political life.
b. Changes in technology--With the
emergence of sophisticated technology that is widely available within and
outside the Legislature, it's now possible for almost anyone to draw
districts on a palm pilot.
c. Limitations on competitiveness--Moe
said a significant point of stress on redistricting occurs when the matter
of competitiveness comes up against community of interest. This is a
particular problem when an area such as Minneapolis is predominantly of
one party. Nevertheless, there are perhaps six to 12 senate districts that
could be made much more competitive.
4. Specific provisions of redistricting change
outlined--Moe and Sviggum described the proposed changes as
a. Five member panel established--A
five member redistricting panel would be created, one retired judge
appointed by each of the majority and minority leaders of the House and
Senate. Those four appointees would appoint a fifth retired judge.
b. Plan goes to the Legislature--The
panel's recommended redistricting plan would pass by the Supreme Court for
review on its way to the Legislature. The Legislature would vote the plan
up or down, as is. It then would be submitted to the Governor for
signature. If either the Legislature or Governor rejects the plan, the
panel submits a second, and, if necessary, a third plan. If the third plan
is rejected, the Legislature then could prepare its own plan. Finally, if
a legislative plan fails constitutionally, the courts would draw the
boundaries, as has been the case in most recent redistricting efforts in
Minnesota. No constitutional amendment is involved.
5. Connection between changing judicial selection
and redistricting--Moe said that a change in selecting judges
as recommended by a commission headed by former Gov. Al Quie, needs to be
enacted, too. Judges need to be kept out of the partisan political process
or redistricting won't be fixed, Moe said. The Quie commission recommends
that judges reach the bench by merit-based appointment, subject to later
retention elections. If these recommendations aren't enacted, and judges
are elected in partisan, political elections, gerrymandering of
legislative and congressional districts will simply be shifted from the
Legislature to politically-oriented judges, Moe fears.
Sviggum said he is extremely supportive of the Quie recommendations.
6. Good prospects for passage--Chances
of changing redistricting are good, Sviggum said. On their re-election
brochures legislators like to cite a couple of good government issues that
they have supported.
7. Role of legislative caucuses in election
campaigns--Sviggum said it was important for him, when serving
as House speaker, to spend time recruiting candidates for the House, just
as the majority leader did in the Senate. Moe agreed, saying that the
legislative leadership sometimes has a better idea of the kind of
legislator that a given district needs. Sometimes leadership at the local
level might be inclined to choose someone who is more to the left or right
of center, when a more moderate voice is needed.
A disadvantage of involvement of legislative caucuses in financing
campaigns, Moe said, is that some legislators, surviving a race in which
the opposing legislative caucus gave financial support to the opposing
candidate, feel resentment toward the entire opposing legislative caucus.
Such legislators then might seek retaliation against the opposing caucus,
which does great harm to the idea of developing a legislative consensus,
(At this point in the meeting, Sviggum had to leave for another
engagement. V erne thanked him for visiting with the Civic Caucus today.)
8. Constitutional budgeting not a good idea--Asked
about a proposal to grant preferential treatment to outdoors, water and
the arts via a constitutional amendment, Moe said he doesn't like the idea
of constitutional budgeting.
9. Support for a presidential primary in
Minnesota--In light of the heavily-attended precinct caucuses
earlier this week, Moe said he would support having a presidential primary
in the state, so people could be voting all day, not just during a couple
hours after dinner. Perhaps such a primary could occur the same day as
precinct caucuses, he said.
10. Changes in the method of endorsing
candidates--Moe said he is open to exploring various ways to
make the endorsement-primary system more reflective of a majority of
voters. Thus he's open to considering an open primary, or multiple
endorsements for the same race, or Instant Runoff Voting (IRV).
11. Improving decision-making on transportation--A
member noted that the 2008 Legislature will place transportation funding
high on its agenda. The member noted that how the Legislature has not
fixed the system of setting priorities on transportation improvements
among different jurisdictions and modes. Pretty much each gets its own
separate revenue source, which make priority-setting more difficult.
Moe replied that he likes very much the concept of a Metropolitan Council,
but that part of the problem has been that since Wendy Anderson governors
haven't paid much attention to the Council.
Others noted that the Metropolitan Council is responsible only for a part
of the state and--because of growth in outlying counties--only a part of
the Minneapolis-St. Paul urban region.
The group discussed with Moe whether leaders in the Legislature today
might be inclined to take on the issue of decision-making structure for
transportation as well as the funding issue. They also discussed how the
Governor and Legislature might reach consensus on transportation in this
12. Thanks--On behalf of the Civic
Caucus, Verne thanked Moe for visiting with us today.
Participant Responses to This Interview
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.