here for PDF format
Participants' Responses to this
of Meeting with Martin Sabo and Bill Frenzel
8301 Creekside Circle,
Bloomington, MN 55437
Tuesday, April 22,
Republican, and Martin Sabo,
Democrat, former members of Congress and former members of the Minnesota
Legislature from the Twin Cities area
Johnson, chair; Chuck Clay, Deb Frenzel, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland (by
phone), and Jim Olson (by phone)
Context of the meeting--During
their service in Washington, D.C., and in St. Paul, Sabo and Frenzel were
involved in most of the issues with which the Civic Caucus has been
working over the last couple of years. Frenzel now resides in
Washington, and Sabo, in Minneapolis, and both were available for a joint
visit with the Civic Caucus
Welcome and introductions--Verne
and Paul introduced Sabo and Frenzel, whose careers had similar
patterns. Sabo was first elected to the Minnesota House in 1960 and
served until 1978. He was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives
in 1978 and served until his retirement in 2006. Frenzel was first
elected to the Minnesota House in 1960 and served until 1970. He was
elected to the U.S. House in 1970 and served until his retirement in
1990. Frenzel is a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution, and
Sabo, at Augsburg College. Although on opposite sides of the political
fence, both worked closely in the late 1960s on important metropolitan
legislation, including the Metropolitan Council and the metropolitan
tax-base sharing law.
Comments and discussion--During
their comments and in discussion with Frenzel and Sabo the following
points were raised:
1. Opening comments by Sabo--Looking
at his career in elected office, Sabo said (a) he would do it all over
again, (b) he wouldn't trade his time in the Legislature for his time in
Congress, and (c) it was possible to do so much more, and quicker, in the
Legislature than in was in Congress.
witnessed major changes in both the Legislature and in Congress during his
careers. When he started in the Legislature, things hadn't changed much
since 1913. He was part of many legislative changes, including several
bouts with redistricting, as well as several steps to modernize the
Legislature, including staffing. In Congress he saw leadership become far
more centralized. As a member of Congress he encountered much greater
pressure as years went by to raise campaign finance dollars for the
congressional leaders. A member of Congress can be assigned "dues" by the
caucus to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the caucus. But the
member can't accept a free lunch while touring a factory affiliated with
some lobbyist. Sabo hasn't liked experience with the McCain-Feingold
campaign reform act. He's always been skeptical of changes that would
"reform", "reorganize" or "re-codify". Use of the prefix "re-" signaled
to him that advocates of change needed to resort to such over-arching
words because their arguments were weak on the specifics.
is mostly a personal business, he said, and you need to get to know your
colleagues, of whatever party. Ethics changes have made it much more
difficult to enjoy informal interchange.
he chose not to run for re-election in 2006, Sabo realized he wasn't
enjoying the experience as much any more. Other Democrats who were
elected with him in 1978 no longer were in the body.
back on both his years in St. Paul and Washington, he singled out two very
satisfying experiences, the Minnesota Miracle of 1971, when major revenue
raising and distribution legislation was enacted, and his experience as
chair of the U. S. House Budget Committee in 1993-1994.
Opening comments by Frenzel--He recalls great
satisfaction with being part of new legislation that was enacted in the
Minnesota Legislature in his first term, in 1963, when significant changes
affecting Hennepin County's urbanization were enacted, with leadership by
the Citizens League.
his early days in politics as being kinder and gentler. He's very nervous
about rancor and animosity that he sees in both St. Paul and Washington
today. Some of the concern relates to the influence of money in
politics. Some of the concern relates to the media. There's been a
change in the way the public looks at politics, which makes negative
campaigning so successful, he said. Looking back to the turn of the
19th to the 20th centuries, one sees great negativity then, too, so
Frenzel would like to think that the situation today is cyclical, but it
does seem to him to be getting worse.
specialized in international trade legislation while in the U.S. House,
and cited that experience as most satisfying.
fan of earmarking legislation but recalled one case where, in the
minority, he went to Reps. Sabo and Oberstar to say that he'd vote for the
appropriations bill if they would include the Bloomington Ferry bridge,
which they did. President Reagan vetoed the bill and Frenzel said he had
to vote to overturn the veto because of the pledge he'd made if his bridge
were included. Frenzel said that was very embarrassing to him. He said
he came from an affluent district and didn't need a lot of specific pieces
of legislation for his district.
his time in Congress, he said, and found a good amount of bipartisan
activity in subcommittees and full committees that didn't attract much
publicity. He said he agrees with Sabo and considers the
McCain-Feingold law "an unmitigated disaster". Much reform needs to be
done on campaign finance, he said.
enjoyed his contacts with the Civic Caucus. It brings back a lot of good
memories for him. Frenzel is serving as core participant on the Civic
3. Redistricting of the U. S. House of
was noted that the Civic Caucus has recommended that the Minnesota
Legislature withdraw from playing a dominant role in redistricting of the
Legislature and of the U.S. House districts in Minnesota. The role of
the Legislature in redistricting U. S. House districts might not be fully
It's not as if
it's easier to divide the state into eight congressional districts than it
is to divide the state into 134 legislative districts, they said. Frenzel
recalled that in 1981 the Congressional delegation from Minnesota agreed
on a redistricting plan and handed it to the Legislature. It has been
very common for the congressional delegation to be as involved in
protecting themselves as it has been for the members of the state
said he favors the Mondale-Carlson plan at the Humphrey Institute, despite
concerns that retired judges might be just as subject to political
pressures as anyone. Sabo is somewhat of a skeptic, wondering who will
hire the staff that will support any redistricting panel.
4. Issues with party endorsement--In
response to a question about using redistricting to create safe districts
for incumbents and the likelihood that safe districts will produce
candidates at the extremes of the political spectrum, Sabo said it is
better to look at two different issues--the endorsement process and the
nature of legislative redistricting--separately. He noted that two
Democrats, Collin Peterson and Tim Walz, have been elected from districts
in Minnesota that traditionally have been regarded as Republican
of the Civic Caucus commented that the primary election seems to be more
important than the general election in some so-called "safe" districts,
which would seem to push candidates farther to the right or to the left.
5. Concern over strengthened role of
legislative and congressional caucus leadership--A member of
the Civic Caucus noted that fund-raising is increasingly concentrated in
caucus leadership both in St. Paul and in Washington and that power over
the fate of bills seems concentrated in the caucuses rather than the
committees. Sabo replied that in the Minnesota Legislature the
legislative caucuses are investing significant dollars in highly-contested
races, but he said that the public financing still works well in 80
percent to 85 percent of the legislative races that aren't receiving heavy
doses of funding from the caucuses. Sabo said that if outside groups are
financing legislative races, he'd much rather have the money coming from
the legislative caucuses than from advocacy groups. One need to be just
as concerned, he said, about advocacy groups that have lots of money from
small donors as well as those dependent upon big donors for support. In
fact, advocacy groups with small donor support seem to be more inflexible
and polarizing, he said.
presence of advocacy groups isn't all that dissimilar to a time in the
past when the Legislature was in the hands of a few industry lobbyists,
6. Be more open to using the primary elections--Sabo
said he wishes that the parties were more willing to let contests go to
the primary election, rather than insisting on one candidate being favored
with endorsement. This is particularly relevant in a race like that of
the U. S. Senate, where Sabo thinks that the Ceresi-Fanken battle could
just as well have been settled in a primary.
said he wishes the political parties would allow multiple endorsements.
7. Endorsement process not subject to change
in law--Sabo noted that the political parties, not state law,
govern the conduct of endorsements. Frenzel said that moving the primary
date back from September would do more than anything else to prompt the
parties to review their endorsement process.
8. Possibility of a presidential primary in
Minnesota--It was noted that Republicans (because of an
Eisenhower-Taft battle) and Democrats (because of a Kefauver-Stevenson
battle) in the 1950s both supported discontinuing a presidential primary
for Minnesota. Both Sabo and Frenzel said they support reinstatement of a
presidential preference primary in Minnesota.
he doesn't favor regional primaries, but he'd like all primaries in the
nation to occur on, say, four different dates. Thus a mixture of states
around the county would hold their primaries at the same time. Perhaps
Minnesota could hold its primary the same date as Wisconsin, he
suggested. Frenzel said he supports regional primaries.
9. Federal-state role in setting priorities on
transportation--In response to
a question Sabo said the vast majority of transportation funds come to the
states via distribution formulas. Only a small portion of the funds are
earmarked for specific projects, he said. Transit has more categorical
programs because Congress specifies which metropolitan areas should be
classified as "new starts" for rail transit.
said that it appears as if state and regional agencies go through a great
deal of effort to satisfy federal requirements, as is the case with the
Metropolitan Council in planning the Central Corridor light rail line
between the two downtowns.
member said that it appears that state and regional jurisdictions initiate
projects because of the availability of federal dollars.
said he'd be happier if planning were done within the state.
10. New bipartisan effort on national
transportation planning--It was noted that four former
congressional leaders, George Mitchell, Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, and Bob
Dole, have formed a Bipartisan Policy Center to, as stated in its website,
"to develop and promote solutions that would attract the public support
and political momentum to achieve real progress."
for the Bipartisan Policy Center is transportation, and Sabo is one of
four co-chairs of a National Transportation Policy Project with a charge
to "focus attention on appropriate priorities for national infrastructure
funding and develop politically viable policies for transportation that
surmount partisan and regional conflicts."
area of inquiry, according to its website: "the changing nature of
metropolitan mobility and inter–regional connectivity."
11. Transportation priority-setting in
Minnesota--It was noted that the Civic Caucus has been looking
at how several transportation-related jurisdictions at the federal, state,
regional, county, and city level relate to one another. Sabo said the
process is so complicated that he never fully understood it while in
to a new joint powers transit board in the metropolitan area, Frenzel said
he doesn't think counties should play such a dominant role relative to the
Metropolitan Council. Sabo said that no governor since Wendy Anderson
has really paid attention to the Metropolitan Council.
12. Future of the Civic Caucus--Asked
about the future of the Civic Caucus, Frenzel said the organization needs
to expand beyond its current number of 800 participants. Sabo asked
whether the Civic Caucus is sufficiently focused on certain issues. In
the discussion it was noted that the Civic Caucus is trying to concentrate
more on issues of the structure of decision-making as contrasted with the
substance of specific issues.
13. Thanks--On behalf of the Civic
Caucus, Verne thanked Frenzel and Sabo for meeting with us today.