for PDF format
of Meeting with State Sen. David Senjem
Civic Caucus, 8301 Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Present: Verne C. Johnson, chair; Chuck
Clay, Paul Gilje, Jim Hetland, and Wayne Popham (by phone)
Guest speaker: State Senator David Senjem,
Minnesota Senate Republican Minority Leader
A. Context of the meeting--This is
another in a series of meetings the Civic Caucus has been conducting with
legislative leaders, discussing issues of polarization and paralysis as
well as several election-related matters.
B. Welcome and introduction-Verne and
Paul introduced Sen. David Senjem, leader of the Republican mnority caucus
in the Minnesota Legislature. Senjem was first elected to the Senate in
2002. He represents District 29 which includes all of Dodge County, and
the North and Westerly portions of Olmsted County including half of
Rochester. In November 2006, Senjem was elected by his caucus to serve as
the Senate Republican Leader.
Senjem graduated from Hayfield High School and received a BA from Luther
College. Senjem has decades of community involvement including 11 years on
the Rochester City Council, four years as a Park Board member, and six
years as a member of the Olmsted County Environmental Commission. Senjem
has been employed at the Mayo Clinic since 1964. He currently serves as an
institutional bio-safety officer and is responsible for all aspects of
environmental regulatory compliance.
C. Comments and discussion--In Senjem's comments and in
discussion with the Civic Caucus the following points were raised:
1. Dedication to public service--Senjem said he has spent a
lifetime in public service. A great-grandfather of his served in the
Legislature in the 1800s. Senjem once served as vice president of the U.S.
Jaycees. He's very positive about Rochester, where he lives and works, and
which he regards as the greatest city in America. He thinks the Mayo
Clinic is the greatest organization in the America.
2. Polarization not as serious as many would think--There is no
question that issues like abortion caused major splits beginning in the
1970s, he said. Other issues too, like gay marriage, are divisive. But he
believes in the Senate at least that a great deal of goodwill exists.
Senator Senjem regards his relationship with Senator Pogimiller as
cordial, as a working relationship, and as a relationship involving
frequent visits and other interchanges related to Senate policy and
He made a strong commitment when he became minority leader to help bring
more civility to the state Senate. A member of the Civic Caucus said that
the recent legislative session on transportation seemed to reveal
considerable difficulty in developing consensus in the Legislature. Senjem
said there's not a lot of opportunity in legislative committees for
discussion of compromise. The majority party presents its platform in bill
3. Question of centralizing decisions in the top legislative leadership--Senjem
was asked to comment on concerns of Rep. Hausman that too many decisions
in the 2007 Legislature seemed concentrated in the Governor and the caucus
leaders in the House and Senate. Senjem replied that after five months the
Governor and Legislature weren't in agreement and the Legislature would
have looked silly in the eyes of the public if it simply passed a bill to
be vetoed. Thus the leaders and the Governor worked something out among
4. Leadership is key in improving the process--Asked whether he
is proposing any structural changes to improve the legislative process,
Senjem said that you fix the system through leadership.
5. Precinct caucuses no longer workable--Senjem believes the
precinct caucus held at the community level in election years might have
been a good idea in years past, but no longer. He recalled that he went to
his first precinct caucus in 1972. At that time attendance at precinct
caucuses was deemed a civic duty. Too many people who participate in
precinct caucuses are polarized. He thinks it would be better to move
directly to primary elections. Barely 600 persons attend precinct caucuses
in all of Olmsted County, with a population of about 137,000, Senjem said.
It was noted in discussion that political parties can schedule precinct
caucuses, whether or not they are mandated by law. Thus, Senjem was asked,
what kind of changes in law would be necessary to bypass the precinct
caucus system. He said he has not explored the question in detail.
Also in discussion it was noted that political parties work hard to
discourage primary challenges to endorsed candidates, even though those
candidates have emerged through a questionable precinct caucus process.
6. Move date of the primary forward--He'd move the date of the
primary forward, but he wasn't specific about how far.
7. Legislative caucuses step in where political parties have withdrawn--Moving
on to a discussion of legislative caucuses (the majority and minority
organizational groups in the House and Senate), Senjem agreed that
legislative leaders, including himself, spend way too much time raising
money for their caucuses and recruiting candidates. The next Senate
election is two years away, but he's already heavily involved. He wishes
there were a way that legislators could give the responsibility back to
the political parties so that legislators could concentrate on issues.
Considerable financing from majority and minority caucuses was used in a
recent special election in Northfield for a state Senate vacancy, he said.
The financing couldn't be given directly to candidates, so the caucuses
used the money for independent expenditures.
8. Opposition to legislating via the state constitution--Senjem
said he is opposed to a proposed constitutional amendment for outdoors,
water and the arts that is likely to receive serious consideration in the
2008 session. One shouldn't turn to the constitution as a vehicle simply
because the Legislature is sharply divided on passing legislation, he
said. That is a dangerous trend, he said. It was noted that the
Legislature passed a transportation funding issue to the voters in 2006.
Senjem said he knows the outdoors-water-arts proposal is supported
strongly by sportsmen, who helped defeat Sen. Dean Johnson in the 2006
election. The amendment is being pushed, he said, because it is a reality
today that the costs of education and health and welfare have grown so
fast that it is increasingly difficult for other services to compete for
9. Impact of a "no tax increase" pledge--It was noted that a
no-tax-increase pledge had been taken by Gov. Pawlenty when he was first
elected. Senjem said that except for transportation he's opposed to a tax
increase. He noted that the budget was increased by 9.2 percent for the
current biennium. That should be enough, he said. He recalls the state
budge was $27.2 billion when he was elected and five years later it is
$34.6 billion, or about $6,900 per person in the state.
Senjem said he is open to an increase in the state gasoline tax, using
that increase to leverage economies elsewhere in the budget.
10. Finding ways to spend better--Noting his 44 years at the
Mayo Clinic, Senjem said the state ought to be able to re-design the way
it does things, with the help of new technology. He also raised the
question of whether the state has too many counties. He thinks educators
need to make better use of new technology. Six-year-olds already know more
about technology than many of their grandparents.
11. Keep redistricting as it is--Senjem doesn't favor changes
in redistricting. He likes the responsibility to remain with the
Legislature, with the courts as a back-up as necessary. The courts are as
neutral body as you will find. He recalls that in the latest
redistricting, court representatives were very careful to recognize that
Rochester should be part of two Senate districts in Olmsted County.
12. GOP minority caucus objectives for 2008 Session--Senjem
outlined the following elements:
a. Rethink the No-Child-Left-Behind act
b. Make government work
c. Pass a transportation bill
d. Enact a balanced approach to energy.
Senjem said his priorities will be to represent the position of his caucus
well and to conduct himself in as dignified manner as possible.
13. Importance of early childhood development--Senjem
said he favors an approach that would emphasize the needs of at-risk
children. His only concern, he said, is budgetary impact. A member of the
Civic Caucus noted that Art Rolnick is emphasizing that funds for early
childhood should be regarded as an investment.
14. Senjem favorable to Quie commission report on
judiciary--Senjem said he is favorable to the Quie proposal for
changing the method of selecting judges--merit-based appointment with
retention elections at the end of a term. He believes some aspect of
elections needs to be retained. He also has been attracted to a proposal
put forth by former Sen. Tom Neuville, under which the Governor would make
the appointments, subject to periodic reconfirmation by the Senate,
although he said such an approach might be cumbersome.
15. Opposition to Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)--The
concept of IRV is foreign to him, Senjem said. He said he's old-fashioned
enough to like the idea of the voter selecting only one candidate. Our
voting system is a special part of citizenship, he said, and he wants to
keep it as it is. A Civic Caucus member noted that an advantage of IRV
might be that candidates would engage in less negative campaigning,
knowing that they need support voters whose first choices are other
candidates. Senjem said he had not thought about that aspect.
16. Thanks--On behalf of the Civic
Caucus Verne thanked Senjem for visiting 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.