here for PDF format
here for participants' responses to this interview.
of Discussion with Senate Minority Leader David Senjem
Civic Caucus, 8301
Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
May 29, 2009
Verne Johnson (chair); David Broden, Marianne Curry, Paul Gilje, Jim
Hetland (phone), Dan Loritz, Tim McDonald, John Mooty, and Wayne Popham
Context of the meeting—In
the wake of one of the most challenging and eventful legislative sessions
in Minnesota history, the Senate minority leader will share his thoughts
on the condition of the state’s governance, its leadership, and its
Welcome and introductions—Welcome
to Senator David Senjem, who has visited with the Caucus once before.
Senator Dave Senjem (pronounced SEN-jum) 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.
graduated from Hayfield High School and received a BA from Luther
College. Senjem served 11 years on the Rochester City Council. Senjem
recently retired from Mayo Clinic where he served as an institutional
biosafety officer and was responsible for all
aspects of environmental regulatory compliance. He joined Mayo in 1964.
Comments and discussion—During
Senjem's comments and in discussion with the Civic Caucus, the following
points were raised:
1. Settling the session--The
session wasn’t run well, Senjem said. Partisanship prevailed over
statesmanship. Republicanism was substituted for gestures of direct
democracy, and time was not put to good use. After the Governor’s budget
was released both parties spent weeks running around the state holding
Personalities probably had some role to play. Gov. Pawlenty and Sen.
Pogemiller didn't appear to work well together. The House speaker,
Margaret Anderson Kelliher, seems to do a better job keeping personality
out of the way of things. In the parties, the culture is not there to
cross over the isle.
2. Evaluation of nominating-elections process--A
member asked the Senator if the climate at the capitol has anything to do
with the election process, with caucuses? Senjem said he would have run
with or without his party’s nomination, but that he is in a privileged
position to do that. Most others need their party’s endorsements. The
caucus system cannot be changed in law, so he is not sure we will move
away from it.
4. Long-term impact on the state--Someone
asked who at the legislature is keeping an eye on the long-term spending
of the state—the tails of capital projects, the unfunded liabilities of
the government. “We’ve created a dependency that transcends generations,”
Senjem replied. “Special interests have a right to get their voice heard,
but they have too much power over what and how we spend.”
5. A professional legislature--Is
Senator Senjem part of a dying breed, he was asked, having maintained a
career while in the legislature (recently retired)? “It took flexibility
and sacrifice,” he said, and an understanding but not a giving employer.
“I used vacation days,” he said, “to make it work.”
difficult to recruit candidates with outside jobs, he said. “One problem,”
Senjem said, reflecting on his experience in recruiting candidates for
office, “is that the real candidates you want can’t do it. They have a
career to attend to.” There's a drawback to a full time legislature.
“There are a lot of people for whom this is their job. They need it. I
don’t think they have much of a civic life beyond the capitol.” He
continued: “When people are dependent on it [as their job], they don’t
want to lose it.”
go then to a decidedly part-time body? “The business of the legislature is
complicated, he replied, but we could probably get it done in only 3-4
months.” As noted earlier weeks were lost this session in listening
sessions. Everything comes down to the final two weeks, as it is. It would
also not hurt to think about limiting the number of bills, he said.
6. High priority agenda items?--A
question: if the Senator were in the majority now, does he have anything
ready—any ideas ready—to go? Working on the business climate, he said, as
well as relationships at the legislature. They (Republicans) would “be
strong on education, transportation, some of these things may not be that
different than they are now.”
7. Importance of growing jobs--A
member asked about the relative emphasis on job creation versus the debate
on raising taxes versus cutting spending. This involves more than tax
rates. “We have a bad business climate,” the Senator said. We are #42 on
one non-profit’s business climate index.
back 30 years, the main drivers of the budget were the same: health care
has grown, but education, transportation, public pensions are all there.
One member, in government at the time, remembered 3M saying that they
wouldn’t build another new building in the state. We hear that now, too;
only more loudly.
all about tax structure. It is attitude and leadership. Former Governor
Rudy Perpich’s appetite for jobs was insatiable. “Jobs, jobs, jobs,” he
would say. “We need more economic activity, not taxes. “Don’t want to
raise taxes? Then go get business!”
capitalists have told the Senator that Minnesota is the toughest state to
work in. “We need someone out there peddling this state,” Senjem followed.
“We lost an entire office building of well-paying IBM jobs to Iowa.” How,
a member asked? “They out-hustled us. Proposals, creativity, enthusiasm.”
This is a
function of the executive branch, a member observed. What is being done to
create a good business climate besides tax rates? The Senator said there
are examples (biotech, below) of success, but that his access to the
Governor has been limited. He is not sure
pushed the Senator to light a candle. Does he have any ideas?
what’s important, Senjem said. We need a job-creating climate, because
everything comes from that. Our focus on tax rates is only part of the
equation. The Minnesota legislature is too caught up in managing the
social and civic affairs of the state. We are missing this fundamental
point. We need leadership, energy, and vibrancy for creating a culture of
8. Reform in state government?--When
asked whether he sees a need for structural reform in the state, the
Senator said that, “I come from a place called Mayo, where reform and
improvement are a constant and are part of the culture.” From the way
technology is used to the framework in which people go about their
business, everything is different than in state government. “We have
different phone lines,” he said, referring to the capitol and state office
buildings, illustrating the point.
9. Agreement with Civic Caucus transportation report--Have
you read the Civic Caucus report?
Yes. Do you agree with its recommendations? “It makes perfect
sense.” See http://www.civiccaucus.org/ReportTransportation_09.htm for
the Civic Caucus report on transportation.
10. Possibility for major innovation in health care--Health
care is a section of the state budget that has been growing dramatically.
We keep people alive, which is good, but costs a lot. Research is
essential. If we continue to innovate, and can identify and stave off
diseases, we will be able to save quite a lot of money.
There is a
major biotechnology initiative underway, Senjem said, called Elk Run in
Pine Island, Minnesota (http://www.elkrun.info/biotech/).
It is being developed by an entrepreneur out of California, through Tower
bought 1,200 acres—no small feat—just north of Rochester, and plans to
partner with Mayo and the University of Minnesota to bridge the academic
with commercial in medical technology. This is good, Senjem said. “When
you go to Harvard,” and look at their medical and research operations,
“you are struck by the commercial component.”
development will position Minnesota as an international leader in
biotechnology, the Senator said. It is also an example of what can happen
when government and business leaders work together to attract enterprise.
11. Opposition to a legislative commission on
noted that the Senate passed a bill for a special commission of five
ex-judges to draw legislative district boundaries. He opposed that plan.
He believes the current system works best, under which the courts can
decide if someone challenges a legislatively-approved redistricting plan.
12. Closing thoughts--Any closing
thoughts? The Senator says that he has been very disappointed with this
past session, on both sides. Politics overrode good governance. “To leave
with this budget,” he said; “the final ten minutes of the session was an
embarrassment to this Legislature, to the institution of government, and
to those that came before. I am still profoundly bothered by it.”
On the economy, Senjem
said that we should expect unemployment to continue to balloon—perhaps
doubling—before it starts to go back down. “Jobs, jobs, jobs,” came the
Thank you, from the
Chair, to the Senator for the conversation today.