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participants' responses to this interview.
Co-founder of Education / Evolving
Former U.S. Representative
Principal of Triplett Consulting LLC
Caucus, 8301 Creekside Circle, Bloomington, MN 55437
May 6, 2011
Verne Johnson (chairman), David Broden, Janise Clay, Paul Gilje, Sallie
Kemper, Dan Loritz, Tim McDonald, Clarence Shallbetter
Welcome and introductions.
is a co-founder of Education|Evolving. He began his career as a science
teacher at Wadena Public Schools, and served three years as Vice President
of the Minnesota Federation of Teachers. He served three terms in the
Minnesota House of Representatives and four years as Chair of Education
Finance Committee. Following his legislative service he was appointed
Deputy Commissioner of Education for the State of Minnesota, Director of
Minnesota's Technical College System, Deputy Executive Director of the
Minnesota Higher Education Coordinating Board, and Interim Executive
Director of the Minnesota Higher Education Services Office. Joe served as
Dean of Hamline University's Graduate School of Education from 1997 to
2000. Beyond Minnesota, Joe was Chair of the Education Committee of the
Midwest Conference of the Council of State Governments and a member of the
Education Task Force of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
was a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1960 to 1978,
serving as minority leader from 1969 to 1972 and as speaker of the house
from 1973 to 1978. He was President of the National Conference of State
Legislatures and of the National Legislative Conference. He served in the
U.S. House of Representatives from 1979 to 2006, where he chaired the
Budget Committee, sat on the Appropriations Committee, and was ranking
member of the Appropriations Committee's Homeland Security Subcommittee.
Since his retirement from Congress, he has served as co-chair of the
National Transportation Policy Project of the Bipartisan Policy Center.
is a former commissioner of the Minnesota state departments of Finance,
Planning and Revenue. He was also policy director for a former mayor of
St. Paul, interim vice-chancellor for finance of Minnesota State Colleges
and Universities, and Deputy Counsel to the Minnesota Attorney General.
Formerly an attorney with two of the state's largest law firms, Tom is now
Principal of Triplett Consulting LLC, advising non-profits on revenue
enhancement. He has served as CEO of four Minnesota nonprofits: the
College of Visual Arts, the Minnesota Business Partnership, the Minnesota
Project, and the St Paul Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Comments and discussion.
Successful interims are possible
We found mini-week sessions for committees in the interim to be effective.
We also used an interim commission for a tax study in 73-74 that developed
the "circuit breaker", which was passed in 1975.
forces can also be useful. Gov. Anderson's proposal for
a catastrophic health plan in 1975 was delayed until 1976 so we could do
interim work. It passed in 1976 along with the pool for uninsurable people
and many insurance changes. We were limited by federal pre-emption from
H.F.I., the social
service funding consolidation, was developed in the interim with the work
of a diverse group of legislative staff with outside help.
I see it from the perspective of the chairman of a committee. As we would
go through the legislative year we would keep a list of topics and issues
that came up during the session to work on during the interim. At some
point after the session we would come back when people had had a chance to
rest a bit and go through that list.
I think it was pretty
common for committee chairs and staff to work during the interim. You have
to give them a chance to rest and get a clear head, but many are very
anxious to get going on things that they were unable to get done during
I want to offer perspective from both the legislative and executive sides.
My first position in government was as counsel to the state Senate. When I
worked at the legislature I disliked the interims passionately-they were
boring. When I decided to leave and work for Rudy Perpich someone asked if
the sessions were too tough and draining. No, I said, it was just the
opposite. I particularly didn't like the election years when everyone's
attention seemed to be directed elsewhere than the capitol. From the
perspective of a legislative staffer, if you weren't with an active
committee chair or in Sabo's position where there were these "mini"
sessions, it could really drag.
I worked for Bob
North, who was interested in boards and commissions. We spent multiple
sessions cleaning up boards and regulations. For example, we got rid of
the board of watchmakers. There is a lot of tedium of that nature that is
perfect for the interim.
How difficult was it
to get the legislature to accept the notion of mini sessions?
It wasn't difficult.
An alternative is that you can have legislative committees meet to work on
issues, but not make decisions.
Proposals for major change often come from outside government
Is the legislature fundamentally a reactive body, and thus do proposals
need to come from the outside?
The legislature is a broker of ideas, but it also has the capacity to
develop their own. There are many very informed members and a very good
staff. Proposals for change or redesign must be based on an understanding
of what exists.
I think it can work
well to have big ideas come in from the outside, but it's spotty. I think
90 percent of work by the legislature in the interim has been to fine-tune
something that already exists rather than doing something fundamentally
How do you see the role of legislative leadership vs. outside pressure on
Many successful legislative interims relied on proposals coming in from
If you're talking
redesign instead of improvement, are you saying redesign has to be broader
than the legislature?
I'd say yes-if you
think of the legislative staff, they get so zeroed in. You've heard me say
it before: The people that work in organizations internalize and become
advocates of the system. It's good to have knowledge of how a system runs,
but it's important to have some distance. If you lead an organization it
becomes part of your values system-you need to be an advocate of it if you
are going to have support from the inside. That necessarily impinges on
Does that mean that if you're going to work on changing the delivery of
public services we'd need to bring in mayors and city councilmen.
I'd bring in the former mayors and councilmen.
Proposals for change or redesign must be based on an understanding of what
exists. Sometimes outside people can be very helpful.
Take Ted Kolderie for example-when he starts talking about his ideas he
makes very clear that he's not a schoolteacher, but his distance gives a
Role of the Governor is key to successful interim work
Governors are key to
promoting big ideas. They have access to public attention and the ability
to consolidate talent from both the agencies and the outside groups that
exceed the legislative capability. Gov. Anderson's LEAP program was an
example when it worked. The elimination of state planning to aid the
governor and legislature was a serious mistake.
The thing about a governor is he can reach across the agencies, and reach
out to non-profits that probably couldn't all be convened by chairs of
legislative committees. I think the state really suffers from the lack of
the former State Planning Agency with someone in charge who sees it as his
job to think about this.
It is absolutely central to have an agency like that. Another very strong
lever is the governor's ability to call special sessions. I think if the
governor and legislative leadership would agree on an appropriate set of
topics and time for the interim, the governor could say "Okay-you work for
three months on these issues, and we'll hold a one-day special session in
the fall to pass some of these things."
Overall objective for the coming interim should be clear
If you could pick one topic to be part of the interim agenda what would
From my experience working in state government I haven't seen such a bold
attempt as that of the Republican leadership's disregarding the fiscal
note process and disregarding the state economist. We may be heading
toward a crisis if people can't even agree on the numbers from which to
The top priority for the coming interim should be health care.
I don't disagree with Sabo that health care is probably number one, but I
know there are a number of people that think this is a remarkable time for
restructuring local units of government as well, given the budget
Where do you put education in the redesign?
I think Minnesota has largely put in place the framework for education
innovation. I don't think it's widely understood; I think even those of us
that have worked on it for our entire careers have a difficult time
wrapping our heads around it.
I think that the audit commission model works well for pulling in ideas
from across the state to come up with 4-6 items for that set of staff to
work on. This could be a model for selecting areas to focus on in the
interim, though there would need to be attention paid to the fact that the
audit commission is structured to be backward looking.
Knowing your top issues, what would be best to do during the interim to
make progress on these issues?
These don't need to be legislative commissions. I think that we need to
have people from outside the legislature to be interfacing with the
government leaders. I think the need for leadership depends on the
committee chair-I think the committee chair can do a lot, but if it's a
major change you've got to have the leadership involved.
Non-legislators' role brings important perspective
For many years the great ideas came from outside the government. Now it
seems that the creative ideas come from the inside.
It is true that the longer or closer people are involved with an
organization the more difficult it is to see how things can be done
recalled an interview in the 1960's with Hubert Humphrey, who was back
from Europe where he had been learning about the emerging European
Community. He was bubbling over with what he called "The necessary
incompetence of the politician." All the political scientists knew the
grand concept of the European Community couldn't be realized-but others,
those "incompetent politicians", proved them wrong.
Combine quite a deep
understanding of how things work, the participant said, with perspective
from the outside. You get a lot of people who know how things work or
don't work but don't have the political standing to say so.
changes to entitlements politically feasible?
Isn't it true that it
is not in any politician's self-interest to make changes in something that
people see as entitlements?
I think that if we could implement a two-year surcharge tax with an
expiration date, this could be leverage for setting the stage for
fundamental redesign in these areas.
Reaction to structural political reforms is mixed
Do you think we need to have structural reform in the political process,
in the form of term limits?
Term limits would be a step backwards.
Maybe a really interesting project could be the question of whether there
are structural ways to impact the partisanship.
I'm always inclined to say I'm open to the possibility that there are
modifications that could be made, but I'm not sure if that gets to the
root of the problems.
I learned an awful lot
from my Republican colleagues. The atmosphere back then was such that you
didn't fear working with them. My first term I was in the minority and I
was fortunate to be able to learn from colleagues. And that carried over
when we were in the majority. There is so much difference in the power
between majority and minority that it discourages a lot of cooperation.
And now we've developed the attitude politically that to compromise is
To close the speakers agreed that it would be important this session to
begin interim work early, to keep it bipartisan as much as possible, and
target the work on cutting the long-term cost growth. While the Governor
should lead, they said, the legislature has an active role to play as