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POLITICAL NOTEBOOK: GOP, Dayton get along, but don't agree

ST. PAUL -- Early indications are that Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Laborite governor and Republican legislative leaders are doing as the old saying goes: "disagree without being disagreeable."

There have been some strong words from both sides in recent days, but nothing like has been seen in the past few years and those words mainly deal with policy, not personalities.

On Friday, for instance, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said House leaders were slowing down some bills that appeared ready to pass within days so that Dayton and his commissioners can get settled into their jobs. Still, House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, emphasized that new representatives, in particular, do not want to wait long to begin passing bills.

In the past, Dean said, January was a time when lawmakers heard general reports and got up to speed on what was happening in various state agencies. "This just isn't that kind of year," he said, indicating that major bills will pass earlier than usual.

Many committee chairmen have rushed major bills through in a fraction of the time it happened in previous years. Zellers said that especially happens with bills that have been debated many times in the past.

Zeller's comment about waiting to pass a budget-cutting bill until Dayton has had more time in office illustrates the new attitude.

Dayton's early days in office have included more meetings with legislative leaders of the opposite party than is common.

In the past couple of weeks, he has had breakfast with Senate Republican leaders, then House leaders. He also met with them even before he took office on Jan. 3.

Normally, governors frequently meet with lawmakers from their own party, but less so with the other side until end-of-session negotiations.

The relationship is so good at this point that Zellers gave Dayton a heads-up about the first phase of the GOP budget-cutting plan several days before it was introduced or even discussed in public.

Dayton said he did not like the bill, saying that the Legislature should follow his lead and produce a complete budget, not passing a new budget in a piecemeal fashion.

Capitol watchers' biggest question now is: How long can this truce last?

Promoting ag

Rep. Rod Hamilton wants to promote agriculture as part of his legislative leadership role.

"That is about sharing our side of the story," the Mountain Lake Republican said.

He is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, a GOP caucus leader and newly named co-chairman of the rural legislative caucus.

"What I am wanting to do is be an advocate and bridge" between rural and urban communities "so we are not taking money away from the ag budget," he said.

Specifically, he said, urban Minnesotans need to understand about how the farm community operates. While in the past most Minnesotans were connected to the farm, now many are several generations removed and do not understand farming.

Teacher changes advance

Bills to give professional Minnesotans an easier path to becoming teachers are advancing in the Legislature.

They easily passed their first committee hurdles, but have more stops before reaching a full House or Senate vote. Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, author of one of the bills, said it could help with tough-to-fill positions, such as science and math teachers, by attracting professionals in those fields to the classroom.

At the same time, a rookie senator introduced a controversial bill that he says would save school districts money.

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said his bill freezes school employee pay for two years. It also reduces the teacher's union power.

"School boards and district administrators have their hands tied by a combination of state mandates and demands from the teacher unions," Thompson said. "The bill I have introduced will eliminate three mandates that create financial and bureaucratic burdens for schools and taxpayers. ... We all want our teachers to prosper, but we cannot ignore economic realities."

Anderson gets job

A former governor and state auditor candidate landed a job as pension consultant to the Minnesota Legislature.

As a former state auditor, Pat Anderson, who lost her bid to regain the position in November, worked with pension issues in the past.

Several government pension funds in the state are in financial trouble, with more money owed to retirees than is being invested by current workers and governments.

U 'grossly overpaid'

The pay being given to the University of Minnesota's new president upsets Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa.

Erik Kaler, who becomes university president this summer, will make $610,000 a year, more than current President Robert Bruininks' $455,000 and the average Big Ten Conference salary of $350,000.

"We are in an economically challenging time, yet the University of Minnesota - who will undoubtedly visit the Capitol this year and urge lawmakers to preserve its funding - has decided to thumb its nose at the state's financial problems and significantly overpay its next commanding officer." Drazkowski said. "This is yet another example of government not being accountable to the people."

Drazkowski said the university "grossly overpaid for its new president when it had absolutely no reason to do so."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.