Don’t Forget the Legislatures

One often-overlooked aspect of the Republican sweep of 2010 was the progress made in state legislatures. The GOP captured something like 26 state legislative bodies last November in a grass roots rebellion that is still reverberating. Minnesota was an important part of that trend, as Republicans took both the House and the Senate away from Democratic majorities–the latter for the first time since partisan elections began in the 1970s.
In state legislatures as in Congress, incoming Republican freshmen are playing an outsized role. That was acknowledged today in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which headlined: “Freshman class already making its mark in St. Paul.” But before we get to the story, let’s pause on the accompanying photograph. (The Strib’s file name for the photo, by the way, is 2feisty, which may or may not be an editorial comment.)
The man in the middle on whom the camera is focused is my friend King Banaian. King exemplifies the citizen legislator: he is an economist, the chairman of the Economics Department at St. Cloud State University, and as nice a guy as you could meet, imbued with good will toward everyone. We used to speculate about how many points the average I.Q. in the Minnesota House would rise, should King be elected to that body. After a career that has included stints advising foreign governments on economic policy (Mongolia and Ukraine) and after some years as a part-time radio talk show host, King took the plunge last fall and ran for the Minnesota House in the formerly-Democratic district where he lives. He won by something like 11 votes. Somewhere there may be better examples of public-spirited citizen activism, but there can’t be many.
The Star Tribune describes the impact of this year’s freshman class of Republicans:

Rookie legislators traditionally hang back and observe during their first months at the Legislature. But just weeks into the session, some of the highest-profile bills are being carried and defended by aggressive freshmen who see no reason to wait in the wings.
The new personalities in St. Paul come from all walks of life: professor, police chief, insurance agent, teacher, radio host. Their legislation, most of which has the leadership seal of approval, would radically change the state’s budget, fast-track permits, freeze pay for public teachers and block state funding of abortion.
If their impact is outsized, so are their numbers. In the House, 33 of 72 Republican members are new. More than half of the Senate’s new Republican majority are freshmen. …
Rep. King Banaian, an economist, is headlining a signature GOP budget bill that would force state agencies to rebuild their budgets from zero.
In what might have been considered effrontery in bygone Legislatures, Banaian went to leadership and told them he should be the chief sponsor of a premiere budget bill. “I [told leadership] I want this bill because this is what I was sent to do,” said Banaian, of St. Cloud.

The revolution is on in the Senate, too. The Strib quotes another friend of ours, Sen. Gen Olson, who is delighted to finally be part of the majority:

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Gen Olson, who has spent 28 years — her entire legislative career — in the minority, says she’s not irked that the upstarts have grabbed major bills.
“For an oldie that’s been around here as long as I have, it’s just so refreshing to see their excitement and determination to get in, get engaged and get things done,” said Olson.

This kind of thing is going on all around the country, and if Republicans do the job they were sent to do by the voters, the effects will be felt both locally and nationally for many years to come.


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