- Associated Press - Monday, March 14, 2016

Star Tribune, March 14

Martin Olav Sabo: He gave his all to strengthen democracy

Much has been said since former U.S. Rep. Martin Olav Sabo died Sunday about his contributions to his Minneapolis-dominated Fifth District during 14 terms in Congress, from 1978 through 2006. Those accolades are richly deserved. The federal funding Sabo secured helped build light rail transit and the Midtown Greenway, as well as rebuild the Hennepin Avenue bridge and Hiawatha Avenue, install major parking garages at the terminus of Interstate Highway 394, and much more.

But the native North Dakotan’s greatest contribution to his adopted home state may have come, when he was DFL leader of the state House.

Sabo might be called the father the modern Minnesota Legislature. He became House speaker in 1973 at age 35, when he was already a six-term House veteran. As minority leader in 1971, he helped enact school and local government funding formulas that together are known as the Minnesota Miracle and endure to this day.

As the House’s top official for five years, Sabo ushered in a series of sweeping changes that gave the Legislature its contemporary contour. On his watch, the Legislature met in annual sessions for the first time since the 19th century - a change approved by Minnesota voters in 1972. Legislators again took party labels, which they had dropped 60 years earlier. Open meeting requirements were adopted and committee rules altered to invite more citizen input and accountability. Legislators were granted private offices and staff to facilitate meetings with constituents - a 1975 change that led to a cascade of state office shifts culminating in the construction of the Minnesota Senate Building, which opened this year.

Sabo enhanced the professionalism of staff work and beefed up House Research, making that office a respected nonpartisan internal think tank. He encouraged Minnesota to become a model for legislative operations, and was recognized with the presidencies of the National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Legislative Conference.

He was held in high esteem at home, too. Sabo’s demeanor of modest, unassuming dignity set a tone for the institution. The respect his fellow DFLers had for him papered over dissension within his caucus that erupted into full view after his departure. Republicans found fault with his liberal views but not with his fairness. Long after he left the Legislature for Congress and a parade of successors occupied the speaker’s chair, legislators who served with him were heard to remark that for them, there would always be but one “Mr. Speaker” - Marty Sabo.

Sabo was a “career politician,” honorably serving the public in elective office for 46 years. No Minnesotan has held elective office for as many consecutive years. The tributes that have poured forth since his death at age 78 stand in contrast to the disdain for “career politicians” that’s in vogue in some political quarters today. Sabo was so deeply committed to representative democracy that he made doing it well his life’s work. That commitment deserves appreciation, not denigration. This state and nation are better for it.


St. Cloud Times, March 12

Partisanship erupts immediately in St. Paul

It would be nice to be optimistic, but the opening week of the 2016 legislative session offered little reason to think anything other than staunch partisanship will permeate the construction zone that’s become Minnesota’s Capitol.

Here are just two examples:

On opening day - Tuesday - House Republicans announced the pairing of a $270 million tax break to businesses with a $29 million package of unemployment aid to laid-off miners on the Iron Range.

The unemployment aid, talked about for months, targets more than 3,000 people who long ago lost mining jobs and either have used up unemployment eligibility or will do so in the coming weeks. The tax break to businesses reduces what they would pay to the state’s unemployment trust fund, which sits at a substantial $1.6 billion.

While it certainly makes sense to reduce that tax, giving it the same urgency as helping people out of work for so long is troubling. And it also likely explains why Republicans were reluctant to agree with Gov. Mark Dayton’s push for the jobless aid be addressed in a special session.

Please know, though, partisanship came in shades of blue last week, too. Dayton issued notice that he would oppose allowing heavy-metal mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. A few days later, as the Star Tribune reported, well-known environmentalist and suburban Twin Cities Sen. John Marty was named the head of a Senate committee charged with balancing environmental and agricultural interests. Both moves drew concerns from Republicans.

More importantly, regardless of your views on any of those issues, it’s clear such actions speak more about preserving partisan divides than finding reasonable ways to compromise.

Looking ahead, though, Minnesotans have too much at stake to let partisan politics again stymie much-needed progress on these issues:

Transportation funding: Dayton and legislators must strike a deal that provides a substantial funding boost to the state’s transportation system. Both sides agree an investment of at least $6 billion to $7 billion is needed in the next 10 years. The challenge is how to raise that money. The compromise is obvious. Dayton and DFLers are going to have to accept a package closer to $6 billion than the $10 billion they touted in 2015. In exchange, Republicans will have to accept a minimal increase in the state’s gas tax. Realistically, there is no viable way to get to $6 billion by borrowing and redirecting existing funds.

Pre-kindergarten education: Instead of insisting on immediate adoption of preschool for all Minnesota 4-year-olds, the governor should works with DFL and Republican legislators to devise plans that phase in this proposal over several years. The idea has plenty of merit. The reality, though, is it poses massive challenges to public schools, child care providers and - oh yes - parents of kids ages 3 and not even conceived yet. Don’t saddle all those entities with unfunded mandates. Craft plans that can be carried out effectively, efficiently and affordably over the long haul.

Bonding bill: Most eyes are on what lawmakers will do with a $900 million surplus. Equally important, though, is crafting a bonding bill that provides needed capital investments for crucial state services. Think higher education, public safety, etc. To that end, a bonding bill might be the best reason to be optimistic about this session. After all, every legislative seat is on the Nov. 8 ballot, and bonding bills have long been a way for incumbents to show they are serving those constituents who directly elect them.


Post-Bulletin, March 10

It’s time to work together for better Minnesota

We’re all in this together.

That was Gov. Mark Dayton’s message Wednesday evening as he delivered his sixth State of the State address and outlined his priorities for the new legislative session. “If we stop working together, we stop making progress,” he told the state lawmakers gathered at the University of Minnesota. “When we slacken our efforts, pause or take a break, we fall behind.”

In the past, he said, falling behind has cut transportation, education and mental health funding, leading to problems throughout the state.

Today, however, the Legislature has the opportunity to overcome past shortcomings by working together, whether in quickly extending Iron Range unemployment benefits or in finding meaningful ways to end economic disparities based on race, religion, nationality or disability status.

Dayton’s message of unity is important after last year’s legislative failures and a divisive first day for this year’s session, which featured party leadership divided over meeting spaces and a potential Iron Range aid agreement.

Hopefully, lawmakers from throughout the state will heed Dayton’s call for unified efforts.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt noted the power of bipartisan agreement last week during a Rochester visit, calling for his fellow legislators to concentrate on common goals. “Let’s focus on what we can agree on in this abbreviated session,” the Crown Republican said.

Granted, such efforts will accomplish needed changes. It likely will get added funding for road and bridge construction, produce tax relief for middle-class Minnesotans and yield bonding funds for improvement projects on state university and college campuses.

Yet, such a course could leave early childhood education efforts in limbo and fail to provide meaningful tax reform for businesses throughout the state. It could leave many important initiatives on the table.

Finding quick agreement isn’t the same as working together. Working together requires seeking common ground on measures that divide along party or geographical lines.

Dayton acknowledged that working together doesn’t mean both sides will get everything they seek. While discussing potential transportation funding, he indicated a willingness to consider middle ground. “I’m waiting for an alternative,” he said. “I’m willing to be flexible, but I will also insist on a real solution.”

We will hold him to that as the session progresses, just as we challenge our region’s lawmakers to heed the call to work together, especially in a time of economic recovery mixed with troubling national forecasts.

Much needs to be done this year, from overcoming past shortfalls in transportation and education funding to finding tax relief that doesn’t jeopardize the state’s economic health. While it may not all be possible during the shortened session, we know more will be done if everyone involved pulls together with the state’s best interest at heart.

“Minnesota has always been at its best when we work together,” Dayton said. “We are better when we recognize and anticipate the challenges ahead, and come together as one Minnesota to create opportunities for every child; every family; every person to succeed.”

That’s the Minnesota we hope to hang onto for a long time.

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