By: Ron Meador
“The last two years have been the longest six years of my life in politics.”
– Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, on returning to the majority.
For historical perspective on Minnesota’s environmental politics and the various divides within – partisan, geographic, economic, the list goes on – you could do worse than consult with Steve Morse and John Tuma.
In the last legislative session where Democrats controlled both houses and also held the governorship, as they will again this January, Morse was finishing his first Senate term as a DFLer from the Winona area. It was the 1989-1990 biennium and such fixtures of the contemporary scene as the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, the legislative coordinating council he now heads, weren’t yet invented.
Three sessions later, for the 1995-1996 biennium, Tuma joined the Legislature as a Republican member of the House from Northfield. Remarkably, in hindsight from these more rigid, immoderate times, having lost a bid for the Democrats’ nomination two years earlier didn’t disqualify him from winning both the Republican nomination and then the seat itself in 1994.
Today he lobbies for Conservation Minnesota, known back then as the state chapter of the League of Conservation Voters (and, incidentally, writes quite engagingly about Minnesota political history on his blog).
Optimistic despite obstacles
Although their organizations’ agendas for the next session are still taking shape, both men say they are looking ahead with optimism for moving Minnesota forward in such areas as water quality, clean energy, expanded transit and recycling.
Neither will miss the partisan rancor of the last session. And while bringing the new majorities together on a common agenda is no cinch, both agree it will be easier than bridging a Democrat/Republican gulf that the parties found useful to maintain. “Oh,absolutely,” said Morse:
For the last two years, we’ve just been playing defense. Now there’s a lot more hope about advancing clean energy – more solar, in particular, and more incentives for wind power and efficiency. Water quality, that’s a little tougher, some entrenched [agriculture] interests there. But we’re hopeful about bonding, making some important investments.
For Tuma, the “new norm” in electoral politics is “big swings in the elected’s philosophies, with whoever’s in power overplaying and getting kicked out.”
That’s what’s just happened, and it means we’ll have to put together some coalitions, like we always do – and maybe bring some moderate Republicans along with us. But for most of the last two years, there wasn’t any point in raising any issues with the electorate because we couldn’t raise it above the marriage amendment – we’d just be drowned out. No more.
Because of their deep experience, and because I’ve known them for a while (see personal disclosures, below) I want to hope these guys are justified in their outlook for the next two years.
But I also have to say that other environmental advocates were less hopeful, and also less willing to speak on the record, about the prospects for business they want to bring before the Legislature.
Moreover, the overall mood grew darker toward the end of last week, after announcement of House chairmanship assignments that completed the DFL’s leadership roster for the upcoming session.