Reducing the Size of the Minnesota Legislature
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Reducing the Size of the Minnesota Legislature

October 10, 2019


PROGRAM. I’M SHANNON LOEHRKE. LAWMAKERS REGULARLY PROPOSE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS TO TWEAK THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES THAT GOVERN US. IN FACT, THE MINNESOTA LEGISLATIVE REFERENCE LIBRARY NOTES THAT 213 CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS HAVE BEEN VOTED ON BY THE ELECTORATE, AND 120 OF THEM HAVE BEEN ADOPTED SINCE STATEHOOD. JOINING ME IS SENATOR SCOTT JENSEN TO TALK ABOUT AN AMENDMENT THAT HE WOULD LIKE VOTERS TO CONSIDER, REDUCING THE SIZE OF MINNESOTA’S LEGISLATURE. WELCOME.>>THANK YOU, SHANNON.>>YOU HAVE PROPOSED A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT THAT WOULD REDUCE THE SENATE TO 49 MEMBERS. CURRENTLY AT 67. AND THE HOUSE TO 98, WHICH IS CURRENTLY AT 134. YOU’RE ESSENTIALLY PROPOSING CUTTING THE LEGISLATURE DOWN BY A FOURTH. WHY?>>BASICALLY IT’S ALL ABOUT TRYING TO MAXIMIZE AND OPTIMIZE THE SERVICE THAT LEGISLATORS GIVE TO MINNESOTANS. THE CENSUS DATA IN 2020 WILL BE A PERFECT OPPORTUNITY FOR US TO LOOK, SHOULD WE BE DOING THIS? MINNESOTA HAS THE LARGEST SENATE IN THE LAND. WHEN YOU ADD OUR SENATE AND HOUSE TOGETHER WE’RE THE FIFTH LARGEST LEGISLATURE IN THE LAND. WE HAVE FIVE AND A HALF MILLION PEOPLE AND WE HAVE 67 SENATORS. CALIFORNIA HAS 40 MILLION PEOPLE, AND 40 SENATORS. LET ME JUST SAY THAT AGAIN. 67 SENATORS FORIFY MILLION PEOPLE. 40 SENATORS FOR 40 MILLION PEOPLE. I LOOKED AT A LOT OF STATES THAT HAVE POPULATIONS BETWEEN FIVE MILLION AND TEN MILLION, AND WE’RE JUST WAY OUT OF RANGE. AND WE COST MONEY. EVERY LEGISLATOR WE HAVE COMES WITH A PRICE TAG. WE COULD PROBABLY SAVE $5 MILLION, AT LEAST, IF WE WOULD JUST DO THIS. AND I THINK PEOPLE WOULD BE JUST AS WELL SERVED BECAUSE WHETHER YOU SERVE 08,000 PEOPLE — 08,000 OR 95,000 PEOPLE, I DON’T THINK THE CONSTITUENT’S GOING TO REALLY NOTICE THAT. 80,000 OR 95,000. I THINK THAT WE’RE OUT OF BOUNDS IN TERMS OF WHAT OTHER STATES ARE DOING.>>YOU ARE PROPOSING, THOUGH, THAT WE KEEP THE RATIO THE SAME, ONE SENATOR PER TWO HOUSE MEMBERS. AND AS YOU SAID, THE MINNESOTA SENATE DOES HAVE THE LARGEST UPPER BODY OF ANY STATE IN THE UNITED STATES. ABOUT TEN OTHER STATES OPERATE AS WE DO, WITH THIS TWO TO ONE RATIO, TWO HOUSE MEMBERS PER ONE SENATE MEMBER. AND YOU’RE PROPOSING TO KEEP THAT THE SAME. WHY KEEP THAT RATIO THE SAME IF YOU WANT IT TO BE SMALLER, WHY NOT JUST HAVE FEWER SENATORS OR TWEAK IT THAT WAY?>>I THINK YOU COULD DO THAT, BUT I THINK IN FAIRNESS TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, IF YOU HAVE THREE OR FOUR HOUSE MEMBERS PER SENATE, THAT MIGHT, IN SOME WAY OR ANOTHER, DIMINISH THEIR IMPACT. I THINK TWO HOUSE MEMBERS, ONE SENATE MEMBER PRESERVES THEIR IMPACT.>>OKAY. BASED ON THE 2010 CENSUS FIGURES, WHICH ARE THE ONES THAT WE HAVE NOW, PUT OUT BY BALLOT MEDIA, THE MINNESOTA HOUSE MEMBERS REPRESENT ABOUT 40,000 MINNESOTANS, THEREFORE, SENATE IS 80,000. IF THERE WERE FEWER LEGISLATORS, MINNESOTANS — AS YOU’RE PROPOSING, MINNESOTANS ARE ESSENTIALLY LOSING REPRESENTATION.>>YOU COULD MAKE THAT CASE, BUT I THINK SOMETIMES LESS IS MORE. I THINK IN THE SITUATION WE HAVE NOW, WE PERHAPS HAVE A VERY INEFFICIENT BODY THAT’S NOT GETTING THE JOB DONE. WE HAVE SPECIAL SESSIONS ALMOST AS THE RULE. WE HAVE GRIDLOCK. WE TURN EVERYTHING OVER TO A TRIUMVIRATE AT THE END OF THE SESSION. I DON’T THINK THAT THIS IS REALLY LOOKING LIKE A LEAN, EFFICIENT MACHINE. SO, FROM MY PERSPECTIVE, IF YOU HAVE LESS ELECTED OFFICIALS, THEY MIGHT TAKE THEIR JOB RESPONSIBILITIES MORE SERIOUSLY. AND WE’D HAVE PERHAPS LESS JUNK BILLS SUBMITTED, AND WE’D HAVE MORE SERIOUS WORK DONE. AND WE’D ALSO HAVE RELATIONSHIPS. AND I THINK IN THOSE RELATIONSHIPS, THAT’S WHERE THE WORK GETS DONE, WHEN WE START TALKING TO ONE ANOTHER. IT’S SO EASY TO BE POLARIDE RIGHT NOW. THERE’S 134 HOUSE MEMBERS, THERE ARE 67 SENATORS. POLARIZED. GO TO SOMEONE ELSE, TALK TO THEM. I THINK WE NEED TO SOMEHOW MAKE THIS A MORE COHESIVE GROUP SO WE GET OUR WORK DONE AND LESS PARTISAN.>>YOU THINK IF THERE WERE FEWER PEOPLE HERE IN St. PAUL DOING THE LEGISLATIVE WORK, THERE WOULD BE MORE ACCOUNTABILITY TO THE VOTERS?>>I THINK SO. I THINK YOU’D SEE LEGISLATORS TAKING SERIOUSLY THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THAT NICHE THAT THEY’RE SORT OF INTO, WHETHER IT’S THIS COMMITTEE AND THIS COMMITTEE OR WHATEVER. WE HAVE SOME COMMITTEES THAT HAVE 15 PEOPLE ON THEM. YOU CAN NOT SHOW UP AND WHATEVER. IF YOU HAVE A COMMITTEE OF SEVEN PEOPLE OR EIGHT PEOPLE AND YOU HAVE TWO PEOPLE THAT DON’T SHOW UP, THEY’RE MISSED, THEY’RE NOTICED. I THINK THERE’S A LOT OF REASONS WHY 49 OTHER STATES HAVE CHOSEN TO DO IT DIFFERENTLY THAN THE MINNESOTA SENATE WITH OUR LARGEST SENATE IN THE LAND.>>WELL, A SMALLER LEGISLATURE WOULD ALSO MEAN GREATER RESPONSIBILITIES FOR EACH MEMBER. WE HAVE A PART-TIME LEGISLATURE SO MANY MEMBERS, SUCH AS YOURSELF, DO HAVE ANOTHER JOB. IF THERE ARE FEWER MEMBERS, THERE WOULD POTENTIALLY NEED TO BE MORE WORK, MORE SPECIALIZATION OR UNDERSTANDING OF CERTAIN, YOU KNOW, DIFFERENT AREAS OF GOVERNMENT. WOULD THEY NEED TO BE PAID MORE SINCE IT WILL TAKE MORE OF THEIR TIME? I MEAN, WOULD THE COST GO UP SIMPLY BECAUSE THE LEGISLATORS HAVE MORE WORK TO DO?>>ABSOLUTELY NOT. WE JUST GOT A 50% PAY RAISE. I THINK THAT WHAT YOU WOULD SEE IS YOU’D SEE SMALLER COMMITTEES AND YOU’D SEE PEOPLE TAKING THE RESPONSIBILITIES FOR THAT COMMITTEE VERY SERIOUSLY, THEY’D WORK HARDER, THEY’D BE AVAILABLE TO ONE ANOTHER, PEOPLE WOULD GO TO THOSE PERSONS AND SAY, HELP ME OUT, I DON’T UNDERSTAND THIS. I THINK YOU’D HAVE A TIGHTER, MORE EFFICIENT GROUP. IT’S SORT OF LIKE WHEN YOU FORM A COMMITTEE, WHETHER YOU’RE DOING A COMMUNITY PROJECT OR A FESTIVAL PROJECT, IF YOU HAVE A COMMITTEE OF 21, YOU MAY NOT GET MUCH DONE. BUT IF YOU PARE THAT THING DOWN TO SEVEN, YOU MAY SEE PEOPLE REALLY ROLL UP THEIR SLEEVES, SAY, OKAY, I’LL DO THIS, YOU DO THIS, LET’S CONNECT NEXT WEEK, MAKE SURE WE GOT THINGS DONE. I THINK THAT’S WHAT WE NEED TO DO.>>ONE QUESTION THAT OCCURRED TO ME IS ABOUT GERRYMANDERING, BECAUSE, BASICALLY, IF YOUR AMENDMENT WOULD BECOME LAW, EACH LAWMAKER WOULD BE RESPONSIBLE TO MORE PEOPLE, EACH DISTRICT WOULD BE LARGER. DO YOU THINK IT WOULD REDUCE THE EFFECT OF GERRYMANDERING, MAKE ELECTIONS MORE COMPETITIVE, AND MAKE IT HARDER TO DRAW THOSE LINES THAT CAN LEAN TOWARDS ONE PARTISAN GROUP VERSUS ANOTHER JUST SIMPLY BECAUSE THE DISTRICTS ARE BIGGER?>>I WOULD LOVE TO TELL YOU THAT THIS BILL WOULD REDUCE GERRYMANDERING, BUT FROM WHAT I SEE OF POLITICAL BEHAVIOR, I DON’T THINK SO. I DON’T THINK IT MATTERS A HOOT. WE WILL GERRYMANDER AS LONG AS WE’RE ALLOWED TO. I THINK, FRANKLY, WE SHOULD BE HAVING A NONPARTISAN GROUP OF PEOPLE DECIDING WHAT THE DISTRICTS ARE. THE LEGISLATURE SHOULD NOT BE DOING IT ITSELF. WE SHOULD BE IN THE POSITION WHERE WE HAVE TO APPROVE IT AT THE END, BUT WE BICKER ABOUT THIS EVERY YEAR — EVERY DECADE, I DON’T EVEN THINK WE’VE BEEN SUCCESSFUL DOING IT OURSELVES FOR THE LAST THREE OR FOUR DECADES. I’D LIKE TO THINK OF THE WHOLE THING AS A PACKAGE. IF WE GO INTO SPECIAL SESSION, WE SHOULDN’T BE GETTING PER DIEM PAYMENTS, WE SHOULD SHRINK THE LEGISLATURE, WE SHOULD HAVE TERM LIMITS. IF YOU ACTUALLY LOOK AT A LOT OF THE LEGISLATURES IN THE COUNTRY, MANY OF THEM HAVE TERM LIMITS. WE DON’T. I THINK MINNESOTANS HAVE EVERY RIGHT TO ASK THE QUESTION, ARE WE BEING OPTIMALLY SERVED BY THE WAY WE’RE STRUCTURED?>>YOU JUST SORT OF ANSWERED MY NEXT QUESTION, BUT I STILL WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT BECAUSE I JUST WANT TO PREFACE IT WITH, THE NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF STATE LEGISLATURES, OR THE NCSL, WHICH IS SOMETHING THAT PEOPLE HERE IN St. PAUL AT THE CAPITOL PAY ATTENTION TO, HAD AN ARTICLE A FEW YEARS AGO ABOUT THE HISTORY OF CHANGE IN STATE LEGISLATURES, BECAUSE I THINK MANY PEOPLE, LIKE ME, THINK THAT THEY’RE SET IN STONE AND THEY’RE NOT. THEY CAN BE CHANGED. A HANDFUL OF STATES HAVE MADE CHANGES SINCE 1990. BUT THERE WAS HUGE CHANGE IN THE 1960s AND ’70s, BOTH IN THE SIZE, IN STAFF SUPPORTING THE LEGISLATURE, IN FACILITIES, AND THEN ALSO THE SIZE OF LEGISLATURES, GOING HIGHER OR LOWER AS THE LAWMAKERS SO DECIDED. ARE WE ENTERING A TIME THAT MAYBE IS RIPE FOR A LOT OF CHANGE?>>WELL, I THINK WE NEED TO PRESS RESET. AND WE HAVEN’T CHANGED THE SIZE OF OUR LEGISLATURE FOR MORE THAN 50 YEARS. AND I ACTUALLY LOOKED AND TRIED TO FIND WHEN DID WE START EXPANDING? AND I WASN’T ABLE TO FIND THE SPECIFIC YEARS AND THE GROWTH THAT OCCURRED. IF YOU REMEMBER WHEN GOVERNOR DAYTON DEFUNDED THE LEGISLATURE A COUPLE YEARS AGO, IN THAT LETTER HE WROTE TO US, HE TOOK AWAY ABOUT $130 MILLION. NOW, THIS BILL DOESN’T GO ANYWHERE NEAR CUTTING THAT AMOUNT OF MONEY. BUT YOU’RE TALKING SERIOUS DOLLARS. AND WE HAVE OTHER PRIORITIES TOO. SO I THINK THAT THIS WOULD BE A PERFECT TIME TO AT LEAST HAVE THE CONVERSATION WITH MINNESOTANS. I’VE WRITTEN THIS BILL UP AS A STATUTORY BILL, I’VE WRITTEN IT UP AS A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT BILL. I CAN’T GET A HEARING. I’VE PROPOSED IT LAST BIENNIUM, I’M PROPOSING IT THIS BIENNIUM. WHILE I’M HERE, I’M NOT GOING TO GO QUIET. MINNESOTANS DESERVE TO HAVE THE CONVERSATION.>>SENATOR JENSEN, I WANT TO THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIM

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