Pogemiller to take Senate helm

As the newly elected DFL Senate majority leader, combative Minneapolis Sen. Larry Pogemiller pledged cooperation to get business done.

One of the most pugnacious negotiators in the Minnesota Senate, Minneapolis DFLer Larry Pogemiller, was elected Senate Majority Leader on Thursday, replacing Dean Johnson of Willmar, who lost his seat in Tuesday's election.

Pogemiller, just elected to his eighth term, is known as one of the most combative and passionate liberals in the Senate. His obstinacy as chairman of the Senate Taxes Committee was often blamed for contributing to legislative gridlock that included a partial government shutdown in 2005. After accepting the leadership role of his caucus, though, he pledged to cooperate with GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the House, now also controlled by DFLers.

"We just had an election. Minnesotans have sobered all of us and we need to get some work done," said Pogemiller, who represents the district in which he grew up. "Party identification is not so important as moving things forward for the state in the areas we've talked about."

Pogemiller did signal potential conflict by suggesting the Senate will address property tax reform by giving some form of relief to local communities he said had been hurt by state cuts pushed by Pawlenty. The governor has been an advocate of capping local property taxes.

"We have to address the rising property taxes that have been caused by the cuts in state aid, both at the cities, counties and schools. We have to get back to the Minnesota miracle because that was strongly bipartisan and it worked for about 30 years," Pogemiller said.

With 15 freshman DFLers and a 44-23 majority, Pogemiller's elevation could signal hard sailing for Pawlenty, who faces DFL majorities in both the House and Senate.

Pawlenty was conciliatory, saying in a statement that he looks forward "to developing a common agenda that will help move Minnesota forward."

As expected, House DFLers Thursday night picked Margaret Anderson Kelliher as their choice for House speaker. They also picked Tony Sertich of Chisholm as majority leader.

In their new positions, Pogemiller and Kelliher will set the agenda for the House and Senate and be lead negotiators in talks with the governor and each other over major legislative compromises.

Frequent critics of Pogemiller were raising concerns about what his elevation to the top leadership post might mean. David Strom, president of the Minnesota Taxpayer's League, called Pogemiller "the most vociferous advocate for tax increases in the state."We do know that Larry Pogemiller genuinely dislikes Pawlenty. That's going to make things tough. It's going to be very confrontational," Strom predicted.

Those who have been behind closed doors with Pogemiller have found his frenetic pace both ingratiating and grating. A profile of Pogemiller a few years ago described one of his favorite books: "Getting to Yes; Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In."

As head of the Minnesota Business Partnership and former chief of staff to Pawlenty, Charlie Weaver has clashed with Pogemiller innumerable times and come away with respect for what he calls a "formidable adversary."

Weaver said the choice is not so surprising. Pogemiller, he said, has been in the Senate's inner circle of leadership for years and has long had a strong hand in shaping the caucus.

"Our politics don't line up, but I like his spunk," Weaver said. He also sees more than a few similarities between Pogemiller and his former boss, Pawlenty.

"They're both passionate, smart, tenacious advocates who don't give an inch before they have to," he said.

House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said Pogemiller can be charming but can also be "the most vicious of political opponents. I've been in situations where he's brought members of his own party to tears."

However, Sviggum said, leadership has a way of tempering even the most volatile. "He's now in a position where he'll have to take both ends of political philosophy into account," he said. "Just doing that will balance out his left-leaning, mercurial nature."

Pogemiller dismissed suggestions that warfare was inevitable.

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