Hot Dish Politics: New panel led by Hackbarth pretty quiet

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 26, 2012 - 11:40 PM
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Rep. Tom Hackbarth in July 2011

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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Fresh off the victory that gave Republicans the House majority in 2010, veteran Rep. Tom Hackbarth was named chairman of an influential House committee dealing with environment, energy and national resources issues.

But that fell apart one night in November 2010 when Hackbarth, R-Cedar, was found by police carrying a gun near a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Paul. Hackbarth, who was not charged with a crime, told police he was checking up on a woman he had met through an Internet dating service.

In the wake of the incident, Hackbarth lost his new committee chairmanship.

Last September, House Republican leaders at the Capitol created an eight-member energy subcommittee and installed Hackbarth as chairman.

By the time the Legislature adjourned earlier this month, the House Energy Subcommittee had held just one 29-minute meeting during the three-month session. The House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee, in contrast, held at least 20 meetings during the same period.

DFL legislators said they were confused by the inactivity, and at least one, Rep. Andrew Falk of Murdock, wondered whether the panel had been created to soothe Hackbarth's "ego."

"Energy is pretty foundational to our society functioning, so it was frustrating for me to have the lack of focus on it," said Rep. Kate Knuth, DFL-New Brighton, a subcommittee member.

Hackbarth said that his ego had nothing to do with it, and that on at least two occasions when energy issues needed to be heard, he took over temporarily as chairman of the larger Environment, Energy and Natural Resources committee.

"We were just trying to save a step," he said. "I didn't want a committee chairmanship. [I] don't have that kind of a big head."

Hackbarth said his energy subcommittee chairmanship did play a useful role, however. "I made a lot of contacts with a lot of different energy folks -- Xcel Energy and Great River Energy and Minnesota Power," he said.

"We had a lot of different meetings in my office," he added. "We talked about some things that we didn't have to do legislation for.

"We didn't have a lot of bills before our committee, but that doesn't mean that we didn't do some things in my office and talk about some things," he said.

Three weeks before the Legislature adjourned, DFL Rep. Falk, another subcommittee member, asked Hackbarth on the House floor why a proposal on lobbying disclosure requirements related to energy issues was not being heard by Hackbarth's subcommittee.

"It doesn't need to go to the energy subcommittee," Hackbarth told Falk. "We don't need to see it in the energy" subcommittee.

"I'm just curious as why we have an energy [subcommittee] if we're not going to hear energy-related bills in that committee," replied Falk. "What do you think energy issues deal with?"

mkaszuba@startribune.com • 651-222-1673

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