A: Yes I did. I had been aware throughout the session, and really since my campaign, of my promise to hunters and anglers that I would support the recommendations of the council, and oppose attempts by the Legislature to challenge the council’s authority.
Throughout the session, in regular meetings with legislative leaders, I expressed that position. I made the point on more than one occasion. That said, I didn’t try to interfere during the session, rather allowing the House and the Senate to determine their own directions. As you know, the Senate stuck with the position of the council, but the House had its own mind about things. I had hoped the House would work out its differences with the council amicably. But it didn’t.
My belief is that when the Legacy Act was approved by voters in 2008, the notion that a citizen-dominated council would advise the Legislature on the habitat recommendations was critical to its passage. So I have respected and supported the voters in that respect. Look, some members of the House at one point wanted to change the name of the council and its composition, giving more positions to legislators. That was a very bad start to the session, and it created a lot of concern among supporters of the council and the Legacy Act’s habitat funds.
People have faith in the council process, and rely on it. And I wanted to support it.
Q: The counter-argument made by some in the House is that only the Legislature can spend the state’s money.
A: True. But again, if you asked Minnesotans who voted for the amendment who they thought, at the time, would be in charge of the wildlife habitat money, I would guess that 90-plus percent of them would say “the people,’’ as opposed to the Legislature. There’s no question the Legislature is the only entity that can appropriate state money. But in this case the spirit of the amendment was that citizens, through a citizen-dominated council, would play a key role. The amendment wouldn’t have passed otherwise. So in the spirit of that accomplishment, there has to be a cooperative working relationship between the council and the Legislature.
Q: Regarding conservation in general, you have talked at various times about “reinventing’’ state government. Have you given thought to reconsidering the way conservation is delivered in Minnesota, including rethinking, perhaps, the workings of the DNR and other state agencies?
A: I would like to do that. In fact, I will be proposing to the Legislature that we have — perhaps not until the 2015 session, if I’m still around — an “un-session,’’ during which we would focus almost exclusively on streamlining government.
I had this idea back in 1998, during a campaign that most people have forgotten, and I would like to forget myself, because I lost. But I think it has merit, because government has become so cumbersome it’s almost impossible to proceed with anything. If we looked at this closely, by undertaking a comprehensive review of how we manage conservation and our natural resources, perhaps we could make improvements. This might especially be true in natural resource management, in which we have so many various jurisdictions — the DNR, the Pollution Control Agency, local watershed groups, the Board of Water and Soil Resources, and so on, as well as federal agencies.
Q: On another subject, Rep. Phyllis Kahn of Minneapolis has made the point repeatedly that the Lessard-Sams council has a bias against the metro in its funding recommendations.
A: This is my 13th legislative session, and the issue has arisen each time. It doesn’t matter if the subject is conservation or roads or public transit. There always seems to be a split between metro legislators and those who represent Minnesotans living outside the metro.
I don’t think the divide exists to a great deal among Minnesotans in general. Many people who live in or around the Twin Cities grew up in small towns of the state, and they, along with many other Minnesotans, often travel to Greater Minnesota to fish and hunt and so forth.
Still, in the Legislature, there always seems to be a “they’re getting more than we are’’ attitude among some members. I just didn’t agree that it was the case this session, regarding metro parks, which had appealed to the Lessard-Sams council for a funding recommendation but was turned down. I believe metro parks got some $64 million in funding through Legacy and other money. So it’s not as if we left them out. But the divide, it seems, remains, and will be there long after I’ve left office.
Q: Missing in the argument over funding of metro parks from the Outdoor Heritage fund, overseen by the council, was the fundamental notion that Legacy Act habitat money never was intended to be scattered around the state, based on where the most people live. Instead, the money was, and is, intended to improve the state’s lands and waters in a comprehensive way over the long term, according to a thoughtful 25-year plan, which the council has written.