Lots of good vibes marked the first week of the 2017 legislative session, especially if you went into the rotunda and watched people’s faces as they looked up and admired the restoration of Cass Gilbert’s artistry.
Rep. Drew Christensen, R-Savage, was gaping at the handiwork when I ran into him. He told me his favorite moments as a lawmaker are when they close the big doors of the chamber, but he can still hear the chanting of demonstrators coming from outside the House. “That’s democracy,” he said.
Some opening day/new Capitol notes:
• I spied Commissioner Myron Frans, who enters his second budget cycle at Minnesota Management and Budget after a tour at the Revenue Department. Expect him to be a major player in the coming months. He’s knowledgeable, likable — the most charming tax lawyer you’ll meet — and has the trust of Gov. Mark Dayton. I’m also guessing that his private sector experience makes him much more palatable to Republicans.
• The Dayton crowd likes Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, thus far. “An honest broker,” one told me, which indicates by implication how they feel about certain other legislative leaders.
• Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, was loose during a scrum with reporters last week. He reveled a bit in baiting House Speaker Kurt Daudt, saying the second-term speaker is going to struggle this session to keep his caucus and GOP constituencies happy. Daudt also will struggle to get GOP priorities through the Senate, Bakk predicted, where Republicans have only a one-vote advantage.
• When I peeked in the House chamber for the first time and saw the huge, striking portrait of President Abraham Lincoln, I had to wonder what Lincoln-bashing freshman Rep. Nolan West, R-Blaine, was thinking when he looked up at it on his first day.
• Many lovely surprises throughout the building — for instance, Tom Olmscheid’s black-and-white photos of the workers who restored the Capitol, hung on basement walls.
• Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, is now the longest serving lawmaker in state history — first elected in 1972! — with a wealth of knowledge on the budget and legislative process.
• For substance, Dayton held an opening day news conference and said he wanted a bill to provide help for people on the individual health insurance market by the end of the week, a deadline that came and went without evident consequence.
If my biz treated deadlines like Dayton does, we’d never publish.