The legendary revolving door between politics and business seldom spins faster than it did when Sen. Dick Day walked through it this week.
Day announced he would be leaving his Senate post early to lobby almost immediately for the horseracing industry, whose interests he promoted for years as a legislator.
That quick change of wardrobe would be prohibited if Day were a member of Congress or a legislator in more than two dozen other states.
But Minnesota's lenient laws governing legislators allow such sudden transformations, which some say permits politicians to unfairly exploit their public service for private gain.
Day dismissed such criticism.
"I'm just going to do something that's a passion," he said Wednesday of his longstanding advocacy as a legislator for a casino at Canterbury Park race track to raise revenue for the state as it looks to close a yawning budget gap and as some consider public financing for a new Vikings stadium. Day said he doesn't plan a long career lobbying, and that as soon as the gambling issue is settled, "I'm gone."
Day, a Republican and former minority leader from Owatonna, said he won't be paid until he resigns his Senate seat on Jan. 8. He declined to disclose his future compensation but said it would likely be more than $50,000, exceeding his Senate pay.
Over the years many legislators have left office and taken jobs lobbying former colleagues. They include Roger Moe, Dean Johnson and John Hottinger -- all former DFL Senate majority leaders who registered as lobbyists within weeks or months of leaving office at the end of their terms.
Day said he plans to register as a lobbyist around Jan. 10, which would be two days after he plans to resign from a term that otherwise wouldn't end until 2011.
"The difference here is somebody taking the drastic step of saying, 'I'm not going to wait out my term,'" said Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, a longstanding critic of revolving doors.
"When you run for election you are saying to people, 'I really want to represent you,'" Marty noted. "Now you're saying, 'Well, even though I was going to represent you for four years, I've decided to move on because I have a nice job representing somebody else.'"
A legislator who quickly turns lobbyist has an edge in pressing an agenda, said David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University.
"It's taking all of the knowledge and friendships and immediately cashing them to the advantage of one particular group," Schultz said. "Which means that group has more advantage than other groups or general citizens in pushing an issue."
Marty has been a perennial advocate of reform legislation that would require a two-year cooling off period before retiring legislators could lobby their former colleagues.
He also favors tough prohibitions on legislators acting as paid consultants, saying there is no way to know for sure if Day and other lawmakers are making money to help special interests.
"I haven't taken a penny," countered Day, who also denied he's currently acting as a consultant. "I'm acting as State Senator Dick Day and wanting a racino. I'm calling people and talking racino all day long." In addition to his interest in Canterbury, Day will be pushing for a casino at a harness racing track in Anoka County, which he said would raise state revenue.
Over the years a cooling-off period has gained support from some legislators, including former Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum. In the DFL-led Senate in a recent session, one such bill passed a committee, but failed to get a vote on the floor.
Marty said that absent public outrage, legislators from both parties are content to maintain the status quo.
Day disputes the need for changes.
"I think the people I've worked with have been so ethical, we have a great sense of government," he said.
Common Cause Minnesota rapped Day for his "intentions to immediately register as a lobbyist and begin cashing in on his experience as an elected official."
"I've never listened to Common Cause," Day said, calling its statement "ridiculous."
Thirty-one states have some kind of restrictions on lobbying by former legislators, according to Common Cause. Only Texas and Florida had more former legislators-turned-lobbyists than Minnesota, according to a 2007 report by the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan group.
Congress also has a one-year cooling-off period for members of the House of Representatives, and a two-year period for senators.
Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210