As expected, a Star Tribune editorial writer’s recent call to state Rep. Rick Hansen didn’t yield conventional wisdom about Gov. Mark Dayton’s new initiative to restore Minnesota’s pheasant population.
In a state where outdoor sporting groups are a powerful political lobby, there was considerable praise in most quarters for the pheasant initiative. Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, offered a different but still valuable take. The price tag (around $300 million from state and federal sources) is sobering, he pointed out. And, he wanted to know, is acquiring land for habitat and hunting, one of the initiative’s key aims, the right strategy? Or is it one that uninspired policymakers fell back on after relying on it so heavily since the Legacy sales tax dollars started flowing?
Hansen’s colleagues know this suburban legislator can be a dogged though collegial contrarian, one willing to challenge powerful special interests. He’s also a passionate outdoorsman who puts his academic credentials in biology and soil management to good use as a lawmaker. From the public’s perspective, Hansen is exactly the type of person who should sit on the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, which makes influential spending recommendations about roughly $100 million a year in state sales tax dollars.
So it is troubling that Hansen has once again been shut out of serving on the 12-member council. Hansen has served previously, but former Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers declined to reappoint him in 2011. Hansen was reappointed after the 2012 elections gave DFLers control of the Minnesota House. After control shifted back to the GOP in 2014, Hansen was replaced by state Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake.
Dill’s recent death opened that seat on the council. House Minority Leader Paul Thissen recommended Hansen as another DFLer to provide balance to the panel and be part of its “important discussions.” House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, instead appointed state Rep. Leon Lillie, DFL-North St. Paul. Daudt did not respond to requests for comment.
Lillie no doubt will be a hardworking addition to the council. But Hansen’s shutout saga suggests that skeptical questions about the group and its decisions aren’t welcome. That is a counterproductive message for Daudt and the council to send.