We're in the middle of a rapid change in the state's politics, especially as Gov. Mark Dayton passes the baton to Gov.-elect Tim Walz.

It's quite possible what we're seeing right now is the unfolding of the next decade, given a new governor who seems intent on charting his own course.

The first and most important question? Who is in the room?

Meaning, who is in the room when Walz is making the big decisions about policy, politics and people.

To some extent Walz is unknown to the Twin Cities political class. He's a southern Minnesota congressman who mostly stayed out of Twin Cities press. He was never a state legislator, and he has his own people who were not closely linked to the vast political universes of Dayton and Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

There are advantages to this. He's successfully created his own political brand. (Grab your red and black buffalo plaid flannel and say it: "One Minnesota.")

But we've digressed. Who is the in-crowd? I asked DFL sources who might know.

The first is easy. Gwen Walz is a true partner. Like her husband, she was a teacher but also an assessment coordinator with the Mankato School District, so she has strong views on education policy. But she has other interests — like the Bard Prison Initiative. In Washington, she led a congressional spouse orientation program, so it's possible we'll see her active in Walz's legislative outreach. Indeed, as Tim Walz told me once, it's usually harder to dislike people when you've met their family.

Lt. Gov.-elect Peggy Flanagan. They campaigned together for more than a year, and she's a liaison to Twin Cities progressive politics. With a term and a half in the Minnesota House, she at least knows a bit about the place.

Chris Schmitter, the chief of staff, was there at the beginning on the 2004 Kerry presidential campaign — for which Walz volunteered — and then the first congressional run in 2006. For what he might lack in Capitol and executive branch experience, Schmitter is widely regarded as a quick study, and I'm told he is asking the right people the right questions.

Kristin Beckmann, the transition director, doesn't come from Walz's world, but they're in the trenches right now. The former St. Paul deputy mayor is highly thought of in DFL circles.

Myron Frans is also not from the Walz universe, but the new governor will need to present a budget by Feb. 19, and Frans knows both the budget and the bureaucracy.

Others to watch: Josh Syrjamaki, the congressional chief of staff, is expected to help out come spring after reaching federal retirement. Meredith Salsbery Vadis is Walz's former deputy chief of staff and now at the Met Council. A Walz source said he runs a flat structure, which means if you're in charge of something or an expert in it, you're in the room, not just your boss.

As Walz knows and will become all the more obvious next month, there are advantages and disadvantages to being outsiders at the State Capitol.

J. Patrick Coolican 651-925-5042 Twitter: @jpcoolican patrick.coolican@startribune.com