Pogemiller discusses Senate, college days

by Liz Riggs

State Sen. Larry Pogemiller discussed next session’s big issues, reflected on his college days at the ‘U’ and mouthed off about the governor.

You were an undergrad at the ‘U’ during the late ’60s and early ’70s. What types of activities were you involved in on campus during that time?

MPIRG: Minnesota Public Interest Research Group. I was on the original board of directors of MPIRG. And obviously the anti-war activities. I met Ralph Nader a couple of times.

Did you participate in any intramurals during college?

Oh yeah. My first injury: intramural football at the University. First kickoff, freshman year. I ran down the field, got in a collision with a guy and screwed up my knee. That was the end of my football career. (Laughs.)

Did you hold any other elected offices before becoming a legislator in 1980?

I never ran for anything. I never ran for student body president. Well, I was on the MPIRG board of directors, so I guess I got elected to that, but that’s hardly politics. I mean at that time, that was movement stuff. It wasn’t like they were real contested elections.

How did you make the transition into politics?

It was just a bunch of us young folks who were active in political campaigns. And (we) just thought we could make an impact.

And so, sitting in a bar one night, we went through, “why doesn’t somebody run for the Legislature?” (We were at) Jacobs 101 (Lounge and Restaurant) in northeast Minneapolis. It kind of got around the room and everybody said “Well Larry, why don’t you do it? You grew up here.” So I decided to run for the Legislature. And darn if we didn’t win.

We had nothing against the incumbent. He had been there 25 years or so, was a good guy. We just thought we could do better.

How would you describe your political style?

Kind of behind-the-scenes, quiet. I prefer to do things of more significance than just little bumper sticker type of stuff. I think my reputation around here is that I don’t seek out the media at all. Until I became majority leader, I had never held a press conference and I had been here 24 or 25 years. That doesn’t mean I hadn’t talked to the press. But I didn’t seek (them) out, so in that sense, I’m not what you’d call your modern politician.

Who would you say is your closest political ally?

(Sen.) LeRoy Stumpf, chairman of the (Senate) Education Committee. He and I came in (to the Legislature) together. We’re the last two remaining from our class. And we both started in the House and came to the Senate.

What about your biggest political foe?

Right now, it’s (Gov.) Tim Pawlenty. I’ve been cast as his major opposition. And since I do disagree with him pretty fundamentally on major issues, so be it.

I’ve served with six governors. I think he’s the least capable. I mean he’s got this wonderful kind of public image, but I just think he’s not a very effective governor.

My style is not to be that public about disagreements. I don’t think it’s overly effective to have a public confrontation, but I do think it’s been thrust upon me.

I think because I was education chair and then tax chair and now majority leader, those are all fundamentally key positions and areas for disagreement with the executive branch.

That’s pretty harsh, what I said. But I do believe – out of the six (governors) I’ve served with – he’s the least effective. And I don’t mean that on a personal basis. I’m sure he’s a nice man. So what? You know, this is a job.

If you were to predict, right now, the four biggest issues to be tackled during the next legislative session, what would they be?

Transportation. We need a comprehensive transportation bill that takes $1.7 (billion) to $2.4 billion a year to just maintain our current transportation infrastructure and to stop congestion from getting worse. So that will include revenue increases – it has to.

Two, I think will be universal health coverage that’s affordable for both individuals and businesses.

Three: tax fairness, which by-and-large is property taxes now.

And I think the fourth is trying to follow up on the fabulous session we had with Gov. Pawlenty on the environment. I think we did really good work last year, put the state back in a leadership position on energy and the environment and I think we need to do some more.

So those would be the four major things I think will happen, hopefully.

What about college students? What are the key issues we should watch for during the next session?

The environment and, obviously, transportation. I think we have turned the corner on tuition, finally. This year we stopped the tuition increases. And that was a big victory. That reverses the direction of the last four or five years.

State Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller represents Senate District 59, which includes the University’s Minneapolis campus.