Pogemiller to leave state Senate, head Office of Higher Ed

He has served in the state Legislature since 1981.

Greta Kaul

State Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, was appointed director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education on Friday.

With his departure, the district that includes the University of Minnesota will have a new senator for the first time in almost 30 years.

Pogemiller received undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University, and was first elected to the state Legislature in 1980. During his tenure in the Senate, Pogemiller sat on committees on Education, Rules and Administration and Taxes.

The Office of Higher Education provides and oversees financial aid for college students and researches higher education in Minnesota. Pogemiller will start the job next week, according to OHE spokeswoman Sandy Connolly.

HeâÄôll take over for Susan Von Mosch, who has served as OHEâÄôs interim director since September, when former director Sheila Wright unexpectedly resigned.

Gov. Mark Dayton said in a press release that Pogemiller âÄúbrings unparalleled experience and expertise in the legislative process and in public policy issues. He is the perfect choice for the Office of Higher Education at this critical juncture for higher education in Minnesota.âÄù

In an interview, Pogemiller said he was âÄúextremely excited and honored to be asked.âÄù

Pogemiller first met with Dayton on Wednesday to discuss the appointment. He said the governor was persuasive in convincing him to take a job that he wasnâÄôt seeking.

âÄú[Dayton] thinks itâÄôs a really good time to do some big things for higher ed,âÄù Pogemiller said. âÄúHe wanted me there to help and be supportive.âÄù

 âÄòPlenty of bright peopleâÄô in the running

Dayton will call a special election for the Senate seat Jan. 10, with a primary scheduled for Dec. 6.Candidates started lining up for a chance to win the vacated seat within hours of DaytonâÄôs announcement.

Northeast Minneapolis resident and community activist Jacob Frey announcedhe will run for PogemillerâÄôs seat on the DFL ticket. He made the decision Thursday night when news of PogemillerâÄôs departure leaked, and quit his job as an attorney at a local law firm on Friday to focus on the race, he said.

Frey has been an active supporter of the Somali community in Minneapolis. He and his wife organized the Big Gay Race to raise opposition to the 2012 constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. Frey also did pro bono legal work for north Minneapolis tornado victims.

In the hours after DaytonâÄôs announcement, Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis, told the Daily she planned to run for PogemillerâÄôs Senate seat. Loeffler has represented part of PogemillerâÄôs district since 2005 in the House of Representatives.

But she reconsidered over the weekend and decided against trying to make the switch to the Senate.

âÄúPlenty of bright people are stepping up to run,âÄù she said, adding that she knows of four or five others who are considering a bid for the open seat.

Peter Wagenius is the son of Rep. Jean Wagenius, who has represented Minneapolis for nearly 25 years.

Wagenius grew up in Minneapolis. He managed election campaigns and worked for the Senate DFL caucus before becoming a policy aide to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak in 2001.

âÄúIâÄôm motivated by bringing a focus of the middle class and working class and having them be the priority in state government,âÄù Wagenius said Sunday night.

PogemillerâÄôs âÄòmajor failureâÄô

Pogemiller is the third experienced DFLer to leave the Senate since Republicans took control of the Legislature in January.

Sen. Ellen Anderson, who represented St. Paul, left for a position in the Public Utilities Commission in March, and Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, took a job with Hennepin County as a health policy manager after the session ended.

The three senators had a combined 88 years of legislative experience. That doesnâÄôt include the late Linda Scheid, DFL-Brooklyn Park, who died of ovarian cancer in June after serving 34 years in the Legislature.

David Schultz, a professor of public policy at Hamline University, speculated that the new Republican majority factored into PogemillerâÄôs decision.

âÄúHe was arguably the most powerful person in the Senate, one of the most powerful people in Minnesota government, and he lost all of that with the 2010 elections,âÄù Schultz said of Pogemiller, who was Senate Majority Leader from 2007 through 2010.

Given his leadership in the lead-up to the 2010 election, Schultz said Pogemiller shoulders some of the blame for his partyâÄôs poor results.

âÄúPogemiller was so determined to try to give [former Gov. Tim Pawlenty] a black eye in terms of making it personal that what he failed to do instead was âĦ unite his caucus and really be able to move significant DFL policy. That, I think, was his major failure,âÄù Schultz said.

In contrast, Republicans âÄúmanaged to manhandle DaytonâÄù in the 2011 session, he said.

Pogemiller said the 2011 session was âÄúdifferent,âÄù and that the exchange of power didnâÄôt factor into his decision.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, congratulated Pogemiller on his appointment and said she wonâÄôt run for his Senate seat.

Kahn said the appointment will give Pogemiller some career stability âÄî senators make $31,000 annually. In 2010, the salary for the director of the Office of Higher Education was $104,000, according to state salary data.

âÄúIn his many years of service, he has proven to be a better strategist than almost anyone who has served and he will put his thoughtful and analytical skills to work,âÄù she said.

Pogemiller said that prior to taking the OHE job, he expected and looked forward to returning to the Senate next year.

âÄúIâÄôve been there 30 years and a lot of my close friends have left âÄî itâÄôs time for a generational shift.âÄù