Forum stresses bipartisanship

by Elizabeth Giorgi

Today’s sunrise will signal the beginning of the 2006 legislative session.

On Tuesday night Republicans and Democrats came together as the sun set at the University’s Law School to discuss the partisan controversy that led to last year’s government shutdown.

In a public forum titled “Bridging the Partisan Divide” former and current state leaders analyzed what could be done in 2006 to ensure a successful legislative session.

Third-year law student Nena Street coordinated the forum with the Citizens League because she felt “frustration among her peers” with the continuous fighting last year at the Capitol.

Street said several colleges in the University, student groups and Halleland Lewis Nilan and Johnson law firm worked together to host the event.

Citizens League President Sean Kershaw said the forum is important is because of a renewed interest in state policy among people aged 20 to 30 because there have been so many problems within the government.

Students should know if they are frustrated with partisanship that they are not alone, he said.

“As long as we have political parties, we will have partisanship,” said former Secretary of State Joan Growe. “But it is not all bad.”

She said “politics of fear” is one of the major problems causing a divide in the government, she said.

Growe said the issue lies in politicians placing God on one side or the other based on moral values, which should not have a role in running the state.

Spending time determining morality levels leads politicians to heated topics and causes them to avoid the more relevant issues such as health care, education and transportation, she said.

State Rep. Laura Brod, R-New Prague, said it is necessary for the political parties to look at past session and make changes structurally and personally for the future of the state.

“We need a bigger view of issues and to insert the future into the discussions,” she said.

Brod said there are many great things that can be done by citizens and it is important for citizens to be aware.

Nate Garvis, forum mediator and vice president of government Affairs at Target, said that although there was controversy at the capital last year, citizens can do more than complain.

Reward civility in the government by writing letters to the editor and contacting your legislators, he said.

State Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, said Minnesota’s government is not “the government,” but rather, “our government” and it should be discussed on all levels.

He said communication is essential in the government and it is important that representatives from the House and senators sit down and discuss the issues outside of session.

“You start to see a person instead of a legislative seat and it makes a difference,” Simon said. “It’s a more civil environment.”

Former Senate Minority Leader Duane Benson, a Republican, said the capital is built on two simple notions: conflict and relationships.

Even though Democrats and Republicans have conflicting points of view, it is important that they work together to ensure a successful government, he said.

“Nothing will ever be done by one party in this state,” Benson said. “It must be bipartisan.”