Democrats expected to influence University

by Courtney Blanchard

State-funded stem cell research, a light rail line between Minneapolis and St. Paul and a new Science Classroom Building could be some of the changes the University will see when the state Legislature convenes next year.

Several DFL campus-area legislators are chairs of committees that could influence policy affecting the University, and the Minneapolis campus is sending Sen. Larry Pogemiller, the new Senate majority leader, to represent it.

University lecturer Paul Soper teaches a course about state government in the political science department.

Soper said the Senate majority leader basically sets the agenda, similar to the speaker of the House.

“They have a great deal of influence over what issues get considered or what issues don’t,” he said.

This could result in University issues getting priority, but even with a large majority in the House and another majority in the Senate, Soper said the DFL will face obstacles in getting policy turned to law.

“Sometimes it’s hard to hold all of your party members together,” Soper said.

He said DFLers in the upcoming session can expect riffs over the budget, clashes with Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and a struggle to unify themselves between moderate and liberal and rural and urban issues.

Sen. Larry Pogemiller

Pogemiller has represented the campus for more than 20 years and, until recently, served as the outspoken chair of the Taxes Committee.

Pogemiller will use his influence to advance his agenda, which includes student issues.

“I think that this should help focus more attention on the University of Minnesota,” he said.

He said he hopes to slow tuition increases and sees bipartisan support of higher education funding.

Pogemiller blamed Pawlenty, rather than Republican senators, for higher education cuts, but said the tone will change next session at the capitol.

“The priorities will change,” he said of issues to be debated, which will not include “gay marriage or guns.”

Among Pogemiller’s top goals are increased funding for education, universal affordable health care and clean water.

In the next two years, students should expect to see the state make a down payment on the Central Corridor light rail line connecting Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“It’s a question of, ‘can we do it in a timely fashion?’ ” Pogemiller said.

Rep. Alice Hausman

St. Paul Rep. Alice Hausman is also in a position to bring change to the University. After the DFL won a majority in the House, the new Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, appointed Hausman to chair the Capital Investment Committee.

The Capital Investment Committee reviews bonding projects across the state. Hausman said her priorities for the University are to fund the remodeling of the Science Classroom Building on the East Bank and fund the relocation of the Bell Museum from the Minneapolis campus to Falcon Heights.

Hausman said she also wants to push the Central Corridor light rail line, and see things like health care and the environment take a bigger role at the capitol.

“I think there’s just a real commitment to accomplish an agenda,” she said. “What is clear is that the whole period driven by the ‘no new taxes’ agenda and wedge issues served the sole purpose to divide us.”

Rep. Phyllis Kahn

Minneapolis Rep. Phyllis Kahn will return to the capitol next session for her 18th term in the House.

This time, Kahn will chair the State Government Finance Committee, and she is ready to take her criticism of the last session with her.

Kahn said she wants to see the procedure in the state government change.

“I want to introduce the ability to have continuing resolutions so we never shut down the state government again,” she said.

On the finance committee, Kahn will be at the mercy of the budget forecast, which if good, could “make life easier,” she said. She added the DFL will likely move for some tax increases.

“I’ve always run as a tax-and-spend Democrat,” she said. “Taxes are payments we make for a civilized society.”

As a former biophysics researcher at the University, Kahn said she’s deeply interested in science issues.

Kahn said she is ready to introduce a bill that would set up a state embryonic stem cell research policy, allowing state funding.

Despite the controversy surrounding stem cell research, Kahn seemed optimistic about the bill passing.

“I think the governor will be more cooperative,” she said.

Sen. Ellen Anderson

Ellen Anderson has made the environment a staple of her platform, so it’s fitting the St. Paul senator lives on Como Lake.

Anderson will chair the budget division of the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Anderson said one of her biggest goals is to pass a bill that will require at least 20 percent of Minnesota’s energy to come from renewable energy sources by 2020.

As a member of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, Anderson said she works to distribute lottery proceeds to environmental and natural resource projects.

Anderson has worked to fund University research on climate change, fish and wildlife.

“It’s nice to work so closely with the University,” she said, adding that the DFL majority at the capitol will help push issues like higher education funding and transportation to the forefront.

The biggest challenges facing the DFL, Anderson said, will be working across party lines with the governor and living up to high expectations.

“The expectations of the public are extremely high for Democrats,” she said. “Now the Democrats really have to perform so that we can solve some of these problems.”