Kaler talks U priorities in first Capitol visit

Kaler will go before the Senate Higher Education Committee on Wednesday.

President Eric Kaler, right, speaks to the media about the University's 2012 legislative priorities Friday at the State Capitol in St. Paul. Kaler was joined by the University's new special assistant to the president for government relations Jason Rohloff.

Anthony Kwan

President Eric Kaler, right, speaks to the media about the University’s 2012 legislative priorities Friday at the State Capitol in St. Paul. Kaler was joined by the University’s new special assistant to the president for government relations Jason Rohloff.

Kevin Burbach

Eric Kaler is gearing up for his first state legislative session as president of the University of Minnesota.

Kaler made his first trip to the state Capitol on Friday to address members of the media on issues facing the University while discussing how he will work with state legislators âÄî a major task for University presidents.

He has headed the University since July and is now getting his first taste of working with the Legislature. Kaler will meet with legislators regularly to discuss funding and other University needs.

On Wednesday, Kaler will appear before the SenateâÄôs Higher Education Committee to make his case for the University and to begin working with legislators.

âÄúIâÄôm the new guy on the block, and they need to get to know me, and I need to get to know them,âÄù Kaler previously said in an interview with the Daily.

Kaler stressed the importance of bonding money for the University. He said he hoped to secure more money and that while the Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement (HEAPR) component of the UniversityâÄôs capital request was his priority, all projects on the list are important and could help create jobs.

In Gov. Mark DaytonâÄôs bonding request last week, the University would receive considerably less money than it had asked for in its capital request in October.

In order to drum up more support for the University, Kaler has begun making connections with lawmakers.

 âÄúI think the relationship between the Legislature and the president of the University is a personal one,âÄù he said. âÄúThey expect to see the president and to know me and therefore it will reflect the style that I bring and the communication style that I have.âÄù

This is the first time Kaler will meet with state legislators during the session, but Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said Kaler has maintained a regular presence with lawmakers.

Pappas, the former chair of the SenateâÄôs Higher Education Committee, said itâÄôs very important for University presidents to stay in touch with legislators.

She said she met with former University President Bob Bruininks frequently and that he often stopped into offices at the Capitol to say hello. Pappas, a longtime legislator, said she spent one yearâÄôs Passover with former University President Mark Yudof at Eastcliff mansion during his tenure.

Kaler is keeping up a similar approach, Pappas said.

Kaler hosted a holiday party at Eastcliff the weekend before the session started, which Pappas and other legislators attended. She has also talked to Kaler at Gopher football games and other University events.

âÄúHe is setting a very high standard of accessibility to legislators,âÄù Pappas said.

Pappas said trust is a key quality of a relationship between University presidents and legislators.

âÄúYou trust that both of you have the best interest of the University,âÄù Pappas said.

Kaler has his team of lobbyists, led by new hire Jason Rohloff, that typically interact with the Legislature and carry out the presidentâÄôs goals. Rohloff said because of KalerâÄôs busy schedule, he and his team speak for the president and work with the Legislature when the president cannot.

Kaler will also have an ally with a history in the Legislature in the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

Larry Pogemiller, who served in the state Senate for nearly 30 years, said he will add a voice to the discussions between the state and the University.

âÄúI think to the extent that I can help translate for legislators and help president Kaler and his folks articulate the uniqueness and the importance [of the University], that can help make the difference,âÄù he said. âÄúI hope to be supportive.âÄù