Pogemiller brings U roots, energy to Senate post

Aidan M. Anderson

High energy.

These are perhaps the two best words to characterize state Sen. Larry Pogemiller, the state senator who represents the district that includes the University’s main campus.

Amid hurried greetings, a flurry of phone calls and a stream of shorthand notes scribbled in code on scratch paper, one might sigh in relief when Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, opts for an orange muffin rather than a caffeinated grande espresso at Taraccino Coffee in Northeast Minneapolis.

“You don’t stand in his way or he’ll run you over,” said fellow Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley. “There’s never a question he knows which direction he wants to go; sometimes he charges off and looks back to see no one is quite behind him yet.”

Although the calendar year is already two months old, the 2006 legislative year begins Wednesday and will put the senator and his peers in a crunch.

“There’s almost as much activity here in the first two months as if we had started (in January),” Pogemiller said. “All the various stakeholder groups are working hard to line up their votes.”

Pogemiller first entered public office in 1980 when he was elected to the state House of Representatives.

Pogemiller and his friends discussed entry into state politics after finishing graduate school at the University.

“We just decided someone should run for the Legislature and I drew the short straw,” he said with a smile.

University lobbyist and former state Sen. Donna Peterson was elected to the House the same year.

The two University alumni also were elected to the Senate together in 1982.

“He understands it’s going to impact a lot of people and how it can contribute to the economy of the state and how it will make a difference,” Peterson said.

They both always felt strong connections to their city and school, she said.

Just because the two have known each other since before Pogemiller ever considered a career in politics doesn’t mean the senator isn’t tough to work with sometimes, Peterson said.

“The University always has to put its best case forward with him,” she said. “Just because he knows me doesn’t mean he just does what we want.”

But because Pogemilller’s district includes University students, faculty and staff members and area residents, he supports the University’s plans, Peterson said.

“He understands (the University is) going to impact a lot of people and how it can contribute to the economy of the state – how it will make a difference,” she said.

Pogemiller said he first was attracted to the DFL because of its emphasis on the environment and social justice and its stance on the Vietnam War. These issues were similar to the values instilled by his Catholic schooling and focus on community service. He represents the working class neighborhood he grew up in.

“In grade school I was on civil rights marches with the nuns, in high school it was the environmental movement, civil rights and the (Vietnam) War,” he said.

The fit with the DFL was comfortable from the start.

“I don’t actually recall ever making a choice; it just seemed kind of natural,” he said.

In college at the University in the early 1970s, Pogemiller served as one of the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group’s original board members.

It was this type of activism, as opposed to formal student government, that served as the catalyst for his entry into state government, he said.

Pogemiller is an avid Gophers fan and gets to a handful of hockey games every year. He also enjoys women’s basketball on occasion.

He supports the on-campus stadium project and said the University’s plan to fund it is a good one, but doesn’t agree with the proposed student stadium fees in the face of ever-increasing tuition.

He’d also propose increased state funding to eliminate the need for corporate naming rights, he said.

Pogemiller is a fierce competitor, always thinking three steps ahead, Betzold said.

As chairman of the Senate Tax Committee, the nature of Pogemiller’s focus tends to be very bipartisan, Betzold said.

“He likes being in the thick of things, he likes a good fight. But that’s what happens when you carry high-profile, important issues, and he likes doing that.”