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GOP rookies have strength in numbers, but draw Dayton’s ire

May 27, 2011
By Per Peterson ( , Marshall Independent

At the end of a session in which those "Hello" name tags would have come in handy at the Capitol, Republicans have been put on the defensive after chiding remarks made recently by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

The day after the regular session concluded without a solution to a $5 billion shortfall, Dayton blamed inexperienced freshmen lawmakers new to the governmental process and outlined numerous problems he had with each budget bill in detailed veto letters. In all, Dayton vetoed nine bills this week.

At recent press events, Dayton said the freshmen policymakers "seemingly understand little about government and care even less."

"The governor has kind of ripped on freshman, calling some of us radicals," said one of those freshman, Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent. "Is there a cause and effect because we have all these freshmen and a budget deficit - obviously that's not the case."

This year's House includes 36 newly-elected members - 33 of which are Republicans. Freshmen make up about a third of the Senate, and the Republican freshmen - 19 of the 37 - helped boost that chamber to a GOP majority for the first time since 1972.

But, Swedzinski said, that shouldn't be looked at as a bad thing.

"We're not a bunch of gray-haired bureaucrats who have been around for 80 years, we are fresh," Swedzinski said. "Most of these freshman who are here are business owners. We've run businesses, we've had other successes in life. We've all made something work in the past and the people have asked us to make something work at the state level."

Republicans dominated on election night last year, which gave them the House and Senate majority they've enjoyed in 2011. In all, 21 House DFL incumbents lost in 2010.

"In the House, the freshmen have a lot of influence in their caucus, just by the numbers, if for no other reason," said District 20B Rep. Lyle Koenen of Clara City, who is serving his fifth term. "After we adjourned (early Tuesday) I was talking to a couple of the freshmen and they said they were the ones that weren't gonna let their leadership bend on some of these issues, including the budget."

"It's no disparagement to being new - we've all had our first term - but when I talk to some of the moderate Republicans across the aisle, they say, "You know Terry, we know what needs to be done here," said Terry Morrow, a Democratic representative from District 23A who was first elected in 2006. "(They say) We've been in this system, we understand compromise, we understand that a campaign promise is not exactly a bill that gets enacted, that governance means you have to meet in the middle.

"I think the moderate, experienced folks in the House GOP have to step up and lead their caucus and explain to their new members that you can't have a my way-or the highway approach when it comes to negotiation," he added.

First-year Senator Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, said the freshmen in the House and Senate, no matter how many there are, shouldn't be blamed for why budget talks stalled. He said they came in, not only with new ideas, but with expectations, not agendas.

"I don't think it's so much that we have so many new legislators not knowing how to get things done," said Dahms. "We came with expectations that we want to see this government operate more efficiently. We've seen it done in businesses. The problem is that businesses, in order to survive, have been forced to go through a lot of change; government has made a lot of change but we've got a lot left to go."



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