Welcome to Tuesday and the start of the legislative session, the fuel that keeps the Digest going between elections.
1. Divided Legislature gets underway with focus on state budget. As lawmakers begin their 2019 session at noon Tuesday, many of the issues they face will be holdovers from past years, while a new group of leaders will be tasked with addressing them. The session begins with a new governor, Tim Walz, the first Democrat to succeed another Democrat who served eight years in the state’s top elected office. And unlike former Gov. Mark Dayton, Walz will have a House in DFL hands for the first time in four years. Most of the work over the next four and a half months will be on crafting a new two-year state budget. Leaders are hoping they can avoid some of the budget breakdowns of the past few years, and a projected $1.5 billion surplus may help. Melissa Hortman, an eight-term representative from Brooklyn Park, is poised to be the new speaker of the House. Hortman is promising changes in the way legislative business is conducted. “There are two things we’re trying to accomplish. One is more transparency, so the public gets to see what we’re doing. All the big decisions should get made in the public eye if we can at all have that happen. And then two is to bump up the timeline for conflict.” (MPR News)
2. Hortman takes charge in House. In between meetings on a recent Monday, Melissa Hortman took a moment to check the notifications piling up on her phone. She had a new message from the soon-to-be minority House Republican caucus about what committees they want each member to serve on. “Not a lot of chicks in that group, not a single woman in here,” Hortman said, scrolling through their lists for each committee. “There’s a statute that says that we have to achieve geographic balance. There isn’t one that says that we have to do anything about gender balance.” A DFL state representative from Brooklyn Park, Hortman made a splash in 2017 when she criticized a handful of male legislators for playing a card game in a side room while several female legislators of color were speaking on the House floor. Some Republicans were furious and demanded that she apologize, to which she responded: “I’m not sorry.” Now she’s the incoming speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives, only the third woman ever to hold the gavel, and Capitol watchers should expect more of Hortman’s irreverent, “sorry, not sorry” attitude toward some political conventions. (MPR News)
3. Longtime Iron Range lawmaker Rukavina dies. Longtime Iron Range political leader Tom Rukavina has died at the age of 68, leaving a lasting legacy as true champion of the region. Rukavina was being treated for leukemia at the University of Minnesota hospitals where he received a bone marrow transplant. The fiery DFLer from Virginia was known for his hold-no-punches style and passionate speeches as the Minnesota House 6B representative and St. Louis County Commissioner. Current 6B Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora, said Rukavina was known and respected around the state for fight and integrity. He called it an honor to follow in the footsteps of Rukavina. “We lost a part of the Range today and who we are,” Lislegard said. “Nobody had a bigger heart for the Range than Tom Rukavina.” (Mesabi Daily News)
4. Walz takes office pledging to close gaps. Tim Walz took the oath of office Monday to become Minnesota’s 41st governor, calling for a united state where everyone — regardless of “zip code” — has access to affordable health care and quality education. The DFLer stressed similar themes on the campaign trail, but his inauguration at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul officially marks the end of the grueling campaign and transition and the official start of his administration. Walz nearly finished his cabinet picks last week, putting the final players in place ahead of the legislative session, which convenes on Tuesday. This year, Walz must find agreement with the only divided Legislature in the nation on a $48 billion, two-year state budget. “One Minnesota is in our blood. It is born of our shared values. It is sewn into the fabric of our communities. It is driven by the collective good, fueled by our innovation,” Walz told the crowd packed into the theater. “No matter how daunting the challenge; no matter how dark the times; Minnesota has always risen up — by coming together. ” (MPR News)
5. The new sheriff in town. Dave “Hutch” Hutchinson ran against longtime Sheriff Rich Stanek on a platform of change in the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, including hot-button issues like immigration enforcement. When Hutchinson takes office Monday, he knows constituents will be watching to see how he delivers. As part of his goal to “reinvent” how the Sheriff’s Office operates, Hutchinson has met with trade unions to see if they can get people who’ve had run-ins with the law into steady work. It’s an unorthodox approach for an urban sheriff’s department. “We want to be a much more open door, to be a part of the community,” Hutchinson said. “Public safety is keeping people safe. It’s just not about arresting them and throwing them into the street when they’re done.” (MPR News)