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Tribune of the People

Tribune of the People: The Minnesota Legislature and Its Leadership

Royce Hanson
Charles Backstrom
Patrick McCormack
The Future of the State Legislature Study Team
Charles Finn
Philip Frickey
Craig Grau
Virginia Gray
James Jernberg
Arthur Naftalin
Dale Olsen
Earl Shaw
Ben Somerville
Copyright Date: 1989
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Tribune of the People
    Book Description:

    Tribune of the People was first published in 1990. The Minnesota legislature enjoys a national reputation for confronting difficult state problems and devising innovative ways of dealing with them. In recent years, however, as issues have become increasingly complex and controversial, public respect for the legislature has declined. In 1985 the legislature commissioned a study to analyze this troubling situation. Tribune of the People is the result of that study. Working under the auspices of the Hubert H. Humphery Institute of Public Affairs and the political science department of the University of Minnesota, the authors conducted in-depth interviews supplemented with independent research to evaluate the legislature in the quarter century since reapportionment was mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court. Moving from a historical view to a series of close-up shots, the study considered the decision-making process during the 1985-86 session: how the legislators confronted divisive issues such as the Environmental Superfund, taxes, and health policy. Finally, the study suggests a number of procedural and staffing reforms aimed at restoring public confidence in the institution. Most notable among them are proposals for reducing the size of the legislature and making it a unicameral body.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5543-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-2)
    R. H.
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 3-8)

    It is conceivable that a state government could operate without a separate executive branch, or even an independent judiciary. It is inconceivable that a state could be governed without a legislature. Legislatures are important because they decide public questions and allocate public resources. The jibe that “no person is secure in one’s life or property while the legislature sits” carries the warning that every citizen has a stake in what legislatures do, and in the way they do it.

    Within the states, legislatures are the principal forums for the discussion and enactment of state policy. They regulate the formation and...

  5. 2 What The Legislature Does
    (pp. 9-36)

    When assessing public institutions, it often helps to return to first principles. The power to make law and the role of legislatures have been central concerns of political philosophers and writers of constitutions.

    In 1748 Montesquieu stated the classic democratic doctrine on the importance of a representative assembly of lawmakers:

    The legislative power should reside in the whole body of the people. But since this is impossible in large states, and in small ones is subject to many inconveniences, it is fit the people should transact by their representatives what they cannot transact by themselves. (Montesquieu, 1748:154)

    The father of...

  6. 3 The Changing Legislature
    (pp. 37-57)

    If a citizen visited the capitol in St. Paul in 1989, a quarter of a century after last observing the Minnesota Legislature as part of a high school tour, there would seem to be little change. The sepulchral halls of Cass Gilbert’s gleaming Renaissance building still echo each footstep and voice, the grand marble stairs rise to the Senate chamber and the governor’s rooms, the bathrooms are hard to find. In their columned chambers, the representatives and senators would, except for the presence of more women, look about the same.

    The House has had 134 members, instead of 135, since...

  7. 4 The House of Representatives
    (pp. 58-100)

    As the members and leaders of the Minnesota House of Representatives have changed, so have the practices of the House. Though not part of the formal structure or rules, certain practices, customs, and folkways become norms of conduct that define the culture of the House.

    In this sense, the House is more than a formal constitutional body that is part of the government of the state. It also is a social organization, with a history, customs, and traditions that include but go well beyond the constitutional description. In the 24 years covered by this study, there were many changes in...

  8. 5 The Senate and Its Leadership
    (pp. 101-121)

    In some respects, the changes that swept Minnesota politics in the 1960s and 1970s had a greater impact on the Senate than on the House. In 1973, the Senate converted, politically, to a permanent liberal/DFL majority after 60 years of conservative control. Reapportionment reflecting the changing population distribution shifted the geographic balance in the Senate from rural domination to rough parity between rural and metropolitan districts.

    Organizationally, the caucus became a more important influence on the substance of legislation than during the nonpartisan period. The majority leader emerged from near obscurity to become a major figure in the legislative process....

  9. 6 The Third House: Conference Committees
    (pp. 122-152)

    Constitutionally, the Legislature consists of two separate houses, both of which must enact legislation in the same form for it to become law. For that to happen, an extraconstitutional institution had to be created to reconcile the inevitable differences that arise not only because the House and Senate are composed of different people, but also because they approach their legislative tasks in different ways. Although the steps in the process tend to parallel each other, the results often diverge in significant ways. The conference committee, made up of an equal number of members from each house, is the mechanism legislatures...

  10. 7 The Legislature at Work: Making Policy
    (pp. 153-196)

    A state legislature comes as close as any institution of representative government to being all things to all people. Because all members do not care deeply about all issues, it is possible for a few who are strongly concerned about some matters to gain an acquiescent majority. A legislature represents some interests well at times and ignores others; is open to some views and closed to others. It may rise to unexpected heights of responsibility or degenerate to shabby political infighting. It makes laws that settle controversies and enacts others that beget confusion and turmoil. Its debates and deliberations produce...

  11. 8 The Legislature at Work: Budgeting
    (pp. 197-223)

    Of all the work the Legislature does, none is more complex or more time consuming than enactment of the biennial budget for the state. Since the late seventies, the budget has been the primary focus of public attention on the Legislature, and taxing and spending have become the major subjects of dispute between the party caucuses in the Legislature.

    During the generation covered by this study, the fiscal environment of the state underwent a substantial change. Since the Floyd Olson administration during the Great Depression, Minnesota has been a “high-service” state. Both political parties were generally responsive to demands for...

  12. 9 Legislators at Work: How They View Their Jobs and Their Legislature
    (pp. 224-239)

    The work of the Legislature, as earlier chapters indicate, is complex, time consuming, and often controversial. Serving the Legislature places demands on members that are sometimes hard for citizens, who are concerned primarily with the legislative results, to appreciate. Turnover in recent years is in part a reflection of the extraordinary pressures of legislative service. Members frequently talk of “burnout.”

    Legislative service also has rewards: a sense of community service and accomplishment, enhancement of personal reputation and recognition, an opportunity to participate in important affairs of state. It sometimes is a stepping stone in a longer political career or to...

  13. 10 The Future of the State Legislature
    (pp. 240-266)

    This study began with a discussion of the basic functions of a legislature, expressed in political theory and developed through the centuries-long struggle to establish representative government. In describing the evolution of the Minnesota Legislature over the last generation and its patterns of leadership and behavior, we have reflected, in passing, on implications for those basic functions. It is now time to take stock of the Legislature as an institution, to assess how well the Legislature fulfills its functions, and to identify things that might be done to strengthen it. The objective is to stimulate debate and action so that...

  14. References
    (pp. 267-270)
  15. Interview Subjects
    (pp. 271-271)
  16. Index
    (pp. 272-278)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 279-279)