The governor brought dessert bars to create a quintessential Minnesota welcome for the newest legislative leader, Sen. Susan Kent, a Democrat from Woodbury, who becomes the first woman to lead the Senate Democrats. “We want to make sure that every voice has a seat at the table, that everyone is heard,” said Sen. Kent at the Forum Communications annual session briefing.

Kent ousted Iron Ranger Tom Bakk, something not lost on Iron Range Republican and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka. “They’re frustrated having their leader removed from power, but that is the nature of this place,” he said.

But, for the first time in Minnesota’s political history, the majority of leaders at this table are women. “Thank you for noting that. I think there’s a great story here. I want to congratulate Senator Kent being the first woman to lead that caucus. That speaks volumes to you bringing that voice, especially from our suburbs,” said Gov. Walz.

With legislative leaders gathered at Twin Cities PBS for our Community Conversations event, we began with a discussion about the partisan political climate. We noted that people had recently watched a State of the Union after which the House Speaker tore up a  copy of the speech, and the President refused to shake a hand. So we asked Minnesota leaders, “How do we keep that dysfunction in D.C. from permeating our state and our reputation as a place in which government works?”

“Government still does work in Minnesota,” Sen. Gazelka responded.

Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman added, “It’s important for people to differentiate between politics and partisanship, where we reject an idea just because it came from a Democrat or Republican.”

Republicans who control the Senate want to spend the current billion-dollar surplus on tax cuts, especially for social security income. Democrats who control the House want the extra funds for school counselors and early childhood education. Issues surrounding equity and how to address the achievement gap in education are shared priorities for a short session full of high hopes. In the end, the top priority this session is a bonding bill for state construction projects that should run at least $1 billion. Lawmakers and the governor have spent months traveling the state to see the projects first-hand before they convene February 11th.

For ongoing coverage of the 2020 legislative session, tune into Almanac at the Capitol, which airs Wednesdays on TPT MN at 7 pm and on TPT2 at 10 pm.

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With a projected $1.3 billion budget surplus, Minnesota’s economic health looks rosy. Almanac’s Mary Lahammer reports on what lawmakers would like to do with that money. Hint: There’s a difference in opinion. 

In the wake of news about the state’s budget surplus, one issue remains true: Minnesota’s infrastructure is aging, and several projects across the state could benefit from bonding money. Mary Lahammer accompanied lawmakers on a trip to southern Minnesota to learn more about the area’s needs.

Breaking with tradition, Gov. Tim Walz went on his own bonding tour in 2019. Even though his $1.27 billion proposed bonding bill didn’t achieve the necessary supermajority to pass in 2019, he says that this year’s bill will be even bigger.