Back to the Sep-Oct 2020 issue

At the Legislature: Some Things Remain the Same During Uncertain Times

By Ann Lenczewski

Minnesota State CapitolWith the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, it often feels as though everything at the state Capitol, including the work of the Minnesota Legislature in the 2020 session, has changed.

As you work hard running your cities and bringing your best judgment to thousands of decisions you need to make, it can feel like we live in completely unstable and volatile times. And while many, many things have changed dramatically, not everything has changed. In this time of great upheaval, it is nice to know some things stay the same.

Autumn brings much needed downtime

Legislators, legislative staff, state agency commissioners and employees, Gov. Tim Walz, the governor’s staff, lobbyists, and all those who work at the Capitol need time to decompress and rest following the 2020 regular legislative session and special sessions.

This fall, everyone who works at the Capitol, including the amazing League of Minnesota Cities intergovernmental relations staff, will need to take breaks, spend time with their families, and recuperate. While incredibly responsive and knowledgeable, every player in the process needs some time to refuel.

Election Day is legislators’ real deadline

Election Day for every single Minnesota legislator in both the House of Representatives and the Senate is just 56 days from Labor Day. On Nov. 3, 2020, all 201 legislators are on the ballot.

From the public’s perspective, the campaign season is beginning. But from the perspective of state legislators, their campaigns are entering the final phase. Republicans and Democrats alike have been campaigning, raising money, interacting with voters via Zoom and phone calls, running online campaign advertisements, and mailing out campaign literature.

Legislators know that their entire body of work is up for a vote by Minnesotans. Legislators will showcase accomplishments of the divided Legislature. Their opponents will point out perceived failures. While often frustrating to the public when all legislative work is not completed, elected office is one of few jobs in which tens of thousands of voters weigh in on whether the incumbents will keep their jobs.

Elections still matter to cities

As always, the fall elections will matter. The Senate majority is held by only a two-member margin. The House and Senate majorities are widely expected to be heavily influenced by how suburban Minnesotans vote.

As you likely know, rural Minnesota is represented overwhelmingly by Republican legislators. Alternatively, the first and second-ring suburbs, along with Minneapolis and St. Paul, are represented overwhelmingly by Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) legislators. This means that suburban voters in the second and third-ring suburbs will largely determine the majorities in both the Senate and House.

Additionally, while the Legislature has a huge impact on local governments, many cities will be running the elections and will also have local candidates on the ballot.

Next year will bring a lot of new legislators

Even if the House majority remains DFL and the Senate majority remains Republican, we will have many new legislators. In the House, 16 legislators chose not to run again and announced their retirements. And four senators did the same.

When the 2021 legislative session convenes, there will be a minimum of 20 new legislators, likely far more.

Building relationships continues to be critical

As always, connecting with your own legislators on a regular basis is a best practice. Your effectiveness and ability to receive assistance from legislators grows when you invest time in building these relationships.

An easy thing to do right now is make a quick phone call or send a text or email. Reaching out to check in is always time well-spent.

Invite your local legislators to make a report at a city council meeting or invite them to a more casual work study meeting. These are excellent ways to grow your city’s ability to work together with your legislative delegation.

For city officials living through rapid change and disruption, it is nice to know that some things stay the same. It’s not easy, but your efforts in leading your communities through this time and continuing to provide key services and a high quality of life is much appreciated by your residents.

Ann Lenczewski is a state government relations consultant with the law firm of Lockridge Grindal Nauen (www.locklaw.com). Lockridge Grindal Nauen is a member of the League’s Business Leadership Council (www.lmc.org/sponsors).