When members of the legislature first come to St Paul, their lives change dramatically. They now have staff people at their beck and call, people they have never met before seek meetings with them to share compelling stories and ask for assistance, and lobbyists for various interests become the nicest of people and seek their opinions, while at the same time are merely picking their brains and accessing whether or not this newbie will be an asset or an obstacle.
As the legislature has entered into its third month, and the first bill hearing deadline, March 10th, approaches normally the fevered pitch accelerates, but this session, is different. It has been a full tilt boogie from the start.
Especially, the rural members, who live in bucolic communities across the state and now travel to St Paul to represent their communities and run directly into the thresher of the political system. This is the reason the need for caution. The agendas of the large agricultural interests, especially, those in the commodity industries are constantly proposing concepts that sound good on their face and denigrate the Twin Cities are an evil entity contrary to the concerns of Greater Minnesota. While encouraging legislators to remember where they are from and facilitating lobby days, theses groups facilitate a tromp of constituents to descend on the State Capitol. They carry handouts and talking points into meetings with their respective elected officials offices, merely to advance the interests of those who brought them to the Capitol City.
Every person talked to wants something and with a $17.5 billion surplus, there are plenty of leftovers to go around. The Governor has his priorities, the respective caucuses and political parties have theirs and again the lobbyists are always present in the hallways and corridors to render a salutation with a bright smile, and often a bill to sign.
If a member goes from being a journeyman member to a chair of a committee, their value in the eyes of the lobbyist elevates substantially. A freshman or even a sophomore member in the majority will see a substantial amount of increased attention, especially in light of the 2019-2022 COVID sessions when the regular order of business was far different. It’s a dramatic departure from Zoom to face-to-face meetings and harder not to commit when a constituent poses a request.
It may seem innocuous, but it’s not its intentional. Lobbying is an industry, and this industry has an intention and its is to advance the monied interests that pay large sums of money to peddle influence. Every legislator new or old should be suspect of every person who darkens their door. In fact, we recommend the following, legislators and their staff should keep a list of the various people and interests who call upon the members when they are in the minority, versus those who seek and audience when the same are in the majority and they will find a vast difference.
Each legislator should consider what the agenda of the people they meet with is and vet their concerns with colleagues, especially those with experience in the specific subject area, especially ones who have been in the majority before. The best resource for DFL Senators in this case is DFL Representatives, and in the case of Republican Representatives it is Republican Senators. Now, we understand this may seem to be counter to the institutional culture, but it is sage advice.
As lobbyists seek to pick-off various members, they are focused on their mission as established by those who are paying and if it is the Chamber of Commerce, the Farm Bureau, the AgriGrowth Council, the Pork Producers, the Turkey Growers, and alike. All should be suspect. The interests of the industry are far from the interests of the constituent farmers, except if the interest is a cooperative, because then the farmer is actually getting a better price for their commodity.
It is standard practice on the floor of the respective legislative chambers not to question the motivations of a fellow member, but in the case of the petitioners their motivations should always be suspect, especially when they stem from a significant, monied special interest.