WORTHINGTON -- Seated together at a table in the Nobles County Government Center Friday morning, state legislators Jim Vickerman, Doug Magnus and Rod Hamilton looked and acted like brothers in a happy family. But after shaking hands warmly and expressing the need to dispense with partisanship, the junior lawmaker of the threesome expressed some reservations.
"I have made some bold predictions to others, based on what I've seen in the last two years," said Hamilton, the Republican District 22B freshman representative from Mountain Lake. "In '04 it was a stalemate, in '05 it was a stalemate. I've always been a glass-is-half-full kind of guy. But based on the last two years, I'm skeptical."
In March, another legislative session will begin in St. Paul, and the three southwest Minnesota lawmakers -- two of them Republican and the other a DFLer -- promised cooperation regardless of what happens in the full Legislative body. District 22A Rep. Magnus, R-Slayton, remarked that he is proud of the friendly cooperation that has characterized his dealings with Vickerman and Hamilton up to this point, and that he expects it to continue. All three leaders seemed to agree as they spoke at the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Breakfast that they share many positions important to rural constituents.
"If we can't get along, metro Minnesota will take over and rural Minnesota won't be able to get anything done," said Vickerman, the veteran DFL senator from Tracy who chairs the Agriculture, Veterans and Gaming Committee.
Vickerman embraced change Friday morning, calling for a return to the days when conference committees determined the makeup of bills rather than party leaders. Magnus touted a new group he is involved with, called the "I-90" group, consisting of rural legislators across the southern tier of Minnesota who believe there is strength in numbers.
Magnus said the coalition will focus heavily on bioscience, an area where Worthington is emerging as a leader in the state and region.
"It's a bipartisan group. And we've even invited the Senate to participate," Magnus mused. "I've been really surprised at how well we've been able to stick together."
Hamilton agreed, pointing out that the bickering in St. Paul is less pronounced between Republicans and Democrats than it is between metro and rural legislators.
"This I-90 group is refreshing. We have Republicans and we have Democrats, and we have senators, and we're all finding common ground," he said.
While partaking of rolls and coffee in front of a large gathering of Worthington area residents, the three legislators addressed several state issues. Among them:
l Transportation. Vickerman promised that the long-delayed Minnesota 60 project will get finished. He, along with Magnus and Hamilton, agreed to work for a change in the language of a proposed constitutional amendment devoting 100 percent of motor vehicle sales tax (MVST) money to transportation. The measure calling for no less than 40 percent set aside for transit and no more than 60 percent devoted to highways needs to be spelled out more precisely, they said. Vickerman said the amendment will not pass in its present form.
l Stadiums. Vickerman is co-author of a bill to construct a new stadium for the Minnesota Gophers. He said that he was told a Vikings stadium bill "would never get out of the House," and he holds out little hope of a new Twins stadium being approved. Hamilton said it is his belief that the Twins will be sold soon, with the new ownership strongly considering a move out of the state.
l Bonding and economic growth. Magnus said the state may pass a bonding bill at least twice as large -- possibly for $950 million -- as what was considered a year ago. He also plugged Suzlon, the wind turbine construction site in Pipestone that is still being built. Suzlon has already received orders for two years, he said, adding, "They're already looking at expanding. The plant's not even up yet."
l Health and Human Services. Hamilton and Magnus said its growth must be reigned in. Hamilton said it is unfair to take money from Minnesota taxpayers to pay for people who are only entering the state for its generous welfare benefits. Said Magnus, "We have got to make reforms there or find some other way to get more money in there. Somebody's going to get hurt. But we can't continue to delay and delay it."