ST. PAUL (WCCO) — It’s day one of the 2011 Minnesota Legislative Session and there are a lot of new faces at the State Capitol this year.
What happened for the start of the sessions is very rare in politics and government — a complete, and unexpected, turnover of power from one party to the other.
Minnesota has its first-ever republican House and Senate with a Democrat holding the governor’s seat for the first time in two decades.
Even before the gavel came down at noon, the 2011 session is special. A new republican majority, and a new young speaker of the house, who asked Minnesotans to send him their best ideas.
“Whether you’re a snowplow driver, whether you’re a sandwich artist or whether you are the top saleswoman earning the highest commission in your company, we need your ideas,” said Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers.
This might be the only day of the year when Minnesota’s new lawmakers are smiling against a backdrop of a crushing deficit.
The 2011 session began with a glimmer of hope and a promise to taxpayers.
“We will respect and treat every one of your dollars that you send to us with the same common sense and the same frugality that you all spend when you do it around your kitchen table,” said Zellers.
In the House and Senate, there are 60 new members, which is an unusually large freshman class.
Among the new faces is a combat wounded Iraqi war vet.
“My boys and my wife have been so supportive,” said Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage.
Kriesel lost both his legs to a bomb blast in Iraq. With his family at the Capitol, he says running for office was as challenging as learning how to walk on artificial limbs.
“Four years ago I didn’t know if I was going to live, laying there in Iraq. And then coming back, recovering, working hard,” said Kriesel. “And then I never thought I was gonna run for office and I did, and I worked hard, and I won.”
For newly-elected State Rep. Joe McDonald, it was a family affair at the Capitol. He’s following in the footsteps of his father, former Rep. K.J. McDonald, both republicans.
“Over and above that, even. Conservative republicans,” said the elder McDonald.
“He wouldn’t allow me to be anything other than that,” added the younger.
“He was a conservative republican in his mother’s womb,” joked the elder McDonald.
For many legislators, the first day of the session is like the first day of school. The new Senate majority leader warned of tough assignments and lots of hard work ahead.
“Over the course of this session I am certain that we will have agreements and we have differences. But I am also certain that we already share many of the same goals for our state,” said Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch.
Koch was selected as the first female majority leader in the Senate and during her first speech noted the famous statue of the golden horses high above the Capitol entrance.
“My favorite part of the statue is that chariot, the man on it and the four horses are being guided by what else? Two women,” she said.
WCCO-TV’s Pat Kessler Reports On WCCO 4 News At 6
WCCO-TV’s Pat Kessler Reports On WCCO 4 News At 5