Three GOP newcomers to the Minnesota Senate create headaches for DFL majority Star Tribune

Its long-standing tradition of respect and civil debate has been overturned this year by Republican Newcomers, who’re causing trouble for members of the Democratic majority and pushing debates for long periods of time.

Republican senators. Steve Drazkowski, Glenn Gruenhagen and Eric Lucero rose to speak at least 50 times each in a debate lasting 15 hours on an abortion law that would be codified in state law. They repeatedly calling Democrats the legislation calling it “extreme.” The Senate debate lasted almost four times the time of the House’s, despite being home to half as many lawmakers.

Former House members, who are known for their lengthy and sometimes dramatic speeches have also rebuked Senate Democrats for legislation that reinstated felons’ vote rights, permitted illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licences and also required state utilities to become carbon-free by 2040.

“When I witness things that are viscerally and fundamentally opposed, not just by me but also my constituents, I consider it an invitation to me to act,” said Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa. “The political agenda they’re bringing is actually fundamentally in opposition of the people who brought me to this place.”

The Republican newcomers aren’t planning of slowing down, they say. Senate Democrats have an extremely narrow majority of just one seat to push through progressive legislation that conservative Minnesotans aren’t in favor of.

Their outspoken and passionate style has taken several DFL senators off from being on.

“The Republicans who were in the House which ran for Senate were known for their lengthy speeches. This isn’t a norm in the Senate and it’s taken the Senate some time to adjust to the custom,” said Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope who has been a member of the Minnesota Legislature for more than four years. “I’m one of those who wishes they were more precise in their remarks.”

Rest was recently dissuaded Lucero when she was presided on the Senate as a temporary president and told the Republican the senator “had taken a step out of the norm” during a floor discussion regarding the driver’s license bill.

“I do not intend to let you take 10 minutes to speak before you are able to answer the point of asking a question.” Rest said. “Don’t do it again.”

Lucero exclaimed back: “I’m not intending to examine you. I’m not trying to press you to do anything,” he said. “It might have taken me about 10 minutes to finish my point but it’s totally legitimate.”

Lucero is a cybersecurity professional who hails from St. Michael, has been a well-known adversary of Democrats. He claims that his inclination to making lengthy speeches stems from drinking “too many cups of coffee” and also his previous experiences teaching cybersecurity classes at colleges.

While Lucero may frustrate his DFL colleagues however, he also entertains his colleagues with his “colorful” personal style and clothes. The Republican has worn a variety of brightly colored and printed suit jackets during his eight years in the State Capitol.

A black jacket is decorated with pink and purple flower petals, Lucero recently asked Rest during a floor-based discussion, “What would be an appropriate jacket to Mardi Gras?”

“Funny that you should inquire about this,” Rest responded. “We’re going to hold the drawing of an boa one, a feather boa that’s with Mardi Gras colors, and I’m going to urge all those who are who is given the form to put Senator Lucero’s names on the slip.”

In a joke the joke aside, Senate Majority Leader Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato said that the lengthy speeches and numerous attempts to modify bills at the last minute could prevent the Senate from accomplishing its mission.

“Senate leadership concerns concern the pressure on staff, specifically non-partisan staff, when you’re having long floor sessions that include more than 100 amendments” Frentz said. “We’re worried about committee hearings and other tasks that could be put off or cancelled in the event that the time needed in the floor is longer than what it is.”

Frentz and Rest stated that they were the three Republicans aren’t as vocal in hearings in legislative committees as they do on more closely-watched Senate floor.

Lucero and Gruenhagen are members of the Frentz’s Energy, Utilities, Environment and Climate Committee. Drazkowski is an active part of the Taxes Committee that Rest leads.

“Senator Drazkowski is an excellent participant” for the Taxes Committee, Rest noted.

Drazkowski who runs an outlet for shoes, often uses campaign-style snark at Democrats in Senate debates. The same thing happened during an interview stating that Democratic state legislators have been pushing this time around the “most radical agenda that comes from the left-wing radicals that I’ve witnessed.”

Senate DFLers have demonstrated little willingness to collaborate with Republicans during the current legislature, Drazkowski said, criticizing the DFLers for not allowing more amending bills proposed by GOP members.

“It’s like they’re enforcing laws using earplugs.” Drazkowski said.

Gruenhagen also expressed his displeasure in an email statement in which he expressed his disappointment that there has been “very very little political bipolarity” within the Senate.

A representative from the insurance industry in Glencoe, Gruenhagen said he does not say “about five percent of what I’d like to speak” when he is on the Senate floor. He believes in vigorous debate and cites his belief in the “Founding Fathers and the several hours they spent discussing important issues.”

“We have a variety of suggestions to table in behalf of our constituents” he stated.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, has said that the three new senators bring new energy into the Senate GOP caucus that is now in the minority of political opinion at the beginning of the year for the first time in a long time.

“It’s been a good learning experience to us” Johnson said. However, “We have to turn it into an elitist manner of conduct.”