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Every session, the League of Minnesota Cities’ Gary Carlson works with the local government committee chairs to identify new lawmakers to carry “nuts and bolts” bills. (File photo: Bill Klotz)
Every session, the League of Minnesota Cities’ Gary Carlson works with the local government committee chairs to identify new lawmakers to carry “nuts and bolts” bills. (File photo: Bill Klotz)

Breaking the Ice: New lawmakers’ enthusiasm fuels cities’ veteran lobbyist

Name: Gary Carlson

Title: Intergovernmental relations director, League of Minnesota Cities

Education: B.S., political science, Gustavus Adolphus College

Gary Carlson has lobbied legislators on behalf of cities across the state for more than a quarter century as intergovernmental relations director for the League of Minnesota cities.

A big part of what keeps him going in that role, Carlson said, is the enthusiasm of freshman legislators.

“Everybody comes to St. Paul with an eager agenda to learn and make changes,” Carlson said. “It’s an honor to work with them.”

Every session, Carlson works with the local government committee chairs to identify new lawmakers to carry “nuts and bolts” bills for one or more of the nonpartisan league’s 853 cities. “Legislators from both sides of the aisle love it when we do this,” Carlson said.

Carlson attended his first session in 1983, working for the city of Minneapolis. He helped start the legislative practice at Briggs and Morgan’s downtown St. Paul office. He joined the league in 1991 and has been intergovernmental relations director since 1995.

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. Talk about politics. Although I love policy, I work in a political realm and politics is something that I very much enjoy working with, and working around the political system is always intriguing.

Q. Who was the first presidential candidate you voted for and why?

A. I voted for Jimmy Carter. Why, I can’t remember. I was raised in a very Republican family and there was something about his populist demeanor.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. On Twitter, I’ll report something and people respond back with hyper-partisan responses on both sides. The legislative process in my mind should not be that way it should be more of a problem-solving environment.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. My wife and I have always enjoyed sailing and especially wind surfing. I still love to do that. It’s something that we’ve done since we met in the early ’80s.

Q. How has an event or person inspired you?

A. One was the former city manager of the city of Mankato, Bill Bassett, who died this year. When I was considering coming here for a job I called him up knowing that he was a big critic and talked to him for a long time. He in the end strongly encouraged me to come to the league. He said the league could improve and you might be part of that change.

The other was our general counsel, Tom Grundhoefer, who passed away this year too. He was a super well-regarded individual.

One person I think I’ve worked with the most over the years is probably Sen. Ann Rest [DFL-New Hope]. She was the House tax chair for many years and is now serving on the Senate Taxes Committee. Frequently we don’t agree but we’ve always had a very respectful relationship.

Q. What would be one way to end partisan polarization?

A. I truly believe that the use of polls to try to figure out what people want to hear has contributed to the partisanship and has moved in some respects our leaders to followers. They tend to listen to the polls and try to do what they think people want to hear. … Get back to we elect people to be more educated on issues and to delve into those issues. That’s something that unfortunately most citizens don’t have the luxury and the time to do but that’s why we have a representative democracy.

Q. What is the highlight/lowlight of your daily commute to work?

A. If I ride straight from St. Louis Park to here, about a 32-mile round trip. In the summer months, I’m a very early riser so I get up and I usually go out right around sunrise and I’ll do a 40- or 45-mile morning ride and usually ride straight home after work. I probably ride 50 to 60 miles a day in the summer. It gives me a chance to think and exercise. Last year I rode just under 15,000 miles.

 

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