In 11 nonconsecutive terms as a DFL legislator going back to 1977, Sen. Linda Scheid has made a name for herself as a highly knowledgeable and instinctually bipartisan legislator with an independent streak. Long before legislators were chanting “jobs, jobs, jobs” in unison, Scheid cast moderate, pro-business votes that sometimes raised eyebrows among fellow DFLers.
Former Minnesota House Speaker Bob Vanasek, who was a colleague of Scheid’s when she served in that chamber, recalled a time in 1987 when Scheid and former Rep. Tom Osthoff were ousted from the House Taxes Committee by Speaker Fred Norton because they voted against the tax bill. When Vanasek became speaker in June that year, he quickly appointed her back to Taxes. Vanasek said Scheid’s moderate views and her insistence on policies that promote the health of business were essential to the caucus’ strength.
“Labor had their voices in the caucus,” Vanasek recalled. “Other liberal groups had their voices in the caucus. She was one who you should listen to, because she had a suburban voice and she kept us from veering off a moderate-to-liberal course. I used to tell my more liberal members, you have to keep in mind that it is the more conservative members of the caucus that get us in the majority. When you’re in the majority, you can advance the agenda.”
Scheid announced last week that she has entered hospice care at her Brooklyn Park home and that she has discontinued treatment for the ovarian cancer with which she was first diagnosed in 2005.
The news has already brought a sense of loss to many current and former regulars at the Capitol.
According to legislative leaders like Vanasek and former Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, Scheid has balanced her dual identities as a Democrat and an economic development booster. She spoke up regularly for market principles, but she remained very interested in regulatory affairs as well. Among her legislative achievements, she counted significant insurance fraud legislation; after the economic collapse of 2008, she spoke ruefully of taking bankers at their word about the capital ratios supporting their loan portfolios.
In the 2009-10 Politics in Minnesota Directory, Scheid described herself as a free market capitalist but added, “That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t vote for a tax increase. I would. But I want to know what it’s being used for and if it’s being used well.”
In achieving significant legislation in several policy areas, Scheid has been known throughout her career for balancing the concerns of multiple interests in complicated legislation. In matters of business and insurance policy, she has been a pivotal voice in debates that were fiercely contested by trial lawyers and insurers. Capitol watchers have witnessed her work for years on major legislation related to tort reform and other issues that has ultimately won passage with bipartisan support.
“When I worked with her, and watching her over the years,” Moe said, “she was a skilled legislator in that she understood that you always have to find common ground. She was very skilled at finding the area where everybody could stand and claim some victory. That’s not something all members bring.”
Before coming to the Legislature, Scheid taught English in Ethiopia as a Peace Corps volunteer. She was also active in the League of Women Voters and Mrs. Jaycees.
Scheid’s early House elections found her running in a series of contests against Independent-Republican Rep. Bill Schreiber. She first challenged Schreiber in 1974 in a year when Republicans were damaged by the Watergate scandal. But Schreiber, it turned out, was one Republican who held onto his seat in the year of the Nixon backlash. Two years later, in the presidential election that saw Jimmy Carter win the White House, Scheid beat Schreiber by more than 12 percentage points.
Then, two years later, Schreiber won back the seat in the so-called “Minnesota Massacre” election that followed DFL Gov. Wendell Anderson’s scheme to get himself named to Walter Mondale’s U.S. Senate seat. The set-to ended only after the 1982 round of redistricting, which put them up for different seats. Scheid won hers by prevailing in a contested primary and an election night blowout.
Afterward, Scheid and Schreiber became House colleagues. “What was enjoyable about working with Linda is that she always put her community first,” remembered Schreiber, who is now a contract lobbyist with the firm of Messerli & Kramer.
A break from the Legislature
Scheid served in the House until November 1991, when she resigned to become vice president of community affairs with Burnet Realty. In her time away from the Legislature, she stayed involved in politics by managing Darlene Luther’s successful state House campaign. Then, in 1996, she ran against Republican incumbent Sen. Don Kramer and was elected to the Senate with a 10-point margin.
Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, was a legislative assistant for Scheid when she took office in the Senate. Hilstrom had been a Brooklyn Center City Council member but was a new face at the Capitol when she started working for Scheid. She spent three years as Scheid’s assistant until she chose to run for the House.
“Sen. Scheid was an inspiration,” Hilstrom recalled this week. “She started off as a mentor.… She was bipartisan all the time. She worked well with others. She believed one of the ways to be good as a legislator is to be good to your staff.”
Scheid served on education committees when she first entered the Senate. Hilstrom noted that Scheid represented four school districts that reflected many of the challenges facing schools in Minnesota.
“She really saw our area as a microcosm of the entire state,” Hilstrom said. “We really had all the issues that were going on. She got the big picture of education.”
On another policy front, while serving in the House, Scheid chaired the Elections Division of the General Legislation Committee. In 1990 she was the chief author of major campaign finance legislation that created the political contribution refund program.
In 2003 Scheid became chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which became the platform for her most far-reaching accomplishments as a legislator.
From her work in the private sector and her years of experience as a legislator, Scheid brought a level of knowledge about the policy nuances of insurance and financial services that has been virtually unrivaled in the Legislature, said Insurance Federation of Minnesota President Bob Johnson.
“All I can tell you is I’ve got 30 years of lobbying experience, and I’ve worked with legislators of all stripes,” Johnson said. “Through the years she’s [been] unique because of her substantive knowledge. She digs into the details that few do. It’s a unique skill set that’s allowed her to be very effective in that process. When Sen. Scheid would work on a bill, you had an enormous plus on your side.”
In her years working on commerce issues, Scheid has registered several notable accomplishments.
She was the chief author of legislation that created an insurance fraud division in the Department of Commerce. She was also chief author of the last major round of tort reform, which created joint severability laws in Minnesota, Johnson said.
In 2007 and 2008, insurers and trial lawyers stirred up a tempest of controversy concerning so-called good faith legislation that dealt with the conditions in which an insurance company can deny claims and damages that policyholders can win if the insurer knowingly lacked a credible basis for denying the claim. Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a compromise bill in April 2008.
Scheid also failed on some prized initiatives through the years. She worked for years to reform the no-fault auto insurance laws. She was lead author of the ongoing effort to allow wine sales in grocery stores, which has been opposed by the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association.
In the 2011 session, she pulled off a victory with the passage of the so-called “Surly” tap room bill. She also worked with Republicans on tort reform legislation, Johnson said.
Beyond her involvement in policy debates, Scheid has been known throughout her career as a collegial legislator who ran a committee in a way that fostered fruitful policy discussion.
“There’s no question,” Johnson said. “If you talk to Republican and Democratic senators, that was one of the best committees to serve on because of their chair.”