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On Tuesday, June 21, Politics in Minnesota/Capitol Report presented its second annual Leaders in Public Policy awards in a ceremony at the St. Paul Hotel. The event, which was once again sponsored by Best & Flanagan, drew some 140 people from all walks of Capitol life to eat, drink, schmooze—and, most importantly, to celebrate the accomplishments of an exceptional cast of public policy advocates.

Leaders in Public Policy 2011 – Special Section

A time to remember and to celebrate

On Tuesday, June 21, Politics in Minnesota/Capitol Report presented its second annual Leaders in Public Policy awards in a ceremony at the St. Paul Hotel. The event, which was once again sponsored by Best & Flanagan, drew some 140 people from all walks of Capitol life to eat, drink, schmooze—and, most importantly, to celebrate the accomplishments of an exceptional cast of public policy advocates.

In case you weren’t able to be with us, we’re proud to present photos and biographical sketches of the winners honored that evening, who were selected by an independent panel of judges from the ranks of nominees submitted by readers of PIM. It was a more than welcome respite from the partisan pins and needles of this year’s protracted Capitol budget fight – and a great party besides. Check out Peter Bartz-Galagher’s event photos at our website: politicsinminnesota.com/lipp2011

When DFL Senator Linda Scheid went public about her ovarian cancer during a health care bill debate in 2007, she apologized for making the issue personal. “But I think I’m probably speaking for a lot of people out there,” the mother of two added.

During a generation of legislative service that began in the 1970s, Scheid spoke for her constituents on a number of issues, including funding for public schools, disability issues, property tax reform, crime prevention, job creation, elections, transportation funding and health care.

As a volunteer for the Peace Corps in Ethiopia during the 1960s, Scheid found her calling to public service. Brooklyn Park voters sent her to House in 1976. She served there again from ’83 to ’91, and later received a degree from William Mitchell College of Law. Her career in the Senate began in 1996 and saw her rise ultimately to the position of Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee chair, which she regarded as a highlight of her long and varied legislative tenure.

As a key player in the passage of the 2011 “Surly Bill,” Scheid’s negotiating skills were apparent. Attempts to change the state’s liquor laws have brought bitter fights in the Capitol, but Scheid made concessions to the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, amending her legislation to restrict the number of taprooms a brewer can have in the state to one. The change ameliorated MLBA’s hard-line opposition to the bill, which passed with broad bipartisan support.

Along with allowing small brewers to sell pints of their beer at destination breweries, the law permits the state to issue licenses to racetracks, private nonprofit colleges and farm wineries so they can sell liquor at a county fair. Bed-and-breakfast establishments may now seek a license to serve Minnesota-produced beer in their establishments.

Scheid, 68, announced June 3 that she would forgo any further chemotherapy and enter hospice care. Her battle with cancer had begun in 1999, when doctors had to remove a growth in her kidney. The Brooklyn Park senator succumbed to the cancer on June 15, surrounded by family members. She left an indelible mark on Minnesota politics.

It’s difficult to look past the immediate realities of a $5 billion budget deficit. But in the 2011 session, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce did just that, working in a new political environment to successful lobby for bipartisan measures.

This session, the Chamber established itself as a player in education policy. The state’s largest business lobby looked in part to a 2010 Georgetown University study to articulate its education priorities; the study states that nearly 70 percent of Minnesota’s workforce will require some form of higher education in the next decade. Currently, under half of Minnesota’s adults have a higher education.

The Chamber worked with a bipartisan coalition to pass an alternative licensure measure that establishes a preparation program for K-12 teachers. The program allows individuals to acquire a two-year limited license in preparation for earning a standard Minnesota teaching license. Another Chamber-promoted education policy likewise attracted support from both DFLers and Republicans: a measure to require K-12 teachers to pass their basic skills test before entering classrooms.

The Chamber, working with a DFL governor for the first time in nearly two decades, also helped draft an executive order that streamlines environmental permitting, establishing a 150-day goal for the state to issue permits and allowing appeals of permitting decisions to go directly to an appeals court, as opposed to district court.  Businesses are pleased that they now have the option to draft their own environmental impact statements, with the final approval of those permits resting on the responsible state agencies or units of local government.

Kyle Makarios discovered his interest in union politics while flipping pizza at Red’s Savoy in St. Paul. He was just a college kid then, studying history at Macalester College.

Since then, he has become an outspoken advocate for labor, serving as the political director for the Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council, the Minneapolis Central Labor Union Council of the AFL-CIO and, most recently, the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters.

But he also understands business. Makarios’ priorities entering the 2011 session revolved around job creation and construction. Although he’s disappointed with many of the year’s legislative outcomes, there were bright spots, including the expediting of the environmental permitting process and a measure that allows municipalities and cities more flexibility in their use of tax increment financing. As a result of the TIF provision, developers and cities will be able to move forward with projects that will put construction workers, who are experiencing record unemployment, back on the job.

The passionate labor advocate is also a family man. He lives in St. Paul, where his daughter and son keep him busy. During Minnesota’s lengthy winters, Makarios spends as much time as he can manage on the state’s ski hills.

One of the more memorable moments of the 2011 session was freshman GOP Rep. John Kriesel’s speech dissenting against his party’s push for the same-sex marriage ballot initiative. On the House floor, the Iraq veteran confided that he probably would have voted for the measure five years ago. But his military service changed his view. Kriesel’s friend and fellow service member—who was gay—died fighting with him.

The story of Staff Sgt. Kriesel’s wartime service was already a familiar one when the session began, thanks in part to the well-received memoir he authored, “Still Standing: The Story of SSG John Kriesel,” which has garnered prizes and national media attention since its 2010 release.

Four years ago, Kriesel was on a routine patrol in Fallujah when a blast from a 200-pound improvised explosive devise took the lives of two of his friends and cost him the lower portion of both his legs. Determined to enter public service, the husband and father of two campaigned tirelessly, wearing out his Segway and a prosthetic leg in campaigning door to door.

At the Capitol, Kriesel serves on the Veterans Services Division, the Capital Investment Committee and the Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee — along with the Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee. Kriesel established his bona fides as an independent voice early on, voting against his party’s first budget bill in January. He also helped to raise the profile of Capitol gambling expansion efforts by publicly supporting a Block E casino proposal.

Outside the Capitol, the Cottage Grove resident keeps busy as a private marketing and advertising contractor to Minnesota’s Army National Guard. A confirmed sports junkie, Kriesel is also a past regular on the Power Trip Morning Radio Show on KFAN-AM 1130.

Minnesota has long been considered a vanguard state in its pioneering of programs benefiting people with developmental disabilities. In the 1950s, reforms led Minnesota to close state-run institutions and begin creating community-based services for those affected.

The current safety net supporting the disabled, however, remains embroiled in a complex set of federal, state and county regulations.

Last summer, eyeing the impending budget deficit, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota — the state’s largest nonprofit social service organization — began exploring new ways of delivering state services to people with disabilities. A five-month effort led to a plan called My Life, My Choices. Its aim is to let recipients and their family members have more say in the services they receive and more freedom to handle financial support on their own. Under the plan, unnecessary overhead services and unnecessary meetings with the people who administer them could be eliminated. Lutheran Social Service believes that under its plan, developmentally disabled Minnesotans would have more independence.

During the session, Lutheran Social Service enrolled chairs of the Senate and House Health and Human Service Budget Committees. They passed bills, which drew bipartisan support, providing for more flexibility of consumer choice for people with disabilities. Next year, a My Life, My Choices task force could convene. The third bill that came out of the initiative authorized three state agencies working with the disabled to turn toward a performance-based model.

As the state’s health and human service programs face cuts, it’s refreshing to see a proposal with the potential to save state money through the elimination of bureaucracy. That’s why Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota earned the Public Policy Achievement Award in health.

What began as a coalition of labor, business and environmental advocates ended with an executive order that pleases all three, thanks to Lynn Hinkle and John Kearney.

The two brought together stakeholders like Honeywell and AFL-CIO to work with the governor on the order, which directed state agencies to identify and make energy improvements in the state’s 30 million square feet of public facilities by allowing municipalities, school districts and other entities to use guaranteed energy savings contracts to pay for the cost of installing energy-efficient retrofits. “You don’t even have to make the argument that greenhouse gas emissions are real,” says Kearney. “We just said we need to focus on saving the state money and making buildings efficient.”

The policy stands to benefit a construction industry still reeling from a sluggish housing market by putting contractors to work. Hinkle and Kearney had looked to Pennsylvania for the policy, where Gov. Ed Rendell signed an order in 2000 creating a similar program. It’s helped that state save an estimated $640 million and created 11,000 jobs. “I believe people looked at this and said ‘This has got a real chance to deliver,’” says Kearney. “It’s not an untested mechanism.”

This is familiar territory for the duo. As policy directors at the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association, they had the contacts with solar installers, contractors and Minnesota’s energy service companies to get the job done.

At age 14, Omar Ansari would have violated Minnesota’s underage liquor law when he had his first beer. But he was in Munich, at one of the world’s most famous breweries, the Hofbräuhaus. Years later, the president of Surly Brewing Co. — one of the fastest-growing breweries in the state — would convince lawmakers to enact one of the most significant changes to the state’s liquor policy in decades.

The new law permits Ansari to erect a Hofbräuhaus of his own in Minnesota. It changed a long-observed three-tier system that strictly separated the roles of brewers, distributors and retailers — thus forbidding breweries from distributing their own beer. Making use of a marketing strategy the company had already mastered, Surly took to social media outlets to fight for the bill, urging its thousands of followers to pressure their legislators to support the legislation. Lawmakers heard testimony from those supporters about their respect for craft beer. The bill attracted broad bipartisan support in both chambers and became one of the few bipartisan highlights of a legislative session marked by polarization on most fronts.

Ansari himself testified that the creation of a destination brewery would allow Surly to distribute its beers more widely, giving the state more tax revenues. And plans are under way for the company’s $20 million facility — for which several cities have been competing. It will increase Surly’s brewing capacity to 100,000 barrels.  Unsurprisingly, fans of the craft beer maker have already celebrated. After the bill passed, the company issued a proclamation on Facebook: “We overcame a challenge together and changed a 78-year-old law,” it declared. “Now let’s party!”

In 2011, Cullen Sheehan found himself working in a political environment that he has never encountered before: newly elected GOP majorities in both chambers of the Minnesota Legislature. He has managed the new territory well. After being tapped to run Tom Emmer’s gubernatorial bid in a 2010 race that would go down to the wire, Sheehan quickly transitioned to a new post as chief of staff for the Senate Republican majority. His tasks during the transition ranged from the mundane to the complex. The longtime politico could be seen moving boxes to the new offices he assigned even as he settled down to the task of teaching a freshman class of legislators the intricacies of lawmaking.

Sheehan’s calm demeanor works well in dealing the diverse — and often strong — personalities of the senators, and his colleagues turn to him as a voice of composure when the atmosphere is tense. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Democrat say they don’t like Cullen Sheehan,” says Mike Campbell, director of the Senate Victory Fund, who worked with Sheehan in then-Mayor Norm Coleman’s office at St. Paul City Hall. “You never see him ruffled. He’s an impossible guy not to like.”

Sheehan has the experience to match the job. After graduating from Saint Mary’s University in Winona with a degree in political science, he was knocking on doors for a campaign. He has worked with the U.S. Senate campaigns of Norm Coleman and Tim Michels of Wisconsin and has served as a political director for the Republican National Committee.

When Sheehan is away from the noise of the Capitol, he is liable to be making some noise of his own as an accomplished jazz drummer. And the Winona native wishes he could have more time to fly-fish. But right now, there’s a lot on the schedule of the husband and father of three, including a remodeling project of one of the oldest houses in Stillwater.

Outside the confines of the Capitol, where he is a long-venerated presence, even the most zealous news junkies in Minnesota might find it hard to recognize Ross Kramer’s name. He’s not one to make headlines.  But he’s usually behind them. Kramer was chosen as 2011’s unsung hero for three decades of policy advocacy that have helped shape the Minnesota we know today.

Practically every major public/private works partnership in the state in recent decades — Target Field, Mall of America, the Hiawatha Corridor Light Rail, the expansion of the Minneapolis Convention Center, and the renovations of The Cowles Center and Shubert Theater, to name a few — have borne the stamp of Kramer’s advocacy efforts. Kramer has represented major corporations and trade associations in industries ranging from transportation and banking to energy, business and telecommunications. As such, the co-founder of the firm Messerli & Kramer P.A. has been a key player in helping bring together public and private entities on a collaborative footing. He is also a member of the boards of Volunteers of America, the Minnesota Zoo Foundation and the Metropolitan Airports Foundation.

Kramer, a retired captain for Northwest Airlines, was a combat pilot in Vietnam from 1965 through 1968, where he accumulated more than 800 hours of combat and was awarded a Silver Star. The William Mitchell College of Law graduate, husband and father of two often rides his Harley Davidson with the Street Legal Motorcycle Club, although his surfing and diving days are behind him.

BUSINESS

Kathryn Kmit

LABOR

Carl Crimmins & Adam Duinick

ONE TO WATCH

Senator John Harrington & Sarah Walker

TOP LEGISLATIVE STAFFER

Greg Knopff & Carrie Lucking

UNSUNG HERO

Bert Black & Bob Meier

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