Scott Magnuson is one of the hardest-working people behind the scenes at the Minnesota Capitol. In his 35 years as Senate Information Services director, he has labored tirelessly to promote transparency and accessibility at the Legislature. Operating on the philosophy that there are no stupid questions, he’s a walking encyclopedia when it comes to the Senate, and has a rare ability to convey complicated information in comprehensible terms, helping Minnesota residents, lobbyists and even legislators better understand the inner workings of the process.
Magnuson was born and raised in St. Paul, and took an interest in politics at a young age. His parents were both active in the DFL party, and often delivered campaign literature for candidates. His father was an attorney who specialized in cooperative law, and his job occasionally took him to Washington, D.C. to lobby on behalf of his clients. Magnuson’s early passion for politics led him to attend the University of Minnesota and major in political science, during which time he interned for then-U.S. Sen. Walter Mondale.
Magnuson started working for the Senate’s information office in 1978. In 1981, he helped launch a college internship program that is still active today, in which he recruits and interviews students to work for senators and staff at the Capitol for college credit. He educates the students on Senate processes and brings in guest speakers. In the past 35 years, about 2,000 interns have come through the program.
Magnuson regularly goes above and beyond the call of duty to educate different groups about the Legislature. He’s provided informational sessions or training to the League of Women Voters, the Minnesota Bar Association, high school students, and other groups. In the early 1980s, Magnuson received a call from a prisoner at Stillwater Corrections Facility looking to set up a game of softball with senators. Magnuson organized the game, which was held on the prison grounds. Several senators and staffers participated, while Sen. Allan Spear and then-Minneapolis Police Chief Tony Bouza umpired. Magnuson organized the game three years in a row, and after each game, the prisoners got to bend the ears of their legislators over cake and ice cream.
Around the Capitol, Magnuson is known for his willingness to put the needs of others before his own. He’s perhaps best recognized for his extremely detailed after-hours messages, which inform the public on the Senate’s actions even when the office is closed. Magnuson is regarded as calm and polite, both important – and rare – attributes at the hectic Capitol. As one nomination form put it: “Scott Magnuson has, bar none, contributed more toward an open and transparent legislative process than any other person in Minnesota.”