David Hann has spent only a bit of time touring what will be his new workspace, and he suggested he is not as familiar with the new Senate Office Building as others might be.
Hann’s larger concern, at the moment, is figuring out how to move from his new office to the one that will be occupied by Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk. That would require Republicans to win at least six DFL-held seats next year, no mean feat, considering that Democrats are always upbeat about their chances in a presidential election year.
Minority Leader Hann sees a path to swinging the Senate back to GOP control, but acknowledges that the looming election might make it hard for the two parties to compromise on a handful of thorny issues that he wants to see surface in the 2016 session. He spoke with Capitol Report about his hopes for next year and the resignation of Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, among other topics.
Capitol Report: Now that it’s nearing completion, what do you think of the new Senate Office Building?
Hann: I have not spent a lot of time over there. I’m sure it will be just fine as a building, and I’m sure they’re doing a great job. I don’t think it was a building we needed to have, but that decision has been made. My sense is it hasn’t been very well designed for the purpose it is intended. When they originally designed it, they were going to have 40 senators there, and the rest were going to be in the Capitol. Then that got changed, but they didn’t redesign the building, they just put more offices in. Some services need to be distinct from each other, and I think that’s going to be the problem.
CR: There’s been some discussion about how, and where, to physically stage the 2016 session during the Capitol restoration project. What are your thoughts on that?
Hann: They’ve taken one of the committee hearing rooms, and they’ve moved all the chairs from the Senate chamber in there. They do have a temporary Senate chamber. I believe the House has elected to stay in the Capitol. [Laughs.] They’ve done some things to try to accommodate the fact the Capitol is not going to be available. I’m sure it will be workable. It’s a one-year thing, and then next year we’ll have the Capitol back.
CR: Last week had more bad news about MNsure, with private insurance rates set to rise dramatically going into next year. What should the state be doing differently?
Hann: The people responsible for this are Gov. [Mark] Dayton, first and foremost, and Democrat majorities. They deliberately made policy choices that resulted in higher costs. At the time of this debate, we told them that. We said “Don’t do this. If you do this, there’s only one predictable certain result, and that’s premium costs are going to go up.” When you have laws that say you’re going to do all these things … these coverages, those things don’t happen for free. Somebody’s going to pay for it. Premium prices are going up for everybody, but the people who qualify for subsidies are going to have taxpayers pay part of the cost, and people who don’t qualify are going to have to pay it all.
I think this is a deliberate effort on the part of Democrats to destroy health insurance. They’ve talked about single-payer, and all single-payer is, is government paying your health care bills. I think that’s what they want to do.
CR: What do you think realistically could be done on MNsure in 2016?
Hann: There may not be a lot. I don’t know yet, honestly, what flexibility we might have. The governor should take the lead on this. These are people that are not getting anything better, they’re … just going to pay a lot more for it. The governor seems to be blaming insurers, but he’s not telling people it’s his laws that are forcing the insurers to do things that have resulted in higher costs. He’s got a big responsibility in coming up with a proposal.
CR: What other things do you want to see accomplished next year?
Hann: I think a lot of people want to see more commitment from us of resources on transportation. Democrats want to see a $2 billion tax increase to do it. I don’t think that’s necessary. So I think we’re going to … bring that argument back. You can find the resources to invest in transportation without raising more taxes. We are generating, through our current tax structure, huge surpluses. How you can continue to do this and not come to the conclusion … maybe our tax rates are a little high? They obviously are. So, some of these discussions we’ve had are going to continue. Obviously, there’s going to be a bonding bill. I’m sure the governor’s going to want a big one, and for Republicans, it’s probably going to be more limited.
CR: What’s your reaction to the news that Branden Petersen was resigning his Senate seat?
Hann: He did tell me a day or so in advance he was going to do that. Once a person makes a commitment they are done with a particular job, they want to move on, do whatever the next thing is. If a person’s heart isn’t in it — that’s essentially what he told me. In his opinion he felt it was fairer to his constituents to allow someone else to represent them in the Legislature next year. Several good, qualified people are running up there.
CR: His story will probably come up during discussion of a referendum next year that could ultimately wind up raising legislators’ pay. What’s your feeling on that idea?
Hann: I’m not sure that just paying people more is a solution. We ought to be thinking about, why is it so hard for people to serve in the Legislature and have a regular job? It’s supposed to be possible to do that. Over the years it has become increasingly difficult. I don’t know what the answer is, but I don’t think the answer is just to pay people a lot more money. But it only can work if the part-time approach allows people to have a regular job outside the Legislature.
CR: That same election will see the Senate back up for re-election. What do you think are Republicans’ prospects for winning the majority?
Hann: Well, that’s why we have elections. I think we have an opportunity to win back the majority. We are six seats down, we have six seats that Democrats are in the Senate and we have Republicans in the House. We have six that were carried by Jeff Johnson in his campaign against Gov. Dayton. We have a presidential year where you’re going to have probably Hillary Clinton. But if you look at the diversity on the Republican side, age, background, women, Hispanic people, physicians … younger people, people who’ve been governors. Then you look at the Democrats and they’ve got three 70-plus people who’ve been hanging around Washington for 50 years. I think the dynamic next year is going to have a lot more enthusiasm on the Republican side. We are at this point — I don’t want to say optimistic, but we’re going to work very hard, and I like our chances.