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Breaking the Ice: Capitol restoration a highlight for commissioner

Matt Massman, appointed commissioner of the Department of Administration in 2014, traces his interest in public service and extensive public policy career to growing up on a dairy farm near Caledonia with parents who were active in politics and farm organizations.

As commissioner, Massman leads more than a dozen service divisions, from purchasing and real estate to demographic analysis and continuous improvement. A major focus for him has been the $310 million, three-year restoration of the State Capitol, which is to reopen in January.

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“The Capitol is absolutely closed until Jan. 3,” Massman said. “Now is a critical time because the prime contractor and all of the subcontractors are working hard to make sure that the building is put back together by Jan. 3.”

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

A. With a greeting. Hopefully a pleasant greeting. Starting with a bit of small talk is always nice. My preference would be to tell it like it is, and hopefully I do that with others as well.

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

A. The first presidential ticket I voted for was Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro. You could say I like rooting for the underdog, but I was struck by the native son aspect of Vice President Mondale’s candidacy and also moved by the honesty and integrity of his campaign.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. I turned 50 this year. One of the goals that I vowed was to read 50 books. I may not make it, but I have been enjoying the effort. I just finished “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr and started “Quatrefoil” by James Barr.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. I’m not a big fan of the phrase, “Thank you in advance.” It’s better to just thank people. It seems more genuine. Thanking people in advance kind of implies that they have to do something to warrant your thanks. On a more serious level, I really dislike bullies and bullyish behavior; that is my fundamental pet peeve.

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

A. During warm months I bike a fair amount, road and mountain biking. I grew up playing a lot of cards and like to play cards. Time at the cabin with family and friends. And travel. My husband and I have been fortunate to travel much more than either of us could have imagined when we were growing up.

Q. What’s one way to end partisan polarization?

A. We have to demand greater civility in our political discourse, always. Too often recently we have people who are expressing unwillingness to work with others as part of their platform before their election even happens, which I think has the potential for really undercutting the values of representative democracy.

Q. What’s the last arts or cultural event you attended?

A. A lot of my focus lately has been on Capitol restoration and Capitol art as the commissioner of administration. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Q. What do you miss most with the Capitol under renovation?

A. I will look forward to, when the Capitol reopens, having the building lit up at night and the dome. The building has so many beautiful aspects to it, but seeing the architecture lit up from the outside at night is really amazing.

Q. What’s your favorite hidden place at the Capitol?

A. There is on the third floor a very narrow access hallway where you can get from the south side to the north side of the Senate gallery by walking behind the Senate gallery. It’s mostly accessible to staff and members, not generally the public. There’s a stairwell that’s internal to the west side of the building, which I think is a really neat escape route from the second floor down to the first. I didn’t know until the restoration that there were little stairwells that go up around the elevator corridors to access them.

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