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MINNESOTA POLITICS: Out with the old, in with the new

ST. PAUL - Dave Olin needs to finish his term as county attorney before turning full attention to being a state representative. Dan Skogen has to sell some cattle before making the big move to the Senate. Tony Lourey must wrap up his health-and-h...

ST. PAUL - Dave Olin needs to finish his term as county attorney before turning full attention to being a state representative.

Dan Skogen has to sell some cattle before making the big move to the Senate.

Tony Lourey must wrap up his health-and-human-services consulting business before being sworn in as state senator.

That's the story for 53 Minnesotans who are wrapping up old business to become legislators. They take the oath office at noon Jan. 3, but they have lots to do before that day arrives.

On Friday, most of the 53 attended orientation sessions, many walking into the House or Senate chamber for the first time. For some, a Capitol tour as a youngster was their only experience inside Minnesota's government headquarters.


More than a quarter of Minnesota's 201 legislators will be freshmen when lawmakers start their official work in January.

While Democrats swept into the majority in the House and strengthened their hold on the Senate, nine Republicans joined the freshmen class. Freshmen didn't have much time to get settled down after the Nov. 7 election. Two days after the vote, House and Senate Democrats met separately to pick their leaders for next session.

It was "trial by fire" Lourey said, adding he had no chance to sleep before that meeting after his election victory put him in the Senate seat being vacated by his mother, Becky Lourey, who did not seek re-election so she could run for governor.

The senator-elect said that first meeting was humbling and he was honored "to come down and talk to the folks who made the news. I really did feel a part of it."

"It was emotional," the Kerrick, Minn., resident added, "even more so because I hadn't slept for two days."

The first priority for Lourey, a public policy consultant, is to hire a legislative assistant. That is the person legislators depend on to do everything from organize schedules to hunt down paperwork.

The senator-elect has not sat down with his mother since the election to discuss legislative matters.

"We have both been incredibly busy and have had little time to work together on it," he said, adding that once schedules settle down she will be a big help to him.


"I am trying to wrap up a couple of business things I have let go for a long time," he said via mobile telephone from the Northland.

For Olin, the Pennington County attorney, a couple of cases remain to be finished. But burdens already are building for his new job, a position that pays just over $30,000 a year and brings with it the headache of a split life between home and St. Paul and plenty of other demands. Lobbyists already have started calling, according to the Thief River Falls resident. "I went on the Internet to figure out who the heck they were."

What to do about lobbyists was a concern for other legislators-elect during Friday's orientation sessions. Advice from veteran legislators? Tell them to wait until Jan. 3, and then allow lobbyists into the office only for limited periods.

Congratulatory letters and e-mails have poured in, Olin said, and now he turns attention to meeting with local government leaders and others in his district.

Olin, like many in the freshmen legislative class, long has considered serving under the dome. "I'm excited," said the man who is retiring after 32 years as county attorney. "I kind of had a dream at one time that I would end up running for Legislature some year."

Skogen turns in his radio station microphone for a while, but will have another microphone to address fellow senators.

"What I am looking forward to is setting my radio career aside and getting down to being a good senator," the Wadena broadcaster said.

The "second voice" on a morning show and longtime sportscaster said he will return to the airwaves once the legislative session ends.


One thing he needs to do before moving to St. Paul for the winter is sell some cattle on his small farm.

Listening to new legislators talk Friday, it was obvious the campaign still was on their minds. In an interview, Skogen summarized the situation: "I am trying to get my feet under me. Actually, I'm going from campaign mode to senator-elect mode."

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