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The many sides of Pogemiller

ST. PAUL - As the new Minnesota Senate majority leader, Larry Pogemiller said he will expect lawmakers to strive for substance over flash. "I want the culture in the Senate to become workhorses . . ." said Pogemiller of Minneapolis, who will lead...

ST. PAUL - As the new Minnesota Senate majority leader, Larry Pogemiller said he will expect lawmakers to strive for substance over flash.

"I want the culture in the Senate to become workhorses . . ." said Pogemiller of Minneapolis, who will lead the DFL-controlled Senate when the Legislature convenes Jan. 3.

Fellow lawmakers say Pogemiller is a skilled negotiator and a determined lawmaker, but some wonder whether the controversial legislator will be effective at brokering compromise.

"I do think the position will require him to be much more of a listener and a conciliator than maybe he has been in the past," said Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, a longtime friend of Pogemiller's who said he has "sharp intellect" and determination.

Democratic senators were forced to find a new leader within their caucus after Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson of Willmar lost in the Nov. 7 election. Six lawmakers vied for the position, but Pogemiller and Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook, in northeastern Minnesota, were the leading candidates.


Pogemiller, who has served in the Senate for 24 years, won a narrow vote some senators said fell along the caucus' metro-rural divide, with most Twin Cities-area legislators backing Pogemiller. Bakk was elected Senate Tax Committee chairman, the position Pogemiller held for the past six years and in which he cemented his reputation as a crafty and pugnacious lawmaker.

Pogemiller has been an outspoken critic of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's leadership style and budget priorities in the past four years. In his new position, he will be the Senate Democrats' lead negotiator when lawmakers and Pawlenty, a Republican, work on the state's next two-year budget in 2007.

Pawlenty has said he wants to find common ground with the incoming Democratic leaders of the House and Senate. The governor and top DFL lawmakers met recently to discuss legislative issues, Pogemiller said, adding he is optimistic they will get along.

"I would rather collaborate with him than negotiate," he said of Pawlenty.

Dick Day of Owatonna, who was Senate minority leader, said he hopes Pogemiller reaches out to the 23 Republican senators next year. But Day also said "there's no doubt" he and other lawmakers will see Pogemiller clash with Pawlenty.

Pogemiller, 55, was born and raised in Minneapolis. His legislative district includes the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus and culturally diverse neighborhoods. He was recently elected to his eighth Senate term in the heavily Democratic district, which critics argue makes him too liberal for his new position.

"I am proud of the fact that I'm able to represent the community that nurtured me and made me who I am, to some extent," said Pogemiller, the father of two adopted girls.

Some legislators view Pogemiller's leadership post as evidence Democrats aren't interested in compromise, and even some DFL senators wonder whether he has the temperament for the new job.


Keith Langseth of Glyndon said he was among senators from districts outside the Twin Cities area who voted against Pogemiller for majority leader.

"He has to change his style, there's no question about that," Langseth said. "He's been very combative in the past."

Langseth said Pogemiller also must realize that many of the 15 new Senate Democrats represent moderate or conservative-leaning districts.

"He can't go down there and be a raving liberal," said Langseth, who was elected to the Senate two years before Pogemiller.

However, Langseth said he is "sure going to give him a chance" leading the 44-member caucus.

Pogemiller has been a central figure in high-profile legislative debates, including property tax reform, income tax rates on wealthy Minnesotans and funding for a new University of Minnesota football stadium.

Yet as he assumes the position of lead spokesman for his caucus, Pogemiller said he wants to work "behind the scenes" and leave more decisions to the Senate committee chairman, who put legislation together and try to iron out differences with their counterparts in the House. He said he wants to see more activity in legislative committees and "serious discussion with bipartisan debate and collaboration."

Republicans and even some of his fellow Democrats say Pogemiller can be difficult to work with. As tax chairman he wanted committee members to meet into the night and on weekends.


But Pogemiller said he gets along well with legislators who work hard, even if they don't agree.

"I believe that what people will find is that I'm inclusive, collaborative and I want to get the work done," he said.

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