Seeing state government in action

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 23, 2001


Friday, February 23, 2001

ST. PAUL – Dan Dorman loves to have visitors at the Capitol. Like many legislators, his family members are regular guests, and supporters stop in his office every week to get some answers or share their opinions.

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And once each session, he hosts a busload of constituents during Freeborn County Day at the Capitol for a day of pure citizenship.

&uot;The idea is to give people a sense of what goes on in St. Paul during the session,&uot; said Dorman. &uot;It’s a chance to see the Capitol and feel proud of the state.&uot;

About 40 Freeborn County residents arrived at the Capitol building Thursday just before 10 a.m. to a welcome by Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer. Then Lee Lambert of the House Information Office gave a brief greeting and introduction.

For the rest of the morning, the group from Freeborn County sat in on a hearing of the Sales and Income Tax Division of the Full Tax Committee. Dorman, the committee’s vice-chair, ran the meeting, held in an oval-shaped room with theater-style seating.

Television cameras and monitors were mounted on the walls at all angles. People entered and left the room freely.

&uot;The meetings are formal in the sense that we have a procedure to follow,&uot; Dorman said. &uot;At the same time, it can seem very informal because of the traffic in an out of the room, and the talking an whispering going on. It’s normal for this type of hearing.&uot;

Several representatives introduced bills for consideration before the committee, and citizens offered their testimony about issues such as taxing pension funds, unmarked police cars and new Bureau of Criminal Apprehension satellite lab in Bemidji.

Dorman paused during the meeting to recognize his constituents for making the trip to St. Paul, prompting a round of applause for the group. When the hearing concluded, Dorman answered questions about the proceedings and explained the task of the committee.

&uot;This is a demanding committee assignment because we meet every day for a couple of hours, either in full committee or in its divisions,&uot; Dorman told the group. &uot;We hear hundreds of people testify about tax issues.&uot;

The Freeborn County group broke for lunch at the Department of Transportation Caf\u00E9 before a guided tour of the historic Capital building, during which they shared the halls with other Minnesotans including about 300 fire fighters, school children, FFA students and other clubs and organizations. Tour guides led them in clusters from chamber to chamber, explaining the day-to-day business of bureaucrats, legislators, aides, pages, lobbyists and the media.

After the tour, the group got a quick look at the House of Representatives in session. They saw Dorman pay tribute to his alma mater, the University of Minnesota, on its 150th birthday.

For many of the Freeborn County residents, the trip was a refresher course on the workings of the legislature and the history behind the Capitol building. For others, like Natalie Runden, the trip was more than just a chance to learn about state government.

&uot;I hope to be working here someday,&uot; said the Albert Lea High School junior. &uot;I’ve always wanted to do this – I mean work at the Capitol – since I was in fifth grade.&uot;

Runden plans to attend the U of M and work as a page as a start to her career in politics and public service.

&uot;It’s incredible when you see all of the activity here,&uot; she said. &uot;It just makes you want to become a part of it.&uot;

At the end of the day, as the group boarded the bus for the trip home, Dorman was pleased that he had enough interest to bring a whole busload of constituents. But he said there is always room for more.

&uot;Next time maybe we can bring two or three buses up here,&uot; Dorman said.