In today's Minnesota House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee (full video here), Representative Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) defended having special interests dictate policy and funding, rather than agency personnel or ordinary concerned citizens.
His remarks came while the committee was briefed about the Clean Water Council's FY 2016-17 Clean Water Fund recommendations.
His exchange with another legislator provide an interesting counterpoint with last week's post about a hearing in the same committee, Fehr factor vs citizen power: so a real discussion happened in a Minnesota House committee.
According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) webpage for the Council, its role is:
to advise on the administration and implementation of the Clean Water Legacy Act, including:
- Fostering coordination among public agencies and private entities to ensure cooperation with relevant plans and programs.
- Prioritization strategies for TMDLs, restoration and protection activities.
- Development of appropriate processes for expert scientific review.
- Development of education and participation strategies for citizens and stakeholders.
A list of members is found here, along with a PDF of their biographies.
Torkelson is among a group of legislators who is critical of the Citizens Board of the MPCA. While the boards that were being contrasted on Wednesday did not include the Citizens Board, it's clear that Torkelson and McNamara are quite comfortable with having special interests set the budget.
And agency staff? Trustworthy when there's a chance to criticize what you don't like, but the tools of the Dayton administration if its recommendations clash with those of special interests.
Around the 57:38 point in the video, Torkelson says:
I would just like to remind members of the committee the dynamics here are a little different… different from the others and also the council…if you look at the council membership it’s a wide variety of interest groups and it appears to me that the governor’s recommendations tend to follow more closely with the agency recommendations, they apparently have more influence over the governor than the council does . . . .
Critics of the Citizens Board have ripped it members for supposedly not following the recommendations of agency staff, but on Wednesday, agency staff were suspect for having "more influence over the governor than the [Clean Water] council.
South St. Paul Democrat Rick Hansen, who in the past has defended the Citizens Board, delves into the way in which the Clean Water Council is structured and by its very nature presents what special interests want (about the 58:11 point):
I think on the point of the comparison of the council and commissions and I’ll go back to what I said last week. With the Clean Water Council, we actually write the special interests into the meeting…into the body, whereas an outdoor heritage council or LCCMR, the citizens are citizens who are appointed and there are legislators serving on them.
The Clean Water Council, if you look at the enabling legislation, it must have two of this group, two of that group, two of this group and two of that group and they’re all in the audience because they want the money. You know….so they’re on the council then they come and then they lobby for the money.
Now when we have regular citizens there, they’re not…they may not have an agenda or at least…I guess… it’s clear that there is an agenda when we have the special interests written into the legislation but I think it’s an interesting discussion, Mr. Chair, because all of these things should have some review and I’ll be putting forth a bill-- I think it’ll be interesting to change the Clean Water Council to have it just be citizens rather than special interests that are written in the bill because we again, are writing this group and that group and this group and that group into the advisory boards and the authority boards throughout state government and we shouldn’t be surprised then when they come forward and want us just to adopt what they've presented to us.
Chairman McNamara then notes that citizens submit their resume to Governor and legislative leadership because of their involvement in organizations like Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited, and the like, while concluding that the executive branch weighs in on one council's decision but not on the other two.
At the 101:22 mark, Torkelson sings the praises of special interests--claiming that representatives of private groups represent citizens' interests. Apparently, Torkelson believes there's a magical chain of interests ( " Citizens have interest and citizens are members of groups and it’s these groups that drive the conversation") that creates the place at the table for special interest groups:
“I think it’s very important to note again that the Clean Water Council predates Legacy, that it was created at a time when interest groups that are listed here as members of the council were finding it impossible to make any progress on water quality issues because they were butting heads here at the legislature. . . .
They created the group the G16 in which was variety of interest groups that came forward from divided perspectives that sat down and said you know we aren’t making any progress on water quality. We need to come to a table together, bring our interests to the table because that’s what drives all this and put in on the table…try to work out some ways make some progress.
Citizens have interest and citizens are members of groups and it’s these groups that drive the conversation and I think it’s proper they are on this council and I think it’s the only way we’ll make progress in this area.”
So there you have it: special interests are a-ok, mystically representing Minnesotans through private special interest groups, but as we learned last week, a Citizen's Board in our post Fehr factor vs citizen power: so a real discussion happened in a Minnesota House committee? Out of control.
Here's the segment from the longer Youtube:
Photo: Representative Paul Torkelson, courageous defender of special interests, on the floor of the Minnesota House.
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