Minnesota lawmakers elected during the pandemic are adjusting to personal politics
Jessica Hanson spent most of her first two years in the Minnesota Legislature practically attending from her home in Burnsville, balancing her legislative duties with being a single mother of two with frequent distance learning.
Hanson and other lawmakers first elected in 2020 have had to learn how to legislate in unprecedented circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, they’re working full-time at the State Capitol, a welcome but harrowing change that brings back a sense of newcomers.
“We’re not real newbies, but we’re keen,” said Hanson, DFL-Burnsville, sharing an opinion from lawmakers in the group dubbed “Corona Class.” “We’ve really come to need to do things differently, so being flexible is sort of the status quo.”
The return to normal at the State Capitol is a welcome sight for lawmakers who have known it before and an unfamiliar sight for those who have never experienced it. After two years of virtual and hybrid work, her days are again packed with face-to-face hearings, inaugural sessions, and sessions of the House and Senate.
A reshaped political dynamic has accentuated the learning curve. Democrats now control the House and Senate and are sprinting ahead with hearings on numerous high-priority bills, leaving lawmakers new and old struggling to keep up with the unusually fast pace.
“I’m trying to learn new aspects of the committees I sit on, but unfortunately we don’t even have the time for that,” said second-term Senator Zach Duckworth, R-Lakeville. “We’re diving into some very complex, fast-paced legislation.”
Duckworth said he’s found it easier to work with Democrats remotely during the pandemic when control of the Legislature was shared. Democrats now have little incentive to work with Republicans.
“They know they can get what they want,” Duckworth said.
On the DFL side, Hanson said that she finds it much easier to work together with her colleagues. She can now visit their offices or pull them aside in the hallway to ask if they would like to help fund their bills. Reaching them all would have taken hours, she said.
“I just love being able to be together,” Hanson said.
DFL-Minneapolis MP Esther Agbaje said the so-called “corona class” remained a close-knit group. Agbaje has enjoyed working in the Capitol, although she believes there are some downsides.
For the past two years, Minnesotans have been able to testify virtually at hearings on issues important to them. That made the Capitol a more accessible place for people who have full-time jobs or live in the Minnesota metro area, Agbaje said. She and Hanson both said they would work to make this a permanent option.
“We just had such wealth in our first two years as a Witness,” Agbaje said. “I would be delighted to see that return.”