ST. PAUL -- Just as in each of the past six sessions, Jerry Janezich came to the Capitol this week to take in the pomp of opening day at the Legislature. This year, however, he returned not as a lawmaker but as a lobbyist.
Along with at least three others who lost re-election bids or campaigns for higher office, the Chisholm Democrat will be paid to persuade his former colleagues this session. In Janezich's case, he'll represent the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.
Former Sen. Steve Novak, a DFLer from St. Paul, is slated to help the Minnesota Twins set their legislative strategy for getting a new ballpark. And Jim Tunheim and Kris Hasskamp, both former Democratic representatives, say they plan to be lobbyists and are actively looking for clients.
Collectively, observers say, the four constitute one of the largest groups at one time to head through the so-called revolving door between the world of those who make laws and the special interests who want to influence them.
"It is a different feeling," said Janezich, who resigned to make an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate. "It's exciting. But at the same time you're a little apprehensive. It's actually a whole bunch of mixed emotions."
Janezich said his job will entail directly lobbying his former colleagues only about 10 percent of the time, little enough that he does not expect to have to formally register under the state's lobbying disclosure laws.
In fact, none of the lawmakers, who only officially gave up their former jobs on Wednesday, immediately registered as lobbyists.
House Speaker Steve Sviggum calls the process unseemly. Sviggum said he will try as he did in the previous session to put a stop to the practice by forcing lawmakers to take a one-year time-out before trading on their experiences and friendships as lobbyists.
"I think what surprises me is they want to come back to the Capitol and sell their access to legislators," Sviggum said. "That's what surprises me. Because I don't think it should be done. If you talk to good government perception, it ought not be done."
He said four lawmakers would be "a substantial number" in one year to make the transition. The four come from the ranks of 31 who resigned, retired or lost re-election.
The proposed moratorium would help draw a line between current and former lawmakers and "cool off" their access and power, supporters say. At the federal level, members of Congress already abide by such a moratorium, and many states have similar laws.
Sviggum's bill passed the House last session but died in the Senate. Bruce Miller, executive director of Common Cause of Minnesota, said his group and others will be fighting to pass it through the Senate this year.
"Special interests buy power not only with money but by who they employ," Miller said. "When you have prominent former legislators leaving public service and then selling their access to special interests, it undermines public confidence in our system of government."
Hasskamp, a therapist and substitute teacher from Crosby, used to support proposals like the one Sviggum is advancing. But not any more.
"Politically it sounds good, but today, with the ethics laws regarding lobbyists as strict as they are -- and I know because I've been reading up on them -- I don't see how it would improve the process," she said.
And she said such a plan would unfairly limit the ability of former lawmakers to make use of skills and knowledge they gained in office.
"What's in a year?" Hasskamp asked.
Legislators aren't the only ones who find their governmental service of interest to employers.
John Stanoch, chief deputy attorney general under Mike Hatch, recently took a new job as the top Minnesota official of Qwest Communications.
A former lawyer, lobbyist and judge, Stanoch will be lobbying the Legislature and state regulators as the company, which purchased local telephone company US West in June, pursues state deregulation of the industry.
Miller said he'd like the moratorium to apply to top-level cabinet positions, including Stanoch's.
"If these people didn't have some kind of special power or access, why would those firms or organizations even consider employing them?" asks Miller.
Meanwhile, at least one person is turning the door the other way.
Barbara Goodwin spent four years as a lobbyist for the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees. On Wednesday, she was sworn in as a House member representing Columbia Heights and nearby cities.
"I'm the only person I know who went from that job to this one," she laughed.
Tunheim and Hasskamp both said they are looking for lobbying clients, but have not been hired yet. Goodwin said she doubts they'll be looking long.
"It's very unusual that it's difficult for a legislator to get into lobbying," she said.
Like Hasskamp, Goodwin isn't convinced that a one-year moratorium would have much effect. And she doesn't think former lawmakers have a lot of weight as lobbyists in the first place.
"It's all about the power. They know you don't have any power anymore."
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