ST. PAUL —
Thissen grew up in Bloomington, raised by two teachers; his father, a longtime employee of St. Paul schools, was a Republican who often volunteered for legislative candidates. As a teen, Thissen's first political volunteering was for then-House candidate Kathleen Blatz, a moderate Republican who later rose to chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Thissen, 45, said he started to develop his own sense of social justice while a student at the Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield. It led him to the Democratic Party. Thissen went on to Harvard and the University of Chicago Law School before returning home to practice law. He was elected to the Legislature in 2002.
"The first thing you have to mention about Paul is how very bright he is. He's one of the very smartest members of the Legislature," said Rep. Terry Morrow, a St. Peter Democrat and a college professor.
Thissen said he was never consumed by political ambition. His wife ran for office before him in an unsuccessful bid for the Minneapolis City Council. Thissen said he ran in 2002 because of what he considered short-sighted management of the state budget by Republicans and Democrats alike at the Capitol.
"There's been a lot of punting of the ball around here for a long time," Thissen said. "I hope one of the things we can get away from is the short-term thinking that has driven a lot of decisions."
As a legislator, Thissen gravitated to complex issues like pension reform and health policy. Rep. Jim Abeler, an Anoka Republican who worked with Thissen on health care issues, praised his intellect and sense of fairness. But he predicted Thissen would have his work cut out for him as more than two decades of deferred Democratic goals are unleashed on the Capitol.
"It's going to be his job to urge caution," Abeler said. "But he'll be getting daily visits to his office demanding results."