Working hard

St. Peter Rep. Terry Morrow, one of the new assistant majority leaders of the state House, was joined at a meeting in Mankato recently by Majority Leader Tony Sertich (right).

The life of an assistant majority leader isn’t all policy setting and vote wrangling and high-level negotiating.

There are also duties like seat charting and parking-spot assigning.

State Rep. Terry Morrow is happy to help with the chores of leadership, partly because it will put him in the room when the more momentous decisions are being made about the future of Minnesota.

“Now I’m getting to see the very big picture of the state budget,” Morrow said.

Starting just his second term as a lawmaker, the St. Peter Democrat sought and obtained one of the eight assistant majority leader posts in the DFL-controlled House. Two other second-termers are also on the team.

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher is the leader of the House, Majority Leader Tony Sertich serves as Kelliher’s general, and the assistant majority leaders are the captains.

Setting up the House seating chart and debating parking policy were early jobs.

“Other things will be whipping votes on the House floor,” Morrow said of the process of determining the level of support for a piece of legislation and ensuring the party has enough votes to get a bill passed. “I’ve got a group of members I’m working with.”

During his first term, Morrow focused heavily on education and transportation issues. But even as a freshman, there were indications he wanted to be in the thick of the negotiations. He obtained a spot on the transportation conference committee where five senators and five representatives worked to find a compromise on a gas-tax increase that would attract enough Republican support to override a promised veto by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

The former St. Peter School Board member also won spots on a legislative panel formed to investigate the I-35W bridge collapse and on a new Freight and Rail Advisory Committee that is assigned to come up with a plan to modernize the state’s rail system. And he was appointed to the School Finance Reform Task Force.

Kelliher also picked him as one of a pair of lawmakers to attend the 2008 Program for Emerging Political Leaders at the University of Virginia. The three-day event involved 50 lawmakers from 35 states.

Recently, he was appointed to three committees with the National Conference of State Legislatures, dealing with transportation, legislative operations and higher education.

Morrow said all of the assignments mean more time on the job, none more than the assistant majority leader role.

“It’s going to end up being more time in the Capitol and also more time on the road,” he said.

The latter will involve meetings throughout southern Minnesota to bring the House DFL’s perspective to this part of the state and to bring the thoughts and ideas of Minnesotans back to Sertich and Kelliher. Morrow expects one of the first round of meetings will aim to get input on Pawlenty’s proposed budget, which will be released next week.

“He can bring the voice of the people of this area to the leadership of the Legislature, and that’s very important to these communities,” said Sertich, DFL-Chisholm. “Terry is an excellent communicator for our caucus. That’s his background and passion.”

Morrow, a Gustavus Adolphus College professor who has a doctorate in communications studies, is on a path that can lead to higher levels of leadership. If that’s what he’s looking for, Sertich thinks the relative newcomer to state politics has great potential.

“He definitely, I think, possesses the qualities to be a leader in Minnesota government for quite a while,” Sertich said.

If Morrow’s ambitions include top positions in the Legislature or other elected offices, he isn’t talking about it.

Instead, he says he’s focused on dealing with a very difficult state budget and finding ways to use the financial crisis to take a fresh look the direction Minnesota is headed. Being in the leadership gives him a chance to be a part of that.

“It’s exciting that way,” Morrow said. “... Where should Minnesota be heading? What’s the vision of the future?”

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