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Statewide View: New lawmakers, remember: neither party has all answers

Dear newly elected Minnesota legislators,

Congratulations on your election to the Minnesota House of Representatives. We know you and your volunteers worked hard to accomplish this goal. It is the foundation of our great democracy to be able to represent constituents.

Our time in the Legislature was an honor and a privilege, and we'd like to share a little unsolicited advice. We want to help ensure we can get back to the days when legislators from different parties actually talked to each other and relied on each other's expertise when working to make our state a better place to live, work, and raise a family.

Here's a list of ideas that can help you get through your first session and build relationships:

• Get to know the "other side" on a personal basis. Invite someone from the other party or from another region of the state to breakfast or lunch. Learn about their family. Find out their story. Use this time to build relationships. You will be surprised how similar you are to each other.

• Answer constituent concerns. Ensure emails, letters, and phone calls don't go unanswered. Voters are the reason you're at the Legislature.

• Measure twice, cut once when speaking on the floor. Don't hesitate to think through what you want to say. You're better off saying to yourself later, "Why didn't I say that?" instead of, "Why did I say that?"

• Ask questions of your colleagues to help shed light instead of heat on a topic. The former helps generate discussion.

• Listen to others. Don't be afraid to ask questions when you're new to a topic or issue.

• Welcome lobbyists to talk. They are likely to provide useful information even if you don't agree.

• If you commit your vote on an issue but change your mind, be sure to tell the person you committed to so they are not surprised. Changing your mind is not bad, but surprising someone with the way you vote is not good.

• No one person or party has all the answers, but talking and listening to each other will best serve the people of the state.

These ideas aren't the only ones you should bring with you to your new job, but they are a good place to start — and they helped us work together during our time in the Legislature.

When Adlai Stevenson was giving his concession speech after the 1952 presidential election, he said the things that unite us as Americans will always be greater than the things that divide us as Republicans or Democrats. Our hope is these few ideas can help you embrace Stevenson's sentiment even in today's hyper-partisan environment.

Good luck. Our state is counting on you.

Loren Solberg is a former DFL state representative from Grand Rapids, and Mike Beard is a former Republican state representative from Shakopee. They are co-chairmen of the Coalition for a Secure Energy Future (secureenergyfuture.net).

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