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Goodno takes on job

ST. PAUL -- Kevin Goodno admits to being a bit nervous as he steps into the biggest job of his life. The 40-year-old Moorhead lawyer -- with a history of making big steps at a young age -- takes over Minnesota government's biggest agency in J...

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ST. PAUL -- Kevin Goodno admits to being a bit nervous as he steps into the biggest job of his life.

The 40-year-old Moorhead lawyer -- with a history of making big steps at a young age -- takes over Minnesota government's biggest agency in January when he becomes human services commissioner as the state faces a budget deficit.

"It is a challenge, but it is an opportunity for us to make some real change in Minnesota for how we deliver services," Goodno said Wednesday after Gov.-elect Tim Pawlenty announced he would lead the Human Services Department.

At news conferences in St. Paul and Moorhead, Pawlenty announced that his fellow Republican representative will head the 6,800-employee department with a $13.1 billion two-year budget.

Pawlenty introduced Goodno as a calm leader.

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"I'm certainly glad you described me as calm," Goodno said, "because I'm not feeling that way now."

Still, Goodno joked when a reporter asked him for specifics, avoiding the answer by saying, "I've only been on the job 30 seconds."

Turning serious, Goodno added: "We need to look at how we provide services and what services we provide."

Goodno, a 12-year state House member who opted not to seek re-election, said Pawlenty's desire to make changes led him to accept the offer.

"There could be a lot of opportunities out there for restructuring services," Goodno said.

However, he said, leading the state's most costly agency means he will have to find places to make cuts as state leaders try to balance the budget.

"It is obvious we will have to make a large part of the cuts," he said.

Goodno said the average Minnesotan understands that in tough times, "you have to cut back on your purse strings."

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Goodno, a lawyer and former owner of Moorhead Linoleum and Tile Co., was in the hot seat during the past legislative session as chairman of the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee. The panel was forced to make the lion's share of cuts in the last budget-balancing attempt.

Pawlenty said that experience will help Goodno.

"We have a clear priority to balance the state's budget without increasing taxes," Pawlenty said. "With Kevin Goodno joining our administration, Minnesotans should take heart that we have a leader who will prioritize to help those most in need. But we also will see with Kevin's leadership, someone who will constantly be looking at fresh, creative ways of delivering services and looking for opportunities to implement positive change."

The governor-elect said Goodno is the right person for the job, which Pawlenty called "one of the most important positions" in the administration.

The Pawlenty administration takes office Jan. 7, but commissioners must receive Senate approval to remain in their jobs.

Goodno decided not to run for a seventh term in the House just before his third daughter was born earlier this year. He said he wanted to be with his wife, Linda, and family.

As a legislator, Goodno split his time between Moorhead and St. Paul. The family will move to the Twin Cities when he begins his new job.

Goodno has lived in Moorhead all of his life. He has worked for the Gunhus, Grinnell, Klinger, Swenson and Guy law firm since 1999, when he earned a law degree by taking night courses. Before that, he worked at the family flooring business, Moorhead Linoleum and Tile, buying it in 1991.

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In 1985, at age 23, Goodno became the youngest elected Moorhead City Council member, defeating two opponents including the incumbent. He was re-elected in 1989, then ran for the Minnesota House the next year.

In his first legislative election, when he was 28, Goodno defeated incumbent Democratic Rep. Diane Wray Williams by 5 percentage points. Two years later, he beat her again by nearly 23 points. Since then, no challenger has come close.

Goodno's most prominent role in the Legislature came earlier this year when he was the primary House negotiator on a budget-balancing deal as the session neared an end. He has been chairman of the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee since Republicans took control of the chamber in 1999.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Don Davis at (651) 290-0707

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