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Leaders offer up advice

MINNEAPOLIS - Former Gov. Arne Carlson said he prays the trend of "happy talk" he believes he's seeing in politics doesn't hang around long in Minnesota.

MINNEAPOLIS - Former Gov. Arne Carlson said he prays the trend of "happy talk" he believes he's seeing in politics doesn't hang around long in Minnesota.

"I hope to God that does not happen," he said.

Instead, Carlson told an assembly of Minnesota legislators that he'd prefer to see them doing what it takes to accomplish the most for taxpayers - by arguing and debating.

Despite Carlson's wishes, much of Tuesday was spent attempting to blur partisan lines and strengthening personal relationships among lawmakers.

During a daylong conference, lawmakers heard from former state leaders, attended topical presentations and were treated to a bit of dancing. Organizers said the event was aimed at preparing legislators for a changing Minnesota - something Carlson said he applauds.

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"Thoughtful societies plan their futures," Carlson said during the conference at the University of Minnesota's Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs in Minneapolis. "I think this will be successful."

Joining him were former Govs. Al Quie and Wendell Anderson, and former U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo. The panel reminded lawmakers that three of the top issues facing the Legislature this session - health care, education and transportation - were prominent under their tenures as well.

And while differences in accomplishing those goals often divide members along party lines, Quie said solutions will only come if the body sees itself "as a coalition." Quie and Carlson are Republicans, while Anderson and Sabo are Democrats.

Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, said that message hit home.

"I think it's possible for us to have a collective vision," he said.

Still, it's virtually inevitable that conflict will arise among lawmakers. To stem that, Anderson said he used to host social events for legislators at the governor's mansion.

As a result, relationships - and some lifelong friend-

ships - began during his many dinners.

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"I just think you have to have social contact with one another," Anderson said.

Sabo echoed Carlson's call for impassioned discourse, urging "vigorous debate and vigorous disagreement."

That's something even "the new guy" can embrace, said freshman Sen. Dan Skogen, DFL-Hewitt.

"I think good policy comes from debate," he said.

The day also included presentations on Minnesota's changing demographics and their impact on the economy.

After the presentation, Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said he found it "thought-provoking," adding that he plans to introduce legislation this session as a result of challenges outlined by an economist and a demographer.

"Our most important work is to be making decisions that lead to a better future," Lanning said while legislators watched dancers demonstrating outreach learning technology made possible for the through state funding received in recent years.

The demonstration, performed by a Minneapolis duo who communicated via videoconferencing with a remote instructor, was dubbed "swing dancing 101 for legislators."

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Despite prodding from one another and some media members, no lawmakers made it to the dance floor.

Rather, legislators spent time chatting over wine and soft drinks. The level of commiserating was something Lanning said hasn't been evident for some time.

Social interaction has declined through the years, he said, with legislators given less opportunity to partake.

"This day is an exception," Lanning said, "which I think is good."

Forum Communications reporter Mike Longaecker can be reached at (651) 290-0707

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