INFLUENCER: PAUL TORKELSON
Representative Paul Torkelson
Chair, House Transportation Finance Committee
Enacting strategic and sustained funding for the statewide transportation network – roads, bridges and transit – was among the Minnesota Chamber’s top priorities for the 2017 Legislature. Lawmakers enacted the largest investment in roads and bridges since 2008 – without an increase in taxes or fees. Representative Paul Torkelson, as chair of the House Transportation Finance Committee, played a key role in guiding the legislation.
What makes a good legislator?
A good legislator is a good listener. It is easy for legislators to slip into the “let me explain the way it is” mode when we should spend more time in the mode of “tell me what you would like to see accomplished.”
A good legislator is a team player. The challenge is that we play on more than one team, sometimes simultaneously, and our role varies as we move from one team to the next.
Finally, a good legislator is results oriented. Progress toward our goals is often incremental, and a good legislator embraces the small victories that build a foundation for future progress.
What’s the most effective way for constituents to have an impact on the legislative process?
Impact is dependent on the impression you make. A number of factors can influence how you are perceived. There is strength in numbers; you can be one more voice added to a larger group that contacts a legislator on a particular issue. You should utilize interest groups and the lobbyists that work for them. They can be your voice at the Legislature. Just be sure they in turn are listening to their membership. Your legislator will listen if you establish a relationship in which they understand that you offer valuable insights related to a particular interest.
What was the most important "ingredient" in the mix this year in helping to get a transportation funding bill passed and signed into law?
Throughout the session I told anyone who would listen how important it would be for everyone interested in the passage of a substantial bill to stay on the bus. I was not asking them to swallow a bill that was unacceptable. I was asking that they work with me to assemble a bill that they could support. I also asked them to avoid poisoning the well during the process. A major bill goes through a number of revisions – some more acceptable than others. Judging by recent history, passing a transportation bill is no simple task, and I needed everyone to help me.
What’s your favorite recent movie and/or what book are you reading right now?
I am usually reading something by my colleague Dean Urdahl, but right now I am reading “Sundown at Sunrise” by former Representative turned lobbyist Marty Seifert.
Who inspires you the most? Why?
Over the last few years I have been inspired by architect Cass Gilbert. In my role as chair of the Capital Investment Committee last biennium, I was directly involved in the recently completed renovation project. I believe that Cass Gilbert’s genius is on full display in the State Capitol. His attention to detail and remarkable ability to artistically assemble the resources available is inspiring. I encourage everyone to attend the grand opening and acquaint themselves with his masterpiece.
What prompted you to initially run for political office and to continue your service?
I have always had a keen interest in policymaking and leadership. My deepest exposure to lawmaking came through my involvement with Farm Bureau and agricultural issues. When my predecessor in the House decided to retire, he encouraged me to run. I chose to run and I knew it would take multiple terms to have a significant impact.
What’s your "day job" outside of the Legislature, and what impact does that work have on your work as a legislator?
I am a farmer by trade. I have the privilege to own and operate the farm where my great-grandfather started farming in 1878. My life’s work in agriculture directly impacts my legislative activities. As a business owner, I understand how policy changes in St. Paul affect our ability to succeed. The intersections between agriculture and transportation are numerous. I am dependent on the roads and bridges that carry my production to market. I also depend on rail and ship to move much of what we produce into foreign markets.
What do you enjoy most about Minnesota?
I love the variety of opportunities and experiences Minnesota offers. Outdoor recreation, natural beauty, excellence in education, outstanding cultural activities and a transportation system that is getting better every day.
What’s your favorite pastime/hobby?
The redrawing of district lines prior to the 2012 election resulted in the purchase of our lake home on beautiful Lake Hanska in southern Brown County. I find a sunset pontoon cruise with family and friends is darn hard to beat.