As expected, rural legislators joined hands this week to form separate caucus to meet throughout the session. Former GOP Minority Leader, Sen. Dave Senjem, announced his intentions to form the caucus with Rep. Bob Gunther last fall.
A new development, however, is the caucus will only include Republican members, despite Senjem initially saying the group would be bipartisan.
Rural legislators are likely facing a bumpy session ahead. The $6.2 billion dollar deficit and newly-controlled Republican Legislature is going to mean deep cuts, and those stand to hurt more in rural areas where communities are more dependent on local government aid, and nursing homes, hospitals and schools are fewer and farther between.
State Demographer Tom Gillaspy spoke to the group at its first meeting Tuesday about demographic changes in rural Minnesota, which have the potential to further erode rural power. Some thought a bipartisan caucus would give rural members leverage in budget negotiations.
Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, and Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, were elected by the more than 30 legislators present to be co-chairs of the caucus, according to a news release. Senjem, Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, and Rep. Carolyn McElfatrick, R-Deer River, will sit on the caucus’ executive committee.
“This is an important step for the people we represent in greater Minnesota,” Magnus said in a statement. “Our strength is in our cohesiveness. This group will regularly work with leaders and policy experts to focus on long-term trends in Minnesota’s rural economy. In doing so, we will be more informed, more organized, and better prepared to serve our constituents.”
The Republican Rural Caucus will meet on a weekly basis. The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday.