The Minnesota Senate's tradition of decorum and orderly debate has been upended this year by some Republican newcomers who are antagonizing the Democratic majority and dragging discussions on for hours.
GOP Sens. Steve Drazkowski, Glenn Gruenhagen and Eric Lucero rose to speak nearly 50 times combined during a 15-hour debate on a bill codifying abortion rights into state law, repeatedly blasting Democrats' bill as "extreme." The Senate debate took nearly four times as long as the House's, despite the chamber having half as many legislators.
The three former House members — known for their winding and sometimes theatrical speeches — have also chastised Senate Democrats for bills that restored felons' voting rights, allowed unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver's licenses and required state utility providers to be carbon-free by 2040.
"When I see things that are fundamentally and viscerally opposed not only by myself but certainly by my constituents, I see it as really a call to action for me to respond," said Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa. "The social agenda they're bringing is really just fundamentally opposite of the people who sent me here."
The Republican newcomers have no plans to let up, saying Senate Democrats are using a one-seat majority to ram through progressive bills that conservative Minnesotans oppose.
Their outspoken and argumentative style has caught some DFL senators off guard.
"The Republicans who were in the House that ran for the Senate were well-known for giving long speeches. That is not a custom in the Senate, so it's taken the Senate a bit of time to get used to it," said Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, who has served in the Minnesota Legislature for nearly four decades. "I'm among those that wish they would be more concise in their comments."
Rest recently scolded Lucero while she was presiding over the Senate as temporary president, telling the Republican he "had gone far afield" during a floor debate on the driver's licenses bill.
"I am not going to allow you to speak for 10 minutes before you get to a question," Rest said. "Don't try that again."
Lucero shouted back: "I'm not intending to test you. I'm not intending to push your buttons," he said. "It may have taken 10 minutes to get to my question, but it's very legitimate."
Lucero, a cybersecurity professional from St. Michael, has become a prominent adversary of Democrats. He said his penchant for giving lengthy speeches comes from drinking "too much coffee" and his past experience teaching college cybersecurity classes.
As much as Lucero can frustrate his DFL colleagues, he also entertains them with what he describes as his "colorful" personality and wardrobe. The Republican has donned a number of boldly colored and patterned suit jackets in his eight years at the State Capitol.
Wearing a black jacket patterned with purple and pink flowers, Lucero recently asked Rest during a floor session, "What would be an appropriate jacket to wear for Mardi Gras?"
"Funny that you should ask that," Rest responded. "We're going to have a drawing for a boa, a feather boa in Mardi Gras colors, and I'm going to encourage everyone on the slip to write Senator Lucero's name on it."
Joking aside, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, said the long-winded speeches and countless last-minute attempts to amend bills can prevent the Senate from getting its work done.
"Senate leadership concerns include the burden put on staff, in particular nonpartisan staff, when you have lengthy floor sessions with over a hundred amendments," Frentz said. "We're concerned about committee hearings and other work that can be postponed and even canceled when the amount of time required on the floor is more than it should be."
Frentz and Rest said the three Republicans don't speak as much in legislative committee hearings as they do on the more closely watched Senate floor.
Lucero and Gruenhagen sit on Frentz's Energy, Utilities, Environment and Climate Committee. Drazkowski is a member of the Taxes Committee that Rest leads.
"Senator Drazkowski is an excellent contributing member" on the Taxes Committee, Rest noted.
Drazkowski, who owns a shoe store, often directs campaign trail-style barbs at Democrats during Senate debates. He did the same in an interview, saying Democratic state lawmakers this year are pushing the "most extreme agenda coming from the radical left that I've seen."
Senate DFLers have shown little willingness to work with Republicans in this session, Drazkowski said, criticizing them for not accepting more bill amendments from GOP members.
"It's as if they're legislating with their earplugs in," Drazkowski said.
Gruenhagen expressed similar frustrations in an emailed statement, saying he's disappointed there's been "very little bipartisanship" in the Senate.
An insurance agent from Glencoe, Gruenhagen said he only says "about 5% of what I want to say" when on the Senate floor. He said he believes in robust debate, citing the "Founding Fathers and the several hours they spoke on key issues."
"We bring a lot of ideas to the table on behalf of our constituents," he said.
Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said the three new members have brought fresh energy to the Senate GOP caucus, which finds itself in the minority for the first time in years.
"It's been good training for us," Johnson said. But, "We have to turn it into more of a senatorial decorum."