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Rookie lawmakers face deficit right off

ST. PAUL - It's tough to be a new Minnesota legislator this year, with the state facing what many predict will be a $7 billion budget deficit.

"Even the veterans haven't had experience with a budget (deficit) this big or an economy this bad," said Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck. "I'm just listening and seeing what others are saying, and I try to offer my new perspective where I can."

Even a normal session - one without a huge deficit to plug - is tough on new legislators. The budget problem just makes it more difficult for the 23 freshmen - 12 Republicans and 11 Democrats - who began their service Jan. 6, after orientation seminars offered by the House.

Anderson said beyond the deficit, the experience has been a steep learning curve. "There is such a deluge of information coming my way. It's a little overwhelming. I am always wondering what to save and what not to save."

Some rookies look at the massive deficit as a wake-up call.

"As a state and country we have been living beyond our means," said Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji. "This is an opportunity to put us back on our footing. We should pay our bills and make a positive impact fiscally."

Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, admits that he was naive about the budget.

"It first felt like whirlwind," Kelly said. "Now I am getting a little antsy to get something moving. I am naïve about this massive deficit problem. I thought it would get the ball moving."

Kelly said he ran into something similar to this on the school board in Red Wing. It had to cut 10 percent of the budget during his two-year term. "I'm not as apprehensive, I think, because I've dealt with this on a smaller scale."

Gov. Tim Pawlenty's State of the State address inspired Rep. Mark Murdock, R-Ottertail. He agrees with Pawlenty that a solution to the deficit starts at home. He thinks each individual household needs to look at what it can do without, and it moves from there to the city, county and state levels.

"I think we need to take a more common-sense and open-minded approach," Murdock said. "I worked in retail hardware - it's a people business. It prepared me to keep my head screwed on straight."

Murdock, in his first political role, said he has had an interest in politics for a long time.

"I've always had an interest in watching the races. My mother was very involved in politics while I was growing up," he said. "When Rep. Dean Simpson came to ask if I wanted to run, I thought, 'You don't know until you try.' "

Simpson, R-Perham, was helpful during the campaign, Murdock said.

"He still calls me every 10 days or so," Murdock said. "You could say that we got elected. One thing Dean didn't tell me about was the deficit."

Anderson is a University of Minnesota journalism student working for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau