Minnesota State Rep. Steve Green walked through the doors of the state house in January as the new guy. It would be his first term ever. Even harder than that, the Fosston man who is now charged with representing district 2B for parts of Becker and Mahnomen counties was a Republican in a DFL-controlled state legislature.
Roughly four months later, he emerged from the 2013 session a little less “green” in the world of politics but just as “Green” as the day he took the oath of office.
The 'No' man
Steve Green is as Republican as they come, and he didn’t sway from that for a second. He voted “no” to gay marriage in Minnesota; He voted “no” to allowing at-home day care providers the right to unionize; He voted “no” on the energy bill that placed more mandates on renewable energy.
In fact, out of the 16 bills that came to vote, his “no” button is what got pushed every single time except once.
“I did vote ‘yes’ on the public safety bill,” said Green, “although I think there were some bad things in there, I thought we needed it because we need to get our roads safe and our court system moving. Without that, we’d be short officers on the road, and when there’s trouble those are the guys that are out there taking the bullets.”
Green is the first to admit he isn’t the best at compromise. “I think when you compromise you usually end up at the losing end,” he said, adding that his first legislative session “wasn’t that great.”
“I think the people of Minnesota lost a lot of freedom in this session,” he said, “I like a lot of local control - I think when you can look your representative in the eye and the closer connection you’ve got, I think that’s when you get your best service.”
For Green, every “no” vote he cast was a “yes” for the things he believes in, and ideally, for the constituents that voted him into office because of those beliefs.
And while he’s not surprised that the gay marriage bill passed the legislature, he says his concerns about the change go beyond the idea of same-sex couples marrying.
“There’s some wording in there that may go against our freedom of religion,” said Green, “that you may not be able to exercise that right if you’re getting money from the state, like schools may have to have these things taught and even churches because they’re tax exempt could be classified as receiving government assistance.”
Green is also concerned that the passed energy bill will be too costly to Minnesotans who are already struggling to make ends meet.
“From what I’ve discovered, renewables are so inefficient, and now we’ll be putting another one and a half percent mandate on solar,” said Green, “These things are so bad that to get people to vote for them they had to carve out areas that won’t be affected by them, but if you’re on any private electric company, you’re going to get nailed hard.”
Green says there might be a future for renewable energy, but believes they are still too “unproven” to put on the backs of Minnesotans.
He was also disappointed when the votes came through allowing at-home daycare providers the right to unionize.
“From what I’ve seen, I think it’s basically a way to shore up the unions that are losing members,” he said, “These are private businesses, and it’s an overreach by government.”
Green goes on to say daycare unions would only hurt the daycare providers and the families they serve as their money goes into the hands of unions.
While Green and fellow conservatives were facing defeat after defeat, he continued fighting for a couple of changes he introduced.
One of them was an amendment to a bill that provides Legacy funds to different cultural organizations throughout the state that use it to enhance arts and cultural or historical projects.
“There are organizations that are not in compliance to the rules set forth to receive the funds, and in some cases we don’t know where the money has gone and in some cases they’ve gone to places they shouldn’t have,” said Green, whose amendment would have stopped those organizations from receiving money until they were in compliance.
However, fellow legislators stopped that amendment from happening when it was taken out in the final version of the bill.
“And I can’t understand that because it wasn’t a bipartisan issue, it was common sense,” said a frustrated Green, who realized then how party alliances can affect what does and does not get through.
“I knew things went on (in politics), but I didn’t realize until you’re sitting there watching the votes come in what kind of an impact it has,” said Green, who says he’s not good at playing games, meaning the political game.
“Like my view or not, I am where I stand,” he said, “but I also realize that our divided government means it’s slow, and that can be a good thing too because it also slows the bad things from getting in there.”
Green says he is proud of the fact that he and fellow Republicans were able to stop the bonding bill, which he says may have contained a lot of good things in it, but was too far-reaching financially.
“The $800 million they wanted was way out of whack, and I think there were some unnecessary things in there that shouldn’t have been,” he said, proud that he was part of stopping that bill and recreating one that was much smaller but still funded some things he deemed necessary.
“I considered that a great win,” said Green.
Aside from the frustrations of a sinking agenda, Green also learned why legislators have a reputation for passing bills they haven’t even read.
“Going into this I thought that was so terrible,” said Green, who began reading every single bill front to back.
But he soon discovered why this would be an unattainable goal as bills he had read through were changed dramatically after going through committee. He says they’d then be slapped down in front of legislators who were given little time to debate it before having to vote on it that day.
“I think that’s just so wrong,” said Green, “The Health and Human Services bill was about 800 pages long, and so there’s not time to get through a bill like that and make an educated vote on it.”
This made for another reason Green says he felt more comfortable voting “no” on so many bills.
Now, as Green’s first legislative session is wrapped up and he knows more about what he’s up against, the Republican is also now discovering that there actually is no down-time for his civilian job as a house modeler, as he says people are always trying to bend his ear for one thing or another.
“But that’s good - that’s what I want,” he said, adding that he also has several public appearances on his calendar this summer.
One thing Green says he would love to see turn around next session more than anything is what he calls an “unfriendly climate” for local businesses.
“We’ve seen so many of our main streets in our small towns disappear, and when businesses disappear, jobs dry up, and when that happens, our young people move away to bigger cities because there’s nothing back home for them anymore,” he said, adding that he believes Minnesota is heading in the wrong direction on that front.
But despite the hard knocks for this freshman state congressman, Green says he remains optimistic as he works with good Minnesotans and meets young people who he trusts with the future.
“I think it was Winston Churchill that once said ‘Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing eventually,’ and sometimes I think you just have to have your back to the wall to do it, but I think Minnesota will step up to do it.”