Perhaps not as familiar to voters as former Sen. Mark Dayton or Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Rep. Paul Thissen (D) is creating a buzz among progressives – as well as republicans and independents – and with good reason. Representing Legislative District 63A since 2002, he has chaired the Health and Human Services Policy Committee and served on several other committees including the Finance Committee, Health and Human Services Finance Committee, Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement, Health Care Access Commission (Member) since 2007. In 2009 he was also assigned to the Environment Policy and Oversight Commission, and the Game and Fish Division.
His successful legislative record includes core work on covering 40,000 more kids with health insurance, reforming electronic records and billing (saving $70 million per year), allowing small communities to control how long-term care dollars are used, advocating renewable energy standards since 2003, encouraging entrepreneurship on social issues with Community Solutions Grants that will themselves become self-sustaining, reforming eminent domain laws to protect homeowners and small businesses, streamlining government reporting requirements and requiring cost-benefit analysis of privatization proposals, reforming campaign [rules] to reduce incentives for partisanship and speed up the resolution of complaints, preserving housing and other benefits for homeless veterans, writing and passing the Abigail Taylor Pool Safety Bill, and prohibiting sales of lead jewelry to children.
During a November 2009 debate, Thissen said that all the candidates were there for the same reason: they love Minnesota and think the state is headed in the wrong direction. The difference among them is how they plan to change that. He said the DFL has been playing “not to lose” for too long, and that it’s time to let go of the old ways of doing things and old grudges and political battles. He expressed a willingness to do things in a whole new way, which is exactly what many voters have been asking for since the 2008 election and beyond.
Both Thissen’s parents were Minnesota schoolteachers and his three children all attend public school. During the November debate, Thissen said that there are good things going on in our schools, and there are a lot of hard-working teachers in Minnesota. He said we need to have a discussion about this and then move on to the educational challenges we face. Rather than pitting charter schools against the public system, Thissen suggested looking at and taking what works in charter schools, and incorporating that into our public schools. He said we need to create exciting, engaging learning environments that fit the diverse needs of our students, and that we can solve the achievement gap if we have the political will.
With no shortage of political will, Thissen has a way of looking at the whole picture and “connecting the dots”. (Think how “no new [income] taxes” equated to unmanageably high increases in property taxes under Gov. Pawlenty.) He agreed that the state tax system needs reform, making the astute observation that we are taxing a 30-year-old “goods” economy, not today’s “service” economy. Thissen says we need a sustainable tax system, which means making it fair and changing the way we spend tax dollars so as not to have to constantly raise taxes.
Thissen has also connected the dots when it comes to our economy. One of today’s biggest financial challenges for small businesses and family farms (not to mention individuals) is the rising cost of health care. Thissen says we need to pay “smarter” for health care. His experience on the Health and Human Services Finance Committee and as Chair of the Health and Human Services Policy Committee since 2007 has taught him that “by redesigning health coverage, we can hold down the cost of health care for Minnesota’s families and businesses” and that “we must also fundamentally change the way we think about health care.” (Read more about his plan to reshape and improve health care here.)
In addition to acknowledging a moral imperative, Thissen recognizes how the lack of health coverage for Minnesota’s children and the upcoming difficulties in caring for Minnesota’s seniors affect our economy. In 2007 he authored the Children’s Health Care Security Act which provides a health care option for nearly 40,000 previously uninsured children in Minnesota. Regarding aging and seniors Thissen says, “The most cost-effective and many times the most desirable way to get needed care to older Minnesotans is with assistance from friends and family.” Putting words into action, he authored the Long-term Caregiver Protection Act, the goals of which are “to offer support to informal caregivers, delay the time when an older person is placed in a nursing facility and consequently, offer a significant savings to the state.”
Thissen’s understanding and expression of the interconnectedness of issues suggest a transformational style of leadership that might be just what Minnesota needs now. What excites voters about Paul Thissen is that his goals complete the vision Minnesotans have for their state – and he has already demonstrated a unique ability to create a path to achievement.