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Frederickson leaves behind legislative legacy

December 19, 2010
By Josh Moniz, Staff Writer

The end of this year will make the end of one man's three decades of service to Brown County and the city of New Ulm.

Sen. Dennis Frederickson, one of the Minnesota State Senate's longest running senators, is retiring from his work in the legislature after 30 years of service. He will leave behind a legacy of dedication to conservation efforts and quality statesmanship.

Frederickson was first elected as senator in 1980 and has been reelected every year since. During his entire tenure as senator, Brown County was the only county he consistently represented the entire time. Frederickson was an important for Minnesota conservation throughout his time in Senate, including working as author of key conservation legislation.

Article Photos

Minnesota State Senator Dennis Frederickson in the senate in 2010

Frederickson's Legacy in the Senate

Frederickson said his introduction to the Minnesota Senate was a trial by fire. He said that his first two years in the Senate were some of the most partisan times in it's history. The state was facing down requirement to balance the entire budget in just one year, which lead to seven special sessions including one that met on New Year's Eve. At the same time, the legislature was looking at redistricting in 1982. Frederickson said this made his first two years in the Senate feel like he was constantly on the campaign trail.

After 1982, Frederickson said the entire tone of the Senate changed to a more relaxed and helpful atmosphere. He attributes it to all the Senators being aware that they would be working together for the next four years, as opposed to the shortened two years term that occurred because of the redistricting.

After surviving a chaotic introduction, he went on to author of a very significant piece of legislation: the Clean Water Legacy Act.

"It took over 2 year for the bill to pass and it has been regarded as some of the best legislation for clean water in the United States," said Frederickson.

He added that it was passed with the assistance of a very large coalition of groups that supported the bill.

The bill itself brought Minnesota in compliance with the 1972 federal Clean Water Act. Frederickson said it was a particularly difficult bill to pass because of the complexity of the factors involved in its implementation and strong opposition to its passage. However, he said that the passage of the Act was essential of Minnesota, ensuring clean water for state residents for years to come. In addition, he said that the state's economic development was at risk at the time. The reason was that the federal EPA had warned that economic development of select watersheds would have been halted if pollutants in Minnesota water were not addressed.

Frederickson said that the Clean Water Legacy Act was one of his proudest legislative acts to have been able to work on.

In addition to the bill he authored, he listed several other important bills and amendments he felt proud for working on.

He helped carry a bill that combined the federal Conservation Reserve Program with the Reinvest in Minnesota program. The resulting program led to the enrollment of 100,000 acres of farmland along Minnesota' s waterways a program to be preserved as natural habitats instead of being plowed for cultivation.

"I believe it is one of the largest conservation reserve enhancement programs in the United States," said Frederickson.

He was also the co-author of the 3/8 cent sales tax for the Legacy Amendment. The Amendment is a constitutional amendment that supports outdoor heritage, clean waters, parks and trails and arts and cultural heritage projects. Portions of the funds from the sales tax will go to finance the Clean Water Legacy Act.

Finally, he also co-authored the Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund that constitutionally dedicates 40 percent, or 6.6 cent of every dollar, of the state lottery's net proceeds to projects that preserve or enhance the state's environmental and natural resources.

"I was proud of all them, because I believe they will leave a lasting legacy for Minnesota natural resources," said Frederickson.

Daily life as a senator

Frederickson explained there were many trials and triumphs in the daily life of being a senator that shaped how he lived.

He said the greatest joy of the job was his ability to directly communicate with and assist constituents from his district.

"It's always a treat to see constituents from my district." Frederickson said.

He added that he would often enjoy helping to coach constituents from his district in the details of Senate procedure.

Frederickson said he also loved working on the exact wording of a bill. He said he developed this love while learning the ropes of being a senator. He said he even went so far as to gain a reputation for it.

"When I was in high school and college, I did not much care for grammar and rhetoric. It was something I grew to appreciate," said Frederickson, "I learned to do it observing other skilled senators. I also learned from an office called the Reviser's Office. i learned the proper form and the proper terminology.

"If you want people to follow the law and follow the intent of the legislature, you need to be very precise about what you want people to do or not do. You want to have it worded so that it's clear, so that when citizens read the law there is no ambiguity as to what breaks the law and what is acceptable."

Frederickson said that life a senator isn't without sacrifices. He was often required to spend great deals of time away from his wife and three children while the Senate was in session.

"The thing I disliked the most was when late Sunday afternoon or early Sunday evening would come around, I would be leaving New Ulm and driving to Saint Paul to go to my empty apartment or to my office to work on legislation because I would be needed in the Senate on Monday. Then I would have to drive back again Friday night to New Ulm. The commute back and forth got to be tiresome, especially while packing up Sunday night," said Frederickson.

Besides his commitment during the Senate session, Frederickson said he would also have to contributes two or three days every two weeks to committees that occurred even while the Senate was out of session.

Emphasis on Conservation

Frederickson said his emphasis on conservation came from growing up on his family farm.

"I grew up on a general purpose farm in the 1940s and 1950s. We had a lot of animals around, so besides farming activities, I loved wildlife. I would hunt, trap and fish. Often, when I would come home from work in the field, I would have a young animal of some kind with me," said Frederickson, "I've always been interested in natural resources and wildlife since a young age. It just continued with me in the Senate."

Frederickson's conservation work resulted in him receive numerous awards from conservation advocacy groups, which he proudly displayed at a farewell celebration held for him in New Ulm.

A Farewell to Frederickson

A wide variety of legislature and New Ulm official come out to celebrate Frederickson's retirement from the Senate last Tuesday at Lola's Larkspur Market. Many of them praised Frederickson's hard work and local efforts over the length of his career.

New Ulm Mayor Joel Albrecht officiated the event, praising Frederickson and recounting their history working together. Albrecht will also be leaving office at the end of this year.

"Frederickson was a very good legislator and he kept a low profile. Some people in a legislature for a length of time are constantly in the news. They're making statements about this, that and everything else," said Albrecht, "Frederickson is a very quite legislature that would instead spend his time working on the issues to get the legislation passed with bipartisan support, rather than in front of a camera."

At the end of the ceremony, Frederickson received a plaque from Albrecht commemorating his time serving the New Ulm area.

Frederickson said he is unworried about leaving his profession of 30 years.

"I'm moving on and not looking back. That's what I did when I left active duty in the Navy and that's what I did when I quite farming. I decide to move on to something else and I don't look back," said Frederickson.

Frederickson said he was always honored to have been able to serve the New Ulm area.

"It has been a tremendous privilege to serve in the Minnesota Senate and it has been a tremendous privilege to say I was a state senator from New Ulm," said Frederickson.



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