ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Minnesota's now-scattered 67 state senators are planning their move into offices under one roof for the first time anyone can recall.
As the new, $90 million Senate Office Building nears completion, senators are choosing their future offices. Early talk of Democratic and Republican senators occupying offices side-by-side in an attempt to tear down some partisan walls and foster collegiality has given way to familiar separation, with the majority and minority parties mostly keeping to their own floors. And the divisiveness over the decision to construct the building in the first place hasn't abated.
Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said Thursday that his members aren't in a rush to move to a building they opposed and won't leave their existing space in a nearby office complex until demanded to do so by the Department of Administration.
"We have not gotten any eviction notice if you will," Hann told The Associated Press. "Our members think our offices are just fine."
The Senate gets the keys to the three-story building behind the Capitol in January, but office furniture begins arriving next month. That's put some urgency on project planners to figure out who goes where. Three of the four offices with the most-sweeping views are already spoken for, claimed by senior Democrats. Other members have taken personal tours to size up space.
It was Sen. Richard Cohen's turn to scope out options Thursday. He and an aide stepped around construction workers and spoke over the whir of power tools as project point person Vic Thorstenson showed the St. Paul Democrat around.
"This one has a great view of the parking ramp," Thorstenson joked to the powerful Finance Committee chairman as they stood in a back-corner office facing away from the Capitol. Still, it promised seclusion from heavier foot traffic of other corridors.
But he chose roomier space in the "Castle View" wing — nicknamed that because of the nearby White Castle fast-food joint in view (the downtown Minneapolis skyline can be seen in the distance).
No matter what, Cohen was getting put next to another Democrat. Only two senators from the opposite parties will be placed next to one another.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk's goal of having co-mingled offices was shot down. Republicans are adamant about having distinct space just like the current layout with majority senators in the Capitol and the minority on a single floor in an adjacent building.
Republican Sen. Jeremy Miller of Winona, a founding member of the "Purple Caucus" promoting bipartisan cooperation, doesn't buy the argument that mixing senators would spur more harmony in legislative deliberations. Like other GOP senators, Miller contends the new building is too costly and unnecessary.
"I don't think we needed to build the new $90 million office building to be under one roof," Miller said. "There are other things we can do to get us together."
Republicans used what they branded a "luxury office building" as a campaign tool in 2014, when they reclaimed a House majority and broke up the all-Democratic control of state government.
Cohen said the building's upcoming opening could help defuse political rhetoric against it.
"Once we're there and folks understand it is a very simple, functional building," he said, "I think that will negate some concerns and certainly get rid of the allegations about luxurious kinds of amenities, whether it be swimming pools or whatever else has been floating around."