Fischbach known as 'stickler for rules'

ST. PAUL -- Sen. Michelle Fischbach is prepared to assume the Minnesota Senate presidency, the first woman in that position, bringing a long background in making sure legislative rules are followed.

Sen. Michelle Fischbach of Paynesville becomes the first woman Minnesota Senate president when lawmakers return to the Capitol Jan. 4. Her Republican colleagues picked her for the job because of her knowledge about legislative rules. Pioneer Photo/Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Sen. Michelle Fischbach is prepared to assume the Minnesota Senate presidency, the first woman in that position, bringing a long background in making sure legislative rules are followed.

Much of her work will involve making sure rules are followed, something that has concerned her for years.

Sticky notes protrude from her copy of Mason's Manual, a thick book laying out a legislative body's rules. She has gone through the book many times since taking office in 1996 and is known as "as stickler for rules," as incoming Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said.

But there was a constitutional provision that escaped Fischbach: When she is sworn in as president, she is third in line to the governor's office only behind the lieutenant governor.

When a reporter told her about that, her jaw dropped.


"It didn't hit me," an astounded Fischbach said. "I didn't think about that. ... I'm going to have to call my husband."

She quickly downplayed that part of the job.

"Let's just hope that never becomes necessary," she said, because that would mean there was a tragedy or other state crisis.

The succession surprise illustrates a problem for Fischbach and other Republicans who are about to assume control of the Senate: They have not been in power and no one knows just what steps to take.

"There is no handbook because it hasn't happened for 40 years," Fischbach said of a change in party power.

Democrats have controlled the Senate, often by huge margins, since lawmakers began running on political party tickets in 1972. "Conservatives," mostly Republicans, held power at times during the nonpartisan years and Republicans did control the Senate from time to time before the nonpartisan law passed in 1913, but the Legislature has changed so much that anything giving guidance about a party taking the majority would be sadly outdated.

Fischbach, who briefly sat on the Paynesville City Council before being elected to the Senate, said she is ready to take on the uncharted challenge.

As president, she will run Senate sessions, calling on senators to speak and at times deciding if an amendment is germane to the bill being debated. She will make sure the Senate is making progress during its debates.


Fischbach could get into some partisan fights, but she and Koch promise an even-handed approach.

"I don't think she will let us get away with things," Koch said, admitting that at times that may put Fischbach at odds with other GOP senators.

After decades being outnumbered by Democratic-Farmer-Laborites, Koch said, Republicans "have a healthy respect for the minority and their rights."

Fischbach, the third most senior Senate Republican, sounded almost sympatric to Democrats who have to move out of their Capitol offices to a nondescript building across the street and into the minority. "They all have a new role, too."

She promised to force senators to stick to rules.

"I think the rules are important," the Woodbury native said, so the public knows their senators are being treated fairly.

The senator has not been one to talk much on the Senate floor, and at times her husband has received more publicity.

Scott Fischbach is Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life executive director. The group is the state's largest anti-abortion organization and can get caught up in highly publicized controversy.


While she will run Senate sessions, and could hold key positions on committees, Fischbach said her central Minnesota district comes first. Even the president can carry bills and debate issues on the Senate floor.

And while she would prefer to spend time back home in her district, if other Minnesotans hear about her, it likely will because she wields the gavel in the Legislature's upper chamber.

Fischbach said she hopes not to be involved in shouting matches with colleagues, which has happened with former GOP Sens. Michele Bachmann and Dick Day.

And while her Republican colors may show through from time to time, she made one promise: "I will do my best to be fair."

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.

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