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BEST POLITICIAN Minneapolis 2005 - Linda Berglin

Readers' Choice: Tim Pawlenty

Knowledge, compassion, and effectiveness are the criteria we look for in a politician, which is why Berglin is such an easy choice. After 33 years as a state legislator (the first eight in the Minnesota House, and the last quarter-century in the Senate) she is perhaps best known for co-founding MinnesotaCare in 1992 and staunchly defending it ever since. A state-subsidized health insurance program designed primarily for the working poor, MnCare, as much as Mayo, Medtronic, and Hazelden, has established Minnesota's national reputation for providing quality health care. The prim 60-year old legislator may look and sound like she hangs out with Mayberry's Aunt Bea, but behind that matronly facade is the brain of Minnesota's foremost expert on health care policy, and the heart of a loyal and tenacious watchdog. Those who dismiss her as simply a bleeding-heart liberal obviously don't pay attention to the tens of millions she saves the state every budget cycle parsing the Byzantine bureaucracy of our public and private health care system, accounting, and managerial maneuvers dutifully adopted by the relatively clueless Republicans. When most DFLers caved in to Governor Pawlenty's slash-and-burn budget priorities two years ago, Berglin held up the closing of the session for more than a week until health care coverage for literally tens of thousands of Minnesotans was taken off the chopping block. This year one can see her influence on the DFL's decision to pass the terms of a balanced budget early and then countenance additional taxes or spending cuts, which represents another attempt to stop Pawlenty's plan to balance the budget primarily by removing the health care insurance for citizens across the state. Asked what she will do if Pawlenty tries to ram through the health care cuts, Berglin, who knows that the session is supposed to adjourn on May 23, replies, "Well, I wouldn't plan any summer vacations."

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