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Reps. Nick Zerwas and Dan Schoen Think Beers and Hockey are in the Best Interest of Bipartisanship

Zerwas and Schoen pose for a selfie on the House floor.

Zerwas and Schoen pose for a selfie on the House floor.

They might be lining up to bat for their respective parties over taxing the rich and a contentious transportation budget this legislative session, but Reps. Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River) and Dan Schoen (DFL-St. Paul Park) are going to try to keep their friendship above politics this year.

Everyone says they're going to play nice in order to ease public rage over partisan gridlock, but actually passing bills is another matter. Rep. JoAnn Ward (DFL-Woodbury) offered an olive branch last Thursday when she invited legislators to a half-day workshop on civil discourse, but only four Republicans signed up alongside 25 Democrats.

Of the four Republicans, Zerwas said he not only has a bipartisan best bud on the House floor, but that he and Schoen are actually good personal friends in real life too.

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Zerwas and Schoen met as freshmen legislators two years ago when they both served on the Health and Human Services Policy Committee. Just talking turned into a beer and lunch, catching Wild games together, and calling each other up now and then to shoot the shit over nothing in particular. In the two terms they worked together on health policy, they passed an advanced practice nursing bill that their predecessors fought over for more than a decade.

There's the understanding that sometimes the business of politics calls for passionate jabs across the aisle, but it's not personal. Fundamental platforms aside, the two have connected over a shared background in law enforcement, mutual frustration with smear campaigns, their personal health, and family.

"Nick and I aren't friends because we want the world to be just like us. We wish people were, but we know that's a pretty uphill battle," Schoen said. "We tell each other how wrong we are on certain things all the time. But sometimes you just need to vent, and it's good to have someone to talk to."

Zerwas says he wants more representatives from his own party at the next bipartisanship workshop. Not that the half-day retreat was all paintball and trust falls; he says he did appreciate learning that many of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle credit the same key moments in history -- the Civil Rights Movement, the assassinations of JFK and MLK -- for igniting their interest in politics.

"If you have a friend across the aisle, if you get to know people on a personal level, you're less likely to try to get in the cheap shots on the floor," he said.

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