Former senator lands position in familiar territory

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 28, 2003

Despite losing her senate seat by five votes, former Sen. Grace Schwab has found another way to serve the public.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed her as legislative liaison for the Depart-ment of Labor and Industry on Feb. 7.

Since then, Schwab said she has been working about 65 hours a week, much of her time spent testifying before state house and senate committees on labor-related legislation.

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"It's exciting," Schwab said from her office in St. Paul. "It's exciting to be at the agency. Business in the future is going to be different than business in the past."

Schwab applied for the spot and began working two days after her interview. The department does not have a commissioner yet, so Schwab and deputy commissioner Robin Kellher have been putting in long hours, Schwab said.

While in her new position, she has learned more about how state agencies work. Change within them can be hard because of the steps that need to be taken and there is some unwillingness to change. Almost 380 people work in the Department of Labor and Industry.

"It's very interesting," Schwab said. "I always thought there was a little bureaucracy with agencies. Until I got here I didn't realize it on a daily basis."

Schwab is currently dealing with issues related to workers compensation, child labor laws and on-the-job safety.

On Tuesday, she testified to a house and senate committee about a change in the child labor law. She said she feels comfortable with the senate committees, but has found house committees run differently in the senate.

"It's a busy day," Schwab said. "You never quite know what questions come up."

But because she was a senator for two years, she can predict what types of questions will be asked. When she cannot, she said she also knows how to answer.

"They enjoy trying to get me to look like a deer in the headlights," Schwab said, with a laugh. "I've been very good at saying, 'I'll get back to you on that issue.'"

This summer Schwab will be executive director of a committee to look at updating the worker's compensation to reduce costs for employers. The committee is made up of representatives from five labor groups and five businesses.

Schwab's position at the department will last at least as long as Pawlenty is in office. She said she is excited to be in the middle of labor and industry reform.

"I get to be in the center of that discussion," Schwab said.

Schwab had run for re-election in District 27 in 2002, but was defeated after a close race with Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin. The final result of the race came after a recount and a lawsuit, a process that began Nov. 5, and didn't end until January. A judge reviewed the ballots and declared Sparks the winner by five votes.

But Schwab again is spending much of her time in St. Paul in her new office, which sits between the Capitol and downtown. She is off Friday afternoons until Monday and she said her family, who lives in Albert Lea, has been supportive of her new position.

"You never know where life's path is going to take you," Schwab said.

Cari Quam can be reached at 434-2235 or by e-mail at