Longtime legislative staffer—and my friend—Patrick Flahaven began his career in the Minnesota Senate as an assistant secretary in 1971. He was elected Senate secretary in 1973 and held the position until his retirement in 2009. His 36-year tenure as secretary is the longest in Minnesota Senate history. Flahaven died in late November. He was 78.
“What happened was that Pat fell totally in love with the Senate and the Legislature—its drama, its personalities, its work, its struggles, its humanness. And the Senate loved him back,” former Senate President Jack Davies (DFL) told the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press.
Former Senate Republican Leader Dick Day once said Flahaven’s job was “to fall on the grenades, pick up the debris and get the Senate running again.”
Other sources describe his role as Senate secretary in less colorful terms, saying he ran the behind-the-scenes operation by managing the Senate’s nonpartisan professional staff, processing its legislation and serving as its parliamentarian.
Time of Change
Flahaven’s career spanned a time of change for state legislatures—not only in Minnesota, but across the country. Minnesota switched from nonpartisan to partisan election of legislators in the mid-1970s. State legislatures were striving to become more equal to the executive branch of government. The National Conference of State Legislatures was founded in 1975. The number of legislatures holding annual sessions went from 19 to 45. Staff were added to assist legislators by providing more independent data. Technology opened legislative proceedings to television, and the internet improved public access to information.
During an interview prior to his retirement, Flahaven described other changes he saw during this time, including population shifts to urban areas, generational changes with younger legislators replacing retirees and more women becoming legislators, bringing with them different styles and perspectives.
Flahaven called those early years the most exciting of his career.
Known for his respect of the legislative institution and his parliamentary knowledge, Flahaven was active in NCSL and the American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries, which he served as the president from 1977-78. He was NCSL staff chair from 1980-81 and chaired the Mason’s Manual Commission from 1985-92.
Flahaven was nationally recognized as a top legislative professional. The American Society of Legislative Clerks and Secretaries acknowledged his contributions by presenting him with the Joseph A. Beek Distinguished Service Award in 1987 and a Legislative Staff Achievement Award in 2001.
Throughout his life, Flahaven served as an inspiration and mentor to many. His legacy lives on.
Brenda Erickson is a program principal in NCSL’s Legislative Staff Services Program. She is a former liaison to ASLCS and has staffed three Mason’s Manual Commissions. Before joining NCSL, Erickson worked at the Minnesota Legislature from 1979-84.