After nearly three weeks of hearing petitions for continued funding during Minnesota’s government shutdown, Kathleen Blatz (’84) completed her role as special master in Temporary Funding of Core Functions of the Executive Branch of the State of Minnesota when the shutdown ended on July 20, 2011.
In an interview on Minnesota Public Radio’s "All Things Considered" on July 21, Blatz said it was "an honor and a privilege to be asked" to serve as special master. When asked whether she would take on the job again, she said all her "good energy" is going toward hopes that the situation never comes up again.
Blatz was appointed by Ramsey County District Court Chief Justice Kathleen Gearin, who wrote that "a special master creates an orderly process to resolve requests for, or objections to, funding, thereby preventing the necessity for multiple individual lawsuits." Blatz’ job was to hear appeals to an earlier ruling on what were considered critical core functions of government and make recommendations to Gearin.
Seated between representatives from the governor’s office and the attorney general’s office at a table in the Minnesota Judicial Center, she listened to pleas from a wide range of organizations and businesses, from agencies that provide chemical abuse treatment support to bars and restaurants that were running out of beer. Petitioners had 20 minutes to make their case for continued funding.
Blatz described her job as trying "to pare down what money would be authorized." Services she recommended, and Gearin approved, as critical included special education payments to schools, state aid for training for the blind, and emergency crisis aid for the poor. Other petitions, though not funded, were not frivolous in her view. "When you look at it from the businesses’ point of view, you could see why the petitioners were there. They were critically impacted," Blatz said.
"I think the thing that impressed me the most was the interconnectedness between government and the private sector," Blatz said. Using government licensing and permitting as an example, she noted that "if that piece is shut down in any form," the ramifications for private businesses can be severe.
Blatz was appointed to the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1996 by Gov. Arne Carlson. Two years later, she was named chief justice, the state’s first woman appointed to the job. She retired from the role in 2005. She also served as a Hennepin County District Court judge and was a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives for 15 years, first elected in 1978 at age 24.
In 2009, Blatz received the Award for Distinguished Service to State Government from the National Governors Association for her years of devoted public service in Minnesota. In addition to a J.D. from the Law School, she has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Minnesota.