Clark's visibility fuels political speculation
When Senate Democrats hold a press conference, it's not Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller who steps to the microphone. Instead, Assistant Majority Leader Tarryl Clark is usually the one delivering the message. She also holds a weekly briefing with Capitol reporters.
With her camera-friendly looks and a gift for gab, Clark has adapted quickly to her role as spokeswoman for the Senate DFL caucus. She said she enjoys her wide-ranging conversations with reporters.
"You want to think about what's coming up, what people maybe interested in, what are the important questions, what are the pros and cons to something," Clark said. "But it's more than that because everything is on the table. I personally really like the interchange that can happen."
Clark is still a relative newcomer to the Minnesota Senate. She won a special election in December 2005 to fill the seat vacated by Republican Dave Kleis, who was elected mayor of St. Cloud. Clark then won re-election in 2006.
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But the 45-year-old lawyer was a familiar face at the State Capitol, where she spent years as a lobbyist for nonprofit groups. She's also a former vice chair of the state DFL Party.
"I like to think of myself as a fresh face to the Senate, but somebody that's been around long time," Clark said.
After his election as majority leader, Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, gave Clark several key responsibilities, including hiring leadership staff and dealing with the media. Assistant leaders have traditionally taken low profiles. But Pogemiller said he wanted a partnership.
"The way I think it's most effective, at least with Sen. Clark and I serving in these positions, is for me to take a more behind the scenes role of trying to kind of grease the wheels to make sure the work gets done," Pogemiller said. "And to not always be the person that everybody believes they have to come to for the comments or quotes related to legislative activity."
So when Pogemiller wants to avoid the cameras and microphones, it's Clark who steps up. Pogemiller said Clark's experience and communication skills make her a natural.
"Sometimes you're born with it, and I think she may have been born with a communications gene in her," Pogemiller said. "In addition, I think she works hard at trying to understand the issues in a way that she can explain them in a cogent way that is easily understood by the public."
Pogemiller laughed at the suggestion that he's grooming Clark for bigger things. But as Clark's stock rises at the Capitol, her name gets mentioned more frequently as a possible candidate for higher office.
I've always operated under the thought, how can I do the best, how can I make the best difference and what's the best way to do that. And if I end up deciding the best way to do that is running for another office, I will do that.
Blois Olson, a DFL commentator and co-publisher of the newsletter Politics in Minnesota, said Clark gained admirers by winning a competitive district previously held by Republicans. Olson said Clark has several political options.
"Whether it be for the U.S. Senate, where her name has come up and she hasn't declined that idea," Olson said. "The one seat that everybody looks at is the 6th Congressional District and facing off against Michele Bachmann. Being a senator, she has a four-year term. So, she could run in the interim and her Senate seat would be safe."
Clark's Republican predecessor, Dave Kleis, said there's always going to be speculation about someone who's in the spotlight. But Kleis, who's counting on Clark to deliver for St. Cloud at the Legislature, said it would be a mistake for her to aspire to higher office.
"I think when people are elected to an office they should focus and serve in that office, and try not to look at those things as careers and beyond that," Kleis said. "So I would hope that's not the case. I think people expect, when they go to the ballot box to vote for someone, that they're voting for that individual in the position they're running for do the best job they can in that position."
For her part, Clark said she's not planning to run for anything in 2008. But she's not ruling it out either. She said many people have suggested she run for the U.S. Senate, the 6th District congressional seat or even governor in 2010.
"I've always operated under the thought, how can I do the best, how can I make the best difference and what's the best way to do that," Clark said. "And if I end up deciding the best way to do that is running for another office, I will do that."
In the meantime, Clark said her strategy is to do the best job she can as a state senator and assistant majority leader. She said there's a lot of work to be done.