Very lively post-election session at the Humphrey Institute this morning with former Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher providing DFL-ish analysis and long-time Pawlenty insider Brian McClung speaking for the Repubs. Some of the highlights:
McClung: The key number for the night is 1974. That was the year that Minnesota legislators began to wear partisan labels. Before that, the Legislature was technically non-partisan but divided into liberal and conservative caucuses. Since then, the Repubs have never controlled both houses of the Legislature (and never controlled the Senate). Now they do. 1974 was also the year Jim Oberstar was first elected to Congress, and he has never even faced a close race for reelection. Now he is out.
Kelliher: This wasn’t a “true Republican wave.” If it had been, it would also have swept Repubs into the state constitutional offices. Instead, DFLers won them all, except governor where DFLer Mark Dayton is leading pending a recount.
As far as the Repub sweep of the Legislature, Kelliher took the surprising position that it was “all about low turnout.” (That got plenty of pushback from McClung and from moderator Larry Jacobs of the Humphrey. McClung said the overall turnout of 60 percent was just two-to-four percentage points lower than the average for a midterm in Minnesota. Jacobs said that the average is even lower for midterms like this one, in which there was no U.S. Senate race on the ballot.) Kelliher responded by playing smallball. If you look at particular House races that flipped by a margin of 100 votes or so, a small drop in turnout — especially DFL turnout, of course — turned out to be the difference.
McClung mocked the idea that this wasn’t a Republican wave. In fact, he called it a “wipeout.” And the explanation is simple: “People were mad… That’s real. They are sick and tired of the big spending.”
Why is Emmer trailing?
But if it’s a Republican wipeout, why did Emmer not win (pending recount)?
McClung offered several explanations, including:
Horner took more votes from Emmer than from Dayton. He noted especially a gap in a couple of areas (Blaine and Olmstead County) where Emmer polled behind Pawlenty’s numbers from 2006, and said these were areas of Horner strength.
Dayton started out with universal name recognition. He estimated that over his lifetime, Dayton has spent $30 million on various statewide races. Emmer, by contrast, is a newcomer to statewide politics.
Kelliher piled on that last point. When you are unknown, you have to get out to the public early and define yourself the way you want to be defined. But Emmer didn’t start advertising to build up his positive image until after the Alliance for a Better Minnesota had aired a pre-emptive advertising blitz that defined Emmer as an angry man and a drunk driver who then tried to reduce penalties for drunk driving.
The recount for guv
It’s automatic and will happen for sure. McClung and Kelliher agreed that it will probably go quickly and smoothly, especially because of improvements in the voting system enacted in the last session. McClung also said the public’s level of confidence in the outcome will be high when the recount is over.
But then he contradicted himself on that a couple of times. He joked (but it wasn’t all that clear that he was joking) about the possibility that Pawlenty will have to remain in office into January if the outcome of the recount is in doubt. Eventually, there was talk of that bill, passed in the last session, that gave the next governor unilateral authority to accept that more than $1 billion in Medicaid money (which Pawlenty opposed and for which he refused to apply). Dayton has said he will take the money. Emmer has said he will not. But the deadline in the law for the governor to apply is Jan. 15. Even a couple of weeks delay in the new governor taking office could preempt the acceptance of that money.
(After this portion of the discussion, Jacobs joked that McClung was making a note to make sure to drag the recount out until Jan. 16.)
Another McClung wisecrack also undermined his statement about public confidence in the voting process. He noted that a huge number of votes had been double counted in Hennepin County last night, an error that was identified by the Repubs and then corrected. McClung said he had heard that the mistake was caused by a problem with the phone lines but “that sounds like a Cook County, Illinois, phone line to me.” (In case you don’t get it, Cook County Illinois means Chicago.)
What if it ends up being Gov. Dayton facing a Repub Legislature?
McClung said Dayton will “absolutely not” get the kind of income tax increase he proposed during the campaign. The new Legislature has a fresh mandate and ran on the opposite approach.
Kelliher said the hard lesson she learned from Tim Pawlenty is that in such a showdown, the governor holds most of the leverage and ends up getting 90 percent of what he wants.
Jacobs suggested that that power balance might be different when what the governor wants is something like a tax increase, which cannot be accomplished without a positive vote of the Legislature.
Kelliher said the new lineup was a recipe for absolutely nothing happening on social issues (presumably referring to abortion, gay marriage, etc). But she said she could see plenty of possibility for horse-trading on tax reform and spending issues.
McClung brought up the recommendations of a Pawlenty-appointed commission on “21st Century Tax Reform,” which recommended a combination of business tax cuts, plus a broadening of the sales tax. He could imagine that the horse-trading will lead to a tax compromise along those lines.
Kelliher noted a triple irony, if that were to happen. The governor who appointed the commission (Pawlenty) rejected its recommendations. A governor who opposes broadening the sales tax (Dayton) would end up signing it into law. And the outcome would be the implementation of the tax plan of one of the defeated gubernatorial candidates (Horner). And everyone seemed to agree that it was quite possible.