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Two state House perspectives: serious Sertich, sullen Seifert

Two perspectives on Tuesday’s election — as it affects the Minnesota House of Representatives — were sent out by the House Public Information Service.

House DFLers didn’t get a supermajority of seats, but Tuesday’s election results still provided reason to smile.

The party lost four seats, but gained six others and has an 87-47 split heading into the 2009 session, tied for the biggest majority advantage in three decades. The split was 85-48-1 when members adjourned last May. A 90-seat majority would allow for a gubernatorial override if all members voted along party lines.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich (DFL-Chisholm) said the results were a reflection of what was accomplished in the past two years with the DFL in charge after eight years of a Republican majority.

“First and foremost, getting done on time and on budget, making good investments, property tax relief, job creation, transportation and education,” he said.

A potential multi-billion-dollar budget deficit is expected to hang over the upcoming session.

Sertich said nothing has been finalized to resolve the problem. He added that it would be a “disservice” to the newly elected members to presuppose a direction.

“We’ll wait to see what the budget forecast is at the end of November, and see what the governor comes up with. We have to do our work and oversight and then see what comes out of the February forecast before we can really figure out what the size of the issue will be.

“There are different options depending on the size of the budget deficit. The size will definitely dictate what our next steps are.”

Many Republicans believe that a tax increase is a certainty.

Sertich called that a “fear tactic” that hasn’t worked. However, he would not rule out a tax bump or any other solution because the full extent of the issue is unknown.

The plan is to reach out to the minority caucus and Gov. Tim Pawlenty to construct bipartisan solutions, like happened with last session’s renewable energy standards and health care reform legislation.

“I’m not going to sit here today and say we’re pitchforks and torches ready to go after the governor,” Sertich said. “We’re ready to cooperate.”

House Minority Leader Marty Seifert (R-Marshall) expressed disappointment at the results of yesterday’s election, and said he is uncertain whether he will seek to remain in his position as the top House Republican.

In what Seifert described as a “blowout year” for Republicans, the GOP managed to regain control of four House seats captured by Democrats in 2006 only to lose another six. The net loss of two Republican members brings the total party split in the House to 87 DFL and 47 Republicans.

Chalking up his party’s losses partly to “Obama-mania” that tilted metro-area races in favor of Democrats, Seifert also said Republican House candidates were consistently outspent by their DFL opponents, especially in rural districts.

“We were vastly outspent by a lot of special-interest money,” Seifert said, adding, “I can’t just pick up the telephone and call 10 union leaders and a few tribes and the trial lawyers and say, ‘Hey, I need a million dollars.’ We have to go out and beg for it.”

Seifert noted that the election results were not as bad as they could have been. He said many members of his caucus are relieved that Democrats fell short of their goal of achieving a 90-person supermajority, which would have allowed them to override a gubernatorial veto.

“I’ve talked to probably a dozen members since last night and there’s a very big sense of relief. There are a lot of them that were fearful of the 90-vote margin,” he said.

Noting recent cultural changes within his caucus, Seifert further argued that Democrats will now have a tougher time convincing Republicans to break ranks with their caucus. He said Democrats were unlikely to find Republican members willing to defy Gov. Tim Pawlenty, as several did when they voted to override last year’s transportation funding bill.

“It’s mathematically easier, but I think ideologically more difficult if you look at the cast of characters within the caucus that we have now versus two years ago,” he said.

Predicting that the DFL would push to increase taxes to fix the looming biennial budget deficit, Seifert indicated that House Republicans could effectively block any such plan.

Asked whether he would continue to serve as minority leader in the coming biennium, Seifert hesitated, commenting that there is “an enormous amount of stress” involved in his current position. He said he plans to talk it over with his wife in the coming days and make his decision by the end of this weekend.

He added that had the Democrats managed to gain control of 90 seats, he might have simply resigned his leadership position.

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