Kurt Zellers kept trying to say, “It’s no time to celebrate,” but the smile that crossed his face belied his words.
Zellers, who almost certainly will be the state’s next speaker of the House, was surrounded by many of the Republican rookies who swept the GOP into legislative power Tuesday night. They, too, were smiling but nodding in serious agreement every time Zellers made mention of the key principles that will guide the new majority.
“You’ve heard me say it to you before,” Zellers told reporters of the Republican mission. “Get government off our backs, out of our pockets and out of the way.”
The social issues that once defined the conservative movement in the party?
Zellers seemed to indicate that such things as abortion and gay rights issues will have no part — at least in the immediate future — of the new Republican majority.
“If it isn’t about jobs, improving the business climate, it’s not a priority,” Zellers said.
Not even photo IDs for those wishing to vote will be a priority, Zellers said, despite many Republican candidates making that a major campaign issue.
“That [photo ID] is not House File 1, 2 or 3,” said Zellers.
He is so fired up about business being good for Minnesota that he has this fantasy. He wants to go to Sioux Falls, S.D., and buy radio ads urging businesses to move to Minnesota because of the friendly business climate. (South Dakota, for years, has advertised in Minnesota, urging Minnesota business to relocate to the low-tax state that is friendly to business. In truth, this hasn’t really worked economic wonders in South Dakota, but that doesn’t dissuade Zellers from his dream.)
For years, Republicans in the House and Senate have bristled at the amount of time DFLers consumed holding hearings, creating new committees and subcommittees.
Believing that they were elected because voters grew weary of DFL process and gamesmanship, Zellers talked about moving into power “aggressively.”
That means dramatically streamlining the number of subcommittees in both houses. That means aligning Senate and House committees so that once the ball begins rolling in one body, it doesn’t roll into a maze in the next.
“The flow chart shouldn’t look like a plate of spaghetti,” Zellers said.
And moving aggressively, in Zellers’ mind, also means cutting business taxes, stopping any new taxes and making deep cuts in the regulations that the new majority believe makes operating business so difficult in Minnesota.
Regulations dealing with water issues are a classic example Republicans have fallen back on throughout the campaign.
“There are five agencies dealing with water,” Zellers said. “Why not one or two?”
All of this is easy to talk about, but can it really be that easy?
And there remains the first, big challenge the Legislature and the governor, likely Mark Dayton, have to deal with: the budget deficit.
At this heady moment, Zellers and other Republicans are using their campaign slogans to deal with a real issue.
“We don’t have a revenue problem — we have a spending problem,’’ Zellers said again today.
But is this new majority actually willing to try to cut spending to achieve balance?
Zellers opted to punt on that question. Instead, he talked — hopefully —that economic forecasts in November and February will show that the economy is picking up speed, meaning tax revenues will increase, meaning the deficit is shrinking from its current $6 billion level.
Zellers seems to have especially high hopes for a booming farm economy. The hope is that high prices and high yields will lead to more business on Minnesota Main Streets.
He also was not of a mind to talk about the “what if” conflicts that are sure to come if Mark Dayton ends up winning the governorship.
For starters, Zellers said he hasn’t given up on the idea that a recount may make Tom Emmer Minnesota’s next governor.
“We stand behind Tom Emmer,’’ Zellers said.
That was the only comment Zellers had about Emmer, a pretty solid sign he doesn’t believe there’s much chance for a recount reversal.
Tuesday results did create some seismic — perhaps even comic — shifts on how DFLers and Republicans view voter intent.
Zellers now claims that the Republican legislative majorities reflect the will of the people. Of course, when the DFL was in the majority, Republicans viewed the governor’s office as the symbol of the voice of the people.
At his news conference today, Dayton went so far as to suggest that the voters offered up a split decision on who should have the power.
Zellers, though, was declaring the Republicans gained a knockout.
The election results do seem to make a values’ clash between the likely new governor and the for-certain new Republican majority inevitable.
But neither Dayton nor Zellers seem eager to start that fight just yet.
Dayton did clearly indicate he’ll submit his budget — with tax increases on the rich — to the Legislature. But Dayton also showed he doesn’t see much of a chance of success with that.
“Governors propose, legislators dispose,’’ said Dayton.
Can the new majority and the likely next governor compromise?
One of the Republican’s newcomers, John Kriesel, took on the question. (Kriesel is the injured Iraqi war vet who has written a book and become a 29-year-old star in the party. He won in 57A, a Cottage Grove district that had deep, deep DFL roots.
Kriesel said that he continually heard from people in the district that they were “tired of the political fighting. … They want the tone changed.’’
Does that mean compromise?
“Compromise is what keeps me from sleeping on the couch every night,” he responded.
Zellers and all those new Republicans laughed loudly.