Republican wave swamps Minnesota Legislature, likely reversing party roles

Senate Minority Leader David Senjem addressed the crowd assembled at the Sheraton Bloomington Tuesday night.
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
Senate Minority Leader David Senjem addressed the crowd assembled at the Sheraton Bloomington Tuesday night.

No one saw this one coming: Minnesota Republicans on Tuesday won control of both the state Senate and House.

It’s a reversal of the past eight years, when DFLers controlled the Legislature and continually battled Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty on budget and social issues. Now if DFLer Mark Dayton becomes governor (pending a recount), he will face off against a Republican Legislature.

And given the rhetoric and unyielding positions on both sides, we can look for another string of standoffs.

Even state Republican leaders seemed surprised late in the evening when it first became clear the change-over was happening. And DFLers were shocked, having predicted that they’d buck the national trend to red and would retain their majorities.

“It’s unbelievable,” said the re-elected state Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, told the Star Tribune. “Just an unbelievable night.”

DFLers had controlled the Senate with a veto-proof 46-21 majority, which had helped — a bit — in the Legislature’s ongoing battles with Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto pen.

Now, Republicans hold a 36-31 edge, with none of their incumbents losing their seats. And it means DFL senators will move out of their offices in the state Capitol building — where the majority party in the Senate is housed — and into the minority party’s digs in the State Office Building, across the street.

State Sen. David Senjem of Rochester had been the minority leader; now he’s likely to become majority leader, after helping engineer the dramatic GOP comeback. He gave credit to a great crop of GOP candidates who’d been recruited to run.

“They brought us home a victory,” Senjem told the Pioneer Press. “More than that, they brought us home the majority in the Senate.”

In the state House, Republicans made huge gains, too, in gaining a majority. Democrats had controlled the House 84-47, but Tuesday’s election brought a dramatic change, putting the GOP in charge 73-61. (Several recounts are possible in legislative races, too.)

Until Tuesday, Democrats had been wondering how to replace House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who gave up her seat to run unsuccessfully for governor. Now it appears that House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove will become speaker.

Last night, when it first appeared the Republicans would prevail in the House, Zellers, too, gave credit to “the work ethic” of the candidates. He said the priority for the new House would be “jobs and the economy.”

He said: “Our main focus will be to make things better for business owners in the state.”

He wouldn’t speculate on how the body might work with a DFL governor (assuming Dayton prevails) but did say tax increases aren’t on the agenda. “Raising taxes in a down economy is a job killer,” he said.

Here’s a list of incumbent legislators who lost, compiled by Tom Scheck of MPR:

HOUSE — 19, all DFLers

  • Dave Olin, of Thief River Falls (District 1A)
  • Bernard Lieder, of Crookston (1B)
  • Tim Faust, of Hinckley (8B)
  • Al Doty, of Royalton (12B)
  • Al Juhnke, of Willmar (13B)
  • Gail Kulick Jackson, of Milaca (16A)
  • David Bly, of Northfield (25B)
  • Robin Brown, of Moscow Township (27A)
  • Andy Welti, of Plainview (30B)
  • Phil Sterner, of Rosemount (37B)
  • Sandra Masin, of Eagan (38A)
  • Mike Obermueller, of Eagan (38B)
  • Will Morgan, of Burnsville (40A)
  • Paul Rosenthal, of Edina (41B)
  • Maria Ruud  of Minnetonka (42B)
  • Jerry Newton, of Coon Rapids (49B)
  • Paul Gardner, of Shoreview (53A)
  • Julie Bunn, of Lake Elmo (56A)
  • Marsha Swails, of Woodbury (56B)

SENATE — 13 DFLers

  • Mary Olson, of Bemidji (District 4)
  • Dan Skogen, of Hewitt (10)
  • Lisa Fobbe, of Zimmerman (16)
  • Rick Olseen, of Harris (17)
  • Kevin Dahle, of Northfield (25)
  • Ann Lynch, of Rochester (30)
  • Sharon Erickson Ropes, of Winona (31)
  • Jim Carlson, of Eagan (38)
  • John Doll, of Burnsville (40)
  • Leo Foley, of Coon Rapids (47)
  • Don Betzold, of Fridley (51)
  • Sandy Rummel, of White Bear Lake (53)
  • Kathy Saltzman, of Woodbury (56)

Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/03/2010 - 10:00 am.

    Super. Even if Dayton wins we’re guaranteed a paralyzed government. Now we can all focus on doing nothing while waiting for the someone else (the private sector) to solve problems. I know it sounds like a good plan but I’m pretty sure it’s been tried, and not worked very well.

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/03/2010 - 10:58 am.

    Now it’s the Republicans who will have to eliminate a 5.8 billion dollars budget deficit, while possibly keeping their promise to cut taxes. Losing is never a pleasant thing, but it is quite possible that there might be worse things than spending the next two years on the bench.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 11/03/2010 - 11:02 am.

    A friend of mine brought up an important point that’s being missed; who is Yvonne Prettner Solon?

    If the Democrat party manages to pull off a Frankencount for Dayton, the smart money says he’ll be found under his desk in the fetal position within a year.

    Solon is very likely to be taking up residence in the Governor’s office before the next election, and no one knows anything about her.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/03/2010 - 12:15 pm.

    “A friend of mine brought up an important point that’s being missed; who is Yvonne Prettner Solon?”

    Yvonne is a state senator from Duluth, the widow of Sam Solon who preceded her in the seat. She chairs an energy committee but she also has a strong interest in health care.

    There are so many questions I can’t answer, it’s a relief to get one I can.

  5. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 11/03/2010 - 01:43 pm.

    WOW! Control of both houses!

    “For the first time in my adult life I am proud of my State…” (From M .Obama. with a few changes)

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 11/03/2010 - 02:27 pm.

    “don’t forget that >55% of Minnesota voters voted for candidates that campaigned explicitly on raising taxes as part of the budget solution.”

    As it happens, those candidates won’t have any involvement in that particular decision making process at all. If Republicans stick to their principles, and that’s something even I will concede they have done a good job at, there is no possibility at all of a tax increase.

  7. Submitted by Rod Loper on 11/04/2010 - 12:49 pm.

    Not to worry. I heard Speaker Zeller on WCCO this
    morning that balancing the budget is going to be a piece of cake. The nuts are going to be running the asylum.

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