Good humor turned to gallows humor as the evening dragged on at the big DFL “victory celebration” at the Minneapolis Hilton Tuesday night.
Now, the day after the election, it appears all that the once-powerful party has to celebrate is that Mark Dayton holds a lead in the neighborhood of 9,000 votes over Republican Tom Emmer in a race that likely won’t officially end until votes are recounted.
With the Minnesota House gone, the Senate gone, the one hope DFLers have left is Dayton, who once seemed the most fragile of DFL candidates.
Progressives in the party, such as Sen. John Marty, said Dayton was standing alone because he ran with the simplest, most progressive message.
“He wasn’t afraid to run on our values,” Marty said.
The message, he said, should be clear not only to Minnesota’s Democrats, but to Democrats across the nation, that Democrats must “stop being afraid to say what they believe in.”
Horner factor just as likely
Pollsters and other observers said that it’s just as likely that Dayton was holding a slight lead over Emmer because of the Tom Horner factor. Though the Independence Party candidate picked up only about 12 per cent of the vote — far lower than his once lofty expectations — he may have been the reason Emmer didn’t perform as well as Gov. Tim Pawlenty had performed in places such as Dakota County.
Given the political extremes that Dayton and Emmer represented, Horner’s poor showing indicates there’s really only one avenue left open for IP candidates: Ranked Choice Voting. The party’s platform long has called for the state to move to the system, which has been adopted in Minneapolis, St. Paul and a handful of other places.
The IP argument is buoyed by the fact that either Dayton or Emmer will be the third successive governor to win without capturing a majority of the vote. (Jesse Ventura won with 37 percent, and Pawlenty won with 44 and 47 percent.)
Entering Election Day, there were substantial numbers of DFLers who were convinced that Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who had won endorsement at the party’s convention, would have been a stronger gubernatorial candidate than Dayton.
But given the huge Republican legislative wins, that idea is dubious. The one thing Minnesota voters seemed clear on is that they were not pleased with the work of the Legislature in the last few years when the DFL held large majorities. It’s hard to imagine that having been speaker of the House would have been helpful to Kelliher in this election cycle.
That DFL legislators took such a shellacking seemed to come as a surprise — even to Republicans.
According to MinnPost reporter Eric Black, Republicans didn’t start showing excitement over legislative races until late in the evening.
It wasn’t until about midnight when the party’s chairman, Tony Sutton, took the stage at the Bloomington Sheraton and told the faithful that he was optimistic that Republicans would win control of the state Senate for the first time in 38 years. Or ever. (Prior to 1972, legislators didn’t carry party labels but, rather, were loosely called “conservatives’’ or “liberals.’’)
It was after 1 a.m. when GOP Deputy Chairman Michael Brodkorb announced that it was time for DFL Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller “to move across the street.’’ (That is reference to the fact that the Senate majority has offices in the state Capitol while the minority resides in the far-less-impressive State Office Building.)
Oh, what an incredibly topsy-turvy night it was.
Even IF Dayton manages to prevail, his tax-the-rich agenda has no chance of going anywhere with a Legislature that will absolutely oppose any new taxes.
The most popular motto — on T-shirts and buttons — at the Republican Party headquarters Tuesday night was: “Less Taxes, More Jobs: You Betcha; Emmer for Governor.”
These new legislative leaders will be filled with anti-tax fire. Moderation is not what the new class of legislative Republicans is about. The new legislative leaders will be listening closely to the newcomers who put them in power.
Kurt Zellers is all but certain to be the new speaker of the House. He is a what’s-good-for-business-is-good-for-Minnesota true believer.
It’s less certain who the Senate majority leader will be. Rochester’s Dave Senjem has been the Republican’s minority leader. But by the end of last session, Sen. Geoff Michael of Edina was becoming more and more the face of Senate Republicans. And Sen. Amy Koch of Buffalo was being credited by Senjem Tuesday night as the architect of Republicans’ takeover in the senate. Of that group, Senjem comes closest to being a moderate.
The one new revenue idea that could pass muster is racinos, which DFLers had held out against at the risk of losing tribal support. Now the tribes and the DFL have about equal amounts of power.
But Dayton, recall, did buck tribal interests by pushing the idea of a state-run casino, perhaps at the Mall of America. All of this means expanded gambling in some form might sail.
Jobs one area of agreement
There is one other key area where Republicans and a Gov. Dayton could find agreement: jobs. Both have said that’s priority No. 1. Businesses will trust Republicans in that quest. Unions, whose declining strength becomes more evident in every election, will trust Dayton.
That trust, by the way, may be what ultimately spared Dayton the fate of so many other DFLers. It’s a trust based on Dayton’s actions.
On Election Night, Bob Bratulich, director of the Steelworkers, District 11, was explaining why his union was so quick to support Dayton. Only the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees beat the Steelworkers to Dayton’s very small bandwagon.
Bratulich told the story of Dayton’s final year in the Senate. The Steelworkers were getting nowhere in a dispute with Gerdau, a Brazilian corporation.
“We called Mark,’’ recalled Bratulich. “He got on a plane during Easter break, flew to Sao Paulo and sat on a curb outside Gerdau headquarters until their executives agreed to meet with him. That meeting helped us resolve a dispute we had in South St. Paul at the time. That’s the kind of friend he is.’’
Dayton has made it clear in a campaign that began in January 2009 that he would “go anywhere’’ to attract businesses to the state.
Without any legislative support, a Gov. Dayton could — and certainly would — sign an executive order for the state to do the early opt-in for Medicaid money. That would call for a $188 million state investment but leverage — DFLers believe — $1.4 billion in federal money that would take much of the pressure off budget problems caused by skyrocketing health care costs for the poor. Emmer, like Pawlenty, opposed early opt-in.
A Gov. Dayton also would have the power to appoint commissioners and use his veto stamp with the same gusto that Pawlenty did. As Pawlenty showed, that’s a lot of power.
But whether Dayton has the makeup to be an effective governor in such a tight space is unclear.
He is notoriously impatient. He says he quit, after one term, in the U.S. Senate because of the messiness of that body. An executive position, he believed, would allow him to set a clear course, act decisively.
But even if he wins, he’s going to be stepping into a situation that’s anything but clear. DFL insiders say that it would be crucial for Dayton to find a “cool hand’’ to help guide him, relax him and negotiate with Republicans, who will be feeling feisty.
That’s all DFLers have to hang their tattered hats on.
Confidence didn’t last
Tuesday night, which began with confident claims that “Minnesota would buck the national trend’’ — the claim came from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minneapolis and St. Paul mayors R.T. Rybak and Chris Coleman, and Dayton himself — ended with a lot of people slowly and numbly leaving the “victory celebration.”
Fingers already were being pointed everywhere.
Big losers of the night, beyond all those relatively nameless state DFL legislators who were pummeled, were all around.
House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, a rising star in the party, was suddenly taking blame for not doing enough to stave off the debacle. Pogemiller, always powerful but never particularly popular, was being written off. The entire DFL party apparatus was being viewed by many as being incompetent.
There were casualties outside the party as well, the biggest likely being Education Minnesota head Tom Dooher, a target of Republicans across the state. Dooher, seen as an obstructionist to education reform even by some DFLers, saw his biceps shrivel.
The only man still standing is Dayton, who once seemed the most fragile of DFLers.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.