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After winning back Legislature, triumphant DFL takes care not to ‘overstep’

MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
Sen. Tom Bakk: "731 days ago, Republicans took control of the Senate. Let me say they didn't lose because they are Republicans. They lost because they're wrong."

It was shortly after 1 a.m. and joyful DFLers wanted to keep the party rolling.

So several party leaders were pushing Rep. Paul Thissen to step to the podium and proclaim that the DFL had taken back control of the Minnesota House of Representatives.

Thissen, who for two years has been House minority leader, was reluctant to make any proclamations, even though House Speaker Kurt Zellers had called him to concede that the DFL was going to make a clean sweep of things.

But in the last two years, DFL legislators learned a great lesson from Republicans. There’s a huge danger in overstepping.

Thissen said the last thing he wanted to do was “overstep” by declaring victory before he was absolutely sure victory was in DFL hands.

But after much urging, Thissen stepped to the podium and ever-so-cautiously said it looked as if the DFL was going to be in the majority in the House, which almost certainly means that Thissen will become the new House speaker.

As Thissen spoke to the dwindling and exhausted crowd at the Crowne Plaza St. Paul Riverfront Hotel, those  who still had voices left after a night of so many victories and cheers, cheered one more time.

Oh, what a night it was for the DFL.

Just two years after enduring one of the longest nights in party history, DFLers roared back to take over control of the Senate and the House. That means for the first time since 1990 — when Rudy Perpich was governor — there’s a DFL governor and DFL control of both legislative chambers.

It is hard to overstate the height of the DFL legislative triumphs and the depth of Republican defeats. By the time the counting’s done, it appears DFLers will have moved from minority status to a 39-28 majority in the Senate and a 73-61 majority in the House.

Legislative election results

MinnPost’s ‘key’ races
All races

DFLers cruised in many of the races that MinnPost analysts had said would be the “key races” in determining legislative majorities. DFLers won 9 of those 12 “key” Senate races and 14 of the 16 designated house races.

A whole bunch of GOPers who were first-time winners two years ago were first-time losers this go-around.

Reps. Diane Anderson, King Banaian, Dave Hancock, Carolyn McElfatrick, Rich Murray, Kirk Stensrud, Bruce Vogel and Doug Wardlow were among those who didn’t collect seniority.  Old moderate Larry Howes, a seven-termer who ended up paired against DFL incumbent John Persell, also went down.

In the Senate, the first term turned out to be the last term for John Carlson, Ted Daley, John Howe, Ben Kruse, Ted Lillie and Pam Wolf.

The DFL won 39 Senate seats to the GOP’s 28.
Full legislative results

Nowhere was the return of the DFL more clear than in Eagan. Two years ago, GOP candidates won the three Eagan seats (two House, one Senate). Now, all three of those winners are losers. DFLer Jim Carlson knocked incumbent Ted Daley out of the Senate. In the House, DFLer Sandra Masin sent Republican Diane Anderson packing, and DFLer Laurie Halverson defeated Tea Party poster boy Doug Wardlow.

Much has been made of how the hard-right Republican class of 2010 wasn’t like the GOP of the past.

But it should be noted that this new class of DFLers is not your father’s DFL, either.

This new model of the DFL is represented by such people as Edina’s Melisa Franzen, who dispatched Keith Downey, a hard-right conservative who was attempting to move from the House to the Senate.

Franzen said that what she found when she was pounding the pavement in search of votes were Minnesotans “thirsty for moderation.”

A Target Corp. attorney, Franzen said her profile fits her Senate district.

“I’m in the middle of the road,” she said. “I do support business, I do support compromise.”

Most of the new class of DFLers fit that profile, which means that Gov. Mark Dayton likely will have a difficult time finding huge amounts of support for some of his most progressive ideas.

“What will happen with a DFL governor and a DFL Legislature?” Dayton asked the jubilant crowd. “I say, ‘Progress.’ ”

He turned then to his “tax the rich’’ mantras.

Later, though, Dayton admitted that these will remain “lean times” for state government.

The DFL won 73 House seats to the GOP’s 61.
Full legislative results

Spending the last two years in the minority has been a sobering experience for DFLers. But it’s also been educational. They’ve seen what happens when a majority party jams things like marriage and voting amendments onto the ballot without bipartisan support.

DFL Rep. Ryan Winkler said watching how Minnesotans approached this election “made me proud of our state. … Minnesota voters are so good. As soon as they saw what Voter ID was really about they said, ‘we don’t need that.’ Minnesotans don’t like it when you overstep. That’s what Republicans did, and it’s something we have to remember, too.’’

That doesn’t mean that DFLers will be inactive. They can’t just show up at the Capitol. They will have to work with the governor to come to grips with the state’s budget problems, which include continuing but smaller deficits but difficult issues nonetheless.

Additionally, DFLers will feel compelled to do something to roll back property taxes and somehow bring back the homestead credit, which the GOP Legislature erased.

Beyond dollars and cents, look for Dayton and his new allies in the Legislature to put together another bonding package and move things like transit back to the front burner.

“We have a chance to reboot” is how Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, sees the political scene ahead.

On Tuesday night, they also had a chance to celebrate like they haven’t celebrated for a long time.  And gloat a little, too.

“731 days ago, Republicans took control of the Senate,” Sen. Tom Bakk, who likely will be the new Senate majority leader, told the crowd. “Let me say they didn’t lose because they are Republicans. They lost because they’re wrong.”

(An aside here:  The first big decision Bakk has to make is whether to shave his goatee. He and his spouse were discussing that issue before arriving at the DFL’s celebration.)

When the night began, with the exception of Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s race, there was no certainty that there would be much for DFLers to celebrate. Angst filled the ballroom, until 10:15, when the networks called the presidential race. Anxiety turned to bedlam.

But not everyone could start celebrating with news of President Obama’s triumph.

Results from legislative races trickled in slowly, meaning such candidates as the DFLer Yvonne Selcer could only smile bravely while all around her people were screaming and hugging and toasting and screaming some more.

Selcer, a one-time Hopkins school board member, was making her first bid for the Legislature (House seat 48A) against incumbent Rep. Kirk Stensrud.

“In school board races, nobody purchased $70,000 in TV ads to use against me,” Selcer said.

The evening wore on. The party around her grew louder. Results from her race were nowhere to be found.  It wasn’t until around 1 a.m. that she learned that she’d won by 202 votes.

She hugged her supporters and they hugged her. But they all appeared too tired to join the party that had been going on all around them all night long.

Comments (20)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 11/07/2012 - 09:49 am.

    I think every Democrat should send a brief letter of thanks to Michael Brodkorb, the avenging angel of the righteous right who forced the ideological purity of the MNGOP and brought it down with over-reach and personal scandal.

  2. Submitted by Susan Herridge on 11/07/2012 - 10:15 am.

    strategic misstep

    Michael Brodkorp said that the marriage amendment was a strategic choice to increase turnout from their base. But I believe its the work done by the broad coalition of groups opposing the amendment that is responsible for the turnout that flipped the legislature. So in a backhanded way, we need to thank the Republicans for their decisions that helped us so much today.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/07/2012 - 11:45 am.

    Don’t be afraid to get things done.

    Here we go again. The Democrats win big and their already frightening themselves out of taking advantage of their advantage. The state needs movement, you have the numbers to it, so do it. Overstepping is NOT the danger, failure is the danger. Make things happen, move the state forward, and run on your success in the next election. Don’t self sabotage and think you win with mediocrity.

    • Submitted by Tim Walker on 11/07/2012 - 02:08 pm.

      Amen, Paul.

    • Submitted by Solly Johnson on 11/07/2012 - 02:12 pm.


      The large majority of Minnesotans want the top 5% to pay their fair share of taxes. If the Democrats move quickly to enact higher taxes on the wealthy, it will help them in 2014.

      • Submitted by Bob Petersen on 11/08/2012 - 08:26 am.

        Taxing the ‘rich’ is a fallacy

        The wealthy will always have their share whether you have higher taxes or not. Once you have money, you can’t tax it except at death.

        And past history and the many issuances of the CBO (for national economy) has shown that much higher taxes on the highest income earners are only a drop in the bucket.

        You have to look at Minnesota’s spending. Even under Pawlenty it increased much higher than inflation. Now we have a guv who already has his inherited money who immediately says, ‘tax.’

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/08/2012 - 11:25 am.

          Sorry Bob

          History has shown that this “spending problem only” theory of budgeting and economics is a bankrupt ideology pretending to be budget analysis. You guys had ten years to balance the budget your way and all you did was deliver one deficit and budget crises after another. We cut taxes and waited for the magic to happen, no such thing as magic.

      • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 11/12/2012 - 06:40 pm.

        Mission Creep!

        The President and the Governor want to tax the top 2% more, not 5%. There is no reason they both can’t implement their wishes and I hope that they succeed. Once this happens there will be proof that the amount of money taken in won’t be nearly enough to fix the deficit or cover the spending that they propose. Then we find out who’s next. And we can stop listening to the tired mantra “tax the rich”.

  4. Submitted by Robert Langford on 11/07/2012 - 11:51 am.

    Great leadership

    Rather than dredging up the Republican leadership for more deserved condemnation, it would seem appropriate to acknowledge the efforts of the DFL, and particularly Thissen. So many good candidates does not happen without a lot of ground work to find them, prepare them and support them during the campaign. We have been blessed by our party leadership, and I suspect will find their efforts in this legislative year to be as sublime!

  5. Submitted by David LaPorte on 11/07/2012 - 12:11 pm.


    It’s good to hear that the DFL learned from the missteps of the Republicans about the risks of overstepping to declare victory too early.

    But they also need to learn from other Republican missteps. They need to govern rather than get distracted by their pet issues. They need to work on job creation. They need to keep their promises.

    Most of all, they need to establish a bipartisan working relationship with the Republicans. The DFL had no traction when they were in the minority. Unless they want to be there again, they need to work with their colleagues across the aisle on behalf of all of the people of Minnesota.

    There’s no place to hide when you control the governor’s office and both houses of the legislature.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 11/08/2012 - 10:57 am.

      I’m all for compromise

      What I’m still afraid of is the attitude that says “We’ll get along great as long as you do everything the way I want you to”. I’m afraid the Republicans still see compromise as equivalent to capitulation, and I’m not sure how to get that to change.

      So while I am all in favor of reaching across the aisle, it has to be with some caution lest you allow yourself to get pulled across to the other side rather than ensuring there is a meeting somewhere in the middle.

  6. Submitted by Mike Worcester on 11/07/2012 - 12:25 pm.

    His First Big Decision?

    Sen. Bakk’s first big decision is whether or not to shave his goatee?

    Just curious what that has to do with his ability to lead his caucus.

  7. Submitted by Andrew Kearney on 11/07/2012 - 01:26 pm.

    DFL’er Tim Faustwins by 588 in 11-B.

    Told you all you got this one wrong-so much for strong Republican District.

  8. Submitted by Constance Sullivan on 11/07/2012 - 02:22 pm.

    It will be useless for the DFL to have won back the Legislature’ majority if they all forget that they’re Democrats, not failed Republicans. We all know that in today’s America, the left now looks very much like the Republican right did twenty years ago. Everything has moved to the right. It’s time to stop that, and recognize that Democrats are supposed to be progressive (today’s term for liberal, which is the term that expresses the “No” vote ideology on the marriage amendment). Dayton still is, so they’ll have to go toward him, as they go forward.

    Democrats believe that we can, indeed, go back to the level of income taxation we had before Jesse Ventura, thank you very much. We have things to fix, after years of Republican rule (since 2001 or so). Why is everybody avoiding taxation in this discussion? We can’t fix the deficit with cutting anymore; the GOP has tried cuts and transfers and loans from schools and every other trick in the book except increased taxes. We can do this.

    I say to the new leg leaders: Be ye not afraid!

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/07/2012 - 03:31 pm.


      I’m so so so tired of voting Democrats into office only to see them talk themselves our of doing what they said they’d do for absurd reason. Forget the Republicans. The Republicans lost because they failed, not because the “over reached”. They failed to deliver a laser focus on the budget and jobs (It seems that these anti-science anti-intellectuals didn’t actually know what a “laser” is) and they delivered nothing but gridlock and two failed amendments. How can anyone ever try to describe this level of mediocrity as “over reach”? Doesn’t “over reach” require some degree of ambition? These guys delivered nothing, they failed, that’s whey they’re out.

      The only lesson for Democrats here is don’t deliver mediocrity, and don’t fail. You have a chance to fix the budget and get the states education system back on track, and you have a perfectly good plan that will do just that. So do it and then run on that success.

  9. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/07/2012 - 08:47 pm.

    The job they get elected for is to best serve the people they represent by advancing the principles and ideas they were elected for through compromise and hard decisions.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/08/2012 - 09:17 am.

    Compromise is not a suicide pact

    You can only compromise with those who compromise with you. If you ignore that fact compromise becomes a de facto veto. Passing legislation is about racking up “yes” votes. I’d like to see more compromise as well, but I’m more interested in seeing progress and if that can’t be done with Republican votes than so be it. You produce results no one’s gonna care whether or not you did it with compromise. Until moderate republicans return to the party we’re not going to get any compromise from that party. You can see that already in the comments that Zeller is making. I’d like to see bi-partisan votes as much as anyone but I’m more concerned about perpetual gridlock. These are all artificial problems created by really bad public policy. There’s no reason to wallow in perpetual crises here. I voted for plan and I want to see plan put into action.

    • Submitted by Richard Schulze on 11/08/2012 - 05:17 pm.

      The young, educated elite who create jobs and lead opinion trends are socially liberal and fiscally conservative. They support useful benefits and efficient government but not deficits or bureaucracy. The boomers, who have become less socially liberal with age and have always been fiscally profligate, are electorally important today but a diminishing breed. Getting in front of the libertarian trend will require adjustment by both parties, the Republicans most obviously, but the Democrats too. Some of the members of the Democratic coalition are pulling them the wrong direction.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/10/2012 - 08:28 am.

    Compromise and libertarians

    I don’t think here really is a libertarian trend. The republicans lended credibility to libertarians (mostly in the form of the Tea Party) by bringing them in for their votes. Turns out they don’t have enough votes to keep republicans in power and they have not interest in promoting republicans or their values. Ultimately American libertarianism is an incoherent ideology because it rejects the most basic tenets of Democracy (i.e. collective action through representative government that requires the occasional individual submission to majority rules) but pretends to be patriotic. The Ayn Randl wing of the movement is economic fantasy pretending to be analysis produced by a pseudo philosophy that’s nothing more than the regurgitation of a lot other peoples really bad ideas (social Darwinism for instance). At the end of the day the libertarian play book just doesn’t sell because the benefits of living a community and having a strong central government capable of addressing and solving big problems. People want their government to end and prevent recessions. They want their government to create jobs. The want their government to make sure crap isn’t in our food, air, and water. etc. etc. Libertarians promise all these thing without government and promise that contrary to all common sense and logic that sociopaths left to their own devices will create a society that benefits everyone.

    As for compromise, it’s almost impossible at this point because we’ve been cutting government services and spending for almost 12 years and the government is nowhere near as inefficient as republicans pretend it is. We have to focus on revenue, new revenue. Ultimately we should restore the fiscal structure that we spend 12 years dismantling. The current republicans see that as nothing less than outright treason. So what do you do? Do you leave the train wreck in place because some people are enthralled by it, or do you clean it up?

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