The losers couldn’t have been more petty; the winners couldn’t have been more gracious.
At back-to-back news events Wednesday afternoon, Republican legislative leaders took no responsibility for their party’s across-the-state defeats Tuesday.
Meantime, DFLers were quick to speak of their desire to reach out not only to the GOP but to state business leaders to help resolve the No. 1 issue facing the state, finding a solution to its perpetual budget woes.
Of course, it’s easy to be magnanimous in victory and very difficult to be gracious in defeat.
But soon-to-be former House Speaker Kurt Zellers and soon-to-be former Majority Leader Matt Dean were unable — or unwilling — to be introspective in defeat.
They insisted they had the better candidates, the better message, the cleaner campaigns. They insisted that the two controversial amendments had nothing to do with how they managed to lose majorities in both the House and Senate after just one election cycle in charge.
“If you’re the owner of a business, look forward to higher taxes,” said Zellers.
Dean suggested that DFLers will not rest until Minnesotans pay “the highest taxes in the country.”
Republican leaders claimed they were outspent.
“We don’t have fat-cat donors,” said Zellers, who announced that he would not be seeking a minority leadership position.
Dean wasn’t clear if he’ll attempt to lead his party’s minority caucus.
Zellers and Dean claimed that the DFL candidates really didn’t campaign on how they’ll govern.
“They had a message of running against us,” said Zellers.
So how was it that the GOP managed to lose?
Zellers even had a bitter response about college profs in response to that question.
“It’s up to a lot of college professors [to explain the election outcome],” Zellers said. “They have to justify their big salaries.”
Over and over, the Republican leaders had excuses for their loss: President Obama won by a bigger margin than they anticipated. Their party’s internal problems created a resource shortage. The DFLers told “lies” in their campaign literature.
Ummm, weren’t there millions of dollars spent by Republicans and Republican-supporting independent expenditure groups to create literature and television ads that said pretty negative things about DFLers?
“We’re happy to draw contrasts,’’ said Zellers of the GOP advertising efforts.
Dean added, “They [DFL campaigns] were well coordinated and excruciatingly unfair.”
What of the amendments? Might they have backfired?
Zellers repeatedly said the amendments weren’t “our message.” The GOP campaign message he said was balancing the budget without raising taxes and in making the Minnesota business climate more competitive.
Apparently, Zellers and Dean don’t believe in the adage that sometimes actions speak louder than words.
Zellers and Dean warned that under DFLers, it will be impossible for Minnesota businesses to economically compete with Wisconsin, North Dakota and Oklahoma. In their next breaths, they accused DFLers of running campaigns that created “fear” among Minnesota voters.
DFL leaders stress ‘governing’
Shortly after the GOP event ended, Gov. Mark Dayton, current DFL Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk and House Minority Leader Paul Thissen met with reporters.
What about all of those Republican charges?
“The time for that sort of rhetoric ended yesterday,” Dayton said. “I was impressed by what Gov. Romney said last night.”
Dayton then began reading from Romney’s short, gracious concession speech. It was about working together, ending partisan bickering, etc.
“We’re going to focus on basics,” said Thissen. “We’re going to focus on governing.”
What does that mean?
For starters, the three DFL leaders were not about to jump into any controversial issues. For example, they were immediately asked, in the wake of the defeat of the marriage amendment, if they would push for a law that would allow gay marriage in the state.
Clearly, that sort of push is not going to happen — at least not anytime soon.
“Policy ideas are on the back shelf now,” said Bakk. “Everything is secondary to the budget.”
The governor agreed, saying that it’s time for the state “to catch its breath” before even considering gay marriage.
Dayton hinted that he may not rush to the new legislative majority with a plan “to tax the rich.”
But he was quick to add that “higher taxes [on the wealthiest] is not a slogan — that’s a conviction. How I approach that is not concluded.”
What all three said was that all four of the caucuses need time to organize and discuss priorities before any sort of plans are rolled out.
Taxes — or at least tax reform — will be on the table. Bakk said he’d already called Chamber of Commerce officials, seeking business input in how to work on solving property tax problems.
“I asked the president of the Chamber to come to us with some ideas,” Bakk said.
Mostly, though, the DFLers wanted to talk about “governing.”
“I think the message [of the elections] is that people are interested in moving forward in practical, roll-up-your sleeves ways,” Thissen said.
He even had kind words for Zellers.
“The speaker did call [early Wednesday morning],” Thissen said. “That was generous and honorable. I look forward to working with him and the Republicans.”
The DFL caucus will meet Thursday evening to “organize,” if such a thing is possible. Bakk will run for majority leader. He also said that his caucus will return to the tradition of having the caucus elect the chairpersons of the powerful tax and finance committees. (Republicans dropped that elective process.)
DFL House members also plan to caucus Thursday to select leaders. Thissen is expected to be chosen, without DFL opposition, as the speaker.
Republicans in the House and Senate will caucus later this week to select minority leaders.
Meantime, Dean said they’ll go about the business of collecting lawn signs, the final act of campaigns.
Both Zellers and Dean said they hope that many of the candidates who were defeated Tuesday will decide to run again in two years.
“Our candidates were the better candidates,” Zellers said.