If you’re a DFLer, these can be seen as the best of times. But if you’re a DFLer with ambitions, they’re not so hot.
There is simply no place for a DFL pol with aspirations for higher office to move.
For Republicans, the reverse is true.
At the moment, they’ve got no power. But everywhere they look, there’s opportunity to challenge a DFLer in higher office and move up the political ladder.
Minnesota’s political table of organization looks like this: The DFL holds both U.S. Senate seats, the governor’s office and every state constitutional office. It would take a very brave — or foolish — DFL pol to challenge any one of those current officeholders.
Not even when Rudy Perpich was governor did the DFLers have so little room for upward mobility, because in most of those years, Republicans Dave Durenberger and Rudy Boschwitz were the state’s U.S. senators.
Nowhere for DFLers to go
In the Perpich years, a lot of young DFL pols got old waiting for the line to move. The line is even longer now.
“Compression,” said Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-St. Louis Park, of his party’s nowhere-to-move situation.
There have been times when DFLers have tried to decompress and jump to the front of the political line.
In 1986, for example, George Latimer, an immensely popular St. Paul mayor, decided to challenge Perpich, the sitting governor. (In 1986, Perpich was completing his second first term. (Recall, he’d been governor from1976 to 1979 but lost to Al Quie and then won re-election in 1982.)
“I’ve done a lot of dumb things but nothing dumber than that,” said Latimer of that effort to defeat Perpich in a primary.
What drove the bearded mayor?
“Total wrong-headed egomania,” he said, laughing.
Latimer wasn’t the only DFLer who grew weary of waiting for Perpich to leave office. In 1990, Perpich’s commerce commissioner, Mike Hatch, decided he’d run against the boss. Hatch was defeated in the primary and was never forgiven by some in the party.
Timing can be tricky
Latimer said that politics is often about timing. For some pols, that time to move up the political ladder simply never comes.
For example, over the years, Latimer has become a big fan of Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. Latimer not only enjoys Rybak’s high-energy style but respects him for taking on such tough, non-glamorous issues as pension reform and infrastructure construction in the city.
But there may not be a time or place for Rybak to run.
What’s Latimer’s advice for DFL legislators who currently are caught under a “glass ceiling” of sorts?
“One thing that [glass ceiling] could do is to just drive them to do a good job,” Latimer said.
Simon believes that most of his peers won’t get discouraged by the lack of room to move up because most have not seen the Legislature as a stepping stone to higher office.
“I think the attitude most have is that they never expected to be here,” Simon said, “and I think they’re sincere when they say that. You often hear new members says, ‘A year ago, I never even thought that I’d be in this position.’ ”
Most will be content to stay on task and not think about personal ambition, Simon said.
GOP can dream big
But for Republicans, it’s a great time to dream big political thoughts.
“We have a target-rich environment,” said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove.
Governor, a U.S. Senate seat, secretary of state, attorney general, state auditor. All of those positions will be on the ballot in just two years.
Can Limmer see himself running for, oh say, governor?
“Well, not in this very moment,’’ he said, laughing.
Limmer and Sen. Mary Kiffemeyer, R-Big Lake, said that Republicans have more than just a large number of offices they can aspire to.
Because they’re suddenly in the minority, they have time on their hands.
Republican legislators will be expected to show up at the Capitol through the session.
“But the pressure and the workload for the majority is intense,” said Kiffmeyer.
While DFLers are toiling away, GOPers will have time to get out in the state, rebuild the party and try again to spread their message — and, of course, develop a slate of candidates.
Hann, Thompson seem interested
It’s already widely assumed that Senate Minority Leader David Hann is thinking of a gubernatorial run. (He was an also-ran candidate two years ago when Tom Emmer ended up with the endorsement.)
It’s also likely that Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, would like take a run at either U.S. Sen. Al Franken or Gov. Mark Dayton.
Thompson doesn’t deny that but says it is premature for Republicans to think about challenging DFLers.
“At this point, we need to do a better job of explaining our message to the people,” Thompson said. “It’s no secret we did poorly with certain groups of people. It’s clear we didn’t connect. Right now we need to do better at connecting.”
Understand, people such as Thompson, Kiffmeyer and Limmer don’t think their conservative message is wrong. The party’s failure in the last election was in the delivery, not the script, they believe.
Republicans think that in two years, the political environment will be far more favorable for them than it was last November.
Start with the fact that 2014 will be a non-presidential year, meaning a smaller turnout, a reality that typically helps Republicans.
Additionally, DFLers now face the pressure GOP legislators had just two years ago. Given across-the-board power for the first time in more than two decades, DFL activists and the organizations that support DFL candidates are going to be coming to the Capitol with a long list of expectations.
“The governor is in a whole different world now,” said Limmer. “There is going to be a host of coalitions that have been waiting for a long time for this opportunity. They’re going to be clamoring for immediate attention.”
If the governor — and the DFL Legislature — yields to the pressure from their greatest supporters, they risk losing the support of those in the middle.
“We can tell you that things swing very quickly,” said Limmer.
For all of their targets of opportunity, DFL Rep. Jim Davnie of Minneapolis thinks Republicans will have problems of their own. They’ll have a long list of people putting their own ambitions ahead of the good of the party, he believes.
“They’ve got interesting challenges ahead of them,” Davnie said. “Our challenge is different. We have to get the job done.”