GOP takeover of Minnesota House part of national wave

MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
Republican State Leadership Committee president Matt Walter: "There was a very clear choice between a new vision that Kurt Daudt [above, center] and the Republicans were advocating for in contrast to a completely DFL-held government."

Minnesota Republicans aren’t the only ones patting themselves on the back for taking control of the state House — national Republican groups count the state GOP’s win in November as part of a watershed victory for Republicans in state legislatures across the country. 

It’s not surprising that legislative victories were overshadowed by GOP gains in Congress this cycle. But the scale of the victory in terms of state legislative seats might be more impressive: Republicans now control 4,100 out of 7,383 seats across the nation, or 56 percent. That’s their highest level since 1920, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NSCL), when a Jazz Age economic boom led to historic numbers of Republicans elected to legislatures. 

Republicans are also at a high watermark in terms of control of legislative chambers: the Minnesota House was one of nine chambers that flipped to give the GOP control 69 of 99 legislative bodies across the nation, the most ever for the party. Republicans held 32 governorships in the late 1990s, but they controlled dramatically fewer legislative seats then than they do now.

The chambers that flipped alongside Minnesota this fall: the Colorado Senate, the Maine Senate, the New Hampshire House, the New Mexico House and both chambers in Nevada and West Virginia. Republicans also gained an outright majority — versus working majorities that were formed by alliances between Democrats and Republicans — in both the New York and Washington Senate chambers. 

“Minnesota, in many ways, was emblematic of what happened across the nation this election cycle,” said Matt Walter, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), an umbrella organization under the national GOP that aims to elect down-ballot, state-level Republican lawmakers. “It’s a state that has gone back and forth with leadership in the Legislature and there was a very clear choice between a new vision that Kurt Daudt and the Republicans were advocating for in contrast to a completely DFL-held government.”

It’s part of a trend in purplish states that’s seen parties and outside groups shifting their focus on winning legislative seats. In Minnesota this cycle, Republican groups like the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce poured millions into House races and mostly stayed out of statewide races on the ticket. And with increasing partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C., voters are looking more to their state lawmakers to make policy changes, Walter said. 

“[Legislatures] are quite different from Congress, and in many respects a direct contrast to Washington, D.C.,” he said. “There is an increasing level of interest from voters because they know state governments have a tremendous impact on their lives, from the moment they wake up to the movement they go to sleep. The good developments are now coming from bottom up.”

Minnesota saw a decidedly rural takeover in the House — 10 out of the 11 pickups this fall were in rural districts — but across the country, results were more mixed between rural and suburban areas, and Republicans even picked up some seats in small to mid-sized urban areas in other states, Walter said. Much of that result can be attributed to particularly strong candidate recruitment in states where they had major pickups, noting that Minnesota House Republicans recruited strong candidates in several rural and outstate districts like Albert Lea and St. Cloud. 

Pennsylvania House Speaker Sam Smith, the outgoing chair of the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee (RLCC), said Republican state legislative candidates did benefit late in the game from national political winds, particularly President Barack Obama’s low approval rating. 

“We did get a little benefit at the national level with the Obama administration’s indifference to the Ebola situation late in the summer [and] their indifference to the economy,” he said. “I call it, ‘The Washington knows best’ mindset.”  

What does that mean in terms of policy changes in Minnesota and other states where the GOP made legislative gains? Walter ticked off a number of areas of focus:  job growth, easing “burdensome regulations,” reforming states’ education systems and pension reform.  

And for those hoping for quieter campaigns seasons in Minnesota in the future, well, sorry: competitive Minnesota legislative races are not going away. “Minnesota is a very, very interesting barometer in terms of where politics are in the U.S., one that people have increasingly been looking at because of the swings in recent years and dynamics going on,” Walter said. “I anticipate that will continue on into future cycles.”  

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Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 12/11/2014 - 09:45 am.

    The Republicans can’t claim victory

    Now they have the hard part to overcome their reputation of the party of NO. Can they govern? There will be an internal Republican war for the next two years as they try to find someone who can actually lead. The public has not been given any proof they can govern. The proof will be in the pudding. It is one thing to win an election and another to actually accomplish anything of meaning. The last time they had control they worked their social issues and left us $6,000,000,000 in debt. Not a good track record. Not even their talking points have changed since their disastrous last attempt to govern.

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/11/2014 - 11:11 am.

    It won’t last.

    Voters are getting tired of the republican bait-n-switch, and the budget crises and stalled public policies. They keep saying they can be reasonable but then they slip all kinds of land mines into the budget deal and end up waging culture wars and promoting magical economic theories.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/11/2014 - 12:55 pm.


      Interesting you’d use that phrase, considering the DFL SSM marriage bait-n-switch sealed the GOP takeover.

      • Submitted by jason myron on 12/12/2014 - 08:11 pm.

        There was no “bait & switch”

        The GOP attempted to enshrine discrimination into the state constitution. Your version of bait and switch is the equivalent of a bully crying foul when his victim finally hits him back.

        • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/13/2014 - 09:16 am.

          No, Myron. My description of telling the electorate a law was in place which made the amendment an unnecessary “piling on”, and then repealing the law as their first act of the session is the very definition of bait and switch.

          The booting of all the duplicitous Democrats from office is an example of the classic reaction to it.

  3. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 12/11/2014 - 11:41 am.


    The GOP didn’t win because of ebola or Obama’s low approval ratings, they won because of low voter turnout. Ebola was and is a non-issue, which is right where it belongs. The only reason it got any traction at all is because news outlets want to sell to consumers and drama is their method for getting that accomplished.

    As far as Obama’s ratings go, the legislature’s ratings are even lower. They claim that the people in Washington know best about what’s good for you, disparaging our government in the process. Then they do their best to become one of those very people.

    Not a very ingenious claim.

    The position that they’re going to promote job growth through deregulation is another non-starter as it’s just code for “we want to pay our workers nothing, dispense with safety regulations, and pollute the environment in the process. What an uplifting platform to run under!

    The education and pension reforms aren’t any better. That just means they want to break the teacher’s union and public service unions. The goal is to take these middle income jobs, outsource them to private companies that pay less and have fewer benefits (if any), and put the savings into the pockets of the business owners.

    Does the public save any money? Nope. Do we get better service? No, and in many cases it’s much worse service. But we do get another round of class warfare as the rich get richer and the middle class shrinks.

    So just exactly how are the Republicans going to improve the lot for the lower and middle class? Where are the policies that benefit the 99%?

  4. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 12/11/2014 - 11:47 am.

    Policy Direction

    As a Republican I’m not sure I would want to contrast myself with the Democrats at the moment. Under a Democrat-controlled legislature and governor’s office, the budget has been balanced, loans from schools paid off, economy humming along, and unemployment one of the lowest in the nation. In essence they’re saying “vote for me because….I’m not as good as that Democrat over there.”

    Contrast that to the Republican years, which were marred by high unemployment, deficits, accounting slight of hand, and, on the national level, outright torture.

    That’s not exactly an uplifting point to make.

  5. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/11/2014 - 01:13 pm.

    What I see

    …in Republican rhetoric is a series of policies designed to serve the growing oligarchy in the country at the expense of everyone else. There’s not even a hint of “serving the public” in the right wing boilerplate that Matt Walter is espousing.

    “…What does that mean in terms of policy changes in Minnesota and other states where the GOP made legislative gains? Walter ticked off a number of areas of focus: job growth, easing ‘burdensome regulations,’ reforming states’ education systems and pension reform.”

    Jobs have grown just fine with “single-party” control in St. Paul, and they’ve grown nationally *despite* “The Party of NO” playing obstructionist politics in the nation’s capital from the first day of the Obama administration.

    “Burdensome regulations?” Which regulations would those be? The ones that try to maintain air and water that we can actually breathe and drink without poisoning ourselves? The financial sector was “relieved” of “burdensome regulations” some years ago with the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act by a craven Congress purchased by the financial sector. The result was catastrophic for industrial economies around the world, not to mention many thousands of families in this country, and millions of them elsewhere on the planet. Reform of state education systems generally takes on the appearance of just what Todd Hintz suggests: break the teacher’s union, or any sort of teacher’s association, and while they’re at it, dispensing with tenure as well. Why? Well… just because. The notion that an actual *reason* might be necessary to fire someone is anathema to a corporate CEO who’s accustomed to operating autocratically. Pension reform is simply code for “let’s screw the workers after they’re too old and infirm to find work that will pay them a living wage. The savings can go into my investment portfolio.”

    Republicans didn’t win because they have any new ideas for serving the public. They won, in some cases, because they appealed to the more base and selfish instincts of the people in some districts. They won, in part, because they were happy to take advantage of the residual racism in the culture, evident in the language often used to criticize Obama, and of course we shouldn’t forget the polarization that’s taken place since the August killing of Michael Brown, and later Eric Garner, and later… They won, in other cases, because they’re very good at telling lies about an economic theory that’s intellectually bankrupt and demonstrably false. And they won because Americans, in particular, have grown fond of instant gratification. When a sitting president isn’t able to deliver on promises made in the form stated, or with the speed hoped, we don’t much care about *why* the promises aren’t being translated into action. We just change horses and try someone else. Then we change horses again when the new guys prove they’re no smarter than the ones they replaced.

    I agree that the recent election reflects a national wave, but it’s one that’s neither especially admirable, nor is it based on economic reality.

  6. Submitted by Mike Downing on 12/11/2014 - 01:32 pm.

    Why is MN so different?

    When only 23-28% think our country is heading in the right direction, why does MN re-elect the same Democrats who are responsible for moving the U.S. in the wrong direction? The rest of the country saw the problem and 2014 became a “wave election” except in MN. Was Gruber right about MN voters?

    • Submitted by jason myron on 12/11/2014 - 02:00 pm.

      What 23% of the country?

      It was the lowest turnout of any midterm with 35%. GOP voters accounted for 17% of that number. This election was no mandate, nor is it an accurate representation of what the country thinks no matter how much you spin it. Gruber was right about voters in Kentucky, who said they loved Kynect, yet hated the ACA…which is the exact same thing. Yeah, Gruber was right…just not about the demographic that you’re desperately trying to suggest. Do you know the Democratic candidates that did well? The ones that didn’t run from this President and stood proudly by their accomplishments.

    • Submitted by Tom Christensen on 12/11/2014 - 02:34 pm.

      From the party of NO.

      Six years ago the GOP started out with their only goal being that President Obama would only be a one term president. They failed. The GOP dominated the congress with filibuster after filibuster and a my way or the highway approach to negotiations. They were against what they were previously for because political grandstanding was far more important to them than moving the country forward. Without any real party leadership the only way they could protect themselves was just say NO. The GOP took its commands from the entertainer, Rush Limbaugh, and when they misspoke they felt required to apologize to him. Why? Because they didn’t have any leadership strong enough to overcome a lowly entertainer. The GOP mouthpieces work from their own homemade information, repeat it, and repeat it, and hope that someday it will become fact in the minds of the voters. The GOP noise machine has been droning for the last six years. That is not the way the country moves forward. We are at our best when the two party’s propose legislation and work together to compromise. Compromise is a new term the GOP needs to get familiar with if they want any progress. Can the GOP govern? Time will tell.

    • Submitted by Pat Brady on 12/12/2014 - 08:53 am.

      Heading in the right direction

      We are not called the NorthStar state for nothing. We are leaders of the North country.
      The exit polls in Mn in November revealed that voters thoguht the economy was good to excellent. The job growth, low unemployment rate, good governance, a surplus in state revenues are a beacon for other states. Now we have a state House with GOP control based on the increase in rural GOP reps.
      As a urban resident with farm roots, I have no problem spreading some of the good gorwth throughout the state.
      We are a progressive beacon of blue while Iowa and Wisconsin have been reduced to using a dimmer switch .

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