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Historic election puts Republicans in control of Minnesota House and Senate

Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt speaking at the GOP Party
MinnPost photo by Brian Halliday
Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt speaking at the Republican Party Election Night gathering at the Radisson Blu Mall of America.

Speaker of the Minnesota House Kurt Daudt has Donald Trump to thank — at least partially — for handing his Republican caucus one of the largest House majorities ever assembled during a presidential year.

It was a bizarre turn of events. Just a month ago, Daudt denounced the GOP presidential nominee after a recording surfaced of Trump saying he inappropriately grabbed and groped women. At the time, Daudt had a majority to defend in the Minnesota House, but as polls closed and results came in on election night, Trump rolled toward victory. And so did Republicans down the ballot from him.

“We have the highest number of members ever, at least in recent history, after a presidential election,” Daudt told reporters at the Minnesota GOP's party at the Radisson Blu in Bloomington just after midnight. Democrats tend to pick up legislative seats in presidential years in Minnesota.

Around the same time, at the Hilton hotel in downtown Minneapolis, DFL election party crowds were thinning out, with some despondent activists sobbing and holding each other. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was on her way to losing, the Minnesota House was firmly in Republican hands, and the Minnesota Senate would eventually fall out of Democratic control.

Steve Cwodzinski was getting ready to go home for the night and didn’t know what to make of anything. He had just toppled Senate Republican Minority Leader David Hann in a shocking upset in Eden Prairie, but his victory was one of the only bright spots for Democrats in Minnesota.  

“I don’t know the words,” said Cwodzinski, a recently retired Eden Prairie government and American history teacher. “This was just surprising to me. I just never thought.”

Big Republican gains in Minnesota

When the dust settled on the 2016 election, sometime after 3 a.m., Trump wasn’t the only big winner of the night. Minnesota Republicans walked away with 76-57 majority in the House, up from 73 seats before election night, while Senate Republicans surprised everyone and flipped the chamber by one vote, 34-33, toppling several senior Democratic senators in rural Minnesota to get there. Democrats went into the election with a 10-seat advantage.

At the top of the ticket, Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine barely eked out a victory in Minnesota, a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1972.

Among the DFL legislative casualties after Election night: Senate Taxes Chairman Rod Skoe, four-term Sen. Tom Saxhaug, Sen. Vicki Jensen, Sen. Matt Schmit and longtime Rep. Tom Anzelc. Democrats also lost some competitive suburban seats they were hoping to defend, including open Senate District 44 in Minnetonka and Plymouth.

“People don’t understand that a campaign about law and order and our economy is what people are asking for,” said U.S Republican Rep. Tom Emmer. “They want to be heard. This is about the forgotten man and the forgotten woman that are being expected to carry the weight for everyone else. They’re asking for someone to hear them. They want everybody to succeed, but not at the expense of their success.”

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The Republican crowd that gathered in a packed ballroom at the Radisson Blu was buoyant all night as Fox News hosts projected wins in critical states across the U.S.: Ohio, Florida, then Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Partygoers intermittently erupted into chants of “U.S.A., U.S.A.” and “Lock her up.”

Eva Norman, of Champlin, stared at her phone, refreshing social media feeds to see if what was being reported was really true — that Trump was winning. Born in Peru, Norman has been a Minnesota resident for 16 years, and she said she supported Trump’s candidacy from the beginning. With what she felt was a lack of support for Trump from the Republican National Committee and media outlets, she didn’t expect this kind of news. 

“It’s hard to believe that we’re seeing this change, given the fact that he’s been called a racist, he’s been called a womanizer, an absolutely despicable human being, yet you’re seeing this support,” she said. “People want change.”

Earl Luckes and his son Steven headed to the Minnesota GOP headquarters on a whim after hearing Trump was winning in key states. They had been driving home to Minneapolis after a screening of “Mad Max” at the Roseville movie theater.

“We heard on the radio it was happening, and I thought ‘I want to be part of the history of it,’” Luckes said.

Small wins for the DFL

Democrats were celebratory early in the night, including DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin, who told the crowd shortly after 8 p.m.: “Based on what we are seeing, it's going to be a good night for the DFL.” But the enthusiasm waned as results rolled in, showing Clinton trailing heavily in areas that President Barack Obama won easily in 2008 and 2012.

Steve Cwodzinski
Photo by Jody Russell
Steve Cwodzinski

“We have a lot of work ahead of us to heal our divisions and address the frustration felt by so many of our fellow citizens,” DFL Minority Leader Paul Thissen said in a statement. “Too many Minnesotans feel like they don’t have a voice in their government and the well-connected few are getting ahead at their expense. My colleagues and I in the House DFL Caucus understand that frustration. We are ready to fight for a more inclusive, fairer Minnesota where everyone has an opportunity to succeed.”

Cwodzinski wasn’t the only victory for Democrats in Minnesota. They also picked up a conservative-leaning Senate seat in Lakeville, where the area’s mayor, Matt Little, beat Republican Tim Pitcher for an open seat. And the DFL picked up an open seat in Apple Valley, where a Republican retirement made way for Erin Maye Quade to head to the House. They also celebrated the election of the first ever Somali-American legislator in the nation, Ilhan Omar, who easily sailed to victory in Minneapolis’ House District 60B.

“My neighbors, and everyone here in this room, represent what we as a nation want to be: united in our diversity,” Omar said. “Long time residents, East African immigrants and students — we came together and engaged in the political progress. We talked about the issues that concern us and we connected on the future we want to create.”

Targeting and Trump

When it came to Republican legislative victories in Minnesota, Daudt made sure not to give Trump all the credit. Democrats were hit hard by failures in the state’s health insurance exchange just weeks before the election, when premiums for people on the individual marketplace went up by more than 50 percent.

And part of their victory was strategic, he said. Take Republican candidate Dario Anselmo’s victory in an Edina House district. The suburban district has been trending blue for several election cycles and it soundly rejected Trump, but in the final weeks of the campaign, local Republicans hit incumbent DFL Rep. Ron Erhardt hard in television ads and mailers for his conduct on the House floor during a debate about sexual assault. The ad featured a woman who was part of an effort in 2015 to expand the state’s sexual assault laws to include bodily fluids after a co-worker ejaculated into her coffee cup. While legislators debated the issue on the House floor, Erhardt joked about it as he addressed other lawmakers.

“The last three weeks they hit me with a nasty piece, spent thousands of dollars on TV and the postcards,” Erhardt said Tuesday night. “I’m sure it had an effect.”

"For us it really was probably that Democrats in Minnesota have kind of let Minnesotans down, particularly on health care but on many other issues,” Daudt said. “Donald Trump may have been in some areas of the state, but we won in districts like Edina where Trump's probably going to lose...by 20 points, and we won that district."

What’s more, Republicans majority could grow in February: There’s a special election on the books in House District 32B, where the courts ruled earlier this year that Republican Rep. Bob Barrett didn’t technically live in the district, which trends Republican.

Divided goverment ahead 

But the new Republican legislative majorities still have one major roadblock to their agenda in St. Paul: DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. He’s still in office for the next two years, and he knows what it’s like to go head-to-head with an all GOP Legislature. His first two years in office in 2011 and 2012 were opposite a Republican House and Senate.

Early in the night, Dayton said he planned to fight for pre-kindergarten education, “for every child, for every four-year-old,” and for “people of color and people who are GLBT.”

“We are one Minnesota,” Dayton yelled to a cheering crowd. “We are a better Minnesota for having everybody here, and those who don’t like it, go live somewhere else.”

Daudt didn’t go into specifics on the House Republicans 2017 agenda, but he said Americans are “tired of politics as usual.”

“We are going to bring forward an agenda that puts Minnesotans first,” he said. “We want to grow Minnesota’s economy, we want to create jobs, we want to reform health care and make it affordable for Minnesotans.” 

Legislator pay amendment passes 

Minnesotans also overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment to remove the power for legislators to set their own pay. The amendment, which passed with nearly 77 percent of ballot-casting Minnesotans filling in the "yes" box, calls for a 16-member independent commission that will decide on how legislators should be compensated. 

It was one of the quietest constitutional amendment campaigns in recent Minnesota history: No groups registered to campaign for or against the amendment, which likely attributed to it's ultimate success. 

The group will now evaluate and set legislator pay every two years. Currently, Minnesota representatives and senators make $31,140 per year — plus per diem and lodging expenses — for a job designated as part time. That hasn't gone up since 1999 because of the contentious nature of legislators voting to raise their own pay. In the nearly 20 other states withs similar commissions, legislator pay was more likely to increase. 

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Comments (6)

The Older (pre-1980s) Republican Party

would already be organizing and planning for how,...

with carefully thought out approaches to law and policy,...

they could create better lives for the citizens of Minnesota,...

using more conservative approaches to taxation and spending than those the Democrats might have chosen,...

all the while prepared to take responsibility for the success or failure of their work.

I miss those days.

Today's newly Republican-controlled legislature will not be able to bring themselves to do,...

anything.

Because, no matter how effectively and carefully they seek to spend government money,...

to address the large-scale problems of their constituents (the kinds of problems that ONLY government can address),...

it will STILL be money from TAXES that they'll be spending,...

which will make their most important leash holders angry,...

so they will do NOTHING.

But this biennium, they won't be able to blame the Democrats.

They'll simply prove (as they did last time they had control),...

that they're completely incapable of governing in any way shape or form.

(Help for the farmers whose ACA insurance premiums are about to go through the roof,...

NOT GONNA HAPPEN).

Will their constituents even notice?

If only...

...they may not deliver on any promises, but they sure can destroy things.

Always a pleasure

To get the G.K. viewpoint, save it, and look back on it later.

"But this biennium, they won't be able to blame the Democrats." Well, maybe the top dog who asked the State for a majority of Democrats in both houses and was soundly rejected. His vetoes will deserve all the blame that he just received for the last one...

"it will STILL be money from TAXES that they'll be spending" But there might be LESS tax money taken from the citizens and LESS overall spending than the over 8% increases each biennium so far under Governor Dayton, especially since the Governor warned of un upcoming recession and a need to put money in the rainy day fund (that he now wants to raid.

"(the kinds of problems that ONLY government can address)" Like gay marriage, increased minimum wage, all day everyday kindergarten, unions for child care workers, and anti-bullying laws and other LARGE SCALE PROBLEMS.

The Reality Is

Our newly-empowered Republican legislators won't give Dayton much of anything TO veto,...
because they won't dare take any action,...

because to do so would expose them to criticism,...

which they don't know how to deal with,...

not to mention that, if they behave responsibly,...

they're likely to lose their Party's endorsement for the next election,...

even though the majority of their constituents supported what they did.

America has bought into the unknown

Trump immediately brings back memories of Jesse Ventura. Jesse was shocked he won. Ventura didn’t have any real plans, didn’t know how to work with people, had paper-thin skin, and was vindictive. In the end, Ventura wasn’t able to accomplish much of anything.

I agree with Trump that the Washington swamp needs to be drained. Washington is a political cesspool. The Republican Party has been highly dysfunctional, totally lacking leadership. Now the Republican Party is a disparate group of angry people with an arrogant man without any plans at the top of their party. They still don’t have a leader. They now have a vindictive businessman who is going to find out that dictating what a business does is totally different than having to work with others to accomplish anything. He was elected president, not dictator.

On the flip side, we all still have our families and it is still the parent’s responsibility to guide and love their children. It is up to us to continue to make our communities great and it is up to us to keep Minnesota great.

Ventura

Ventura didn't do anything??? What about building the Blue line from downtown Mpls to the airport?

Jesse, while ending up being an embarrassment to the state was a very effective governor. He didn't owe anyone anything, so he had a free hand appointing the best people from both parties to his cabinet, and then was smart enough to give them the latitude to do their jobs in a professional manner.

On the fiscal front, instead of pushing thru tax cuts based on optimistic projections, his policy was to be conservative, collect the taxes as schedule, with the promise that he would return any surplus to the taxpayers. What a refreshing way to run the government.

Just because you are a jerk, doesn't mean that you can't be an effective governor (or president).