Editor’s note: Welcome to a special post-election edition of Capitol Retort, our weekly review of issues in state and national news with a rotating cast of political people in the know. Answers have been edited for length and clarity. Any instances of agreement are accidental.
Question 1: Which legislative race outcomes did you find the most significant?
Amy Koch, former GOP Senate majority leader: The Republicans have a Senate majority, but they are going on without their minority leader [Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, who lost his re-election bid]. So that is super-significant.
Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis: I think there was a lot of down-ballot effect from the Trump campaign — more than ever showed up in any of the polling or any of the evidence that we had on the ground. I think the predictions were that we were going to maintain our majority or perhaps even expand it by one or two or more.
Annette Meeks, conservative political analyst: The results in Senate District 1 [the seat vacated by LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, and won by Republican Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks] and Senate District 2 [where Republican Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids, defeated incumbent Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook] were a surprise. We are seeing some extraordinary upsets. Some of the closest allies to Senate Majority Leader [Tom] Bakk [DFL-Cook] are no longer going to be returning to the state Senate. That is pretty remarkable.
Peter Bell, conservative think tank fellow: Of course, I was surprised that Hann lost. That was counter to the Republican wave. I don’t think anyone thought that we’d be having that conversation this morning.
Robyne Robinson, arts and culture director, Airport Foundation MSP, former Fox 9 anchor: I think it is important that [incoming Rep.] Ilhan Omar [DFL-Minneapolis] won. Minnesota has a bad habit of voting for incumbents, to their detriment. I think it is important for her to win because the face of Minnesota has been changing for quite some time.
Question 2: The ballot initiative on legislative pay passed easily. What does that say about the mood of the electorate?
Koch: It could be that it’s been 20 years since legislators had a raise. I also think people read that as, “Should they be able to decide their own pay raise?” And I think that people think that that’s wrong. But it was worded in a way that I thought could be conducive to it passing.
Dibble: It is not entirely clear. The plain reading of it looked like the authority to set pay would be taken out of the hands of legislators, so it could be interpreted as the general unpopularity of the state Legislature. But I think there needs to be a little bit of research in the coming weeks to understand what people were feeling and thinking when they voted in favor of that.
Meeks: I don’t know, other than I don’t share their mood. I thought it was a bad ballot initiative.
Bell: I thought it was a hopeful move. I thought it was a good-government move. I’m not sure that pay raises should be in the hands of the people who receive them. I think that on its face it is a conflict of interest. I think [the initiative] is in the service of better government.
Robinson: It is a populist movement on many different issues and this is one. People demanding better pay and wages, whether it is through unions or just everyday employment. It’s critical. And voting for better pay raises is an indication of that.
Question 3: What does this election’s result mean for your party?
Koch: It means that it is time. We have been talking for a few years about Obamacare and fixes that need to be made there and budget things, and now it is going to be on us to find solutions and to actually get some things accomplished.
Dibble: I believe strongly that the Democratic Party is the party of opportunity, the party of the middle class, the party of working people. It’s the party of people who aspire to have safe, stable, secure economic lives. And we need to find a way to connect with folks in a meaningful way.
Meeks: It means that Republicans have to take charge and lead. It is one thing to oppose bad legislation proposed by the majority party. It is another thing to get out there and say, “Here is our agenda.” It is a very hefty responsibility and people expect you to do what you said during the campaign.
Bell: I think humility is called for on all sides. Everybody has been wrong — pundits and pollsters, and I put myself at the top of that list. I think there is going to be a great deal of introspection in both the Democratic and Republican parties.
Robinson: It means that the Democrats are never as good as the Republicans when it comes to organizing a strategy. They have to really analyze the fact that they have a new voting bloc of young people who really don’t understand the democratic process. A lot of these young people decided to take their marbles and go home when Bernie Sanders didn’t win. And I think a lot of it was fed by a really skewed media perspective. I can’t help but feel that the Democrats sat passively by while they let the media, Trump and the GOP skew the election.
Question 4: Where do you want your party to be four years from now?
Koch: I would hope that they would get some things accomplished and then set themselves on a path for a solid, long-term majority.
Dibble: I want our party to be very muscular and vocal and unapologetic in its advocacy for people’s hopes, dreams and aspirations, for themselves and their families and their community. We really do need to build an authentic movement around people claiming their own power to improve their own lives. Our party used to be the catalyst for that.
Meeks: I really would like us to develop a comprehensive working agenda of what Republicans or conservatives stand for, and put that forward so that the next election is about what we are for. Not just, “We are against Obamacare. We’re against all the executive orders that President Obama has done over the last eight years.” We need to put forward what we are for.
Bell: I hope that the Republican Party will be serious about governing. I think it has been used to being an opposition party for so long and now they have the House and the Senate and the presidency, and they also are going to have the Supreme Court. There is no hiding now.
Robinson: I am not specifically a party person. I want my country to be in less of a hate-filled, retributive mood. I still think we are dealing with somebody who is an autocrat and authoritarian. I’m concerned about the direction of America. If this is where we are heading, we are about to lose our democracy.