Republicans claim majorities in Senate and House
Republicans pummeled DFLers in the suburbs and greater Minnesota on Tuesday night to take control of both chambers of the Legislature for the first time since the modern partisan era started in the early 1970s.
For the Senate Republican Caucus, it’s the first time since 1972, when the caucuses were labeled “conservative” and “liberal,” that the GOP has owned a majority. House Republicans previously had the majority from 1998 to 2006.
House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, chalked up the gains to dissatisfaction with DFL’s proposed tax increases.
“If you were voting for job-killing tax increases and then going on the campaign trail saying you’re fiscally conservative, the voters aren’t going to buy it,” Zellers said.
As the clock neared 4 a.m. Wednesday, House Republicans had picked up 25 seats, including the District 3B seat held for 14 terms by House Ways and Means chair Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids. Despite high DFL hopes in a handful of races, House Republicans didn’t see a single open or contested GOP seat fall into Democratic hands.
House Republicans had needed a 21-seat swing to erase the DFL’s 87-47 majority.
The Senate GOP’s victory is all the more impressive because the DFL had a veto-proof majority going into the election.
Other veteran DFL committee chairs caught in the tidal wave: Sen. Don Betzold of Fridley, Rep. Bernie Lieder of Crookston and Rep. Al Juhnke of Willmar.
Republicans picked up several seats that DFLers had won by 5 percentage points or less in the last two election cycles. The GOP targeted those races throughout the campaign, but Republicans also won districts that they hadn’t invested much time and money in.
Among the surprises was Mike Benson’s defeat of third-term Rep. Andy Welti, DFL-Plainview. Welti was known as a tireless campaigner who had gradually widened his re-election margins. But he fell to Benson by 4 percent.
The defeat of Rep. Brita Sailer, DFL-Park Rapids, was another surprise to many Democrats. In the past, Sailer has drawn on strong tribal support from the Red Lake Band of Chippewa. She lost to Republican Dave Hancock by 6 percent.
The Republican wins reversed three election cycles of gains by DFLers in the Legislature.
Republicans ransacked southeastern Minnesota, particularly the Rochester area. Before Tuesday’s election, Rochester was perceived as an emerging DFL strength. The likes of Reps. Fran Bradley, Carla Nelson and Bill Kuisle had all been replaced in the last couple of cycles with DFLers Sen. Ann Lynch and Welti.
Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said the appearance that Rochester was going Democratic faded on Tuesday. “I think it came back to the middle a little bit,” he said, “in large part because of good candidates and the national economy.”
While the bulk of this year’s political spending has focused on the governor’s race, party units and PACs also poured money into independent expenditures in the most visible races. The state GOP, for instance, spent $22,800 against Rep. David Bly, DFL-Northfield, according to campaign finance reports through Oct. 18. The Coalition of Minnesota Businesses spent $18,000 against Bly. The investment appears to have paid off, as Republican Kelby Woodard beat Bly by 30 votes pending an automatically triggered recount.
In another race, the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses spent $31,000 to help Republican challenger Dan Fabian defeat Rep. Dave Olin, DFL-Thief River Falls.
The GOP and business-backed PACs spent heavily on suburban races that have been won in recent election cycles by DFLers. The party spent $32,000 against Rep. Marsha Swails, DFL-Woodbury, and the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses chipped in another $14,900.
Party stalwarts weren’t the only spenders that materialized for Republicans this year. A new group called Voices of Conservative Women saw 10 of the 15 candidates it endorsed register wins. For example, Voices put money into Diane Anderson’s bid to defeat Rep. Sandy Masin, DFL-Eagan, in District 38A. All told, Voices did two mailings in the 38A race.
“Because we were nimble and able to think on our feet, we were able to make a difference in those races,” said Jennifer DeJournett, director of Voices.
In key suburban districts in Woodbury and Eagan, Republicans won back seats they had lost to DFLers.
In District 56, which encompasses Woodbury and Lake Elmo, all three DFL legislators were swept out by their Republican challengers. It was the same story in Eagan’s District 38, where Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s home turf had been taken over by DFLers. Both Districts 38 and 56 voted for President Barack Obama by comfortable margins in 2008.
Dakota County was an absolute battleground. The Republicans exacted revenge for several DFL pickups over the last two election cycles.
There was much in the results in the western and southwestern Minneapolis suburbs that suggests Republicans hold sway in the affluent region again. Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, held onto his seat in a strong rematch with DFLer Kevin Staunton.
To the south, in District 41B, it was one-and-done for freshman Rep. Paul Rosenthal, DFL-Edina. Rosenthal met his match in former Securian Trust president and CEO Pat Mazorol. Republican Kirk Stensrud also appears to have knocked off Rep. Maria Ruud, DFL-Minnetonka, though the 31-vote margin in that race will trigger a recount.
Republicans took their first shot at Rep. Maria Ruud, DFL-Minnetonka, in a year that didn’t favor DFLers in Minnesota. In a nail biter, Ruud lost to Kirk Stensrud by 31 votes.
Beyond the suburbs, the Republicans picked up seats in three of the state’s four corners. In the southeast, Sen. Sharon Erickson-Ropes, DFL-Winona, lost to Jeremy Miller by 2 percent.
Southwestern Minnesota trended heavily Republican. Predictions that former DFL House Majority Leader Ted Winter would return to the Legislature didn’t pan out. In a pickup for the Senate GOP in southwestern part of the state, Rep. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, was elected to succeed the retiring Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy.
House Republicans will meet on Saturday to elect a speaker, and most observers agreed on Tuesday that it would be Zellers. There was little immediate speculation on majority leader candidates.
Senate Republicans will meet as a majority caucus on Friday in St. Paul. They will hold leadership elections for majority leader and president. Senjem said it’s possible they will also elect a Taxes Committee chairman, as the DFL has customarily done in its first post-election gathering.
Some GOP senators are in good standing to become committee chairs because they were previously ranking minority members. Sen. Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista, is the ranking member on the Senate Education Committee. Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, has been the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, has been a leader on energy issues.
“If you look at the ranking members,” said Senjem, “[the committee chairs] will fall in place to some extent.”