An electoral wave of discontent hit legislative districts near Lake Minnetonka Tuesday. Republican primary battles in the western metro suburbs bounced one veteran incumbent from the Minnesota House and removed another House incumbent who had hoped to move up to a Senate seat.
Cindy Pugh, a co-founder of the Southwest Metro Tea Party, easily defeated Republican Rep. Steve Smith, who was the longest serving member in the House. Pugh says her victory in District 33B is proof voters in the district wanted changes.
"There were a lot of people who were not pleased with the representation they had," she said after her victory. "People were thrilled that they had a candidate for the first time ever come to their door and introduce themselves and ask what issues were important to voters."
Smith could not be reached for comment about his primary loss.
Pugh isn't the only candidate to declare that change is coming after last night's primary elections around the state. In District 33, Dave Osmek won a contentious primary for the Minnesota Senate over Rep. Connie Doepke of Orono by a mere 107 votes. Osmek had already won the GOP endorsement and had the backing of the Freedom Club, a group that supports small government, lower taxes and a constitutional amendment that would make union membership and the payment of union dues voluntary. Like Pugh, Osmek said he thought that voters were looking for a change.
"At the endorsing convention, it was clear that conservatives wanted a different voice. Tonight the conservatives at the Senate District convention were validated by the voters," he said.
Both Osmek and Pugh say they'll push to pass the so-called Right to Work amendment if they're members of the Legislature. They also say they'll push to cut taxes.
Osmek's and Pugh's victories are a signal the Tea Party is showing greater strength in Minnesota's Republican Party. State Rep. Jennifer Loon, who is heading House Republican election efforts, says Republicans are warning voters that Gov. Mark Dayton's proposed tax hikes are more likely to become law if Democrats win control of the Legislature.
"We know who our governor is going to be and we know what his priorities are, so Legislature changes could have a significant change of course in policy for the state," Loon said.
While Republicans are hoping to capitalize on their efforts to keep taxes low and cut government spending, Democrats are also ramping up their efforts to win back control of the Capitol.
"It's probably our top priority," said DFL Party Chair Ken Martin. Democrats aren't happy that they lost both chambers of the Legislature in 2010, and he says the party and other groups that back Democratic causes are ready to do what it takes to win.
"We know that our ability to move this state forward on a number of issues rides on our ability to win back at least one of those chambers," he said.
Martin and other Democrats are telling DFL voters that failing to win back the House or Senate could mean Republicans will put the Right-to-Work amendment on the ballot. That worries AFL-CIO president Shar Knutson. She says her coalition of unions will remind their members that Republicans have worked to roll back union protections both in Minnesota and other states like Wisconsin.
"They understand what's going to happen if we don't make changes in the Legislature. They got a taste of it this last session when hundreds of attacks were put upon working families and right to work was brought up like it was some kind of job creator," Knutson said.
In other primary results Tuesday, Senate tax committe chair Julianne Ortman fended off a challenge from the right. Jason Metsa won an Iron Range DFL primary in the district where longtime state Rep. Tom Rukavina retired, and Lyle Koenen defeated fellow Democrat Larry Rice in Senate District 17 in the Wilmar area -- setting up a general election race with incumbent Republican Joe Gimse.