For the first time in more than two decades, it appears that Democrats will control all of state government in Minnesota.
Senate Democrats declared that they had won control of their chamber early this morning. And DFL House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said that GOP Speaker Kurt Zellers called him just after 1 a.m. to congratulate him on winning the House. Thissen, though, was not ready to declare victory early this morning.
"We still have a couple of races still outstanding," said Thissen, referring to various undecided contests around the state. "We have to see how they turn out. I've been cautious about this the whole time. And I'm going to remain cautious until we get all the votes counted. The speaker calling was very generous of him and it looks like we're going to take back the majority in the statehouse."
He said the new majority would allow House Democrats to move ahead on basic issues. "We are going to be able to make some progress on things that are really important to Minnesotans," he said. "Investing in education, making sure we get our budget balanced in a fair way, focusing on those bread and butter issues. And that is what we are going to get to work doing."
Republicans lost some of the most hotly contested and lavishly funded races in the state, in some cases by large margins. With most precincts in the state reporting, the DFL majority in the Senate appears to be 39 seats, compared to 28 seats for the Republicans.
"I always thought their views didn't represent the Minnesota I know," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk. "I always thought we'd get to this day, but it's just been a lot of work." He suggested that the Democratic surge would be helpful to Gov. Mark Dayton. "We will try to put a budget together to as close to where he's at as we can get the votes for."
All 201 legislative seats were up for grabs this election, thanks to redistricting. Democrats needed to pick up just four Senate seats and six House seats in order to regain the majorities. Democratic control of the Legislature will affect a wide range of local issues, from how Minnesotans buy health insurance to how the state faces the next projected budget shortfall.
Dane Smith, president of the progressive think tank, Growth & Justice, said earlier that if Democrats took control of the House, the Senate or both, Dayton would have an easier time establishing a health insurance exchange as mandated by federal law but opposed by Republican legislators.
He also thinks the picture may change on taxes. "If one chamber or the other changes hands," said Smith, "I think the case for some sort of revenue increase is strengthened, whether it's a partial restoration of the income tax rates before the [then-Gov. Jesse] Ventura cuts in 1999 or 2000, or an expansion of the sales tax base. One of those things will happen if control is lost of one chamber or the other."
But now the pressure is on Dayton to accomplish something big. "He will have to produce something, some major achievement," said Smith. "If there is improvement in people's lives that is achieved as a result of a new majority, then he is in a stronger position for reelection."