Minnesota Legislature swings to DFL

Rep. Margaret Anderson Kelliher
Rep. Margaret Anderson Kelliher, back right, watches election returns. With the DFL expected to take over the Minnesota House of Representatives, Kelliher would likely become Speaker of the House.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty now faces legislative majorities in both chambers that are within a few votes of being able to overturn a veto.

After all the ballots were counted, DFLers held a stunning 85 seats in the Minnesota House, compared to the Republicans 49. House Minority Leader Margaret Anderson Kelliher will now be in charge of the majority. She's expected to be only the second female speaker of the Minnesota House when the Legislative session begins in January.

"Minnesotans voted today really for the heart and soul of Minnesota, and what came out on top is education, health care and attacking those rising property taxes. I think what that means is that we will also be a fiscally moderate caucus," Kelliher predicted.

Steve Sviggum
House Speaker Steve Sviggum speaks on the phone on Election Night 2006, when his party lost control of the Minnesota House of Representatives.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Kelliher was eagerly watching the returns through the night. Early on, Democrats were cautiously optimistic that they would take control of the House. As the night wore on, their majority continued to grow.

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DFLers knocked off 12 GOP incumbents, including two powerful committee leaders, House Taxes Committee Chair Phil Krinkie and House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee Chair Gregg Davids.

Democrats picked up six open seats held by Republicans last year and protected all their own incumbents.

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum said voter dissatisfaction with the GOP nationwide washed over the Legislature. He warned voters that Democratic control of both chambers will mean higher taxes.

"We're certainly going to try to cooperate in the best interest of Minnesota," Sviggum said. "I think Minnesotans better brace themselves for a tax increase and hope that the governor is there to stop it. Without question a DFL House and a DFL Senate... every man, woman and child, every family in Minnesota is going to face a significant tax bite, a significant tax increase, but hopefully Gov. will be there to protect Minnesota taxpayers," Sviggum said.

But DFL House Majority Leader Margaret Anderson Kelliher says increasing taxes is not the top priority.

DFLers in the Minnesota Senate added to their majority. They picked up six seats and now hold a 21-seat majority. They defeated seven Republican incumbents and won an open seat that had been controlled by the GOP.

But DFLers also lost two incumbents - most notably Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson of Willmar. Republican Joe Gimse defeated Johnson by 553 votes.

Johnson's race was a major target for the anti-abortion group, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, and the Minnesota Family Council. The two groups spent more than $70,000 through Oct. 23 to defeat Johnson.

They personally blamed him for blocking anti-abortion legislation, and for keeping a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage from receiving a vote by the full Senate during the last legislative session.

MPR News was unable to contact Johnson for this report.

The makeup of the Senate is now 44 Democrats and 23 Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Dick Day of Owatonna agreed with outgoing House Speaker Sviggum that it was a tough year to be a Republican.

"We thought we would be competitive. We thought we actually had enough money in our races," Day said. "I just think there's a groundswell out there that says 'Hey, let's throw Republicans out and put Democrats in,' and we have to honor that. That's what democracy is all about. We're going to have to find out what are people bitter about."

The election results will mean big changes at the Legislature from top to bottom. Both the House and Senate will have new leaders. Steve Sviggum also says he doesn't intend to run for House minority leader, and Dick Day says he isn't sure he'll stay on as Senate minority leader.