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Republicans sweep into power in Minn. House, Senate

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Rep. Kurt Zellers
Republican Rep. Kurt Zellers stands with newly elected members of the Minnesota House at a news conference at the State Capitol on Nov. 3, 2010, a day after Republicans swept into power in the Minnesota House and Senate.
MPR Photo/Tim Post

For the first time in nearly 40 years, Republicans will control both chambers of the Minnesota legislature.

GOP candidates won dozens of legislative seats in Tuesday's election. Thirty-four incumbents were defeated, all Democrats. 

Even as Minnesotans wait for the final word on who's going to be the state's next governor, lawmakers in both in the majority and the minority are planning their next moves.

Surrounded by more than a dozen newly elected Republican house members, state Rep. Kurt Zellers told reporters at the Capitol that he knew there was at least a chance of a big GOP victory. 

"Each election you go in and you think there's a possibility here, there," he said. "Based on the candidates we had, we thought there was some real possibilities with the candidates we had." 

But for DFL lawmakers, especially those long-term members who were defeated, the Republican take over of both the Minnesota House and Senate was a shock.

Among the veteran lawmakers who lost their seats are committee chairmen Bernie Lieder and Loren Solberg in the House, and Leo Foley in the Senate.

Al Junhke from Willmar lost his house seat to Republican challenger Bruce Vogel. Junke has served in the state house for 14 years, the last four years in a leadership position.

"Nobody predicted what happened last night as far as the size of that wave that rolled across all of us," he said.

Juhnke says that wave rolled in because of national frustration with lawmakers, the government and the poor economy. 

Another long-term DFLer felt that wave as well. After 18 years as a state senator, Don Betzold was defeated by Republican Pam Wolf. 

"Before the election I said "If there's a tsunami I'll get swept up in it, and that's what happened," he said.

Betzold thinks middle of the road voters in his district gravitated toward Republicans this election. 

That's what current Senate Majority Leader and Democrat Larry Pogemiller thinks as well. 

"A lot of those independent voters chose to vote Republican instead of Democrat this year," he said. 

Pogemiller released a statement this afternoon saying in light of the election results, he will not pursue the position of Minority Leader for the DFL caucus.

At this point there's no clear answer to the question of whom the Republican majority will be working with in the governor's office. 

Republican senator and current Minority Leader Dave Senjum said if Democrat Mark Dayton comes out the winner after a recount, Republicans will work with him on what they see as the most important issue facing the state. 

"We all want the same thing and that's economic prosperity. How you get there is the grand argument, and we'll have it and hopefully we can some to some sort of mutual agreement," he said.

Republican Rep. Marty Seifert, who's stepping down this spring after 14 years in the state legislature, said the newly elected freshman Republicans need to be prepared to follow up with their campaign promises. 

"Think about those things you campaigned on and get ready to roll in January. The budget is going to be a challenge," he said. "The No. 1 challenge is economic growth and jobs, and getting private sector job growth moving." 

Republicans in both the senate and the house will sort out leadership roles in the coming days. The Senate GOP is expected to meet on Friday to pick a new majority leader. GOP House members are expected to pick a new speaker on Saturday.

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story reported that state Sen. Don Betzold was in office for 10 years. That was incorrect: Betzold was in office for 18 years. MPR News regrets this error.