Minnesota Legislature preview: Key players to watch

The Minnesota Capitol
The Minnesota Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013.
MPR Photo/Hart Van Denburg

The Minnesota Legislature reconvenes for a new session at noon on Tuesday, Jan. 8., with DFL majorities controlling both the House and the Senate.

In the House, there are 44 DFL men and 28 women for a 72-seat majority. The Republican minority of 61 comprises 45 men and 16 women.

In the Senate, the 39-strong DFL majority is made up of 24 men and 15 women. Republicans number 28, of which 20 are men and eight are women.

Here are the key players to watch as the session unfolds:

GOV. MARK DAYTON

Gov. Mark Dayton
Gov. Mark Dayton speaks to delegates at the DFL state convention in Rochester Saturday, June 2, 2012.
Alex Kolyer for MPR

Gov. Dayton is marking the halfway point of a four-year term and he's in the enviable position of now having a DFL-controlled Legislature to enact his proposals. The DFL governor spent the last two years wrestling with a Republican-controlled Legislature, and the disagreements over taxes and spending resulted in a state government shutdown in 2011. The Democrats in control of both the House and Senate should be more receptive to his second budget proposal, which must erase a projected $1.1 billion deficit. He's also expected to push again for an income tax increase on the wealthiest 2 percent of Minnesotans, as part of a broader plan to revamp the state tax code. Dayton has said that his session priorities include tax reform, job creation and education. But his new power also comes with a caveat. If as expected he runs for re-election in 2014, he won't have Republicans to blame for preventing him from enacting his budget and other legislative priorities.

HOUSE SPEAKER PAUL THISSEN, DFL-MINNEAPOLIS

Paul Thissen
Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, is Speaker of the Minnesota House.
Courtesy Minnesota Legislature

Rep. Thissen was unsuccessful when he ran for governor in 2010, but he has a nice consolation prize in his new job, which is widely seen as the second most powerful position in state government. He's served five terms in the Minnesota House, including the past two as DFL minority leader. He will now be Speaker of the House after overseeing successful campaigns for Democrats across the state. The DFL currently has an 11 seat majority, pending the results of a special election in District 19A. Thissen has stressed the need for a structurally-balanced state budget, more jobs and lower property taxes. He'll also learn that serving as House Speaker is a much more difficult job than being minority leader. He'll set the agenda and will have the responsibility of ensuring that legislation passes in the House. That means he and his team will have to tailor legislation and convince members of his own party and sometimes members of the opposing party to vote for it.

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER TOM BAKK, DFL-COOK

Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook
Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, is the Senate Majority Leader.
Courtesy Minnesota Legislature

Democrats hold the majority in the Minnesota Senate again after two years in the minority. The DFL advantage is now 39 seats to 28. Sen. Bakk has served three Senate terms and was minority leader the past two years. Bakk has repeatedly said that budget balancing will take priority over policy matters this session. Bakk is in the enviable position of leading a caucus that will hold the majority for the next four years. That means he'll have significant negotiating power over Gov. Dayton and House DFLers, since the members of the Senate won't be on the ballot in 2014. Bakk is a former carpenter with strong ties to organized labor. He is also the only one of the new triumvirate of DFL leaders who lives outside of the metro area.

SENATE MINORITY LEADER DAVID HANN, R-EDEN PRAIRIE

Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie
Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, the Senate Minority Leader, has served three terms in the Minnesota Senate and is frequently mentioned as a potential GOP candidate for governor.
Courtesy Minnesota Legislature

Sen. Hann has served three terms in the Minnesota Senate and is frequently mentioned as a potential GOP candidate for governor. (He ran unsuccessfully in 2010.) His new role could be both an asset and liability as he ponders a run for higher office. His role as minority leader will allow him to be seen as the fiercest critic of DFL policy - a positive for Republican activists looking for a fight. But that aggression could be seen as a turn off for middle of the road voters. It could also cause problems if it looks like he cares more about his own political prospects than the well being of the state. In any case, expect him to be a frequent foil to Dayton and DFL leaders. Hann said he will continue to oppose tax increases and try to hold down growth in state government spending. He has said it will be up to the DFL whether any bipartisan legislation emerges in 2013.

HOUSE MINORITY LEADER KURT DAUDT, R-CROWN

Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown
Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, is the House Minority Leader. With just one two-year term under his belt, Daudt brings a relatively fresh perspective to the House GOP leadership.
Courtesy Minnesota Legislature

With just one two-year term under his belt, Rep. Daudt brings a relatively fresh perspective to the House GOP leadership. Daudt has offered to work with Democrats, but he's also warned of potential DFL overreach. Daudt opposes any tax increases, which he claims would increase the state's unemployment rate. Daudt's biggest negotiating tool will be his votes on a bonding bill. The Senate needs to pick up just one GOP vote to get the needed 60 percent majority needed to pass a bonding bill. Daudt has considerably more sway because House Democrats need nearly 10 GOP votes to pass it.

HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER ERIN MURPHY, DFL-ST. PAUL

Rep. Erin Murphy, D-St. Paul
Rep. Erin Murphy, D-St. Paul, is the House Majority Leader.
Courtesy Minnesota Legislature

It shouldn't be a surprise that Murphy was elected majority leader by her caucus. She campaigned heavily for DFL candidates, and that effort was instrumental in Democrats retaking the majority. Murphy has been known to urge compromise and has gone out of her way to be respectful to her GOP rivals. That philosophy could be put to the test as Republicans and wavering DFLers question the agenda and direction that Murphy and Thissen set. First elected to the House in 2006, she is serving herfourth term.

REP. ANN LENCZEWSKI, DFL-BLOOMINGTON
SEN. ROD SKOE, DFL-CLEARBROOK

Lenczewski and Skoe will serve as the respective DFL tax committee chairs in the House and Senate. Those committees are expected to see a lot of action during the 2013 session, as they consider the major tax overhaul that Gov. Dayton is expected to unveil this month. There could be potential changes to income taxes, sales taxes and property taxes. Lenczewski has held the position of tax committee chair in the past and was widely criticized for bringing forward a tax bill that eliminated several popular deductions including the ones for home mortgages and K-12 school expenses. The plan became a liability as GOP members used it in campaign mailings against DFL incumbents. Lenczewski said her plan would make the tax system more fair. It's unclear whether she will push that idea again.

Skoe will have the unenviable task of taking over the tax committee when Democrats are looking to raise taxes. He'll also be running the committee under the watchful eyes of Majority Leader Bakk who served as tax committee chair from 2007-2011. The mild-mannered Skoe will have to juggle the concerns of business leaders who are worried about tax hikes with Democrats who argue that they need more revenue for important government programs.

One issue to watch will be property taxes. Democrats have repeatedly criticized Republicans for keeping state taxes low but failing to do much to address rising property taxes on the local level. They will now be expected to address that issue in the coming session.

REP. TOM HUNTLEY, DFL-DULUTH
SEN. TONY LOUREY, DFL KERRICK

Huntley and Lourey will chair the health and human services committees in the House and Senate. They will be at the forefront of the effort to make the state's health insurance exchange a reality. The plan, which is a result of President Obama's Affordable Care Act, is being watched closely by business leaders and advocates for the poor. Business leaders are worried about costs. Advocates for the poor worry about access and coverage. Mix in a Republican Party that is nearly universally opposed to the idea of "ObamaCare," and the job of creating a system that balances all the competing interests may fall entirely to Democrats.

Meanwhile, their area will also see spending cuts and changes. Health and human services programs have been repeatedly targeted over the last decade for budget cuts. Expect those programs to be a target again this year.

REP. PAUL MARQUART, DFL-DILWORTH
SEN. CHUCK WIGER, DFL-MAPLEWOOD

The incoming chairs of the K-12 education committees will have to find a way to inject more money into the state's school system in the face of Minnesota's projected budget deficit. They will also have to decide whether they want that new money to go directly to schools or be tied to teacher performance, an initiative opposed by Education Minnesota, the state's teacher's union. Wiger and Marquart will also be expected to reduce a K-12 school funding shift that was used to help balance the budget over the past few budget cycles.

BUSINESS

The state's business interests are adjusting to the new DFL power structure at the Capitol. Sen. Bakk has mentioned several pre-session meetings he's already had with business groups and corporations. He's also hinted at some new tax incentives to help businesses create jobs. Business leaders are expected to push to keep taxes from rising to keep Minnesota competitive with other states. It's not clear if the Minnesota Business Partnership and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce will continue to push an agenda that rejects all tax hikes or whether they will propose a tax plan they support. Don't expect Democrats, who watched the chamber and Business Partnership spent heavily to keep the Legislature in GOP control, to give the business community everything it wants.

LABOR

Organized labor played a big part in electing the DFL majorities in the House and Senate. Its influence could also loom large as lawmakers debate tax and spending issues. State employee unions will push for early passage of their pending contracts. Education Minnesota will be looking for increased school funding. The building trades will be among the supporters of a bonding bill. Public employee unions worked hard to elect Dayton and Democrats to the Legislature. They'll expect Democrats to pass some of their legislative proposals. But it's unclear whether Democrats can stomach some of those requests. For example, AFSCME's leaders said they want $6 billion in additional revenue. The call for that large of a tax increase was openly mocked by Republicans and is likely to face resistance from many Democrats.

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