After two years of Democratic control Minnesota is about to return to divided government.
Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, won a second term on Tuesday, but Republicans regained control of the Minnesota House. That means Dayton and Republican legislators have to work together to pass a budget and other major items. Dayton said today that he is willing to work with Republicans, but only if they toe his line.
House Republicans flipped 11 seats in Tuesday's election. As a result, when the Legislature convenes in January there will be 72 Republicans and 62 Democrats in the House.
"I am proud to say that Democrats' total control of state government in Minnesota is over," said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.
Daudt and Republicans retook the House chamber knocking off 10 Democrats in rural Minnesota and one in the Twin Cities.
During the past two years, Republicans criticized Democrats for being out of touch with rural Minnesota. They also pledged to repeal Dayton's income tax hikes on the state's top 2 percent of earners and repeal MNsure, the state's online health exchange.
On Wednesday, Daudt didn't take as strong a stance, saying he didn't want to outline his agenda until meeting with members. But he said he's willing to work with Dayton and the Democrats who control the Senate.
"We want to roll up our sleeves and get to work for Minnesotans on the problems that they care about," Daudt said. "If Democrats are on the same page, we're going to do just fine."
At a morning press conference, Dayton gave a sobering assessment of what to expect over the next two years. The governor said he's more than willing to be conciliatory with his Republican counterparts, but not willing to back away from many of his convictions. He said Republicans lost their legislative majorities in 2012 because they forced a government shutdown over the budget and warned it will happen again if they don't work with him.
"I think it's a real question mark whether they are willing to assume the mantle of leadership," Dayton said. "I hope so. I'd be glad to meet them halfway on matters that need to be resolved that way."
But if that doesn't occur and legislators find themselves at loggerheads, the governor said, the state's business could come to a standstill.
"It's a prescription for gridlock unless we all rise above that and do it better," he said. "That's the challenge we face."
Dayton said one of his top agenda items next year will be increased funding for transportation projects. But, like Republicans, he did not go into any other specifics about his second-term agenda.
On MNsure, Dayton was quick to say that repeal of the health exchange is "not going to happen."
Daudt appears likely to become speaker but Republicans won't vote on their leaders until Friday.
The current speaker, state Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he's disappointed Democrats lost the majority. He said they did not fare well in rural Minnesota.
"If you look at the results at many of the places that we lost in Greater Minnesota, our statewide candidates didn't run particularly well either," he said. "I think it has more to do with the makeup of the individual districts."
While Thissen is disappointed with the outcome in the House, Democrats are pleased they survived a Republican wave that hit other parts of the country.
Minnesota Democrats won all the statewide offices on the ballot, including Al Franken's U.S. Senate seat. They also won hotly contested congressional races in the 7th and 8th districts. Despite those setbacks, Republican Party Chair Keith Downey put a positive spin on the night.
Although he discounted talk that his party missed riding the national Republican wave, the Minnesota GOP will have to wait four years for another chance to pick up a statewide seat. In 2016, voters will choose a president, every member of the Legislature and every member of the U.S. House.
"It's not all about money but, boy, when a well-funded incumbent has an opportunity to get a jump start on the challenger candidates, it's really tough," Downey said. "At the same time, if there were two big prizes, the first would have been the U.S. Senate and the second would have been the Minnesota Legislature. We didn't lose any seats anywhere."