Just after the end of his first legislative session in 2011, Rep. Kurt Daudt confessed to a little rookie frustration.
"You think you can just grab the whole state of Minnesota by the horns and wrestle it down, and that you'll end up passing numerous bills that will become law," he said after Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican lawmakers failed to agree on a two-year budget. "You find out very quickly that the process doesn't exactly work like that. It's a slow-moving process."
Things are about to move very fast for Daudt.
In a few weeks, he'll become speaker of the Minnesota House, one of the most powerful posts in state government. At 41, with only two terms under his belt, he'll also be one of the youngest and least experienced lawmakers to ever be speaker.
Supporters say he has the skills and ambition to negotiate a budget with a DFL Senate and DFL governor without compromising GOP principles. His biggest challenge may be managing the expectations of his fellow House Republicans.
Daudt says he plans to use his relative youth and inexperience to lead an old institution with a fresh approach. It's clear he doesn't want another 2011 confrontation, when the budget fight between Dayton and Republican lawmakers led to a partial state government shutdown.
"I'm not bound by the history of this place," he said in a recent interview. "I'm someone, I think, who has a good reputation around here of being willing to think outside the box, being willing to work with anybody."
Legislators always pay lip service to finding common ground. And Daudt, who now says he wants to lead without confrontation, was a member of his party's leadership during the 2011 shutdown. But those who know Daudt say he means it.
Daudt, who is single, lives in Crown, just north of the Twin Cities, on a farm he inherited from his grandparents. He studied aviation at the University of North Dakota, but did not graduate and instead made a living working in a car dealership. He also served on township and county boards.
In 2007, Daudt and four other members of his church started an organization called Project 24, which raises money to build orphanages in Kenya. Daudt, who has been to Kenya several times, said the project is among the most rewarding things he does outside working in the Minnesota House.
He says his jobs have taught him to listen to people and also shaped his views on the political process.
Isanti County Commissioner Susan Morris worked with Daudt on the county board in the mid-2000s. A fellow Republican, Morris says Daudt's willingness to build coalitions was apparent during public employee contract negotiations.
"I really value the fact that he didn't dig in his heels and just say, 'This is the way it's going to be because this is my way or the highway,' she said. "He doesn't work that way."
After managing Republican Marty Seifert's campaign for governor in 2010, Daudt ran for the House. Two years later, his colleagues elected him Republican minority leader and he used that perch to help win 11 legislative seats this year to secure the House majority for the GOP.
While Daudt's conservative credentials are extensive — he backed a ban on same-sex marriage, an amendment that would have required voters to show ID at the polls, and proposed controversial changes to welfare programs — some Republicans remain unimpressed. They see his willingness to negotiate as a major problem.
He also irked some members of his party last year when news reports revealed that he had a run-in with cops in Montana after his friend pulled a gun on a man who was selling Daudt a truck. Daudt, who said he tried to defuse the situation, was not charged, although his friend was found guilty recently of felony assault.
Daudt was challenged for the speaker's job by two other Republican representatives and earlier this year faced an endorsement challenge in his district in part over concerns that he isn't conservative enough.
Minnesota Tea Party Alliance Executive Director Jake Duesenberg said Daudt was too quick to compromise with Democrats on a $1 billion public works spending bill.
"He's probably not going to be the best guy to fight for the reduction of our government and to repeal the taxes that were passed the last two years," Duesenberg said.
For his part, Daudt says the bonding bill he helped negotiate was smaller than previous bills. But the divide over whether Republicans should have come to the table on a bonding bill highlights a simmering conflict within the party that may emerge during the coming legislative session over issues like taxes and transportation funding.
In some instances, Daudt may find common ground with his DFL counterpart in the Senate, Tom Bakk of Cook, who says he has a good relationship with Daudt. Both say they aren't in the mood for a spending spree even though the state has a $1 billion budget surplus.
The question will be whether Republicans will also push for tax cuts, which would cost the state money but put it back in taxpayers' pockets, where they say it belongs.
Seifert, an ex-House minority leader, predicts Daudt will be a strong House speaker and that his biggest challenge will come from members of the Republican caucus.
"In May or June of 2015 you are going to have a segment of people who are going to say, 'Too much money was spent, there wasn't enough conservative policies put in place,' blah, blah, blah," Seifert said. "They will not be satisfied regardless of what happens in session."