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Special elections don't change power balance

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Senators work on the floor Monday Feb. 27, 2017 in St. Paul.
Two special elections Monday resulted in Democrats holding on to a Senate seat and Republicans keeping control of a House seat. Pictured are senators work on the floor Feb. 27, 2017, in St. Paul.
Glen Stubbe | Star Tribune via AP 2017

The balance of power will be the same in the Minnesota House and Senate when the Legislature reconvenes in St. Paul next week. 

Two special elections Monday — one in the southeast metro and one in southern Minnesota — were held to replace lawmakers who resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations. They resulted in Democrats holding on to a Senate seat and Republicans keeping control of a House seat. 

The special election in Senate District 54 was triggered by the resignation in December of DFLer Dan Schoen, a former state representative who spent only a year in the Senate.

Karla Bigham of Cottage Grove kept the seat in DFL hands with a win over Republican Denny McNamara of Hastings, 51 percent to 47 percent. 

The district includes parts of southern Washington County northern Dakota County.

Bigham, who is currently a Washington County commissioner, said she's excited about returning to the state Capitol. She said her priority issues include education, health care, transportation and water quality.

Bigham is the latest in a long line of DFL senators elected in the district. But voters there favored Donald Trump in 2016 and elected two Republican state representatives.

Bigham says her own track record with voters made a difference.

"I have local experience working on bipartisan and nonpartisan issues with results. I think that that really made a difference for folks too."

Democrats saw a Bigham win as the first step in a two-step process to win back control of the Senate, where Republicans hold a 34-33 advantage. 

But the second part of that strategy suffered a setback Monday when a Ramsey County judge dismissed a lawsuit aimed at stopping Republican Michelle Fischbach from serving simultaneously as lieutenant governor and state senator. 

In the other special election, Republican Jeremy Munson of Lake Crystal won the House District 23B seat over DFLer Melissa Wagner of Lake Crystal, 59 percent to 40 percent.

Munson succeeds Republican Tony Cornish, who was first elected to the seat in 2002 and resigned at the end of November. The district includes parts of Blue Earth, LeSueur, Waseca and Watonwan counties.

"It was a very fast campaign, but we worked hard seven days a week for almost three months, getting out talking to voters and making sure that we were always talking about the most important issues for the district," Munson said, adding that taxes and health care are at the top of the list. 

Munson's convincing win came just two weeks after he held off a Republican primary challenger, who had the backing of Cornish. Munson was the endorsed GOP candidate.

"People that are conservative are going to vote for the conservative on the ballot. I think the party came together rather quickly," he said.