Legislative changes begin after election

Newly-reelected Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, left, and newly selected Senate President Jeremy Miller talk to reporters about preparations for the 2019 session. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

Changes in the Minnesota Legislature were underway Thursday after the election Tuesday that flipped control of the state House from Republicans to Democrats and preserved Republicans' slim one-seat majority in the state Senate.

Republicans in the Minnesota Senate reelected Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, as their majority leader. He’s held the post for the past two years.

Unlike those past two sessions, next year it will be Democrats who control the Minnesota House. Still, Gazelka said he’s looking forward to the 2019 session and and working with the new governor and House DFL majority to pass a balanced budget.

"Minnesotans like divided government,” Gazelka said. “Here we are again with divided government. They want it to work. I think they like some of the ideas on find both sides of the aisle. It's our job as we work with the governor and the House is how do we find the ideas that we can all agree on. Go back to two years ago and look at all the things that we did find a way to get done. I really do expect that to happen again."

Republicans maintained their 34-33 advantage in the Senate when Jeff Howe won a special election in District 13 in central Minnesota. The special election was needed to fill the vacancy created when Michele Fischbach became lieutenant governor. Fischbach served as the Senate president, a role that will now be filled by Jeremy Miller, R-Winona.

“I look forward to running the senate in a respectful and honorable way, and working with our leader and the leadership and members on both sides of the aisle," said Miller, who was first elected to the Senate in 2010.

In the House, the DFL will have a 75-59 advantage come January, pending a recount in northern Minnesota's District 5A. The flip comes after Republicans spent the past four years in charge.

In total, there are 39 newly elected members of the House, including 34 new DFLers and five new Republicans. Most were on hand Thursday for new member orientation.

Shelly Christensen, a new DFLer from Stillwater, said she was feeling proud and excited to be learning the ropes.

“You know, still pinching myself,” Christensen said. “I had a close race and we’ve had a busy, busy campaign. So now I’m ready to get down and go to work.”

Newly-elected DFLer Dan Wolgamott of St. Cloud said he too was excited about attending the orientation.

“It is such an exciting and humbling and surreal feeling to be stepping into the State Office Building today knowing that I’m representing my friends, my neighbors and my community in this amazing and historic building,” Wolgamott said. “It truly is a phenomenal feeling.”

Veteran DFL lawmakers are feeling as good as anybody as they prepare to take charge. Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, said House Democrats can now get to work on several important issues, including health care, education and jobs. Moran also wants gun safety on the priority list.

“If you look at this here majority that we just brought into the House, that was one of the conversations that many of our now newly-elected representatives were having with community members,” Moran said. “Just some common sense gun safety laws.”

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