Minnesota Democrats win Capitol ‘trifecta’: Governor, House and now Senate

Man gestures at podium with fist and smiles
Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan host a press conference Wednesday morning after Walz's reelection.
Kerem Yucel | MPR News

Minnesota Democrats will control the Minnesota Legislature and the governor’s office come 2023, after they picked up the Capitol “trifecta” on Tuesday.

As votes were tallied overnight, Democrats edged out Republicans to flip the Minnesota Senate and to retain a majority in the Minnesota House of Representatives. And Gov. Tim Walz won reelection against Republican challenger Scott Jensen.

Democrats celebrated the result — one they acknowledged was a surprise on Wednesday — and Senate Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen, DFL-Edina, called the 34-33 margin a “Minnesota Senate miracle.”

Minnesota senate leadership holds a presser
Minnesota DFL Campaign Chair Sen. Erin Murphy speaks during a press conference at the State Capitol on Wednesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

DFLers had long insisted they were positioned to keep the House, where their majority of 70 seats is a bit tighter than before the election. But the Senate was seen as more of a reach.

And López Franzen said Democrats took it as a directive from voters that they need to compromise with Republicans at the Capitol.

“This is a place where people are measured. They gave us a trifecta with wider margins back in 2012. This one is slimmer,” she said. “That tells us we need to be tempered. But that also tells us they want us to work together.”

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Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, conceded the Senate majority on Wednesday morning and in a statement said Republicans would “fight for keeping life affordable for working Minnesotans and seniors, safer communities and support for law enforcement, and more opportunities for students to be successful in the classroom and beyond.” 

Minnesota senate leadership holds a presser
Minnesota DFL Leader Sen. Melisa López Franzen speaks during a press conference at the State Capitol on Wednesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

The result puts Democrats in charge of the governor’s office and both chambers for the first time since 2013 and it means priorities for their party such as codifying abortion access, legalizing marijuana, addressing climate change, boosting education funding and setting up a state paid family leave program could get the green light.

Labor unions, reproductive rights groups and others cheered the result early Wednesday. Both chambers of the Legislature now appear poised to have majorities that support abortion access.

Walz told reporters the shift from divided government sets him up to work with a much more accommodating set of lawmakers. The Democrat spent his first term trying to compromise with the DFL-led House and GOP-controlled Senate. Walz said he’s taking the voter decision as “not just a pat on the back” but a direction to do something.

Man gestures at podium with hand
Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan host a press conference Wednesday morning after Walz's reelection.
Kerem Yucel | MPR News

“Over the last four years, we needed to — because of the divided Legislature — work in a collaborative manner to compromise to get things done,” Walz told reporters at the Capitol. “And I'll say it again: Today, I will work with anyone who is willing to help make things better for Minnesota. And this vote, and the results of that, is very clear what Minnesotans want to see us do.”

The governor, along with Senate Democrats, said they expected issues that passed in the House but failed to get a hearing in the Senate could get new life. Among those are plans to place restrictions on firearms and legalize marijuana for recreational use.

“We can at least have some hearings and talk these out,” he said. “I want the legislative process to work the way it's supposed to work with them.”

And other issues that were near compromise at the close of the 2022 legislative session, such as legalizing sports gambling and exempting Social Security benefits from state income taxes, could also resurface.

As late results came in early Wednesday, returns showed that some influential and long-serving incumbents lost.

Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, came up just short of a win against Republican Natalie Zeleznikar. Murphy has served 23 terms — or 46 years — and is one of the longest-tenured lawmakers in state history. Her contest could go to a recount. Other territories in northeastern Minnesota that had for years been in DFL hands went to the GOP as well.

On the Republican side, assistant majority leader and Education Committee Chair Roger Chamberlain went down. His Lino Lakes-area seat got a lot more Democratic during redistricting.

Elected legislators are expected to meet later this week to select their leaders and to sort out their first agenda items for the new legislative session.