New reality at Capitol

Democrats step toward power; Bakk said budget top priority

Gov. Mark Dayton, left, listens as Senate Minority Leader Tim Baak, DFL-Cook talks to reporters Wednesday at the State capitol in St. Paul. the DFL will hold majorities in the Senate and the House when the legislature convenes in January.

ST. PAUL — Republican and Democratic leaders began stepping away from power and toward it in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, indicated at a press conference Wednesday that he did not intend to seek further leadership positions within the House Republican Caucus.

“I believe I served my time,” Zellers said, adding that it was “beyond my wildest expectations to serve as speaker of the House,”

House Republicans are deep in gifted individuals who can step forward, Zellers said. He would “absolutely” serve out his newly won two-year term, he added.

Zellers, in taking questions, refrained from speculating too much about the election that saw Republicans lose control of the legislature.

“It wasn’t quite the election we hoped for last night,” he said.

Still, Zellers, and House Speaker Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, argued that House Republicans did what they promised while in the majority, and both thought the GOP had excellent candidates that fit the districts well this election cycle.

Indeed, when asked how Republicans could attempt to win back suburban seats they lost, the Republicans argued the best approach would be to convince the same candidates to run again.

“Minnesota is an interesting place,” Dean said of the quirks of state politics.

Dean argued that Democrats this election successfully honed their message to play on voter uneasiness. The Republicans also argued the mailings used against some Republican candidates were gross distortions of reality.

Still, Zellers and Dean encouraged House Democrats to reach across the aisle and make use of the expertise within the House Republican Caucus. Specifically, they suggested connecting with House Health and Human Services Finance Committee Chairman Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, and Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville.

But whether the Democrats take advantage of Republican talent is pretty much up to them, they conceded.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton also spoke to the media.

Bakk, who is running for Senate majority leader but who also indicated that he’s not a shoe-in, characterized the election as the state stepping forward.

Dayton spoke of voters providing Democrats with an opportunity to govern, though saying these are challenging time to do so.

“We’re not partisans; we’re patriots,” Dayton said, referring to lines spoken by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Bakk admitted criticizing Republicans for their unwillingness to break way from a campaign mentality. He suggested Senate Democrats would make the adjustment.

“This election is over,” Bakk said.

In taking questions, Bakk, when asked about the gay-marriage issue, indicated that budget considerations would take priority over policy issues. Lawmakers return to the State Capitol in January facing a $2.4 billion K-12 shift and will inherent a state budget facing projected deficits.

Bakk said he had called Chamber of Commerce officials and invited them to bring their ideas on the budget to the State Capitol. He also indicated receptiveness to working with Republicans, noting that Senate Tax Committee Chairwoman Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, had left a message that he intended to respond to.

But Dayton, too, was cautious in talking about the changes a Democratic governor and legislature might craft.

When asked about tax increases, Dayton spoke of a quarter of the legislature being new and suggested the first thing each caucus needs to do was pull together and familiarize themselves with their new duties.

Dayton related that as a gubernatorial candidate he had campaigned on increasing taxes on wealthier Minnesotans. He said that is less an approach than conviction.

The House Democratic Majority — Thissen intends to run for speaker — will number 73 members, pending a recount. House Republicans will number 61.

Senate Democrats are expected to number 39, with 28 Senate Republicans members.

The Senate Democratic Caucus would resume the practice of electing tax and finance committee chairs. The caucuses are meeting over upcoming days to organize.


T.W. Budig is ECM’s State Capitol correspondent. Contact him at [email protected]