Three former DFL rivals lead Minnesota government
ST. PAUL — Democratic competitors in the 2010 Minnesota governor’s race will be state government’s three most powerful politicians.
Senate Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party members Thursday picked Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook as their leader. House Democrats made Paul Thissen of Minneapolis their man for speaker.
The two and Gov. Mark Dayton competed for the 2010 DFL governor nomination. When the Legislature returns on Jan. 8, it will be the first time in 22 years that Democrats have held all three key positions.
The No. 2 spot in the Senate went to a Twin Cities suburban lawmaker, and a St. Paul legislator was voted the second position in the House. Both are women.
The Senate majority leader and House speaker control much of what happens in the Legislature.
Bakk’s first policy statement after his election was what Republicans have said for years: The Legislature and Dayton will need to cut the state budget more than it already has been trimmed.
Bakk said the state faces a $1.1 billion deficit, which if inflation were included would be $2.1 billion. That does not include $2.2 billion in school payments that the state has delayed, and promised to catch up when it can.
Dayton, who spoke to Senate Democrats meeting at the St. Paul Hotel and House members gathered in a House committee room, told reporters that he will know more about the budget after a new report comes out in early December. However, if Congress does not deal with a federal budget problem, the governor said the state budget could suffer even more than Bakk predicted.
Senate Democrats elected Katie Sieben of Cottage Grove assistant majority leader, Richard Cohen of St. Paul finance chairman, Rod Skoe of Clearbook tax chairman and Sandra Pappas of St. Paul Senate president. All except Bakk and Cohen had opposition, but senators would not discuss election specifics.
Bakk said he will appoint another assistant leader.
Sieben said that Democrats will work with Republicans because both parties work for Minnesotans.
Voters gave candidates the message that “they want us to get the job done for Minnesotans,” she said.
“The last legislative session felt especially harsh,” she added.
She is the third member of her family to hold a prominent role in the Legislature, following in the footsteps of her father and uncle.
Thissen was the only speaker candidate. The official vote to name a speaker will come Jan. 8, when the Legislature returns to session at noon.
Thissen and Bakk have been minority leaders the last two years.
Bakk said that campaigning against Thissen allowed them to get to know each other well and Thissen said the two of them and Dayton get along well and generally agree on major issues.
Rep. Erin Murphy of St. Paul was her caucus’ pick for majority leader, making the top two House Democrats urbanites.
“I wouldn’t read too much into that,” Thissen said.
Murphy has traveled the state extensively the pat two years working with DFL campaigns.
“We heard a lot from the people of Minnesota that they want us to end the gridlock,” said Murphy, who beat Rep. Paul Marquart of Dilworth in the majority leader election.
Marquart said he is not worried about his two leaders coming from the state’s two largest cities.
“The most important thing is what we do,” he said, adding that he will make sure rural voices are heard.
Bakk and Thissen will run caucuses that have been out of power for two years. Republicans took control in 2010, the first time in nearly four decades the GOP held majorities in both chambers.
Bakk brings a 39-28 edge over Republicans into the 2013 session. Thissen’s Democrats look for a 73-61 margin in the House.
One recount in each chamber could affect the numbers, but not the party in control.
Northeast Minnesota voters elected Bakk, a retired labor official, to the House in 1994 and the Senate in 2002. He is a former Taxes Committee chairman.
Thissen, a lawyer, is finishing his fifth two-year House term. He took over as minority leader two years ago after his party lost control.
Bakk said Senate Secretary Cal Ludeman will be out of a job when Democrats take over. Ludeman is a southwestern Minnesota Republican politician hired when the GOP took control.
Republicans will lose employees they had while in the majority. In addition to cutting workers for nine GOP senators who are not coming back, committee employees and others will be laid off because they work at the pleasure of the majority party.
Bakk said the change will cost the state because the Senate funds its own unemployment program.