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Democrats task is to act, but not overreach

By Danielle Killey and Don Davis

Forum Communications

ST. PAUL – Democrats in control of Minnesota government’s legislative and executive branches must walk a tightrope when they return to the Capitol Jan. 8.

On one hand, they need to pay attention to groups that support them — and generally support higher government spending. On the other hand, they face a state budget deficit that may prevent higher spending, and many in their ranks fear they will appear greedy if they try to catch up on 22 years worth of wants too quickly.

“I often remind members of the Legislature that once you are here you are elected to represent everyone in your district, not just the ones who voted for you,” Senate Majority Leader-elect Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said. “They will soon learn there is not much money to do anything new.”

Republicans eagerly await what they predict will be Democratic overreaching.

“I sense a battle, and not just between Republicans and Democrats,” said Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, “but within the Democrats there is going to be quite a struggle as they try to answer to specific groups and people who depend on state government who felt they have been suffering in recent years.”

Assistant Senate Majority Leader-elect Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, admitted all will not be smooth: “There will certainly be differences.”

In the Nov. 6 election, Republicans lost control of the House and Senate after two years in charge, the first time they held that power in nearly 40 years. Now, Democrats hold both legislative chambers and the governor’s office for the first time in 22 years.

It is a situation many Democratic-Farmer-Laborites could only dream about for years as Republicans and Reform-turned-Independence Party Gov. Jesse Ventura held them in check..

Gov. Mark Dayton said some people will say that anything Democrats do is overreaching.

House Speaker-designate Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, added that if overreaching is defined as doing things that have been ignored for at least a decade, “then we will be reaching far on that.”

“The things that I think unites the people who voted for us ... and the allied groups out there asking for things ... is this idea that we need to build an economy that works for middle-class Minnesotans,” Thissen said. “That is what this last election was about.”

The second-term leader of House Republicans had a warning for Democrats.

“There is a lot of responsibility that goes with that,” House Minority Leader-elect Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said of the DFL’s new-found power. “Right now is not the time to go beyond solving our current problems. I’m alarmed by the amount of talk about what additional spending there might be.”

Having all-DFL control will be a new experience for both parties, but before the gavel falls on Jan. 8 there is talk about working together.

“I don’t think House, Senate and governor will be necessarily having all the same ideas,” Sen.-elect Matt Schmit, DFL–Red Wing, said. “But I think we’ll be able to do what we need to do.”

Sieben noted Democrats should collaborate with Republicans.

“It will be important that we work with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle closely so that we can pass bills that are supported by not just one party but by both,” she said.

Many new lawmakers campaigned on the need to work together, citing a 2011 government shutdown brought on by the inability to agree on a budget.

Rep.-elect Mary Sawatzky, DFL-Willmar, said, legislative work should be done “in a responsible and respectful way and include all people in the discussion.”

Some Republicans are not convinced that will be the case.

“I’m hopeful that the majority will honor their word,” Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said. “They suggested that if we put all Democrats in control in Minnesota everybody will get along and there will be bipartisanship. … I think history shows us when one party’s in control of the House, Senate and governor that’s not what has normally happened.”

Republicans are working to find their place in the new structure as well.

“I think our role is going to be to try very hard to make the arguments and help the people of Minnesota understand that large tax increases and spending increases are not helpful,” Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said.

Thompson said he doesn’t expect much change when it comes to policy discussions.

“I think we’ll have the usual debate about do we make government bigger and burden the private sectors or do you make it easier by reducing regulations,” he said.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.