Minnesota Democrats claim narrow mandate, pledge moderate government

A day after voters re-elected Gov. Tim Walz, kept them as the majority party in the House and flipped the Senate in their favor, Minnesota Democrats vowed to govern with moderation.

Winning complete control of state government, including Walz’s victory over Republican Scott Jensen, was a bit of a surprise. Democrats went into Election Day on defense and Republicans hoped to capitalize on inflation worries, anger over COVID-19 restrictions and public safety concerns to win more control over government.

Instead, Walz said voters gave the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party a narrow trifecta of control over state government. Other DFL statewide office holders — including attorney general, secretary of state and auditor — also won re-election.

“The sense of hopefulness and optimism that I feel is not just from winning an election,” Walz said Wednesday. “It’s a validation of how we won this election and the things we talked about by rejecting a negative, divisive view of Minnesota.”

Sen. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, offered a similar analysis Wednesday when discussing Democrats winning control of the state Senate for the first time since 2016.

They will have a one-seat advantage when the state Legislature reconvenes in January.

“Minnesotans made it clear with their votes, they chose us,” Murphy said. “They chose DFLers to lead in the House and the Senate. They chose a unified government. We are going to respond by leading.”

What’s next?

Redistricting after the 2020 U.S. Census not only shook up Minnesota’s legislative districts, it impacted caucus leadership with current Democratic Senate Leader Melisa López Franzen, DFL-Edina, deciding not to run again.

That means Democrats will begin the process of picking new leadership Senate in the coming days. Murphy, the Senate DFL campaign chair, declined to discuss who might be in the running for leadership posts.

When lawmakers return to the Capitol in St. Paul next year their top assignment will be crafting the next two-year state budget. Luckily, Minnesota has a record-size budget surplus expected to be more than $7 billion.

Democrats could revive a bipartisan deal to spend $4 billion on tax cuts, funding priorities and infrastructure that fell apart last May. Or they could start from scratch.

One thing is clear, Democrats in the Senate will take up a number of priorities that had little traction under Republican Senate control. They include things like codifying abortion rights, legalizing cannabis and providing paid family leave.

Democrats also want to increase education spending, expand health care access and make public safety changes to address crime.

“I am very excited about the work we are going to do in the future for the people of Minnesota,” Murphy said. “I believe our caucus is committed to progress and want to put behind us the divisions, the fear-mongering and the stalemate that has become endemic in the Legislature.”

Where DFLers won

Minnesota Democrats won a trifecta of control of state government by dominating in the Twin Cities metro and the suburbs, holding some seats on the Iron Range and succeeding in some of the state’s smaller cities.

For instance, Democrats flipped Senate District 36 in the north metro, which was previously held by Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes. DFLer Heather ​​Gustafson won the seat with nearly 53 percent of the vote.

Early Saturday, Senate GOP Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, conceded the race for control of the Senate. In a statement Miller said: “We will continue to 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.”

House Republicans also acknowledged Democrats would hold their majority in the House. Speaker Melissa Hortman said House DFLers narrow advantage was thanks, in part, to flipped seats in the suburbs and near Mankato.

The size of the House DFL majority is still unclear with at least two northern Minnesota races possibly heading to a recount. House Democrats won 70 of the 134 seats despite those close races.

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Dave Orrick contributed to this report.