Happy days are here again for Minnesota Democrats
ST. PAUL -- It was easy to tell Democrats from Republicans in the Minnesota Capitol Wednesday, the day after the party snatched back control of the House and Senate.
The Democrats were the ones wearing huge smiles.
The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party won all the big prizes in Tuesday's election, but the one with most impact on Minnesotans is taking control of the state Legislature. That gives the party its first trifecta in more than two decades: control of the state House, Senate and governor's office.
Gov. Mark Dayton, Senate DFL leader Tom Bakk of Cook and House DFL leader Paul Thissen of Minneapolis met Wednesday afternoon, then told reporters they would eliminate the gridlock that has been common in the Capitol with a governor of one party and a Legislature controlled by the other party.
Dayton said people ask him: " 'What will happen with a DFL governor and a DFL Legislature' And I say, 'Progress. Progress will happen. We'll trade gridlock for progress.'"
The trio would not commit to any policy or budget path, not even Dayton's long-held desire to raise taxes on the richest Minnesotans to the same percentage others pay.
Still, Dayton made it clear that would be his goal: "That's not a slogan, it is a conviction."
Democrats generally supported the concept in 2011.
Dayton and the two legislative leaders said it is time to put campaigns aside and begin governing. Bakk said that was the Republicans' problem the last two years: They never stopped campaigning and got around to governing.
House Democrats expect to return to St. Paul at noon Jan. 8 with at least 73 members, while Republicans plan for 61. One contest resulted in a one-vote win for Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, and it will go to a recount. Republicans did hold a 72-62 edge going into the election.
In the Senate, the new session will begin with a 39-28 Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party advantage. Republicans once held a 37-30 margin.
Control of the Legislature is important because the party in charge holds committee chairmanships, decides budget priorities and picks what issues advance and which ones die without a hearing.
While the Legislature makes decisions on things such as taxes, Democrats' influence goes far beyond that after Tuesday's election. For instance:
-- Democratic President Barack Obama carried Minnesota, like he did the country.
-- Two Republican-pushed constitutional amendment proposals lost.
-- The Minnesota congressional delegation will be in Democratic control, thanks to Rick Nolan's return to Congress in northeastern Minnesota.
-- U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar won re-election with what could be the largest margin a woman has ever won a Senate race.
To say Tuesday was a good day for Democrats may be an understatement. Even many of the most partisan members of the party did not predict such an overwhelming showing.
The 2012 election counters what Minnesota voters did two years ago when they put Republicans in charge of the entire Legislature for the first time since the 1900s. It was the first time in 38 years they ran the Senate.
A pair of Republican-backed amendments may have helped hand the Legislature to Democrats.
"I really do think that the amendments seemed to have turned out the DFL base more and I also think at the end of the day, independent voters seemed to break against the amendments," Thissen said.
Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, did not blame Republican fiscal problems for the loss, but added: "It doesn't help."
The state GOP has struggled to get out of debt and Democrats far outraised Republican legislative committees.
Republicans said Obama's 8-point Minnesota win hurt their cause.
"It was a national turnout," said House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, who said he would not run for a leadership position of the new GOP minority caucus.
Obama's surge in recent days doomed Republicans, the speaker added.
But he and Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, placed much of the blame for their loss on negative campaign advertising from Democrats and their supporters.
The pair said they expect Democrats to raise taxes.
"If you are a business owner in Minnesota, you had better get ready for a sizeable tax increase," Zellers said.
Dayton was part of the Democrat Rudy Perpich administration in the 1980s, the last time there was a Democratic Legislature and governor, and business did well, he said.
Zellers and Dean said constitutional amendments mostly opposed by Democrats and partisan gridlock contributed to a bad GOP Election Day.
Democrats, obviously, looked at things differently.
"Minnesota took a big step forward," Bakk declared.
Since more than a quarter of the Legislature will be new next year, Dayton said, it will take time to get settled in and to decide what direction to take.