Even as veteran DFLers assumed new leadership roles at the Capitol on Thursday, familiar issues loomed on the legislative horizon.
"The top of agenda is to get our arms around the state's budget challenges. We have had, going back to 2003, serious structural budget problems in Minnesota," said Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, who was elected majority leader in a daylong caucus meeting. "I feel a little sorry for the new members who have just been elected because their first task, they are going to learn, is to cut the state budget even further than it is today."
Taxes and health care also are shaping up as major issues in the coming legislative session, and the DFL's leadership choices reflect those pressure points. Bakk, a former tax committee chair, is steeped in the workings of the state's tax system. In the House, Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, a former health committee chair and longtime proponent of expanded access to health care, was the DFL's choice for speaker of the House, a post considered second in power only to the governor.
The unexpected rout of Republican legislators on Tuesday gave one party complete control of the Capitol for first time in a generation. Now, the newly empowered leaders said, they must show they can rule.
"You don't have to have divided government for the state to prosper. Democrats are going to be able to deliver prosperity for this state," Bakk said.
Thissen also promised to break the gridlock that had gripped the Capitol in recent years, most notably in the 20-day government shutdown in 2011.
"We face big challenges, but we can meet them if we work together," Thissen said. "It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work."
While Bakk, Thissen and Gov. Mark Dayton hold their party in common, they have major style differences.
Bakk, an Iron Ranger and former union leader, spends his spare time hunting or on long fishing trips.
Thissen, a Harvard graduate and a partner at the Lindquist and Vennum law firm, was once picked as one of the "best brains" in the Twin Cities.
The governor, an heir to the Dayton department store fortune, has spent his life in politics and, for the past two years, has been the only one of the three with genuine power.
All three ran for governor in 2010, but when Dayton took the office, both Bakk and Thissen slipped into minority leadership roles to do battle with Republicans and to plan for the 2012 election.
Dayton promised they will work through their conflicts.
"Democrats are going to have differences with my administration. Republicans certainly are. I have no problem with that. I believe that's healthy," Dayton said, having just talked to the new Senate DFL class. Dayton also visited the House.
After hours of discussion, punctuated by post-election joy and applause, the senators named Sen. Sandy Pappas, a longtime member from St. Paul, as president and Sen. Katie Sieben of Newport as assistant majority leader. They also returned Sen. Dick Cohen of St. Paul to his role as finance committee chair and selected Sen. Rod Skoe of Clearbrook as tax chair.
Rep. Erin Murphy was elected majority leader of the 73-member class in the House. Republicans will gather soon to salve their election wounds and pick new leaders now that they are the minority party.
Current Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem of Rochester and House Speaker Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove have both said they will not run for leadership posts. Republican senators will meet Friday morning and Republican House members will meet Saturday to pick the heads of their suddenly smaller band.
Senjem said Republicans are enduring a time of "heartache and agony." But, he said, "It's the life of politics."
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Twitter: @rachelsb