Democrats swept into power in the Minnesota House Tuesday, with suburban voters responsible for the victory, while Republicans hung on to their majority in the state Senate.
Democrats, buoyed by high turnout and frustrations over President Donald Trump, gained at least 15 new seats. They needed 11 to win the House majority.
“We are excited to get to work for Minnesotans. After a campaign filled with hard work, the real work begins now,” said House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, a Brooklyn Park Democrat and the likely next House speaker.
Current Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, conceded the House majority in a phone call to Hortman Tuesday night.
“Democrats had a narrow path through the suburbs in districts won by Hillary Clinton, and it appears they were able to flip those seats despite strong performances from our candidates who consistently outperformed the top of the ticket in nearly every race,” Daudt said in a statement. Republicans held the House majority the past four years.
The new slate of state lawmakers will head to the Capitol in January with a long list of priorities, from lowering health care costs to preventing elder abuse to quickly wrapping up state tax policy changes. They will have to contend with a newly divided Legislature and a new governor. Democratic Gov.-elect Tim Walz will bring his set of initiatives to the Capitol, as he tries to move past the acrimonious stalemates that have plagued Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislators.
In the singularly important state Senate special election, Republican Jeff Howe was on track to defeat Democrat Joe Perske. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, now positioned to be the most powerful Republican at the State Capitol, left open the possibility of working with Walz but also said Republicans would resist some Democratic initiatives.
“We’re going to bring Minnesota hope, and we are going to talk about the things that we talk about all along, and that’s to create jobs,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, told supporters at the GOP’s election night party. “Where we can work with the governor, we’re going to work with him, but if he’s going to go and do something like sanctuary state — not going to happen. If he wants to push government-run health care, it’s not going to happen.”
The special election for the St. Cloud-area Senate district previously held by Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach tips the balance of political power in that body, currently composed of 33 Republicans and 33 Democrats. Howe, a state representative, and Stearns County Commissioner Perske largely agreed on policy matters. They nonetheless landed at the center of an expensive competition, with outside groups and political party organizations spending more than $1 million on the high-stakes race.
In the House, Democrats concentrated on suburban districts as their path to take the majority. They spent heavily in 12 Republican-held seats where more voters cast ballots for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
There was a strong slate of Democratic candidates and large number of volunteers this year, Hortman has said. Frustration over President Donald Trump is driving some of that energy, she said, noting she has even heard of Republican voters vowing to vote for Democrats to send a message to the president.
But ahead of Election Day, several Republican candidates in the suburbs said they were doubtful Trump would factor significantly into their races.
“There is some dissatisfaction at the federal level, and there’s a lot of people who don’t like or support Donald Trump as our president, and I totally get that,” said Rep. Jenifer Loon R-Eden Prairie, who went on to lose her race.
A fiery congressional race between Republican U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen and Democrat Dean Phillips — which Phillips won Tuesday night — also mobilized voters in cities such as Eden Prairie, where Loon lost to Democratic challenger Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn. Other seats where Democrats ousted Republican incumbents include Edina, where Heather Edelson beat Dario Anselmo, and Maple Grove, where Kristin Bahner defeated Dennis Smith.
House Republicans and backers had also poured money into suburban seats. Voters in such districts have been inundated with campaign mailers, as well as digital, radio and television advertisements. Noncandidate organizations spent more than $100,000 in 23 House races, 16 of which were suburban districts, according to campaign finance data filed Oct. 22.
When they arrive at the Capitol, the legislators will have to tackle Minnesotans’ biggest concern: health care. The next set of state lawmakers must decide whether to continue a tax on health care providers and whether the state should spend hundreds of millions more to assist insurance companies and prevent potential rate hikes.
Sandy Strand, 66, of Burnsville, was one of the many voters for whom health care was a top priority. She said she and her husband do not identify with a particular political party. She opted for Walz for governor but said, “A lot of offices we vote Republican.” She was one of many voters who said Tuesday they are tired of the gridlock in state government.
“I don’t like the Senate, the House and the governor fighting all the time,” Strand said.