Republican legislative candidates converged at the Capitol on Tuesday to file en masse for office, officially kicking off their campaigns as the battle for the Minnesota House and Senate begins this summer.
Dozens of current legislators, joined by some new office seekers, filed at the Secretary of State offices before participating in a news conference with Senate and House GOP leaders, who vowed to build on their legislative gains in the last election.
Republicans are seeking to expand their control of the House and make inroads in the Senate, where DFLers hold a majority.
"Two years ago, we had one-party control and that did not serve Minnesota well," said House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, criticizing changes under an all-DFL Legislature in 2013. She mentioned tax increases approved then, as well as efforts to unionize child care workers.
"Divided government is a good thing," Peppin said. "We brought balance to the state of Minnesota, and we would like to bring more balance by also taking the majority in the Senate."
Tuesday was the deadline to register for legislative races, which are likely to attract more attention and money this year with no statewide offices on the ballot. All 201 seats are up for election this year.
GOP legislative leaders said they have recruited candidates for many — but not all — legislative seats. "There are a number of seats we can be competitive in," said House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.
DFLer: 'Partisan gridlock'
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, in a statement criticized the Republicans' two sessions in the legislative majority, noting the possible special session looming after the 11th-hour implosion of a major public-works and transportation package.
"Republicans are promising more partisan gridlock," said Thissen, who would be a clear favorite to regain the role of House speaker if Democrats win control of the chamber.
Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said his caucus needs six seats to win a majority in the DFL-controlled Senate. Hann said he expects the GOP will be competitive in a dozen districts, mainly suburban and rural districts.
"There is a need for a change," Hann said Tuesday. "It's been great to have a Republican House majority the past couple of years, but they need some reinforcements."
More than 50 candidates filed Tuesday for state Senate and House races, including Alan Duff, a GOP challenger to Daudt.
Duff, a former Isanti County commissioner who briefly served alongside Daudt, criticized the top elected Republican in a statement announcing his candidacy. He accused Daudt of not being a "principled conservative," noting his proposal to raise license tab fees to pay for new transportation spending. Some Republicans have viewed proposed license tab increases as no different from a tax increase, something Daudt and other GOPers have strongly opposed.
Daudt said he was confident he would prevail in the August primary, noting that it's not unusual to have a primary challenger. He said a handful of his own caucus members also had primary opponents. "Obviously I'm up for the challenge," he said.
He countered Duff's criticisms that he is not conservative enough by lobbing the same criticism back: "I served with that gentleman on the County Board, and I would say the same thing about him."