Two weeks before the start of the legislative session, the state Republican Party has unveiled a working plan to tackle transportation and education, and to renew its focus on rural Minnesota.
Eager to show they can enact their policies, Republicans are hopeful their new majority in the lower chamber of the Legislature will help them pass bills that previously have been defeated.
“The challenge the last two years was that when you’re in the minority across both chambers and in the governor’s office, the majority doesn’t have to do anything you want,” said GOP Chairman Keith Downey.
Among the GOP’s top priorities as outlined in its Solution Center will be education, particularly bills that address the achievement gap between white and minority students, Downey said. To that end, legislative leaders plan to revive bills that would expand charter schools, give schools more local control and allow the Teach for America alternative program.
On transportation, expected to be a key issue this session, Downey said the party will oppose any new taxes or fees to fund maintenance of roads and bridges. In a nod to outstate Minnesota, the Solution Center calls for a higher priority for roads and bridges over new urban-suburban transit projects.
DFL Chair Ken Martin said he sees many opportunities for bipartisan agreement, particular on transportation, but he criticized the Solution Center for a lack of innovation.
“Instead of coming up with new ideas and new solutions, Republicans are relying on the old failed policies of the past,” Martin said.
The Solution Center was launched amid the 2104 campaign as a collaboration between party officials and legislative leaders, including Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, and incoming House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.
The work on the topics and policies unveiled by the Solution Center occurred as the Republican House Caucus prepared its committee assignments in past weeks.
Downey said the proposals and policy initiatives will become more specific as the session unfolds.
Rural support was pivotal in helping the GOP reclaim a legislative majority in November. But despite the pickup of nearly a dozen legislative districts, Republicans were shut out of statewide offices for the fourth election cycle in a row.
Party officials are hoping that the Solution Center will play a key role in boosting the GOP brand after the bruising statewide losses and offering an alternative to DFL policies.
“We will have a renewed opportunity with our legislative majority to make that contrast,” Downey said. “We will use the Solution Center as a mechanism to get the message out.”
The legislative session begins Jan. 6.