The two states certainly have converged, and it stems from election-related events of the last several years.
As mentioned in the April 11 article about state House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (“There’s plenty on the line for Daudt”), Democrats in Minnesota are passing their agenda. With a legislative majority and the governorship over the past two years, they have legalized same-sex marriage, used a mix of tax increases and cuts to stabilize the state budget, passed comprehensive antibullying legislation, increased medical services for the unemployed, accepted Medicaid funds from the national government to help vulnerable adults get health care, increased funding for public education and increased the minimum wage.
Daudt and his fellow Republicans are probably looking with envy toward Wisconsin. The Minnesota GOP narrowly missed its chance to take complete control of the state government in 2010 when it won majorities in both houses of the Legislature but DFLer Mark Dayton eked out a small victory in the gubernatorial race over Republican Tom Emmer. The reason was that Emmer could not win any portion of the state’s swing voters. Dayton won the swing vote in northern Minnesota, and Independence Party candidate Tom Horner won it everywhere else. This was the second time in a 10-year span that Republicans almost had total control. In 2002, they had control of the House and won the governorship, but Democrats retained a small majority in the Senate.
In Wisconsin, Republicans got a clean sweep in 2010, and what has followed provides a glimpse of what would have happened had it occurred in Minnesota. The most controversial result was the anti-union bill that took away collective bargaining rights for public employees. But there is more. In the past four years, Wisconsin Republicans privatized some health services, cut income taxes, required a two-thirds majority of both legislative bodies to pass many tax increases, got rid of the estate tax, cut public education spending, introduced an education voucher system, imposed voter ID, refused Medicaid funding and took 90,000 people off Medical Assistance.
But perhaps the biggest boon for Republicans was that they got control at the right time. Redistricting happened after the 2010 elections, and the redistricting maps only needed to pass the Legislature and be signed by the governor. So while the Democrats were able to regain the Senate majority for a few months through recall elections (which would have held Republicans in check), they lost it in 2012 when the new Republican-drawn maps took effect.
In Minnesota, Mark Dayton vetoed the maps drawn by the Republican-held Legislature; a court-appointed panel drew the new maps that took effect in 2012, and Democrats took back the Legislature.
So while Daudt and Republicans gaze enviously at Wisconsin, Democratic legislators in Wisconsin feel the same way toward Minnesota, wishing something like Dayton’s photo-finish victory could have happened across the border as well.
So here is food for thought about voting. It matters, every time. While Minnesota Republicans missed their chance at complete control in 2010 because of Dayton’s win, Democrats in Wisconsin missed their chance to keep Republicans in check back in 2008.
Wisconsin staggers its Senate elections, so that half of the Senate is up for election every two years. Democrats were unable to add to their small 18-15 majority in the state Senate that year as three Republicans — Dan Kapanke, Randy Hopper and Alberta Darling — won close elections in a strong Democratic year. Both Kapanke and Hopper were unseated in the 2011 recall elections, but by then it was too late. The Republicans had what they needed to keep control of Wisconsin’s state government.
By contrast, in Iowa, which has the same Senate system as Wisconsin, Democrats were able to pad their majority in 2008, so when the Republicans took control of the House and the governorship in 2010, the Democrats barely kept control of the Senate, 26-24.
I went to the Wisconsin State Capitol at the end of 2012 and purchased a small replica of the building. It’s actually gotten me through some tough times in the past couple of years. I keep it as a reminder to myself about the importance of voting and being politically involved; the effects of government policy, and the issues, morals and values that matter to me as an American.
William Cory Labovitch is a political activist in South St. Paul.
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