DFL legislators would do well to learn from the GOP's missteps.
The Democratic party faithful gathered at the Minnesota DFL Party headquarters at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown St. Paul, Minn. to hear election results Tuesday night, November 6, 2012. An empty stage awaited candidates at the Minnesota DFL Party headquarters at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown St. Paul, Minn.
Twenty-two years of bumpy, gridlock-prone power sharing at the State Capitol came to a dramatic end Tuesday, when voters sent twin DFL legislative majorities to work with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton for the next two years.
Not since 1990 have the levers of both the legislative and executive branches of state government been in one party's hands. If Wednesday's unofficial tallies hold, DFLers will operate with ample margins -- 39-28 in the Senate, and 73-61 in the House.
A sweep such as Tuesday's tempts politicians to claim a broad mandate for their positions. Sen. Tom Bakk, the odds-on favorite to become the next Senate majority leader, bordered on such a claim when, in the wee hours Wednesday, he said that Republicans "lost because they're wrong."
Our analysis is slightly different: Republicans lost their twin majorities because of a series of missteps. Their budget-setting efforts in 2011 resulted in a 20-day government shutdown and gimmicky borrowing to pay the state's bills. In the Senate, GOP leaders became embroiled in a costly sex scandal.
The Republican majorities also overreached on issues. They gambled on two divisive constitutional amendments, and lost. They clung to "no new taxes" so tightly that they were not open to much-needed tax reform. They refused to take reasonable, business-backed steps to prepare for the dawn of Obamacare. They were hostile to transit, even as support for light rail swelled in the suburbs. That position alone may have cost the GOP seats in Edina and Eden Prairie.
DFLers would do well to learn from the GOP's missteps. Like the Republicans two years ago, they too will experience pressure from their supporters to advance an agenda that only one party backs. Higher-income taxes on the rich would be on such an agenda. So would a move toward a single-payer approach to health care.
The new majorities' ability to resist such temptation is likely to determine whether they can retain their House majority in the lower-turnout election that's coming in 2014. (The Senate will not be on the ballot that year; Dayton will.)
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Tuesday's election also brought the abrupt end of Chip Cravaack's brief service in the U.S. House. The one-term Republican was defeated by the poster boy among Minnesota's large class of DFL comeback kids this year, Rick Nolan, who last was elected to Congress in 1978.
Nolan put the northeastern Minnesota district back in its traditional DFL column. But his election relied on more than voter habit. Nolan made hay with Cravaack's support for a proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher program for Americans age 55 and younger. The architect of that plan, GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, was re-elected to the U.S. House on Tuesday and will remain a major force in GOP politics. His party should take note of the reception Eighth District voters gave Ryan's idea.
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