Republicans celebrate, outline legislative goals

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 4, 2010 - 6:18 AM

After winning the Minnesota House and Senate, the GOP promises to create jobs and trim government.

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Maple Grove Rep. Kurt Zellers, likely to be speaker of the House, spoke to reporters with newly elected Republicans Wednesday afternoon at the State Capitol.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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Triumphant Republicans, contemplating legislative power they have not held in decades, began to sketch out their goals at the State Capitol on Wednesday, while despondent DFLers considered the aftermath of the historic Republican takeover of both the Minnesota House and Senate.

With a tentative majority of 72 to 62, House Republicans talked ambitiously of an agenda to keep and create jobs, strip away government obstacles to business and eliminate what they said were the many duplicative committees at the State Capitol. "If we have five agencies that deal with clean water, can you do it with two or one?" said House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers, who will likely be the new House speaker.

Zellers sidestepped whether Republicans would push key conservative issues such as gay marriage and voter identification, or whether the new majority would address the state's $6 billion deficit in the Legislature's first days and weeks in January.

"From the first door I went to, our message was jobs, jobs, jobs," said Republican Ted Lillie, a Lake Elmo businessman who upset a first-term DFL senator.

Members of both parties, however, were still taking stock of a new reality. With the governor's race headed toward a recount and with three House races headed for a review, the scope of the Republicans' victory remained in doubt.

DFLers, meanwhile, speculated that they lost control of the House by a total of just 700 votes statewide.

Perhaps the starkest difference for DFLers occurred within a one-hour span Wednesday at the Capitol: Just as a beaming Zellers stood surrounded by new Republican legislators at a packed media gathering, Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller issued a five-sentence statement saying he would not seek the job of Senate minority leader.

"No matter how committed we were or hard we all worked, in the end it didn't matter," said Pogemiller, a DFLer who was first elected to the Senate in 1982 and has never served in the minority.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich said he was undecided whether he would seek to become the party's House minority leader. "It's been a long four years," he said.

Sertich also said he doubted that Republicans, after years of stressing social issues, would keep strictly to the economy. "There's pressure from the right wing to do some of [the social issues] -- those issues that really divide Minnesotans," he said.

In the Senate, too, DFLers adjusted to a new political landscape, going from a 46-21 majority to a 37-30 minority. As Tuesday's results came into focus, the DFL's seemingly solid majority lay in pieces: Of the Senate's 24 new members, only three are DFLers. Of the 15 state senators who lost their seats, only one was a Republican.

Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley, a five-term legislator, spent Wednesday scooping up his lawn signs. Betzold said Pogemiller called him late Tuesday, as his defeat became clearer, to ask whether he saw a path to victory. "He was trying to say, well, is there any way?" Betzold added. "I said, no."

Lillie credited the Republican triumph to a focus on fiscal responsibility. He said that while walking 213 miles knocking on doors -- he measured the distance using a pedometer -- he introduced himself to voters as a "fiscal conservative who wants to help your family keep more of your hard-earned money."

Lillie will join his younger brother, Leon, a House DFLer, as one of only a few pairs of brothers to serve simultaneously in the Legislature.

State Republican Party deputy chair Michael Brodkorb said the election came down to timing, candidates, and, frankly, breaks. "Democrats got breaks in '04 and '06 and '08," he said. "In order for us to get the majority of both bodies we needed to catch some breaks, too. And we caught some breaks."

Republican Carolyn McElfatrick, who stunned Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, the House Ways and Means chair, said she believed there was more to it than luck.

"I'm a Christian woman," said McElfatrick, who said she went to bed early Wednesday not knowing whether she won. "The final results are not in my hands."

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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