GOP leader deals with Democrats but wants majority
Looking for an edge: House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt has had to find any edge he can in a landscape where DFLers control the governor’s office, the House and the Senate. He also faces internal GOP sniping and lingering questions over a bungled car purchase.
Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt is in the waning weeks of a legislative session where he has very little power but so much on the line.
Lacking the votes to block DFL initiatives, Daudt’s only real strategy is dragging out floor debates and trying to land body blows where he can. He hammers Democratic majorities over what he says is too much spending, over a new multimillion-dollar Senate office building and trouble at MNsure, the state’s fledgling health insurance exchange.
“These are going to be huge issues in the next election,” Daudt said, although others differ.
The stakes are high for the Republican from Crown. He must lead a sometimes unruly GOP House caucus and still be the guiding force for fundraising and candidate recruitment in a defining fight to regain control of the Minnesota House this November. He must somehow protect members in vulnerable districts and plot a way to tip seven more seats his way.
Failure could jettison him back to legislative obscurity. Winning, however, would solidify him as a rising leader in the party and almost certainly make him the next House speaker, a position second in power only to the governor.
Yet at a time of so much promise, Daudt faces internal sniping from fellow GOP legislators and troubling fractures within the party. And then there are lingering questions about his bungled Ford Bronco purchase in Montana that resulted in a gun being drawn.
“It’s tougher than running for governor,” said former House GOP Leader Marty Seifert, who is running for governor. “You’ve got dozens of egos. People are ungrateful. You’ve got Democrats to deal with. You’ve got your caucus to deal with. You’ve got the governor to deal with.”
A former car salesman, Daudt emerged in the wake of a disastrous election two years ago, where voters tossed Republicans from leadership after a damaging showdown with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and a three-week state government shutdown.
Daudt was seen as a passionate and likable newcomer who relished the legislative process.
Still in his second term, the 40-year-old Daudt checks many of the boxes crucial for GOP leadership. He is a fiscal conservative with a fierce resistance to new taxes, representing a district that had some of the highest foreclosure and unemployment rates during the last recession. He opposes abortion rights and same-sex marriage and is long-standing member of the National Rifle Association.
Daudt had to quickly find some kind of edge in a political landscape where Democrats controlled the governor’s office, the House and the Senate. Although many in his party wanted him to dig in, if only as a symbolic show of opposition, Daudt took a different path.
He cut deals with House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, to bring the last legislative session to a timely and tidy end. He has become friends with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, a Cook Democrat who also comes from a rural district.
“That’s a good sign that he is willing to reach over,” Dayton said of Daudt. “Maybe some of his members will hold that against him. That is not considered to be a virtue, at least I didn’t find when they were in charge. They wanted ‘their way or no way’ confrontation.”
Daudt said that being so firmly in the minority means he has to work with Democrats. He realizes Democrats are essentially unstoppable when they are committed to something, so it is best to eke out small victories where he can.
“There was no manual for this job, about what it was like to be the leader when your party controls none of the three,” Daudt said in an interview. “We don’t have the votes to do anything.”
Building for the future
With little power inside the Capitol, Daudt began a relentless fundraising schedule outside the building. Because Dayton has strong approval ratings and millions of dollars backing his re-election effort, Daudt tells donors that Republicans have a better chance of winning the House than of knocking off the popular governor.
“I can say to them, ‘Maybe we are your best investment,’ ” Daudt said of contributors. “While I think we certainly can win the governor’s office, our best opportunity is the House.”