Minnesotans try to sort out the lessons of election '08

  • Article by: PATRICIA LOPEZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 5, 2008 - 10:48 PM

Republicans take some solace in blocking a veto-proof state House majority, while the Obama triumph should give Minnesota more influence in the new Congress.

A woman tried to hold back tears as she listened to President-elect Barack Obama’s acceptance speech Tuesday night. She was one of hundreds of DFLers who gathered at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in downtown St. Paul to await election results.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Minnesota emerges from Tuesday's election with one of the most influential congressional delegations it has had in years, bulked-up Democratic majorities in the Legislature and a state Republican Party that is breathing a sigh of relief while also undergoing a moment of soul-searching.

"Nationally, the Republican Party is going to go through a Dr. Phil, self-analysis moment," Gov. Tim Pawlenty said.

Self-examination is happening on the state level too, where Republicans were relieved to discover that they hadn't become completely irrelevant by losing enough state House seats to give Democrats a veto-proof majority, but discomfited by seeing their tiny numbers dwindle a bit further.

Traveling his Shakopee district to collect lawn signs and other campaign detritus, Rep. Michael Beard found himself in a gloomy, reflective state on Wednesday.

"What's happening in this state?" he said. "People seem to be clamoring for more and more government intervention."

Beard, who won his district handily, nevertheless found himself disheartened by a political reality tilted sharply away from limited government.

"I'm wondering how we, as a conservative party, inspire people to take care of themselves instead of looking to government," Beard said. Referring to GOP presidential candidate John McCain, Beard said, "Our guy didn't fill people with hope and inspiration. As a party we were praying for Ron Reagan and what we got was Ron Erhardt."

That was a reference to the legendarily irascible Edina legislator, a Republican who crossed party lines to help DFLers push through a gas tax increase in February and was punished by his party. Erhardt, running as an independent, lost his seat on Tuesday.

"I'm satisfied that I won," Beard said, "but I find myself wondering why am I doing this, anyhow? What is the core function of government? What kind of people are we trying to govern who would come so close to electing an Al Franken?

'No good answers'

"I have a hundred and one questions and no good answers," Beard said.

DFLers were dealing with their own crisis as they closed ranks on Wednesday around Franken, whose race against Sen. Norm Coleman ended with Franken trailing by fewer than 500 votes and a recount of nearly 3 million ballots expected in the weeks ahead.

But the Senate race aside, Democrats can take heart in more powerful numbers than they've had in years, all led by a Democratic president with strong connections to top Minnesotans -- something that may well benefit the entire state.

"I think Minnesota is as well-positioned as it has been since the 1970s," said Vin Weber, a top Republican strategist and former congressman. Coleman and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., are "two highly regarded senators," Weber said, while Reps. Jim Oberstar and Colin Peterson, Democrats who lead powerful committees in transportation and agriculture respectively, are now in a position of influence with a Democratic president. The state has emerging talent in Congress, Weber said, in First District Democrat Tim Walz, who just won reelection, and in Republican freshman Eric Paulson, who succeeded outgoing GOP Rep. Jim Ramstad in the Third District.

"We've got a nice mix of people with seniority and talented up-and-comers that should give Minnesota a leading role in all the major debates," Weber said.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisolm, said DFLers were elated at the results, but mindful that the state is heading into choppy financial waters.

"Our majority is the largest it's been in 30 years," he said. That majority will be put to use "to continue reinvesting in education, early childhood and infrastructure," he said, mindful that they will have to build coalitions with Republicans.

"We're committed to bipartisan solutions," Sertich said. "We're heading into a situation where we're going to need all hands on deck."

Patricia Lopez • 651-222-1288

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