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Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton delivered his State of the State address before a joint session of the Minnesota Legislature in the House Chambers at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. on Wednesday.

Carlos Gonzalez, Dml - Star Tribune

End of Legislative session means it's campaign time for politicians

  • Article by: Baird Helgeson and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger
  • Star Tribune staff writers
  • May 26, 2013 - 7:01 AM

The race for the Minnesota House and the governor’s office kicked off the moment legislators adjourned at midnight Monday.

Exhausted lawmakers, who were limited from raising money during the session, immediately began a string of fundraisers as DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Democratic legislative leaders toured the state touting their list of accomplishments.

“We told the people of Minnesota … that we were going to raise taxes progressively. And we did,” Dayton said in an interview Thursday. “We were going to balance the budget honestly, fairly, no gimmicks and shifts, etc. And we have.”

Republicans launched their own tour of the state, shaking off the loss of legislative control last November with an entirely new leadership team vowing to return to power.

“There was no balance and there was no compromise this year, and we feel our policies are better for Minnesota,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. “That’s the case that we are going take to Minnesotans, and we are not going to let up for one minute between now and [2014] Election Day.”

A new era of one-party rule at the Capitol — the first in more than two decades — has left its mark on Minnesota: a hefty tax hike, more money for education, legalization of same-sex marriage and an expansion of union power. The outcome of the session is still settling, but the aftermath already is reshaping the political debate for a 2014 campaign that will begin unfolding in unpredictable ways. The House and governorship will be on the ballot next year; the Senate, whose members were elected to four-year terms in 2012, will not.

Outside groups are preparing to pour millions of dollars into the campaigns and are finalizing plans for an effort that will leave a lasting mark on Minnesota politics.

Alliance for a Better Minnesota used money and political savvy to help elect Dayton and assist Democrats in winning control of the Legislature. Less than a day after the session ended, the group released a video showing Minnesotans what it believes the consequences would have been under Republican control.

“Instead of devastating cuts to Minnesota schools and shutting down our state to protect big corporations and the super-rich, middle-class majorities invested in our children’s future and moved our state forward,” said Carrie Lucking, executive director of Alliance for a Better Minnesota.

The group has emerged as a formidable force. Contributions from wealthy donors, unions and other like-minded groups allowed Alliance for a Better Minnesota to pump about $4 million into the last election cycle.

Republicans and business leaders put in about the same amount of money, but came away with little to show for it.

Republicans regroup

Without a single statewide officeholder, Republicans were regrouping last week as 50 of the most determined and business-friendly minds in the state gathered to figure out how to break Democrats’ grip on the Capitol.

Republicans are dogged by many of the same problems that afflicted Democrats for years: a scattershot collection of activist groups often consumed by infighting, differing goals and millions in wasted resources.

“Many of us step up to the plate and do what we think is the right thing, that we know is the right thing, and our money is split every which way … and not being effective,” said Stanley Hubbard, a major political donor to mostly GOP candidates. “I don’t get frustrated. I get active.”

The Minnesota Business Partnership is one of the organizations that steered massive amounts of money into efforts to defeat Democrats, only to end up on the losing side many times.

“The goal is to try to be as smart as the alliance, who are very well organized, who are very focused, who funneled a lot of their resources into one organization,” said Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership. “I think there’s a lot we can learn from them. I think the goal is to avoid the kind of haphazard effort of lots of different groups doing lots of different things.”

Wealthy conservatives often threaten to leave the state when they sour on the political climate. Not Hubbard. He is organizing a second meeting of business-minded leaders in coming days.

“I’m not leaving Minnesota. I’m a fighter,” he said. “Minnesota has given me everything I have, and I’m staying here and I’m going to do everything I can to make Minnesota a better place.”

The seeds of this statewide debate are already being planted around Minnesota, as legislators return home to push their take on the successes and failures of the session.

Democrats share a sense of triumph after increasing aid for education and paying for property tax relief for Minnesota homeowner and renters. They claim to have balanced the budget in a way that sets up the state for a new era of fiscal stability, better able to make new investments and ride out national economic ups and downs.

Republicans say Democrats needlessly socked Minnesotans with $2.1 billion in tax hikes and threw more money at programs without any tough look at how to make them more efficient.

Early battleground

Up in northern Minnesota, the battle already is shaping up.

Freshman Rep. Joe Radino­vich, DFL-Crosby, eked out the narrowest of wins in a district where voters overwhelmingly went for Republican Mitt Romney in the presidential election. When Radinovich got to St. Paul, he voted to legalize same-sex marriage, a bedrock DFL initiative that prompted a recall effort in his district.

“I don’t think when you get into the Capitol you should be thinking about re-election; you should be thinking about doing the right thing,” said Radino­vich, who already is fundraising and meeting with residents in his district. “I think the people of Minnesota will reward people who do the right thing.”

Radinovich’s 2012 opponent, Dale Lueck, said residents up there are furious.

“When you go against that level of sentiment in your district, it’s the same as someone running up Mount Everest without oxygen,” Lueck said. “That looks more like political suicide than anything I have seen.”

Lueck hasn’t decided whether he’ll run again. But after this session, he’s already thinking about it.

 

baird.helgeson@startribune.com

651-925-5044

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Twitter: @RachelSB

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