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Dems drove Minn. politics in '13 as GOP regrouped

  • Article by: BRIAN BAKST
  • Associated Press
  • December 26, 2013 - 3:05 PM

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Democrats were in control of Minnesota politics in 2013 — a year that saw stark shifts in social and fiscal policy.

The first stretch of one-party Capitol rule in two decades ushered in gay marriage — just months after it was on the cusp of being constitutionally barred — and a budget built on $2.1 billion in tax increases in a state where the no-new-taxes mantra had long prevailed.

Along the way, the Democratic majorities and Gov. Mark Dayton moved to make all-day kindergarten available statewide, partner with the Mayo Clinic on a massive expansion and set up a state-based health insurance exchange that has been mired in technical flaws like those that have beset the federal version. The head of the insurance marketplace, called MNsure, resigned less than two months after the site opened to consumers.

Even with complete Statehouse control, Democrats still needed every minute of the legislative session to finish their work and they deadlocked or stalled on some noteworthy items: raising the minimum wage from $6.15 per hour, gun sale restrictions and a transportation spending package.

Lawmakers returned in September for a brief special session and quickly approved a package of storm aid for flood-ravaged towns.

For Republicans, it was a year to regroup and position their party for next year's midterm elections. Former state Rep. Keith Downey took over as state GOP chairman in April, becoming the party's third chief in three years. He and party activists hope to break out of a funk that has Republicans without any statewide office for the first time since 1979.

Seven Republicans have lined up to challenge Dayton, who has never before sought re-election to an office he's held. U.S. Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat who won his seat by the narrowest of margins, stockpiled campaign money in anticipation of another heated race, as five Republicans are vying to challenge him. Like the governor's race, the Republican contender won't be known until after an August primary.

Minnesota's GOP is also angling to replace one of its most recognizable figures, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann. The tea party darling who ran for president last year announced in May that she wouldn't seek another House term. A House ethics investigation over a book promotional tour and campaign spending from that ill-fated presidential campaign still hangs over Bachmann as her final year in Congress starts.

A separate legal dispute that vexed Republicans was resolved in 2013. Ex-Minnesota Senate aide Michael Brodkorb, who sued after being fired following an affair with a top GOP lawmaker, settled his lawsuit for a $30,000 severance payment. Had the case gone to trial, it threatened to expose other allegations of romances between staffers and legislators.

On the Democratic side, the year's biggest political departure belonged to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who opted not to run for a fourth term leading the state's largest city. He'll move to an education think tank in the new year.

Minneapolis voters had no shortage of options when picking Rybak's successor. Almost three dozen names were on the ballot, from established politicians to a guy fond of dressing up like a pirate. Thanks to the city's use of ranked-choice voting that bypasses the traditional winnowing process of a primary. It took a few days to sort it out, but CityCouncil member Betsy Hodges prevailed and will be sworn in next week.

In terms of national exposure, though, the Minneapolis race couldn't match the mayoral contest in tiny Dorset, Minn. Robert "Bobby" Tufts secured a second term at the tender age of four. Tufts, who started preschool in the fall, won the office for a second time during a name drawing at the town's annual summer festival.

While the post is ceremonial, Tufts can claim success for an area where resorts and tourism are the economic engines. Said the mayor's mother, Emma Tufts: "He's been pretty good. Lotta PR for the town."

© 2014 Star Tribune