What now? Healthy tension. The kind that leaves almost everyone unhappy and the nation, believe it or not, better off.
Democrats leading the U.S. House will investigate the administration. This will be painted as partisan but will in fact be the pursuit of accountability on behalf of the public, however messy it gets.
House Democrats also will disrupt some of President Donald Trump’s policy impulses. Because “impulse” is the operative word, this is a good thing.
Likewise, the presence of a Trump-inflected Senate will pre-empt the fast ascendancy of New Left ideas at the national level. Such proposals instead will get a useful airing and assessment during the 2020 presidential campaign.
A grand compromise or two (not more) among Trump and Congress is possible. But the real policy action will take place in the states. Pending the gubernatorial outcome in Georgia, there will be single-party control of at least 35 state governments — 21 by Republicans, 14 by Democrats. (Minnesota will have the only divided legislature.) This laboratory-of-ideas model will lead to disparities, which may seem intolerable in a highly networked yet surprisingly immobile society. But federalism is the architecture of the American experiment.
Trump, for his part, will continue to give voice to the population’s basest tendencies. Better that these are out in the open. A nation believing itself egalitarian has let its zombie prejudices fester for too long.
So intranquility it is. “In order to form a more perfect union.”
David Banks, Assistant Commentary Editor
• • •
Maybe the center can hold after all. That might be the lesson of midterm election results that were remarkable mainly for being so ordinary.
This may qualify as the most normal event of the Trump presidency so far.
Democratic gains in taking back the House were about average for midterm elections — nothing like the Tea Party “shellacking” of Barack Obama in 2010. And a midterm president’s party gaining seats in the Senate, as the GOP did last week, is rare.
Despite the apocalyptic ravings on both sides, this was more a splitting of differences than a fracturing of the nation. The mixed outcome proved that Trump hasn’t yet repealed and replaced the laws of political physics — that moderate voters will exact consequences for his viciousness and dishonesty. But it also established that many Americans stand ready to reject extravagances in progressives’ rhetoric and agenda.
In California, of all places, Proposition 10, a referendum to repeal longstanding state limits on local government expansion of rent controls, lost handily, suggesting that even in locales where economic prudence is as scarce as affordable housing, common-sense realists stand ready to impose restraints on dubious experiments.
And around the country, outside bright blue urban districts, many of the brightest progressive stars fell to earth in defeat. More-pragmatic liberals ended one-party GOP rule.
At times in recent years America’s muddled middle has seemed helpless to resist the ruthless zeal of the tribalist right and utopian left. But the nation’s institutions still favor moderation. The midterms give hope that perhaps a sensible, critical mass of voters still does, too.
D.J. Tice, commentary editor
• • •
One of the most promising developments of the harrowing 2018 midterms was the wave of new leaders who better reflect the diversity of this nation.
A record number of women will head to Congress, among them the first two Native American women in House history and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, a Somali-born Muslim and former refugee. Colorado Gov.-elect Jared Polis will become the country’s first openly gay governor.
Texas, with its 40 percent Hispanic population, will finally, in 2019, send its first two Hispanic women to Congress. Angie Craig, in the Second Congressional District, will become Minnesota’s first openly gay congressional member.
Locally, Liberian-born American Mike Elliott defeated a longtime incumbent to become mayor of Brooklyn Center, where more than half the residents are people of color, while Richfield Mayor-elect Maria Regan Gonzalez becomes the first Hispanic mayor in state history.
These are important gains, and not just for the symbolism they provide. Each of these new voices brings a distinct set of life experiences and perspectives that will add to the richness of viewpoints in a government created to represent and serve all its people. Voters can look at their elected representatives and see themselves reflected, whether they are urban or rural, rich or poor, or of a different race, ethnicity, gender or religion.
This should not be feared. It is a long-overdue recognition that diversity itself is a value, that different lives and experiences and mind-sets all have worth and standing in this country.
This nation’s motto, E pluribus unum — Out of many, one — was a recognition that a collection of states could unify to create a force greater than themselves. So too will this new, more diverse collection of voices strengthen this country even more, through representation that reflects all its people.
Patricia Lopez, editorial writer
• • •
I don’t live in Forest Lake, but on election night I was keeping a close eye on the mayoral race in that north suburban community.
Over the past year, the Star Tribune Editorial Board has taken the Forest Lake City Council to task for effectively running out of town a proposed mental health treatment center for teens. Watching the process unfold over several council meetings would have shaken anyone’s faith in local government. The current mayor’s rudeness to citizens speaking out in favor of the project especially sticks in the mind.
On Tuesday, Forest Lake voters strongly rejected that leadership style when they cast their ballots for a new mayor. By an overwhelming margin, they elected Mara Bain, a City Council member who cast a losing vote for the treatment center and worked diligently to build community support for it.
Remarkably, Bain waged her energetic mayoral campaign despite undergoing treatment recently for a brain tumor. Her personable leadership and work ethic will serve Forest Lake well. That she’s mayor-elect inspires confidence that voters in that community and elsewhere are paying attention and willing to correct course.
Election coverage typically focuses on the more prominent races for congressional seats and the state Legislature. Dissatisfaction with President Trump and other leaders spurred many newcomers to run for these offices. But local races matter, too, and their importance shouldn’t be overlooked. For those wanting to get into politics, running for city council or for mayor, or serving on a planning and zoning commission, is an excellent place to start.
As Bain’s election shows, it’s possible to be a powerful change agent close to home.
Jill Burcum, editorial writer
• • •
Was it a superior DFL get-out-the-vote machine? Or revulsion at the presidency of Donald J. Trump? I’ll let political scientists sort out the motivating forces behind Tuesday’s DFL turnout surge.
It suffices here to report that a big increase in DFL votes compared with prior midterm elections is responsible for that party’s Minnesota victories last week. And that should tell Republicans that winning in Minnesota in 2020 and beyond will require a turnout surge of their own.
Though Tuesday’s was a midterm election, the word I heard most often to describe turnout was “presidential.” That’s a bit of a stretch. Secretary of State Steve Simon said 2.59 million people voted. That’s about 315,000 fewer than in 2016, but well above the 1.99 million who voted in 2014.
The increase was most pronounced in the metro area, where DFLers unseated 13 House Republican incumbents. Hennepin County reported 631,100 votes Tuesday, up a whopping 180,000 from 2014. Ramsey County saw 245,000 voters, 65,000 more than four years ago. “That’s in a county with a fairly stable population,” added Ramsey County elections manager Joe Mansky.
It’s not that Republicans didn’t work at increasing turnout. Many did. Take state Rep. Randy Jessup of Shoreview. He won 262 more votes than the DFL winner in his district amassed in 2014. Yet he lost to DFLer Kelly Moller by more than 3,200 votes.
In recent years, Republicans around the country have put great effort into tactics widely criticized as vote suppression. This year’s Minnesota results give them reason to pursue a different strategy. The best — and only democratically legitimate — way for a political party to counter a turnout surge by its opponents is to turn more people into its supporters and more of its supporters into voters.
Lori Sturdevant, editorial writer
• • •
Turnout, and tune-in, was up, for an election that resulted in a democratic (and Democratic) congressional check on the executive branch.
So at least in the political meaning of the word, most might say America passed its midterms.
But in the other sense of the word — a test — America, or at least its leaders, failed, because of most campaigns’ cursory acknowledgment of profound problems.
Report cards reflecting this failure come in many forms.
Informal ones, like newspapers and newscasts, have headlines about a nation tearing itself apart despite it being an era of relative peace and prosperity. For instance, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, the multicity mailing of pipe bombs to critics of President Trump and the swarming of Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson’s home are just three of the most recent examples of homegrown extremism from people allegedly motivated by today’s red-hot rhetoric — a threat that should shake the nation far more than desperate Central American migrants.
Other report cards are more formal, like reports from Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International, Freedom House, the State Department and others that describe the rise of repression and retreat of freedom worldwide.
Or tabulations of the national debt, or the dire U.N. climate report, each of which may contain monetary or meteorological data, but are just as much moral documents revealing a bleak future for our children.
Little was said on the campaign trail about the tough road ahead on these defining issues. So the newly elected Congress should put the midterms behind it and get to work. Because America, and the world, can’t afford a failure on the final exam, too.
John Rash, editorial writer
• • •
Early in his five-term run in Congress, U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen visited the Star Tribune Editorial Board for a wide-ranging discussion of his legislative priorities and the critical issues facing Minnesota and the U.S.
Among many topics, Paulsen mentioned his interest in the state’s growing problem with sex trafficking. It was clear that the father of four daughters was deeply troubled by what he had learned about the sex trade from local law enforcement officials.
I mentioned that I’d interviewed a Minneapolis attorney and victim’s advocate who was working on what became Minnesota’s Safe Harbor law, which ensures that exploited youth are treated as victims in need of services rather than as criminals.
Paulsen asked for contact information, and within a day the attorney called to say the Third District congressman had been in touch and the two planned to meet. Over the next few years, Paulsen worked with U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar on federal legislation, including the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, that capitalized on the work being done in Minnesota.
On Tuesday, Paulsen got caught in the suburban wave of anti-Trump sentiment — as well as his campaign’s missteps — and lost his re-election bid to the Star Tribune Editorial Board’s endorsee, Democrat Dean Phillips. It’s unfortunate that some Minnesotans will remember Paulsen more for negative campaign ads than for his work on issues that will have a positive lasting influence on his district, state and country.
In the parade of elected officials who have visited us in recent years, Erik Paulsen stood out as one of the most genuine, with an earnest approach that prioritized accomplishment over ego.
Scott Gillespie, editorial page editor
• • •
Spirited election races are important elements of democracies. The way candidates communicate, and the passion, knowledge and intellect they display while campaigning, helps voters make well-informed choices on Election Day.
But mean-spirited, demonizing campaigning — like too much of what we’ve seen this season — casts a heavy shadow over the process. Name-calling, ugly television and radio ads that distort the truth, use comments out of context or spread outright lies, damage political discourse.
Of course, it doesn’t help that the Name-Caller-in-Chief in the White House uses nasty and abusive language in person and on Twitter regularly. So political operatives, PACs and other so-called “committees’’ in the fine print that you’ve never heard of, keep churning out negative messages because they appear to work. Making opponents look more like criminals than candidates can affect pre-election polling.
But as voters and constituents, we can and must resist. We can say: Enough. We should tune out when ads against the other side consistently go too low. And whether there is an “I approved this message’’ stamp of consent on an ad or not, we can let candidates know that this type of campaigning is unacceptable.
Then we can applaud the candidates who conduct issues-based, civil races and hold them up as the campaigns “we the people’’ demand to earn our votes.
Denise Johnson, editorial writer