Republicans’ edge in the narrowly divided state Senate grew last week, as Republican Jason Rarick was sworn in as the newest member of the upper chamber.

Rarick, a former House member from Pine City, won a hotly contested Feb. 5 special election to succeed former Sen. Tony Lourey, D-Kerrick, in an east-central Minnesota Senate district. The seat opened up after Gov. Tim Walz appointed Lourey as his Human Services commissioner.

The win cements the Senate’s partisan split at 35-32, advantage GOP, for the remainder of the session. Both the House and governorship remain in Democrats’ control.

Republicans celebrated what Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka described as a “clear win” in a district long held by Democrats — and some extra wiggle room when it comes to passing (or blocking) bills this session.

“It’s like a Grand Canyon difference between that and 34-33,” the Nisswa Republican said. “On so many issues, it’s difficult to have 34 people totally agree on everything. To have 35 people, there’s more flexibility for me to manage the day-to-day.”

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk doesn’t see the shift as quite so earth-shattering. The Cook Democrat said the 35-32 split won’t alter the outcome of negotiations this session over the budget and other high-profile issues.

“They did a very good job the past two years in holding their 34 people together every time they had to do so. I have no reason to think they weren’t going to do that again,” Bakk said.

Rarick’s win will also trigger yet another special election in the coming weeks. The contest for his now-vacant former House seat will be held on March 19, with a primary set for March 5.

Sports betting bill hits floor

A bill to legalize sports betting in Minnesota was formally introduced this week.

Reps. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, and Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, argue that failing to act swiftly in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s upholding of the practice will put the state behind the eight ball, missing out on revenue opportunities that neighboring states may soon seize themselves.

“God help us if, for a Vikings-Packers Sunday game, Minnesotans have to go into Wisconsin to place a bet on the game,” Zerwas said.

Unlike previous plans, this one would limit sports betting to on-site at tribal casinos only. That tweak was intended to appease tribal entities, which have opposed any expansion of gambling off reservations.

It would be premature to place a bet on passage, though. Even with the changes, there is no agreement with the tribes.

Self-imposed deadlines

Walz and legislative leaders from both sides came together this week to announce a series of session deadlines for the budget and bills. Unlike, say, not paying your taxes on time, there’s no real penalty for missing the mark. Still, leaders say the joint and public agreement will hold all parties accountable.