Minnesota House Republicans drew sharp contrasts with new DFL Gov. Mark Dayton in 2011, when then-Speaker Kurt Zellers called Dayton’s tax plan a “pathetic attempt to go back in time.”
This time, there’s less fiery rhetoric from GOP Rep. Kurt Daudt, who is expected to become House Speaker when the Legislature convenes Tuesday.
“I think every Minnesotan knows when you’re negotiating with someone or trying to work out your differences, there is give and take,” Daudt said in a December interview.
In just a few years, the 41-year-old Republican from Crown has rocketed to the top of state politics. Elected in 2010, Daudt became minority leader in 2013. He became the architect of the Republican effort to win the House — recruiting candidates, raising money and even knocking on doors as the GOP flipped 11 seats for a 72-62 majority.
Daudt will have to balance competing demands: passing a budget with a DFL governor and Senate, and tending a restive Republican base that will grimace at any Dayton-Daudt agreements that could be read as capitulation.
Like Dayton, Daudt has been guarded about his legislative strategy since the November election.
Daudt, who once worked at a car dealership and who collects vintage trucks, said he expects Republicans to focus on building and maintaining roads and bridges, not on mass transit.
House Republicans also will look for more generous and stable funding for nursing homes and other long-term care options.
Both priorities line up with the newly rural cast of the Republican caucus. Outstate Minnesota, where Republicans flipped 10 seats, relies on roads and bridges to move people and products. Rural communities also are dealing with aging populations.
Daudt said he also wants to tackle the achievement gap between white and minority students, and scrutinize MNsure, the embattled health insurance exchange.
While offering few specifics on those issues, Daudt has been more explicit about budget issues since November’s rosy fiscal forecast: Expect some tax cuts.
“With a billion-dollar surplus, everybody wants to cut taxes,” he said. “I think that’s what’s best for Minnesota’s economy.”
Daudt has drawn the ire of Democrats by bad-mouthing the Minnesota economy, saying it has “flatlined” since the 2013 tax increase, even though the unemployment rate is below 4 percent and one of the lowest in the nation.
The disagreements will grow more intense as the legislative session heats up, but Daudt said he’s being realistic. “I’m not going to run the table and get everything I want, but I’m going to advocate for what I want and make a case for that being what’s best for Minnesota, and hopefully in the end we’ll all do what’s best for Minnesota.”
Asked the best advice he’s heard since being selected as speaker, Daudt joked about not becoming part of the furniture: “Plan your exit strategy.”