Republicans came out of the political wilderness and took control of the Minnesota House on Tuesday, electing Rep. Kurt Daudt of Crown as the new speaker of the 89th legislative session.
Members of both the newly Republican House and the DFL-controlled Senate avoided talk of policy fights that will consume them later this year, instead encouraging comity and collaboration as they celebrated the pomp of being sworn in and other first-day traditions in front of their familes and friends.
House and Senate leaders both said they would begin legislating Thursday, thereby kicking off the traditional season of proposals, parrying, debate and manuevering.
The only surprise of the day came when Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, suggested that the Legislature might finish its work this year and not meet next year, when the massive $272.7 million, multi-year Capitol renovation project will be in full swing. The work is expected to shut down much of the building.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk had a brief conversation with Daudt about the idea, but both are noncommittal.
Daudt, who is credited with leading the Republican campaign to House majority, is now speaker despite a relative paucity of legislative experience. He was first elected to the House in 2010 after serving in local government and as a business manager of a car dealership.
In a short speech after being sworn in, the 41-year-old speaker eschewed policy or governing philosophy and reflected on his farm upbringing near Princeton, Minn.: “I learned from my dad how to work hard and how to fix what’s broken.”
He said he would remember his roots with the help of his new gavel, which was carved from a white oak on his grandparents’ farm.
Daudt asked veteran members to remember what it was like to be a new legislator: “When I look at their faces, I see optimism. My challenge to those of us who are returning here is let’s not change them. Let’s let them change us.”
The 2014 House campaign was spirited and occasionally nasty, but Daudt promised good relations with the House DFL and its minority leader, Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, and urged members to work together.
“We need as many hands on deck as possible, to pitch in and demonstrate to the next generation, like my little nephew Nicholas, how to work hard and fix what’s broken. Together we can make progress in 2015 and in the decades to come,” he concluded to loud applause.
In a news conference after the House adjourned, Daudt said Republicans will introduce five pieces of legislation Thursday to deal with jobs and the economy, education, transportation, long-term elderly care and MNsure, though he was mum on specifics.
Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, who chairs the House Taxes Committee, said he expected to move quickly on legislation that would adapt the Minnesota tax code to match the federal code, extending to Minnesota taxpayers breaks like the ones they receive from the federal government. Minnesota lawmakers passed a similar measure in 2014, extending about $270 million in tax breaks to parents of adopted children, married couples and people who lost homes to foreclosure.
Bakk, who hails from Cook, said the Senate DFL caucus will unveil a half-dozen initiatives of its own Thursday — some old, some new, with a focus on outstate economic insecurity: “It’s become pretty apparent to me that this economic recovery, that many regions of the state have not benefited from it,” he said.
The makeup of the state Senate is unchanged because senators faced the voters in 2012 but not in 2014.
Bakk said he was hopeful because the session starts without a fiscal crisis: “The good news is that for the first time in more than a decade, we’re not entering the first day of a biennium trying to figure out how to manage a crisis, how to pay back loans, how to restore different accounting gimmicks, so we’re starting from a pretty good place.”
Thissen, who had been speaker until his party’s defeat last year, echoed those hopes: “I’m optimistic because of the conditions. At the beginning of the session, everyone talks about bipartisanship. But this legislative session, unlike any that I’ve come through where we’ve faced budget deficits coming in, may work more in that direction.”
Sprinkling the hopeful atmosphere with a dash of extra sweetness, freshman Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, told his new colleagues that he was celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary and thanked his wife — seated next to him — and all the spouses and loved ones who supported legislators during their grueling process of election. Flowers were delivered.
His remarks earned a standing ovation.
Staff writers Ricardo Lopez, Patrick Condon and Abby Simons contributed to this report.