Nearly one third of lawmakers in the Minnesota House will be rookies when the presumptive speaker, state Rep. Melissa Hortman — also new to the job — bangs the gavel down on the 2019 session in early January.
Democrats, who flipped 18 districts to recapture the majority they last held in 2014, announced their new committees and chairs Wednesday, a first step in setting the party's agenda in the session that starts in January. Along with Democratic Gov.-elect Tim Walz, Hortman and the new House majority will push for progress on issues they campaigned on: education funding, health care and preventing gun violence, among others.
A number of longtime House veterans will lead key tax and spending committees. But House Democrats have also tapped newer members to lead some committees, including a handful of members from a new geographic power base for the party — the suburbs, where Democrats made big gains to topple the GOP majority.
"There's 40 of us from the suburbs," said Rep.-elect Heather Edelson, a mental health therapist who will represent Edina after vanquishing Rep. Dario Anselmo. "I think there's going to be a lot of common issues around schools, seniors and gun legislation around a suburban majority."
The new majority's two top leaders also represent suburban constituencies. Hortman is from Brooklyn Park; Rep.-elect Ryan Winkler, the incoming House majority leader, lives in Golden Valley.
Democrats fell short of full control of state government. Republicans still control the state Senate by a narrow 34-33 split, making Minnesota the only state in the union with a divided Legislature.
Winkler said Democrats will pursue bread-and-butter economic issues. "The basics of life are slowly becoming overwhelming for people," he said. "Health care is the most visible, but the cost of housing, higher education, caring for older family members, that's the core of our agenda."
Winkler said these issues create anxiety for Minnesotans — stress compounded by fears of gun violence and a volatile, polarized political environment. Winkler, who left the House in 2015 but was re-elected to his old seat this year, is known as a partisan flame thrower. But he said House Democrats will try to reach out to Republicans and let their ideas be heard, "rather than engaging in an arms race of, 'You did this to us and we're going to do that plus worse.' "
Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, is shifting from speaker to House minority leader in the upcoming session. He said House Republicans are ready to work with Democrats when they can to achieve bipartisan solutions and help the House run smoothly. But he also struck a combative tone.
"They aren't big on ideas and solutions," Daudt alleged of his Democratic colleagues. "They're big on screwing things up and blaming other people for it."
Daudt called the election a referendum on President Donald Trump and a chance for suburban voters to show their disapproval of him by kicking out Republicans up and down the ballot.
"I worry they don't know what they voted for," Daudt said of suburban voters.
Daudt cited two issues that he expects Democrats to pursue — an extension of a tax on health care providers set to expire at the end of 2019 and a new tax on opioid painkillers. Both would increase health care costs, which would represent a broken promise by Democrats, he charged.
Hortman said House Democrats are pursuing an agenda with all Minnesotans in mind and said she hopes for a new approach at the Capitol beyond just new faces and new issues. Recent legislative sessions have often ended badly, with major spending and policy decisions hashed out in private by a small coterie of legislative leaders and outgoing Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. This process resulted in one state government shutdown, a legal battle between Dayton and GOP legislative leaders and frequent, bitter recriminations.
"It gets difficult when you have four guys solving issues in a backroom," Hortman said. "I think Minnesota will be far better off having all 201 legislators engaged in the lawmaking process."
With House Democrats increasingly comprised of Twin Cities members, Daudt predicted they would abandon regions of the state outside the metro. "I don't think they understand greater Minnesota, and I don't think they care about greater Minnesota," he said.
The ranks of Democratic committee chairs includes senior members like Reps. Lyndon Carlson of Robbinsdale, Paul Marquart of Dilworth, Mary Murphy of Hermantown, Tina Liebling of Rochester and Jim Davnie of Minneapolis.
Marquart, who will chair the Taxes Committee, has long worried his party has become too focused on metro voters. But he said he's hopeful House Democrats are looking out for the entire state. Walz, who is from Mankato, campaigned on a "one Minnesota" slogan, while Hortman has emphasized the goal of making life better for all Minnesotans.
"I'm very optimistic about that and feeling good about it," Marquart said.