Rep. Kurt Daudt continued his rapid rise to power Friday when his fellow Republicans made him the next speaker of the Minnesota House.
The 41-year-old Crown resident was rewarded for managing the GOP campaign that resulted in Tuesday’s crushing election victory, with the GOP flipping 11 of 134 seats — four more than they needed — to take the House, even as Republicans lost all the statewide races.
Daudt’s election by his fellow Republicans to speaker-designate is nearly unprecedented, following just two terms in the state House — the fewest years of House experience of any speaker since the 1930s.
Daudt will now negotiate with the DFL-controlled state Senate and a re-elected Gov. Mark Dayton in next year’s biennial budget talks, which in past years have led to high-stakes brinkmanship, including a government shutdown in 2010, the last time Republicans controlled the House.
“It is the greatest honor of my life to be elected to be the next speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives,” said Daudt, surrounded by newly elected and veteran Republican members.
Daudt’s selection followed a private caucus meeting that lasted more than five hours. Rep. Joyce Peppin of Rogers was elected majority leader, the Republicans’ second-in-command.
“Our goal is going to be to represent all of the people of Minnesota. We’re not going to leave Greater Minnesota behind, as has been done in the last couple years,” Peppin said, repeating a frequent Republican slap at Democratic leadership. “There’s a lot more of Minnesota than just Minneapolis and St. Paul.”
While Peppin is from the suburbs, Daudt lives on his grandparents’ farm in Crown and grew up on a sheep farm near Princeton. He served on the Stanford Township Board and the Isanti County Board before his election to the Legislature.
Daudt and Republicans have pledged a tax and regulatory climate friendlier to business; a transportation package focused on roads and bridges; an education overhaul to close the state’s racial achievement gap; and an outlook more sympathetic to the views of rural outstate Minnesota, where Republicans flipped 10 seats.
Statements of congratulation came from Gov. Mark Dayton and outgoing Speaker Paul Thissen, who was elected minority leader by the DFL caucus.
“If we work together, we can continue to build a better Minnesota,” said Dayton, who knows the incoming speaker well from Daudt’s term as minority leader.
Daudt’s jubilation following his victory will soon meet legislative reality during the 2015 session, when the DFL will maintain considerable leverage with the Senate and governor’s office.
State Senate Majority Leader Thomas Bakk, of Cook, was at his cabin in preparation for Saturday’s start of the deer season and could not be reached for comment.
He and Daudt became friendly last year and worked together on legislative issues.
Daudt’s election means state government will be led by the same governor and four legislative leaders who have sat atop their respective perches since 2012, though Daudt and Thissen trade places in the House majority.
Although the House speaker holds considerable power, Daudt and Thissen will have to negotiate the bonding bill — the biennial infrastructure package requires a supermajority to pass, so some DFL votes will be necessary.
As he negotiates with the governor and DFL Senate, Daudt also will have to manage his own caucus and their expectations. Given the leadership challenge he faces, it might not be easy.
Some of the House’s most conservative members opposed Daudt in favor of Rep. Matt Dean.
“I think Matt’s the guy. I implicitly trust him,” said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, of Mazeppa, before the caucus meeting.
The Tea Party Alliance released a statement saying that “Daudt is likely to compromise on the values of free markets and limited government and work with Democrats to keep government big and intrusive.” The leaders of the Tea Party also said they supported Peppin’s election.
But Daudt also has strong advocates both within the caucus and among political veterans. Marty Seifert, former Republican House minority leader who hired Daudt to run his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, said Daudt is “smart and skillful,” noting his quick ascent to speaker. He also said Daudt has a reputation for fairness, which will be important given the wide range of competing interests he must balance — geographic, economic and political.
Seifert said Daudt will be more than legislative leader, but also the titular head of Minnesota Republicans, who have not won a statewide race since Gov. Tim Pawlenty was last elected in 2006.
Pawlenty spoke to the Republican caucus Friday and said he told the members that Minnesota has become a “light blue” state and encouraged them to focus on such “bread-and-butter” issues as jobs and the economy, public safety, schools and health care.
Daudt, who is unmarried, enjoys getting back to his grandparents’ farm, fixing up old trucks and tractors, and entertaining his two dogs.
The speaker-designate, who still needs to be elected by the entire House, also enjoys hunting.
After his election, he was backed by about half of the House’s 72 Republicans. The rest?
“The other ones are already deer hunting,” said Rep. Denny McNamara, of Hastings.
Daudt said he would be joining the hunt soon.