I've used that clip before and I just can't help it if Fred Willard's little schtick from The Mighty Wind is just about the perfect starter when trying to describe a major event and election day is always a major event in Minnesota.
I doubt anyone is clamoring for my insight, but that doesn't mean I am bereft of some observations. During the SEE regional meetings, I tossed out a number of projections and I did get the big three correct, although the Smith/Housley and Walz/Johnson races tipped more heavily to the DFL side than I thought they would. Where I was wrong (and obviously wrong in a very big way) is that I thought the Minnesota House of Representatives would remain under Republican control.
I'm not saying people should or shouldn't have seen this coming, but one has to give credit to the House DFL for running a very clearly defined campaign zeroing in on House districts where Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, getting solid candidates to run in those seats (one of my witticisms is that if there's going to be a wave election, you have to have candidates that can stay on the surfboard), and crafting a message that worked for those districts. Add to that effort that the close races almost exclusively tipped to the DFL and the seat-swap rose to 18 seats. But even without those close races tipping blue, the DFL would have picked up the requisite number of seats to take control.
I was late to the mental dance on this one (hey, it happens when you turn 65!), but in mid-October, I started to get a ton of negative internet ads about DFL candidates in the East Metro suburbs running in seats occupied by and thought safe for Republicans and that made me think that something in the polling must be showing up.
Another contributing factor was the DFL victories in the 2nd and 3rd congressional races. It wasn't that many years ago that it was pretty difficult to find enough Democrats in Dakota County to fill a school bus, but that has certainly changed over the past few decades and the DFL now holds nine of the twelve House of Representative seats in the county. Some of this was fueled by performance by the top of the DFL ticket, with Governor-elect Walz winning Dakota County by 12 points and United States Representative-elect Angie Craig winning by 11 points. A number of the House races were close and there were interesting swings. Representative Roz Peterson won by five percentage points in 2016 and lost by a similar margin in 2018 to Representative-elect Alice Mann. Representative Anna Wills won by over 7 percentage points in 2016, but lost this time around by 4 percentage points to Representative-elect John Huot. The closest race is where Representative-elect Anna Claflin defeated Representative Keith Franke 51% to 49%. The caveat in that race is that Claflin won the Dakota County portion of that legislative district by 64% to 37%.
A similar pattern was borne out in the 3rd congressional district, with the DFL taking over a number of seats that had been in Republican hands for quite awhile. Again, these were districts where Hillary Clinton out-polled President Trump in 2016 and United States Representative-elect Dean Phillips ran an aggressive campaign against Congressman Eric Paulsen. Of the 21 State House districts that are located in part or total in the 3rd congressional district, 17 are now held by DFLers. Notable flips took place in District 44A, represented by Representative Sarah Anderson for the past twelve years, and 34B, represented by Representative Dennis Smith since 2014 in a seat formerly held by former Speaker of the House Kurt Zellars.
Turnout was very high in this election at 64% of eligible voters participating. It was the highest mid-term turnout in Minnesota since 2002. Turnout was down ten percentage points from the 2016 Presidential election, where Minnesota led the nation with just under 75% voter turnout and it will be interesting to see if projected higher turnout will help Republicans in 2020. It used to be an old saw that higher turnout almost automatically helped Democrats, but given the shifting national political tides we have seen over the past two decades, that may no longer be the case.
So where does this leave us? The Senate remains under Republican control, as Republican State Representative Jeff Howe defeated Stearns County Board Member Joe Perske in the bid to fill the open seat resulting from former Senator Michelle Fishbach's retirement and officially filling the spot of Lieutenant Governor. The Senate Majority Caucus unanimously re-elected Senator Paul Gazelka as their leader. The new House Majority elected Representative Melissa Hortman, who had served as House Minority Leader when the Republicans were in control, as Speaker and Representative-elect (and former Representative) Ryan Winkler as their Majority Leader. This gives the House leadership a decidedly suburban feel. Given the fact that control of the House did hinge on the DFL victories in suburban seats, one can understand the reasoning, but expect the Republicans who control a vast majority of the exurban and deep rural House districts to mention this several times (I will probably lose track at three million) between now and 2020. The House majority caucus chose Representative Liz Olson of Duluth as their whip. The Senate minority led by Tom Bakk does not foresee any changes in its leadership structure and while Speaker Kurt Daudt has indicated he may step down, that is not a certainty.
With all the talk of immigration, the President's tweets, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez' speaking schedule, and the plethora of negative advertising employed by both sides during the campaign, the topic of education did not come up a whole lot. But those of us in SEE saw the results of Bill Morris' polling during his presentation at our September meeting that education was seen as the state's most pressing issue by 27% of poll respondents. While folks are intent on talking about seats Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and other aspects that are a bit on the inside-baseball side of things, I think it is important to note that for all the talk about all the money that is going out to school districts, costs for school districts are rising faster than the rate of inflation and the 2% and 2% annual increases trumpeted by the Legislature after the 2016 session simply didn't appear substantial to a lot of the voting public. To me, it recalled the 2006 mid-term election when much of the talk centered on the aftermath of the Iraq War, but suburban seats were won by the DFL largely on the education issue. There will be a lot on the plate of the new House majority in the session ahead, but I expect education funding (in all of its aspects) to be one of the main courses.
I think a positive for SEE is that Speaker-elect Hortman is familiar with the equalization issue and understands how differences in property wealth dictate differences in educational opportunity. The suburbs are not monolithic as property wealth differences between different suburban areas are as great as they are statewide, which makes tax policy tricky if it isn't done with a wide scope. Governor-elect Walz has campaigned on a one Minnesota theme (I see four Minnesotas, but no one has asked me) and our equalization efforts do have statewide application, so hopefully we can find traction in the year ahead as we push for increased referendum and debt service equalization.
And so, we marshal on. I will be blogging more often now as legislative news will start picking up. Always feel free to contact me with questions and comments.