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St. Paul, Minn. — Republicans held on to their majority in the Minnesota House and strengthened their hand in the DFL-controlled Senate. All 134 legislative seats were on the ballot this year, and redistricting and retirements put many up for grabs. GOP leaders are pleased with their gains, while DFLers suffered some disappointing losses.
It takes 68 seats to control the Minnesota House of Representatives. When the 2002 legislative session ended, Republicans enjoyed a 71-63 majority. DFL Minority Leader Tom Pugh says he saw 20 to 25 seats as close, winnable races. He says he also expected his party to capitalize on voters' concerns about education funding and transportation.
"We thought those two issues would carry Democrats into power in the House and retaining power in the Senate. So we're shocked at this point with what has occurred," Pugh said.
Republicans won at least three of the five head-to-head battles between incumbents. Howard Swenson defeated DFL Rep. Ruth Johnson in the Nicollet/St. Peter area. Bill Haas won over DFLer Luanne Koskinen in the northern Twin Cities suburbs. And in the Princeton/Big Lake area, Mark Olson beat Leslie Schumacher.
Longtime DFL incumbent Ted Winter lost his southwestern Minnesota seat to Republican challenger Doug Magnus. Republican Lynne Osterman knocked off DFL Rep. Mark Thompson in the New Hope area. Overall, the GOP could gain 11 seats.
House Speaker Steve Sviggum says he's delighted to have a strong majority to work with the state's new Republican governor, Tim Pawlenty.
"It's going to be absolutely wonderful compared to maybe the last four years, where it was kind of a tug and pull. You know, House versus Senate, Senate versus governor, governor versus House. It was that three-legged stool where you always tried to get two against one," Sviggum said.
The Senate breakdown last session was 39 DFLers, 27 Republicans and one Independence Party member. The DFL could drop up to five seats, but will hold its majority. There was just one race pitting two incumbents against each other. Republican Michele Bachmann of Stillwater defeated DFLer Jane Krentz.
Incumbent DFLer Len Price of Woodbury lost to Republican Brian LeClair, and Incumbent Twyla Ring of North Branch lost to Sean Nienow. Republican Senate Leader Dick Day says the results were far better than expected.
"We had good candidates, and we knew they were good candidates. But we always knew it would be a real struggle in Minnesota to get over the barrier that you could actually win the seat. And we're finding that hey, when you have good candidates and there's a kind of ground swell that out there you can do some things," Day said.
Senate DFL leader John Hottinger says the majority is narrower than he'd like. He says with Republicans still controlling the House and now in the governor's office, Senate DFLers have a heavy responsibility.
"People in Minnesota who feel supportive of Democratic Party principles, supportive of the concept of fairness, should know that as long as we have the majority in the Senate, we will be their voice. We will make sure their concerns are at least heard, even if not listened to by the House and the governor. And we will work hard to get our job done and do it in a fair way," said Hottinger.
The Independence Party had its first-ever member elected to the Legislature when Sheila Kiscaden of Rochester, a former Republican, won re-election to the Senate after her party switch.