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At Capitol, Republicans making good on election landslide

St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) Minnesota's Republicans have translated their sweeping wins in last year's election into swift victories in this year's legislative session.

A 24-hour waiting period on abortions was signed into law. Permits to carry handguns in public will soon be available to more people. And the Department of Children, Families and Learning is dismantling the Profile of Learning and building a set of academic standards from scratch.

All those issues had some DFL backing, but they've topped the Republican agenda for years. While support has grown incrementally since Republicans took control of the House in 1999, the stronger conservative leaning of the Legislature this year boosted them over the top.

"It'd be hard to classify it so far as anything less than a wildly successful session," said David Strom, legislative director for the conservative Taxpayers League of Minnesota. "On all the big issues that the conservatives ran on, the remarkable thing is how easily they've gone through. It certainly looks like a sea change has taken place in Minnesota politics."

Republican strategist Sarah Janecek said conservatives this session have logged the biggest slate of victories on policy issues in the history of the state.

Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota, said he's withholding final judgment on accomplishments until the budget's balanced.

But one thing, he said, is clear: The Pawlenty administration has succeeded in controlling the agenda where the Ventura administration failed.

"I think the Republican Party has been very effective in marshalling its forces, focusing on its top priorities and holding together a durable coalition to support its primary objectives," Jacobs said. "There's a good chain of command and enough troops on the ground."

Republicans boast a 28-seat margin in the House and have narrowed the DFL's majority in the Senate to three seats. The changes in the Legislature's makeup are due in part to last year's once-per-decade exercise of redrawing district boundaries, which shifted more seats to growing Twin Cities suburbs.

GOP lawmakers have embraced their power with gusto, needling Democrats who oppose their legislation.

During a recent floor debate, GOP Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall responded swiftly to Democrats' criticisms of the Republican budget plan.

"You were voted off the island last year. The tribe has spoken," he said. "We will balance this budget without raising taxes."

But a pair of recent polls have indicated that while a significant majority of Minnesotans favor a cut in state spending, many also are receptive to raising taxes on cigarettes and the top wage earners in the state.

Last week, Gov. Tim Pawlenty stopped by a meeting of Republican legislators and urged them to hang tough against using state tax increases to erase a $4.23 billion budget deficit.

"We need to stand for what we believe in," he said. "Be strong. Keep the faith."

With a few small detours, Republicans have so far heeded Pawlenty's advice.

The passing of the abortion waiting period was the first of the key victories.

The legislation, which will take effect July 1, requires that women be told certain information and wait 24 hours before having an abortion - the most significant change in abortion law in decades. The next decisive win was the approval of legislation that will require sheriffs to issue handgun permits to most law-abiding, mentally competent people. The law, which takes effect May 28, will increase the number of permits issued in Minnesota from about 12,000 to 90,000, according to a legislative estimate.

And the Department of Children, Families and Learning is furiously working to put together new academic standards for schools. The learn-by-doing Profile of Learning has faced perennial attacks from Republicans since it was phased into Minnesota classrooms in 1998.

Some Democrats have seized on these issues, trying to portray conservatives as harsh and unyielding.

House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, a St. Paul Democrat, said Republicans have focused on passing "an extreme social agenda" at the expense of balancing the budget.

Jacobs said if Republicans move too quickly, they may pass legislation that would please their core activists, but alienate them from the larger population.

"These are issues that independents might not find very attractive, Jacobs said. "Republicans run the risk of painting themselves into a corner on social issues."

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