MARSHALL - Gov. Mark Dayton recently confirmed to the Independent his commitment to his tax bump for Minnesotans who fall in the upper 2 percent of income earners. Unsuccessful in getting legislation passed last year, Dayton, a Democrat, said he plans on pushing it again in 2013. But its future rests with the Legislature, in particular, who makes up the Legislature.
With Republicans in control of both the House and Senate the last two years the GOP has enjoyed a 72-62 margin in the House and a 37-30 edge in the Senate - Dayton's tax reform had little chance of seeing the light of day, but with a new election comes the possibility of the DFL taking the reins of one or both chambers. To do that, Democrats will need to gain four senators and six representatives.
"The new court-drawn district boundaries produced some new GOP-dominated districts in such high-growth outer suburbs as Carver, Sherburne and Wright counties. However, some observers believe these gains will be blunted by DFL-friendly redraws in the closer-in suburbs," said Southwest Minnesota State University Political Science Professor David Sturrock. "Also, the new maps paired a number of current members into the same districts in slow-growth or no-growth areas across Minneapolis, St. Paul and greater Minnesota."
Sturrock said a recent statewide poll gave the DFL a 12-point edge in "generic" voter support and said he expects a close division "with overall party control not determined until the wee hours of Election Night." He said a DFL-controlled Legislature would go after larger funding increases for Local Government Aid and Health and Human Services, but said Democrats might have a hard time succeeding in those areas with a projected half-billion dollar deficit staring at them. DFLers, he said, would also face similar challenges GOP leaders have faced in terms of accommodating their ideological hardliners while paying attention to other major issues facing the state.
"If the marriage amendment loses, we could expect some DFL legislators to push for civil union or same-sex marriage legislation," Sturrock said. "A DFL House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader would have to decide whether to promote these initiatives or place them on the back burner in favor of dealing with the recurring issues of budgets, taxes, education and health care."
One area district that could have an open door for Democrats is Senate District 22, which lost veteran policymaker Republican Doug Magnus to retirement. Worthington Mayor Al Oberloh, a DFLer and former Luverne mayor, and Republican Bill Weber are vying for that open seat. Redistricting has put all of Lincoln County and the southern part of Lyon County in Senate District 22.
"On paper, Republicans should be favored (in SD22); under similar boundaries the district elected an all-GOP legislative delegation (a senator and two representatives) in 2010," said Sturrock. "However, 'friends and neighbors' voting will be crucial. Oberloh may be better known in such 'neutral' counties as Murray and Jackson through past coverage by the Worthington Globe, which circulates in most of the new 22nd Senate District."
In SD16, each of the incumbents - Sen. Gary Dahms and Reps. Chris Swedzinski and Paul Torkelson - are Republicans, but Dahms and Swedzinski just completed their first term, and Sturrock said that first re-election bid is often the toughest.
"It's a rule of thumb for incumbents that the first re-election is usually the biggest risk," he said. "In the case of Swedzinski and Dahms, both have new territory, new counties, counties that have generally preferred DFLers for the Legislature. So they've got a double challenge there."
Sturrock said Dahms and Swedzinski enjoyed the Republican wave of 2010 that led to the GOP taking control of the House and Senate and said this is a more neutral year. He said that neutral slant doesn't necessarily hurt their chances to get re-elected, as their success relies on their own merits, but the state's mood at the time clearly favored Republicans. Dahms is facing Ted Suss of Lucan; Swedzinski is up against Al Kruse of Marshall in 16A; and Torkelson has two challengers in 16B: Independent Jerry Pagel of New Ulm and DFL candidate James Kanne of Franklin.
In the tight presidential race, Sturrock said a Romney win in Minnesota would be "icing on the cake" if he were to win, but that Minnesota isn't a "make-or-break" state. Minnesota hasn't supported a Republican presidential candidate since Richard Nixon.
Sturrock also believes Hurricane Sandy and the attention the storm has received and will continue to receive from the national media favors Barack Obama.
"The thing with the hurricane is it smothers the news cycle," he said. "Candidates have to pull in their horns and not be in campaign mode, which means their message isn't getting out. The race was essentially frozen Sunday; if you thought Barack Obama had an advantage on Sunday, the odds are he will still have that advantage whenever the peak hurricane attention passes."