WILLMAR -- With the exception of Republican Bruce Vogel's upset of 14-year legislative veteran Al Juhnke in House District 13B, voters in west central Minnesota returned incumbents to the state Legislature.
Vogel, R-Willmar, claimed a victory over the Willmar DFL'er in an election that saw Republicans win maj-orities in both the House and Senate.
As a result, all of the area incumbents returned to office will find their roles reversed. It's the first time in 38 years that Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature.
"It was a very good night, we are excited,'' said Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, who returns for his second term in the Legislature in a new role as a member of the majority party. Gimse fended off a challenge in District 13 by DFL'er Larry Rice.
The last time the majority leader in the Senate was a Republican was in 1972, when Stanley Willard Holmquist, of Grove City, had the duties, pointed out Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City.
Urdahl won re-election to his District 18B House seat over DFL challenger Darrin Anderson with a 4,517-vote margin.
Urdahl is returning to a fifth term in the House and is No. 12 in seniority within the Republican caucus. He's eagerly looking forward to moving from a seat on the bench as part of the minority party to an active role on the field as part of the majority. His seniority should give him an opportunity to chair an important committee.
"We can be pro-active,'' said Urdahl of the Republicans' upcoming role in the Legislature.
Urdahl said people should be very careful about how they read the message of the election, but said he believes a repudiation of President Barack Obama's policies by voters played a role in the Republican victories on the state level.
Gimse also believes that voter dissatisfaction with national politics did much to benefit Republicans running for state office. He said voters sent a clear message that they "don't want business as usual.'' He said tackling the budget deficit and taking a good, hard look at the budget and scrutinizing it like never before will now be the responsibility of the party leaders.
Incumbent DFL'ers said they also believe that national politics had much to do with the state results.
Sen. Gary Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls, won re-election with a 3,906-vote margin. Kubly said support from moderate Republicans helped him overcome the votes of those disgruntled with Washington.
The 14-year veteran of the Legislature was among those who had not expected the DFL Party to lose control of the Senate. He pointed out that the DFL lost 12 of the 13 targeted races in the Senate, and some seats they had not thought vulnerable.
DFL incumbent Rep. Lyle Koenen, of Clara City, held on to his District 20B seat by a slim, 165-vote margin over Republican challenger Brian Kohout, of Olivia. Koenen held on to voter support in Chippewa and Yellow Medicine counties, but Kohout -- a 21-year-old, first-time office seeker -- proved a very strong candidate on his home turf in Renville County.
Koenen said he too believes the national wave had much to do with the anti-incumbency mood evident in state elections. "It was a little tighter than I'd like to see it,'' said Koenen of his election win.
Rep. Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock, had a very tight race when he first ran in House District 20A two years ago, and actually improved this time around with a 600-vote margin over his Republican challenger, Jay Backer of Graceville. Falk said the Legislature faces some big challenges, and not only because of the big deficit that must be addressed. Both chambers lost very experienced lawmakers, including some whom Falk said were very diligent about avoiding partisanship and entitlements.
Only District 13A incumbent Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, had no opponent and sailed easily back to office.