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Legislature begins with smiles, before battles

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

ST. PAUL -- It was smiles and bigger smiles today as Minnesota's 201 legislators took their oaths of office, hiding the overriding fact of the new legislative session featuring the most drastic change in state leadership in decades as Republicans took control of the House and Senate for the first time in 40 years.

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That comes a day after Mark Dayton became the first Minnesota Democrat to move into the governor's office in 20 years.

As legislators launched their 2011 session at noon today, they welcomed 36 new House members and 24 freshmen senators. And perhaps more importantly, all legislative leaders are new to their positions, something that has not happened in most politicos' memory.

"It has a different feel to it, being in the majority," Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, said before going in front of a camera for a symbolic swearing-in ceremony.

Gimse, newly minted chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said the smiles will change as the session goes on. "There will be some wrangling going on."

Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, was being as optimistic as possible, being in the House minority.

"We are ready to cooperate responsibly," she said.

Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, newly elected to the upper body from the House, was among the most realistic in admitting that there will be problems between Dayton and Republican leadership.

"I'm not making any summer plans," Reinert said, referring to a chance that lawmakers and Dayton will not figure out how to plug a $6.2 billion budget hole by the time the Legislature must adjourn on May 23. Some around the Capitol predict a special session will be needed to enact a two-year budget that begins on July 1.

Much of today was devoted to family and routine business. The House and Senate formally filled their key jobs and conducted formal business as family members sat with lawmakers on the floor. Senators met for less than an hour and representatives a bit longer.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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