Party switch would likely promote rural DFL lawmakers
ST. PAUL -- Northeastern Minnesota would be the big winner if the state House returns to Democratic-Farmer-Labor control in the Nov. 7 election. But other rural lawmakers also would be in line for promotion. Few want to predict what the House wil...
ST. PAUL -- Northeastern Minnesota would be the big winner if the state House returns to Democratic-Farmer-Labor control in the Nov. 7 election.
But other rural lawmakers also would be in line for promotion.
Few want to predict what the House will look like after the election, but it is hard to talk to Democratic lawmakers and not see their enthusiasm. And it is not just candidates; volunteers also are turning out in big numbers, Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, said.
"We've never seen participation like we have seen this year," said Juhnke, who likely would be chairman of an agriculture committee if he is re-elected and Democrats take control.
Juhnke is running against Republican Bonnie Wilhelm of Willmar for the District 13B seat.
Republicans have held a majority in the House since 1999, although it dwindled to just two seats during the past two years. Both sides predict the division between Democrats and Republicans will be close in the 2007 session.
The party in power, even by two thin votes, can control most aspects of the legislative process. For instance, the majority party for the most part decides what bills are heard by committees, as well as who is chairmen of those committees.
Democrats control the Senate, and few people predict that will change after the election.
House DFL leader Margaret Anderson Kelliher of Minneapolis was not ready to talk about the post-election look of the House.
But she did say she wants to mix experienced lawmakers with providing younger members a chance to lead. Giving less experienced lawmakers leadership roles will be necessary since only about 20 current DFL representatives were in the House when Democrats gave up control in 1998, meaning newer legislators such as Kelliher herself would need to step up.
"I think we have a very talented bench of members," she said. "We will be looking at our bench."
One of those with less experience, third-term lawmaker Paul Marquart of Dilworth, is among those she mentioned.
"I look toward Paul Marquart on Local Government Aid and taxes," Kelleher said. "I admire his skills."
Then there is Bernie Lieder of Crookston.
Lieder "is absolutely the leader on transportation issues in the Legislature," and probably would return to lead a transportation committee, Kelliher added.
Mary Ellen Otremba of Long Prairie is a DFL leader on the House health committee and her name is tossed around as a possible chairwoman if there are two health committees. Rep. Tom Huntley of Duluth is the top health DFL'er.
Juhnke, Kelliher said, "would be a great leader in ag."
House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, was his typical enthusiastic self talking about Republican chances to retain control.
"I feel pretty positive," Sviggum said, although he admitted all is not rosy.
"We are running into a little of a headwind," Sviggum said. "There is no doubt about it -- through no doing of our own."
Republicans such as Sviggum and Gov. Tim Pawlenty say their GOP campaigns are hampered by U.S. Rep. Mark Foley's sex scandal, the handling of the war in Iraq and other issues out of their control.
Pawlenty said also Republicans may suffer if national GOP organizations decide not to spend as much money on the U.S. Senate race as originally planned. Polls show Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy trailing Democrat Amy Klobuchar in that one. The governor said if the money comes through, it would help get Republican voters out for all races.
Huntley said Democrats have good odds of winning next month.
"I think there is a 65-70 percent chance we will be in charge," Huntley said.
Democrats say issues such as expensive health care, high property taxes, inadequate transportation and education funding problems are reasons they have a good chance.
If Democrats win, northeastern Minnesota lawmakers will be in key positions. More than a dozen lawmakers in that sparsely populated area hold seniority and could expect major posts.
"All of our delegation in the northeast would be chairs of major committees," Rep. Loren Solberg of Grand Rapids said.