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CAPITOL CHATTER: Minnesota Legislature attracts national attention

ST. PAUL -- Two relatively obscure special legislative elections Tuesday confirmed what many politicos already knew: The Minnesota Legislature election is attracting lots of attention.After Republicans won House and Senate seats to replace lawmak...

ST. PAUL - Two relatively obscure special legislative elections Tuesday confirmed what many politicos already knew: The Minnesota Legislature election is attracting lots of attention.
After Republicans won House and Senate seats to replace lawmakers who resigned, the national Republican State Leadership Committee issued a news release saying it already had named the Minnesota House and Senate top targets for 2016.”
Republicans already hold a majority in the House, but Democrats control the Senate. The national committee says the Senate is “a top offensive target for pickup.”
Special elections often receive outsized attention, but even more so this year since Minnesotans have no statewide races other than for judicial seats this year.
There will be a gap between presidential candidates and the Legislature, filled only with U.S. House races that come every two years, and judicial contests. The governor and U.S. senators are not on the ballot this year, providing more attention to legislative races.
Republicans are trying to turn their two special wins in Twin Cities suburbs into a Minnesota trend.
Chad Anderson will take over the House seat in the Bloomington area long held by Anne Lenczewski, the Democrats’ top tax lawmaker. Former state Rep. Jim Abeler, who mounted an unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign two years ago, will return to the Legislature as a senator, representing the Anoka area.
“These victories in both inner and outer ring suburban districts were great team wins and are a positive sign for Republicans as we enter the 2016 campaign to hold the House and win back the Senate!” the state party proclaimed. The GOP hailed the victories as a rejection of Democrats’ tax-and-spend policies.
Democrats, of course, took a different view of things.
Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party Chairman Ken Martin said on election night that the returns were disappointing, but were “not a reflection of our candidates or a rejection of our policies. We believe that DFL values are Minnesota’s values and what we saw tonight was a powerful reminder that even in the middle of winter with low voter turnout, anything can happen in special elections.”
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, blamed his party’s House loss on “negative and misleading campaigning coupled with very low voter turnout.”
Thissen tried to use the loss to wake up fellow Democrats: “We cannot take any district in any part of the state for granted, even in a presidential election year.”
All 201 legislative seats are on the ballot this fall.

Find precinct

Minnesotans need to know where to go before heading to March 1 precinct caucuses. Secretary of State Steve Simon says he has help, a caucus finder at caucusfinder.sos.state.mn.us.
The finder can display Republican and Democratic caucus locations. It may be in demand this year since Minnesota is part of Super Tuesday, a number of states holding presidential primaries and caucuses on the same day.
It is expected to give Minnesotans a bit more say in presidential nominees than in the past when caucus often came too late for any impact.

Session sneak peek

Forum News Service will host a unique preview of the Minnesota legislative session. Gov. Mark Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, Senate Minority Leader David Hann and House Minority Leader Paul Thissen will sit at the same table Feb. 25 to answer questions from Minnesota reporters.
It is a traditional pre-session briefing that has been held for years. While legislative leaders appear in many forums together, adding the governor makes the Feb. 25 one different.
Reporters often use comments made at the briefing for previewing the upcoming legislative session, which this year begins March 8.
Dayton and legislative leaders will take questions for an hour. The event will be livestreamed, with details to be announced.

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No reporter outreach

Republicans held a news conference the other day to announce their outreach to a variety of Minnesotans, but it appears they forgot to reach out to reporters. Just one reporter attended the news conference, and he found out about it by accident, in which the GOP launched an initiative aimed at millennials, seniors, veterans, women, farmers, sportsmen, African Americans, Somalis, Hispanics, Southeast Asians, labor and faith communities.
“This is not just some strategy for ‘winning votes,’ ” Senate Minority leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said in a news release. “We will show Minnesotans in tangible ways that we are on their side, working with them on their issues, inviting them to join the cause with us, and truly integrating them into our policy and political activities.”

Don Davis covers Minnesota government and politics for Forum News Service.

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