MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — More is at stake Tuesday than just the next President of the United States. Several Minnesota legislature races will impact the future direction of the state.
For two years, lawmakers have worked at the Capitol in St. Paul under a divided government. The DFL controls the House of Representatives by a 16-seat majority, and Republicans control the Senate by a three-seat majority.
Democrats are looking to flip the Senate and earn the coveted trifecta: control of both chambers and the governor’s office.
Statehouse races in the Twin Cities suburbs are expected to be tight, and both parties are keeping an eye on them.
“That’s where we won big in 2018,” DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman said. “It looks like we will hold those seats.”
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka acknowledges his party has a more tenuous grasp on power in the Senate.
“It will be close,” he said. “There’s probably 10 races that will be less than 1,000 votes difference.”
Gazelka and Hortman both acknowledge a major factor in the outcome will be the men leading the ballot, President Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
“Overall this is a real boost for us because of the fact that Donald Trump is very unpopular and having Joe Biden at the top of the ticket has been very good for our team,” Hortman said.
Gazelka believes plenty of voters though don’t just vote down the line by party affiliation.
“Even if they didn’t like Trump, I think they’ll vote for a lot of the Republican senators and that’s encouraging, but I also think, frankly, Trump could win Minnesota,” he said.
Gazelka wants to make the case to voters that divided government works because it forces lawmakers to govern from the middle and reach consensus Hortman feels much more could get done if the two chambers were unified in their leadership.
Larry Jacobs, a University of Minnesota politics professor, says in the end, the issues may not be the deciding factor for voters. He says as the presidential race goes in Minnesota, the statehouse goes.
“To put it bluntly, the candidates for the Minnesota statehouse don’t necessarily control their destiny as much as they would like to,” Jacobs said.
His hunch is the DFL will wind up controlling both the House and Senate.
“But if Joe Biden has a hard time in Minnesota, if Tina Smith is unable to win, then I think all bets are off,” Jacobs said.
For voters who do want to decide based more on issues, Hortman says full DFL control would mean legislation addressing gun violence, climate change and paid family and medical leave.
Gazelka says the Republican agenda focuses on removing Governor Tim Walz’s COVID-19 emergency powers, increasing police budgets, and putting kids back in school.