Editorial — Change at the top, but stability in Minnesota

Voters on Tuesday made it clear that they want change in the White House. In Minnesota and locally, however, the status quo generally carried the day — with just enough surprises sprinkled in to make for an interesting evening.

In Rochester, the most unusual race involved the three school board seats that were on the ballot. Well over half of the votes went to challengers, yet incumbents Breanna Bly, Cris Fischer and Jim Pittenger managed to hang on to their seats. We’re pleased with that outcome, but clearly, the lack of a primary to winnow the field played a huge role in this election. The Rochester School Board hasn’t changed, but it can’t claim a mandate as it moves into a difficult budget-cutting process.

The Rochester City Council lost two incumbents — Marcia Marcoux and Pat Carr — but ironically, we expect that this will have little effect on the council’s balance of power. Michael Wojcik shows every indication that he’ll fill Carr’s "mavericky" shoes, while Mark Bilderback would appear to be much more in line with Marcoux’s voting record.

In other words, we expect a few 6-1 votes in the next two years.

At the legislative level, the two most interesting races involved candidates who were attempting comebacks. Republican Bill Kuisle, who twice previously had lost to DFLer Andy Welti in District 30B, had a lot of help from the state GOP as he tried to reclaim his seat. Voters in that district had their mailboxes stuffed with campaign literature that attacked Welti from every angle.


It didn’t help. Welti prevailed again, and although we appreciate and admire Kuisle’s dedication, we respectfully suggest that the local Republicans begin grooming some new candidates to oppose Welti, as well as incumbent DFLers Kim Norton and Tina Liebling, who easily retained their House seats.

Republican Greg Davids, however, pulled off one of the bigger surprises of the night, ousting DFL incumbent Ken Tschumper in District 31B. Davids, a veteran legislator from Preston who lost to Tschumper two years ago, is a GOP loyalist who will bring 16 years of seniority and experience back to St. Paul. His challenge will be to reach across party lines and find ways to affect meaningful change from the minority side of the aisle.

But perhaps the biggest surprise of the night — to us at least — was the success of the so-called Legacy Act, the constitutional amendment that asked voters to raise the state’s sales tax to protect Minnesota’s waters, wildlife habitat, parks and cultural heritage. The fact that nearly 60 percent of voters supported this measure indicates that Minnesotans are serious about preserving their state’s natural resources — and also demonstrates complete lack of confidence in legislators to do the job we elect them to do.

We wish we could argue that our elected officials are up to the task, and that voters have unnecessarily usurped their authority. But the Legislature’s track record in these areas — particularly regarding water quality — doesn’t inspire much confidence. Our biggest concern now is that the $300 million that will be raised annually will actually be spent in meaningful ways, rather than being somehow usurped by a cash-strapped Legislature that will doubtless be tempted by a new pot of money.

As for the U.S. Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken, we’re glad that, pending a recount, Minnesota appears to have done its part to prevent complete Democratic dominance in Congress. A filibuster-proof majority in the Senate wouldn’t be a good thing for America right now, and we think the moderate Coleman could be an effective leader of the minority party.

But our happiness with this result is tempered by our disgust with the way Coleman and Franken conducted their campaigns. We’d like to think that we’re better than that in Minnesota, but perhaps we’re fooling ourselves. Even 1st District incumbent Tim Walz, who otherwise ran a fairly clean, positive campaign, took some unnecessary cheap shots at Republican challenger Brian Davis in the last few days. Walz rolled to an easy win, but he could have done so without accusing Davis of supporting a 23 percent increase in the state sales tax.

Clearly, Davis only would have supported such a plan if it meant ending Minnesota’s state income tax — an intriguing option, and a potentially viable one — but the Walz campaign conveniently left out that information in its attack ads.

Poet Emily Dickinson, who penned the line "Tell all the truth, but tell it slant," would have been proud.

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