Democrats win big in 2012
RED WING — Sen.-elect Matt Schmit knew he would be plenty busy once the legislative session started Jan. 8, but the Red Wing Democrat admits he didn't realize just how much work would need to get done before the session even begins.
Schmit's days have been spent in training, attending caucus meetings and moving into his new office on the ground floor of the Minnesota Capitol. He is also preparing to serve on four legislative committees and will chair the Senate's game and fish subcommittee.
"It's going to be trial by fire, but I'm ready for it," he said.
Schmit is one of the Democrats who successfully ousted a Republican incumbent, helping the DFL take back control of the House and Senate two years after Republicans won them. This will be the first time since 1990 that Democrats have controlled both legislative chambers and the governor's mansion. That makes the DFL party's election night victory one of the top political stories of 2012.
Schmit beat first-term Republican Sen. John Howe, of Red Wing, by 5 percentage points. On the campaign trail, he pledged to support a long-term budget solution, property tax relief and greater investment in education and infrastructure. He will be part of a healthy-sized DFL majority in the Senate, with 39 Democrats compared to 28 Republicans. In the House, Democrats won 73 seats compared to the GOP's 61. But Democrats will be down one seat when the session starts because Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, announced he is resigning to take a job in Chicago.
With the Democrats' new power comes the responsibility for solving a projected $1.1 billion budget shortfall that could worsen if lawmakers in Congress fail to reach a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff. Schmit said he realizes it's not going to be easy.
"I'll tell you what, if we don't get our work done on time next year, I think folks will hold us accountable," he said. "This is as accountable as it gets. We've got Democrats in charge."