Republicans take over House, Senate
Tuesday's election proved historic for state Republicans, with the GOP gaining control of the Minnesota Senate for the first time in 38 years and taking the Minnesota House.
"We climbed to the top of the mountain," a jubilant Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem said in the wake of the election results. The power switch puts the Rochester Republican in line to potentially become the Senate's first Republican majority leader.
Republicans also scored major victories in Olmsted County after three election cycles of DFL domination. Former GOP Rep. Carla Nelson defeated one-term DFL Sen. Ann Lynch, and political newcomer Mike Benson knocked off three-term DFL Rep. Andy Welti.
Nelson beat Lynch with 54 percent of the vote, while Lynch got 46 percent. Benson won with 52 percent of the vote over Welti, who netted 47 percent.
For Nelson, Tuesday night's victory was a story of political rebirth after losing her House seat in 2004 to DFLer Tina Liebling and losing again in 2006 against Liebling. Standing before hundreds of cheering supporters chanting "Carla! Carla! Carla!" the Rochester Republican said voters responded to her call to rein in government spending.
"It is clear that our message of limited government, sensible spending and budgeting by priorities has resonated with the voters wishing to make Minnesota a more job-friendly state," she said.
A DFL spokesman said Lynch was unavailable for comment on election night because of a family emergency.
For Benson, Tuesday night wrapped up an aggressive year and a half of campaigning in which he knocked on more than 10,000 doors. He joked before supporters that while he never got sick during the campaign on election night he had come down with a cold and laryngitis. He credited his win to plenty of hard work and a strong belief in the need to restrain government.
"It's a belief in people, not government. That given the opportunity, smaller government, limited government, lower taxes, incenting people to invest in their own future that we would be a great state again," he said.
Six years ago, Welti was one of two DFLers in the Rochester area — the other was Liebling — to crack the GOP's three-decade hold on the area. At 24, Welti was also the youngest state legislator.
But Tuesday night, after making his way to the podium of the Mariott ballroom to the chants of "Andy! Andy! Andy!" Welti conceded that the seat "will no longer be mine."
"I'm very very proud of what we have been able to accomplish over the past six years," Welti said. "And the only reason I was able to accomplish it was because the voters in my district sent me there to represent them."
Welti, now 30, also added that he was "looking forward to his next endeavor," but declined to specify what that might be. After his speech, he declined to be interviewed.
Also scoring a victory was Senjem, who is poised to become the Senate majority leader. Senjem defeated DFLer Greg French with 66 percent of the vote.
Republican Duane Quam of Byron defeated DFLer Doug Wunderlich in the House District 29A race, getting 61 percent of the votes with 91 percent of precincts reporting. He will replace state Rep. Randy Demmer who stepped down to run for Congress. While he is pleased to have won, Quam said there is no time to celebrate because there is plenty of work to be done.
"We can't afford not to do the people's work from day one. It's malfeasance if we can't get it done and have to move into special session," he said.
There were some bright spots for Democrats. Liebling and DFL Rep. Kim Norton retained their House seats. Liebling defeated Republican Charlie O'Connell, winning 55 percent of the vote. Norton defeated Republican Mike Rolih, getting 53 percent of the vote.
With the strong showing by Republican candidates, Liebling said the GOP will no longer be able to settle for simply being the Party of No.
"The Republicans may come to regret winning some of these seats, because they're going to find out that you can't govern by being angry," she told the crowd. You can't govern by saying no. These are very difficult times, and you've got to come out with ideas."
Norton also won a third term, but by considerably less than the 62 percent she claimed two years ago. She called Tuesday night "bittersweet," having retained her seat while seeing several colleagues lose theirs.
"I think this is a national wave. People are frustrated with the economy. They're frustrated with the recession. it isn't turning around fast enough for them."