MINNEAPOLIS -- Republicans fattened their House majority and sliced deeply into the DFL edge in the Minnesota Senate, giving Gov.-elect Tim Pawlenty huge license to push his low-tax, low-spending agenda.
It's the first time in recent memory that the GOP has controlled the governor's office and one chamber of the Legislature at the same time.
Republicans captured 82 seats, opening a 30-vote advantage in the 134-member House. They went into the election defending a 71-63 majority. There will be a whopping 43 House freshmen.
House Speaker Steve Sviggum was pleasantly shocked by the Republican blowout.
"It was over my expectations, obviously. I knew we had some great candidates. But I can't explain it to be very honest," he said Wednesday.
"It puts us in a wonderful spot when it comes to being able to work with one of our own in the governor's chair," Sviggum said. "You will see a very coordinated effort and agenda, especially on the budget."
In the Senate, the GOP gained four seats and reduced the DFL majority to 35-31.
The 67th seat went to incumbent Sen. Sheila Kiscaden, who won as an Independence Party member after serving 10 years as a Republican. She was the first IP member to win a legislative election, and she has said she would likely caucus with Republicans.
Some races were close enough that recounts were possible.
The Senate DFL becomes the only check to the House and Pawlenty.
"We do have a very important responsibility," said Sen. John Hottinger, DFL-St. Peter, who led the party's Senate campaign efforts. He plans to seek the majority leader role. But given the depleted ranks, Hottinger said, "We will need to be very unified in our approach."
The Republicans now have the upper hand in determining how state government will confront a projected budget deficit that could top $3 billion. That means tax hikes will take a back seat to spending cuts. Democrats may have a hard time protecting proceeds from the state's settlement with tobacco companies that now flow to health endowments.
Republicans may have an easier time pursuing their social agenda as well. DFLers in the Senate had long relied on a big vote cushion to stave off new abortion restrictions and attempts to make gun laws more permissive.
Among the prominent DFL incumbents to fall were: Senate President Don Samuelson, of Brainerd, who spent 32 years in the Legislature; nine-term Rep. Loren Jennings of Harris; eight-term Rep. Ted Winter of Fulda; and Sen. Len Price of Woodbury, whose legislative career began in 1982.
Other ousted DFL incumbents included: Sen. Jane Krentz of May Township, Sen. Twyla Ring of North Branch, Sen. Chuck Fowler of Fairmont, Sen. Deanna Wiener of Eagan, Rep. Leslie Schumacher of Princeton, Rep. Ruth Johnson of St. Peter, Rep. Mark Thompson of New Hope, Rep. Geri Evans of New Brighton, Rep. Luanne Koskinen of Coon Rapids and Rep. Betty Folliard of Hopkins.
The only Republican losers were first-termers, Sen. Grace Schwab of Albert Lea and Rep. John Jordan of Brooklyn Park. Incumbent versus incumbent battles all went the GOP's way.
When the dust settled, the Capitol gained 58 fresh faces -- meaning a full quarter of the 201 seats will be filled with people who haven't held a legislative office before. The heavy turnover was helped along by retirements, decisions by some legislators to shoot for higher office and vacancies created by redistricting. But a few upsets amplified the trend.
Republicans last controlled both chambers in 1971. DFLers won control of both chambers in 1972 and have held onto the Senate since. The parties were tied 67-67 in the House in 1979, and Republicans won the House in 1984 but lost it again in 1986.
Republicans extended a current run in the House driver's seat that began in 1998.
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