National issues press on races for LegislatureRep. Phil Sterner is getting hit as a Minnesota legislator who “busted the budget and shattered our trust.” The ads against fellow Democrat Paul Gardner say he took part in “taxpayer bailouts.” Another, Julie Bunn, is being branded a “reckless spender.”
By: The Associated Press, Lake County News Chronicle
Rep. Phil Sterner is getting hit as a Minnesota legislator who “busted the budget and shattered our trust.” The ads against fellow Democrat Paul Gardner say he took part in “taxpayer bailouts.” Another, Julie Bunn, is being branded a “reckless spender.”
The incumbents from Rosemount, Shoreview and Lake Elmo are among those in Republican sights this fall. The GOP has imported national campaign themes into legislative races in an attempt to make Statehouse inroads. Democrats, meanwhile, hope to protect incumbents from the unfavorable political climate by stressing local issues and candidate ties to communities.
Every one of the 201 seats in Minnesota’s Legislature is on the line Tuesday, but only a few races are competitive. The battle matters because the party that holds the gavels – Democrats currently control both chambers by big margins – will determine how successful the new governor is at advancing his agenda, including whether state taxes go up, stay the same or get cut.
The next Legislature faces major tasks. It must fix a projected $6 billion budget deficit, decide what to do about the Minnesota Vikings’ stadium push and redraw political boundaries after the once-a-decade census.
Democrats are on defense, due in large part because they have a lot more seats to protect in the House and Senate.
“History would tell us that we may lose seats,” said House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, an Iron Range Democrat. “But even two years ago folks thought we’d lose seats, and we actually gained seats.”
It would take a big swing in either chamber for the GOP to grab majority status. Republicans need to flip 21 seats in the House, more if they don’t retain all 47 seats the party has now. In the Senate, the GOP’s magic number is 13 in a chamber Democrats now hold 46-21.
Republicans and outside groups on their side have honed in on 30 House races, said Rep. Matt Dean, who heads elections for the House Republican Campaign Committee. He said the national mood is helping Republicans, so it’s natural to play off those themes.
“We’ve been kind of waiting for the national wave to hit Minnesota, and I think it’s finally starting to hit,” said Dean, R-Dellwood.
The committee he leads has spent more than $1.3 million, with the state GOP and business groups throwing in hundreds of thousands more. House Democrats have spent $1.6 million, with labor unions and the state Democratic Party adding on.
On the Senate side, the Democratic caucus has dwarfed its GOP counterpart in spending, $1.7 million to $351,000 through mid-October.
House candidates themselves are bound by tight spending caps: $42,000 for someone seeking office for the first time and less than that for incumbents. The upper-end Senate candidate limit is $85,000.
Legislative races get far less notice than big races like governor or Senate. They’re mainly fought through mailed brochures and door-knocking by the candidates. This year, though, cable television ads are a bigger part of the arsenal.
The state Democratic Party has run spots aiming to keep swing Senate seats in Eagan, Rochester, St. Cloud and Woodbury. Republicans seeking House control have run independent ads in several suburban districts either touting the GOP candidate, attacking the Democrat or taking a double-barreled approach.
In the case of Gardner, who won two terms by narrow margins, the TV ads mention his votes for tax increases and depict him in a fur-collared suit made of dollar bills. Mailed pieces attack him for the state’s deficit and spending state construction dollars on a volleyball center and bird habitat purchases. His GOP rival is former state Sen. Linda Runbeck, who led the conservative Taxpayers League of Minnesota.
“When Paul Gardner first set foot in the state Legislature the state had over a $2 billion surplus. Now Minnesota faces a projected $6 billion deficit,” reads one piece paid for by the state Republican Party.
“I keep having to say we just cut spending. We cut $3 billion over the last year,” Gardner said in an interview.
Even senior legislators such as Rep. Loren Solberg, who heads his chamber’s powerful Ways and Means Committee, are campaigning harder than usual. The Grand Rapids Democrat faces Republican Carol McElfatrick, a social conservative who is campaigning against “out-of-control spending” and “heavy-handed taxation” in their northern district.
“My wife always says, ‘What do you do if you lose?’” Solberg said. “And I say, ‘Get up in the morning and do the same thing I’d do if I win – start picking up signs.’”