State election recap: 2021 will look a lot like 2020

MHP’s Libby Murphy, Deputy Director of Policy, gives an overview of what happened on election day and what’s in store for 2021 at the Minnesota Legislature. 

Minnesota voters opted for two more years of divided government. Republicans retain control of the Senate while Democrats hold onto their majority in the House.  

While some key Senate races are still being tallied, we expect the Senate GOP to maintain its 35-32 majority or a reduced 34-33 majority. House Republicans picked up six seats, reducing the DFL’s 2020 75-59 majority to 69-65.  House Republicans picked up a number of seats in suburban and rural districts and some DFL seats were replaced by more progressive successors. The new composition has the potential to further exacerbate existing rural-urban divides.  

Last week, party caucuses in each chamber met to elect their leadership. Here, again, Minnesotans will experience status quo. House DFLers reelected Melissa Hortman as Speaker of the House and Ryan Winkler as House Majority Leader.  House Republicans reelected Kurt Daudt as their House Minority Leader. In the Senate, Republicans reelected Paul Gazelka as their Majority Leader and Democrats reelected Susan Kent as their Minority Leader.  

Facing a pandemic, a big budget deficit, redistricting and a host of other issues, pundits expect a lot of tensions going into the 2021 session. With such close margins in both chambers, lawmakers will have to overcome existing fraught political dynamics and work across the aisle to pass a budget. But Minnesotans may need patience when it comes to getting much else done. House Speaker Hortman, Senate Majority Leader Gazelka and Governor Walz have all acknowledged that the coming year will be more difficult than previous years but have expressed optimism that despite disagreements on policy and budgeting, lawmakers and the Governor will have a productive working relationship. 

The roughly $4 billion budget deficit amidst the ongoing pandemic will dominate the 2021 session. Lawmakers will need to make extremely tough choices. While Democrats will look to sources of new revenues, Republicans will likely focus on identifying perceived inefficiencies to cut.  

Cooperation could prove difficult as Republicans and Governor Walz continue to disagree over the governor’s use of executive powers. Republicans ousted two commissioners in summer special sessions. The Senate GOP could continue to exert their power to remove commissioners in an effort to check the governor’s agenda.