Minnesotans arrive in Washingtonby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
Three new members of Congress from Minnesota take office Thursday. They will bring diverse backgrounds and political ideologies to Washington.
Washington D.C. — So far 5th District Rep.-elect Keith Ellison is attracting the most attention of the new batch of Minnesota politicians in Washington.
Ellison is a liberal Democrat and the first Muslim to serve in Congress. That's garnered worldwide attention. Staffers say they are fielding several dozen calls from news reporters each day from everywhere from Ghana to Northfield.
Ellison's decision to use the Quran not the Bible in an oath taking ceremony has attracted a great deal of attention.
But in an apparent effort to downplay his religious background, Ellison says, at least initially, he will try to be as "ordinary" as he can in Congress.
"I think we need to start out fast and really do some real good things for the American people," he said.
Apart from his call to immediately begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, Ellison is focusing on a domestic agenda.
Like many Democrats Ellison is talking about increasing the minimum wage, addressing shortcomings with the Medicare drug plan, and clamping down on ethics problems.
He's also talking about providing every American with health care.
"Democrats, and I am proud to be one, but the Democrats have to deliver for the American people, and it can't take too long," he said. "We've got to prove that a party that puts the public's interest up front is one that's best for the American people. "
DFLer Tim Walz has also attracted attention, but not for his religion. Walz unseated Republican Rep. Gil Gutknecht in southern Minnesota's traditionally conservative 1st District. Like Ellison, Walz is on board with the so-called "100 hour" agenda the new Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has been promoting.
"I'm a co-sponsor on the minimum wage bill," he said. It's something I am going to be very proud of. We're going to lower student loan rates. Make it more affordable. About $6,000 per student right off of the bat. We're going to make things fair for the average American. So I'm very excited about it, and I think anything less than that aggressive agenda in the beginning would be wrong."
On the other end of the political spectrum is conservative Republican Rep.-elect Michele Bachmann. Bachmann is from the 6th District which is comprised largely of a suburban areas of the Twin Cities.
"There's a tremendous difference -- a divide between myself and Walz and Ellison," she said.
As a state senator Bachmann led the charge against gay marriage and was a vocal opponent of legalized abortion.
But, asked what she wants to accomplish in Washington, Bachmann didn't mention any social issues and instead emphasized her belief that the tax cuts should remain in place and that taxes could be cut even further.
"I have worked my entire life to cut taxes," she said, "and when I was in the Minnesota Senate I was the chief sponsor of the taxpayers bill of right which would try and limit government spending. That's what I want to bring here."
It's no surprise a Republican like Bachmann won the support of a majority of voters in her conservative district. Nor was it any shock that a liberal Democrat like Ellison wound up the victor in the 5th district. The 5th is made up of Minneapolis and some surrounding areas and it's long been a DFL stronghold.
What does come as something of a surprise according to political analyst Steven Smith from Washington University is that Democrats were able to take back the 1st District.
Smith said following the last round of redistricting, the expectation had been the state House delegation would be evenly split; four Republicans and four Democrats. But Walz's victory threw the advantage back to the DFL.
"It brought the balance in the delegation back in favor of the Democrats at just the time the Democrats are regaining the majority in the House," he said, "and so Minnesota's interests really were kind of served by that because Minnesota's delegation will be more powerful than it would have been if it had been more Republican."
And Smith said it's no surprise Minnesota voters are sending such a diverse group to Washington.
He said it's a reflection of how competitive the state is between Republicans and Democrats and how differently voters from region to region in Minnesota view politics.
- Morning Edition, 01/04/2007, 7:20 a.m.