Dems seek veto-proof House majorityby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
All 134 seats in the Minnesota House are up for grabs. Democrats are hoping to widen their majority and possibly reach the 90 seats needed to override vetoes by the governor. But Republicans say they're poised to win back many of the seats they lost in 2006 with an eye toward reclaiming majority status.
St. Paul, Minn. — With so much media coverage devoted to the presidential campaign and Minnesota's U.S. Senate race, voters might not be hearing a lot about local legislative contests.
Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute, said control of the Minnesota House is the sleeper story of the election. The DFL-controlled Senate already has a veto-proof majority, and Jacobs said the House could be next.
"There is a good chance, if things continue as they appear to be, that the Democrats will hold their 85 and could well expand it," he said. "Reaching the the 90 vote override majority is certainly within the realm of possibility."
Jacobs said the DFL has more targets of opportunity this year, with 11 seats previously held by Republicans now open, compared to six previous DFL seats.
He said Republican House leaders created some of the opportunities by punishing six members of their caucus who sided with Democrats this year to override a transportation bill veto. Two of those members retired and another lost in the Sept. primary.
Jacobs' analysis also points to broader political conditions, such as the economy, that appear to be favoring Democrats.
One of the House seats in play this year is the south suburban district of 37B, which includes Rosemount and part of Apple Valley. Republican Dennis Ozment is retiring after 12 terms.
DFL candidate Phil Sterner, a Rosemount city council member, said Sen. Amy Klobuchar won in the GOP-leaning district two years ago, and he thinks he can too.
"Well, I believe our district is moderate and they're looking for a moderate person to represent them," he said. "And that's where I feel I represent our current representative more than my opponent."
Sterner's Republican opponent is Judy Lindsay of Rosemount, a former school board member. Lindsay is a self-described conservative, who said she'd offer a common sense voice to the district.
"I'm working hard to let people know where I stand, what my principles are, how I would vote, my approach to things," she said. "And I hope that at the end of the day I'll come out on top and be the winner."
Lindsay said she's been getting help from House Republicans, who've made holding onto the seat a top priority.
Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, the minority leader in the Minnesota House, stood on the steps of the State Capitol back in July and proclaimed that Republicans were poised to win the 19 seats needed to take back the House majority they lost in 2006.
But a month later, Seifert sent out a fundraising letter warning that his caucus would become an empty carcass if the DFL picked up 5 seats. He even invoked the name of the Senate DFL leader to make his point.
"If we don't have the resources to run these campaigns, Larry Pogemiller is going to be the governor of Minnesota, not Tim Pawlenty," he said. "And that should be enough to frighten any Republican into donating some dollars and getting out and knocking on some doors."
DFL House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher is optimistic about picking up more seats in November, but she mostly downplays reaching a veto-proof majority. Kelliher said that's a matter for voters to decide.
If the 90 seat threshold is reached, Kelliher said it's a power she would not take lightly.
"We will work very closely with the public to make sure that the things that we would be working on would be the sorts of things that the public really wants to see happen," she said. "And the other possibility of course is if there is a veto-proof majority, my guess is the governor is probably a lot more serious about working with us too. And there might be some more room for compromise on a number of issues in that case."
The Humphrey Institute's Larry Jacobs said recent history suggests that large majorities are possible in the Minnesota House but they're also short-lived. He said House leaders should never get overconfident with their numbers.
- All Things Considered, 10/06/2008, 5:24 p.m.