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November 12, 2018

Minnesota Democrats Sweep Statewide Races and Flip State House

State Elections

Governor & Constitutional Officers

With Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s announcement that he would not seek a third term last year, Minnesota saw itself with an open race for Governor for the first time since 2010. Both parties saw competitive endorsement campaigns and contested primaries before eventually finding their November nominees. In the end DFL nominee, U.S. Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN 1), defeated Hennepin County Commissioner and 2014 GOP nominee Jeff Johnson 54% to 42%. Walz and his running mate, state Rep. Peggy Flanagan (DFL-St. Louis Park), will inherit a relatively stable state budget when they take office in January but will need to work quickly to pass some form of federal tax conformity legislation and address funding issues with a number of public health care programs due to the pending expiration of the state’s provider tax.

Democrats also carried the three other statewide constitutional offices as incumbent Secretary of State Steve Simon defeated former state Senator John Howe 52% to 44% and ‎longtime labor leader Julie Blaha defeated former state Rep. Pam Myhra 49% to 43%. ‎Finally, in what was the nastiest race in Minnesota, U.S. Rep. Keith ‎Ellison (D-MN 5) narrowly defeated former state Rep. Doug Wardlow 49% to 45%. Throughout the campaign Ellison was dogged by allegations of emotional abuse by a former partner while also being cast as too liberal for average Minnesotans. Meanwhile, Wardlow was often portrayed as hostile to LGBTQ Minnesotans having worked for the Christian legal advocacy organization Alliance Defending Freedom.  

Minnesota Senate - Special Election

The Minnesota Senate was deadlocked at 33 to 33 when Republican Senator Michelle Fischbach vacated her seat in June to be sworn in as lieutenant governor. However, Senate Republicans will enter the 2019 legislative session with the same one-vote majority after Republican State Representative Jeff Howe handily defeated Sterns County Commissioner Joe Perske, a Democrat, 57% to 43%. Sen. Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) will continue to serve as Senate Majority Leader while Sen. Jeremy Miller ‎‎(R-Winona) was elected by his Republican colleagues to replace Sen. Fischbach as President of the ‎Senate. ‎Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) is expected remain Minority Leader.

Minnesota House of Representatives

After four years in the minority, Minnesota Democrats rode a wave of suburban victories to retake the majority in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Entering the election, House Republicans held a 77 to 57 majority. Needing to flip 11 seats, Democratic candidates eventually won 18 seats currently held by Republicans and as a result, will likely enter the 2019 legislative session with a 75 to 59 majority pending possible recounts.

Among those Republicans defeated, the most notable losses include the chair of the E-12 Education Finance Committee, 5-term Rep. Jennifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie), the chair of the State Government Finance Committee, 6-term Rep. Sarah Anderson (R-Plymouth), and the chair of the Ways & Means Committee, 8-term Rep. Jim Knoblach (R-St. Cloud). The vast majority of the Democrats’ gains came within the 11 county Twin Cities metropolitan area; however a notable number of Democrats won second or third-ring suburban districts that voted for President Trump in 2016.

On Thursday evening House Democrats elected Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) as Speaker of the House. Rep. ‎Hortman has served as Minority Leader for the last two years.  Democrats also elected Rep.-elect Ryan ‎Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) as Majority Leader and Rep. Liz Olson (DFL-Duluth) as Majority Whip. Rep. Winkler returns to the House of ‎Representatives having previously served from 2007 to 2015.  House Republicans elected current Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) to serve as Minority Leader.

Federal Elections

U.S. Senate

Following the resignation of then-Sen. Al Franken and the appointment of then-Lt. Governor Tina Smith to replace him, Minnesota found itself in the unique situation of having both U.S. Senate seats on the ballot this year. As expected, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) easily defeated three-term state Rep. Jim Newberger (R-Becker) 60% to 36%. Sen. Klobuchar’s name is already circulating as a potential candidate for President in 2020.

While Sen. Klobuchar’s re-election was never truly in doubt, the second seat was competitive from the onset as two-term Republican State Senator Karin Housley (R-St. Mary’s ‎Point) challenged Sen. Smith. In the end, Sen. Smith won 53% to 42% and will serve the final two years of the current term before deciding whether or not to run again in 2020.

U.S. House of Representatives

Throughout the summer and fall, Minnesota has played host to four of the most hotly contested and expensive congressional races in the nation. Competitive races in the First, Second, Third, and Eighth Districts saw each party defending two seats and attempting to flip two others. The one differentiating factor was that the Democrats were fighting to hold two open seats with new candidates while Republican incumbents fought to keep their jobs.

In the end, Democrats successfully defeated Republican incumbents as health care executive Angie Craig defeated Rep. Jason Lewis (MN-2) 52.7% to 47.2% and businessman Dean Phillips defeated Rep. Erik Paulsen (MN-3) 55.6% to 44.2%.

Meanwhile Congressional Republicans flipped the Eighth District, the seat vacated by the retiring Rep. Rick Nolan (MN-8), as St. Louis County Commissioner defeated former state Rep. Joe Radinovich 50.7% to 45.2%. It also appears that Republican Jim Hagedorn has defeated Democrat Dan Feehan in the First District, which was vacated by Rep. Tim Walz’s decision to run for governor, by a margin of 50.1% to 49.7%. However, the result is pending a recount likely to be conducted later this month.

Also worth noting, state Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-Minneapolis) became the first Somali-American woman elected to Congress when she won her campaign to replace Rep. Keith Ellison in Minnesota’s Fifth District.

2019 Legislative Session Preview

On Tuesday, January 8, 2019 the Ninety-first Minnesota State Legislature will gavel in and begin the process of orienting new legislators and reviewing the jurisdictions of various committees.  The 2019 legislative session marks the first year of the biennium and will focus on the state’s approximately $42 billion state budget. The Walz Administration will have only weeks to get settled, react to the February budget forecast, and prepare a state budget proposal for the Legislature’s review.  Governor-elect Walz and legislative leaders will have approximately five months to negotiate a state budget with adjournment constitutionally required by Monday, May 20, 2017.


Our Team

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Larkin Hoffman provides counsel to a wide variety of ‎organizations, from ‎small businesses and nonprofits to  Fortune 500 companies, in ‎many areas of practice including ‎corporate and governance matters, litigation, real ‎estate, government relations, labor and employment, intellectual property, ‎information technology, ‎franchising and taxation. The firm also serves the needs of individuals in many ‎areas ‎including trusts and estates, personal injury and family law.


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