Poppe, Sparks take state races

Published 8:58 am Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Minnesota State Senator for District 27, Dan Sparks, watches results from Tuesday's elections scroll across a TV screen at the Eagle's Club. -- Eric Johnson/ photodesk@austindailyherald.com

With Republicans taking back both the State House of Representatives and the State Senate for the first time in 38 years, Democratic incumbent winners Rep. Jeanne Poppe and Sen. Dan Sparks may face challenges as they enter their next terms.

“It will be very challenging in the next two years because just working with a new governor is going to take some getting used to anyway,” Poppe said. “Depending upon … the expectations the governor may have for what he wants to do in the state, I think people have to be very much engaged.”

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Although the governor’s race is still too close to call, with Democratic candidate Mark Dayton ahead of Republican Tom Emmer by a mere 10,000 votes, Poppe said having a Democrat governor would allow Democrats in the Legislature to get more things accomplished.

Jeanne Poppe

Poppe said holding the same political affiliation as the governor would help when it comes to gubernatorial appointments, because a Democratic governor would appoint people with the “same frame of mind” as other democrats.

“(If Dayton wins), I look forward to some really progressive and positive movements that we probably haven’t seen in the past eight years,” she said.

While that may be the sentiment from Poppe and many of her Democratic constituents, voters around the state swayed to the right. In fact, it was a brutal night for Democrats, who saw some of their stalwarts go down.

Among the losses were long-serving senior Democrats, including Bernie Lieder, a 26-year legislator who headed the House transportation committee; Al Juhnke, a 14-year lawmaker who headed the House agriculture and veterans budget panel; Don Betzold, a 10-year senator who headed a state government spending panel; and Leo Foley, an eight-year senator who oversaw court spending on another budget panel.

Minnesota House 27B challenger Jennifer Gumbel and Minnesota State Senate District 27 challenger Kathy Green monitor incoming results from Tuesday's election at the Austin Holiday Inn. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Rep. Loren Solberg, a 28-year House veteran who heads the powerful Ways and Means Committee, was fighting Republican Carol McElfatrick in a race that was too close to call Wednesday morning. Contests in St. Cloud, Northfield and Albert Lea were within the margin of an automatic recount.

Republican Dan Hall, a chaplain, upset freshman DFL Sen. John Doll in a south suburban race that drew notice after the state Democratic Party mailed ads with religious images to criticize Hall for not speaking out against health care cuts. Republicans called the ads anti-Catholic.

Also on the chopping block: three Woodbury-area lawmakers who swept in together with a Democratic surge in 2006 — Sen. Kathy Saltzman and Reps. Julie Bunn and Marsha Swails. Republicans overturned Democrats throughout the Twin Cities suburbs and in Rochester, northwestern Minnesota and the central part of the state.

“The two biggest issues obviously were the economy and our state budget,” said Republican Sen.-elect Roger Chamberlain, who defeated Democrat Sandy Rummel in the northeastern suburbs. “The state budget here is simply busted, and people understood that.”

The top Senate Republican, Dave Senjem, said GOP candidates did well because they stayed focused.

“Our message was simple: It was jobs and the economy, over and over and over again,” he said.

Republicans will control the Senate 37-30. They have never controlled the chamber under the GOP banner. They were called “conservatives” the last time they ruled the Senate in 1972.

The GOP House majority will be at least the minimum 68 seats, perhaps as many as 72 seats.

All 201 legislative seats were on the ballot, but a couple dozen races were key to the GOP gains. Republicans ran aggressive challengers as they tried to bring national discontent home to legislative races. Democrats were on the defensive as they tried to hang onto large majorities with members in swing districts that went the other way this time.

The party that controls the Legislature will decide what to do on state taxes, determining how far the new governor gets with his agenda. Legislative majorities will confront a projected $6 billion deficit, address a push for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium and redraw political boundaries before the 2012 election.

Regardless of which party has control over the state legislature, Poppe said it’s good that so many people were engaged with the election this year.

“This election engaged people more than might be typical in an off presidential election year,” she said. “People need to remain engaged. They need to have civil and appropriate discussions to help solve the problems and make sure that Minnesota gets back on the right path.”

Sparks was unavailable for comment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report