By Mark Fischenich
The Free Press
The Democratic Victory Party at Mankato's City Center Hotel was full of smiley faces Tuesday night.
There were the yellow smiley faces plastered on the color portraits of the seven candidates local Democrats wanted to win -- from Barack Obama and Joe Biden to Tim Walz and Kathy Brynaert. By the time Brynaert had won her state House race, it was a clean sweep of smiley faces.
Then there were the smiles on the faces of the hundreds of Democrats watching the TV reports on the Obama victory, the success of Minnesota candidates, and the downfall of two constitutional amendments placed by Republicans on the Minnesota ballot.
The only question that remained late Tuesday night was whether the Minnesota Legislature would switch from Republican control to Democratic.
"I think it looks pretty good," said Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, who was unopposed for re-election to a third term and was thinking ahead to what a DFL legislature could accomplish with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. "... The chance to stabilize the revenue stream and have a method of being able to get out of crisis after crisis."
In Minnesota, the results were dismal for Republicans. Obama won the state by nearly 8 percentage points. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar trounced Republican challenger Kurt Bills. Democrats won five of eight congressional races, including Mankato Congressman Tim Walz's 15-percentage-point win over Allen Quist.
There were the amendments -- to put a ban on gay marriage and new voter restrictions in the state constitution -- placed on the ballot by the Republican-controlled Legislature over near-unanimous Democratic opposition. Not only did voters reject the amendments, the ballot questions probably played a role in Republicans losing control of the state House and Senate -- a prize the GOP had won for the first time in 40 years just two years before.
"One thing we mis-guessed on was the amount of money and work that was going to go in to defeating them," said Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder. "... I think the amendments were mostly responsible for (the legislative losses)."
Cornish was unopposed in winning a sixth term but was losing a committee chairmanship and a prime office as Democrats retook control of the House by a 73-61 margin after Republicans were in charge for two years with a 72-62 majority.
Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, whose district includes much of Blue Earth County, cruised to re-election to a fourth term, even as her party was going from a 37-30 majority in the Senate to a 28-39 minority.
Rosen thinks her party had real accomplishments to offer voters, including government reforms and reduced state spending. But that was lost amid the debate over the amendments and the sometimes-extreme agenda pushed by some Republican lawmakers following the 2010 landslide.
Were they too partisan? Too impatient in pushing too big of an agenda? Too acrimonious?
"All of the above," Rosen said. "... I think whenever a party goes way off to one side or another, you're always going to have an adjustment. I think the adjustment happened (Tuesday)."
On Friday night, House Republicans will be gathering for a meal in advance of a Saturday meeting to pick leaders of their caucus and discuss strategies for a comeback.
"It was supposed to be a victory party," Cornish said. "Now it's a dinner of defeat."
He agreed with Rosen that the Republican tidal wave of 2010 resulted in the election of some extremely conservative Republicans who tried to do too much too fast.
Cornish said it won't be pretty -- at Saturday's House Republican organizational meeting -- if anybody runs for a caucus leadership position by saying the party's Election Day defeat was because it wasn't adequately conservative.
"If anybody says we aren't to the right enough, I think I'm going to lose my lunch from the night before," he said.
The party needs to be both conservative and conciliatory, according to Cornish.
Rosen said that's the approach she's taken -- pragmatic and focused on problem-solving -- and that's led to three comfortable re-elections. It's also why Mankato-area lawmakers tend to survive wave elections.
"You make it a safe seat because of how you treat people," she said. "We kind of take care of ourselves out here. We have a problem: How are we going to fix it?"