ST. PAUL — After a full two decades of divided state government in St. Paul, the three Democrats setting the agenda at Minnesota's Capitol starting in January must prove the party can take advantage of what may be a once-in-a-generation opportunity.
One is Gov. Mark Dayton, starting the second half of his first term with the best opportunity in a long political career to enact progressive goals. The others are House Speaker-designate Paul Thissen and incoming Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, who both competed with Dayton for his job less than three years ago but now must work with the governor and lead 112 legislative Democrats from around the state who have a wide range of political views and goals.
When the 2013 Legislature convenes in January, Minnesota Republicans will be totally locked out of power the first time since 1990. At the forefront of the debate among Democrats will be the need to eliminate another projected state budget deficit, likely through a mix of spending cuts and new sources of revenue. Dayton is expected to push for an income tax increase on the state's wealthiest citizens, the goal that defined his 2010 candidacy and his first year in office.
Democrats will be under pressure to spend more on public schools and provide property tax relief after making it a goal for the last decade. Liberal Democrats in the new Legislature could push left-leaning causes, from unionizing home child care workers to legalizing gay marriage.
"Voters rolled the dice on one-party control because they were tired of the gridlock and the fighting and nothing getting done," said Bakk, whose sprawling Senate district covers a large portion of northeastern Minnesota. "There are a lot of people who think we will overreach. Those people don't know me."