MINNESOTA LEGISLATURE: The area's DFL delegation expects to win influence and chairmanships in a realigned statehouse

If Northland Democrats have their way, Tuesday's takeover of the Minnesota House and Senate will mean better schools and lower property taxes throughout Northeastern Minnesota.

If Northland Democrats have their way, Tuesday's takeover of the Minnesota House and Senate will mean better schools and lower property taxes throughout Northeastern Minnesota.

"Just the fact that we will have a power base up here will mean a lot," said Sen. Dave Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm. "We have a lot of senior legislators up here, and more and more I'm seeing that rural legislators need to stick together. We should be able to do some things that haven't been done in the last few years."

A handful of Northland lawmakers are expected to be in the running for chairmanships.

Rep. Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, is said to be a candidate for House majority leader. And Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, was working the phones Wednesday to drum up support in a bid for Senate majority leader.

Still, it doesn't mean Northland lawmakers will automatically be named to high-ranking positions.


"Clearly, you'd think that with the DFL in control, this area is going to be helped because it's DFL country," said Craig Grau, a retired University of Minnesota political science professor. "But we'll have to wait and see."

"There's a lot of people who have seniority up here," he said. "But whoever is the new speaker [of the House] gets to make the appointments. They often want to balance what goes on. They might want a big-city person on one committee or one from a suburb [rather than a rural lawmaker]."

The DFL has controlled the Senate since 1973 and had a 39-28 majority heading into Tuesday's election.

When the dust cleared, the DFL held a 44-23 edge.

In the House, a 68-66 Republican edge swung to a dramatic 85-49 DFL majority.

"Obviously, it's chairmanship and influence for us," said Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Bovey, in his 24th year in the House. "But it's never automatic. We will be very influential. But Democrats still fight.''

"We're also not going to lose sight of what brought us to victory, which is addressing issues like education, health care and property tax relief," Solberg said.

Although Gov. Tim Pawlenty will wield veto power, Northland lawmakers say the power shift could put Northeastern Minnesota at the forefront of decision-making in St. Paul.


Issues such as reducing property taxes, increasing spending on rural schools, restoring local government aid to communities and improving health care are high on the lists of local legislators.

"It's hard to tell at this time about specifics" said Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown. "But we are going to be in the majority, so we will have a much bigger say."

Murphy and other Northland legislators say the state needs to consider a new funding formula for rural schools.

Nearly all Northland schools are experiencing declining enrollment. Four districts, Ely, Wrenshall, St. Louis County and Lake Superior schools, asked voters Tuesday to support excess operating levies.

"We hope to have more money for schools so our kids will have more opportunities, especially for rural schools so the kids are put at the same level as kids in larger cities," Murphy said.

In Duluth, state money for a $67 million expansion of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center failed to be included in a 2006 bonding bill. If a supplemental bonding bill is moved forward by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2007, money for the DECC might be possible, Bakk said.

But even that's not a done deal.

"This is a budget year and there's not a lot of money around," said Bakk, who has served 12 years as a representative and senator. "There's going to be a lot of pressure for money, and the state has some needs in nursing home funding and tuition. The question is whether there will be a supplemental bonding bill. But if the governor comes forward with one, it has a chance."


"But by being a chair, you're going to be in the room where the deals are done. The people in the minority have nothing to say about what the outcome of the budget is going to be," Bakk said.

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