BY T.W. BUDIG
ECM Capitol reporter
Republicans expressed a certain mystification over the thumping they took Election Day.
“Nobody saw it coming,” said Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, a 14-year veteran of the House, of Republicans losing the legislature, a congressman and the two amendments.
“I was surprised,” said Jeff Johnson of Plymouth, Republican National committeeman and Hennepin County Commissioner. “Honestly, I don’t know (what happened),” he said of the shellacking. Johnson ran and won unopposed for his Dist. 7 seat that includes Maple Grove, Rogers, Corcoran, Champlin, Dayton, Greenfield, Independence, Loretto and Medina.
What happened, for sure, was Republicans had a bad night.
After languishing for some 40 years under a Democratic majority in the Senate, Senate Republicans two years ago seized control in the Republican-wave election and spoke of a new era.
But the era was more of an interlude.
Republican Senate election casualties include area senators Pam Wolfe (Spring Lake Park), Ted Daley (Eagan), Benjamin Kruse (Champlin-Brooklyn Park-Coon Rapids) and Ted Lillie (Woodbury-Lake Elmo).
In the House, the list of the Republican fallen includes King Banaian (Sherburne County), Diane Anderson (Eagan) and Doug Wardlow (Eagan).
“I don’t think it was a lack of work ethic,” said Johnson.
“Our candidates didn’t leave anything out there. And it wasn’t a lack of enthusiasm,” Johnson said.
House speaker Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove) noted that the presidential elections and the Constitutional Amendments drove about 24,000 more voters to the polls when compared to 2008 and about 815,000 more voters when compared to 2010.
“Unfortunately, we lost several seats by extremely close margins, making this transition even more difficult,” Zellers said, noting he is “proud of the many Republican accomplishments over the past two years. We turned a massive deficit into a surplus in one year. There are 47,000 more Minnesotans employed now than at this time in 2010. Automatic state spending growth that approached $40 billion has been scaled back.”
Zellers said he would not be running for any leadership positions for the 88th Legislative Session.
Abeler views several things revolving around the amendments that could have added to Republican misfortunes.
For one thing, the marriage amendment invigorated college students in a way President Barack Obama was no longer doing.
“It was something to rally around,” Abeler said.
Beyond this, Abeler wonders whether Republican leaders asked enough questions from the groups who wanted to see the amendments on the ballot. For instance, did someone inquire into whether photo ID supporters had the financial means to counter attacks on the amendment, such as from former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson, they should have known were coming.
As for the marriage amendment, Abeler doesn’t believe Minnesota churches backed the amendment to the same degree that churches in other states did. But rather than seeing House Republicans marking the minority years in lines scratched on the House chamber wall, Abeler argues the House could reverse back in two years.
“Absolutely,” he said, “I presume the DFL will overreach.”
Rather than muse on Senate sex scandals, Abeler believes voters by next election will be thinking about DFL tax increases, perhaps same-sex marriage legislation, and other social issues.
“They’re (Democrats) going to have the same problems with the left that we had with the right,” Abeler said.
Johnson, too, believes Republicans can bounce back. “I think we can,” he said. But Republicans first need to analyze what they’re doing, he explained.
Do they need to reshape their message, or reshape how the message is delivered, he asked. And the party must reestablish its finances. And this can be achieved, Johnson said.
“‘Governor, let’s fix it then,’” she said of a crafting a bipartisan photo ID legislation.
But Republicans were caught off-guard by the election results.
“I think the planets all lined up,” Abeler said with a weak laugh. “Everything that could go bad went bad.”