by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
Rep. Kurt Daudt has entered State Capitol lore.
In the final weeks of his first term, the Republican from Crown was elected House minority leader by his election-depleted caucus, a distinction not given to a first termer in more than a century.
“To find one at the end of their first term you have to go back to 1907 or something — it’s over 100 years,” Daudt said.
Daudt, 39, a former Isanti County commissioner, indicated his newness brings certain pressures — there are things about the process, for instance, he doesn’t know.
“But I’m a pretty quick study,” said Daudt, whose State Capitol Office, a staffer quipped, currently consists of boxes being shuffled from one office to another.
“And I know what I don’t know,” Daudt said of an ability to bring people in to fill knowledge gaps.
Daudt, like other Republicans, expresses surprise over the beating Republicans took Nov. 6.
“I was convinced we would still be in the majority — Kurt Zellers would be (House) speaker,” he said.
Instead, House Republicans hold sway over Democrats only on the bonding bill, which, requiring a super majority to pass, needs House Republican votes.
“They have offered that they want us to work with them on issues,” Daudt said of Democrats, now controlling the legislature and Governor’s Office.
“I think the real question to be asked is,’Is the DFL going to live up to that or go on their own?’” he said.
Looking back, Daudt perceives the election results less a rejection of Republican stewardship than a party fumbling its own message.
“Our policies work and have been working,” Daudt insists, noting the paydown of the school funding shift although noting, too, a projected future deficit.
“We failed to get the message to voters that we have done that,” Daudt said of the perceived hand in turning around the state budget.
In part, the Republican message got garbled in the difficulties of explaining the nuances of budgeting to voters, Daudt believes.
Beyond this, the sluggish economy has voters edgy, the political environment favorable to the attack.
“It’s easier to convince somebody that somebody else is doing something wrong, rather than convincing them what you’re doing is right,” Daudt said.
Like the Senate Republican Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, Daudt looks at the photo ID and marriage amendments their respective caucuses placed on the ballot as helpful to Republicans in some districts, hurtful in others.
“Was it a mistake to put the (marriage) amendment on? I don’t know. I’m not really sure about that,” Daudt said.
“Strategically, it probably wasn’t a good thing to have it on the ballot,” he said.
But House Republicans, Daudt insists, will not decide their actions on political ponderables but what’s best for the state.
At a recent leaders’ forum, asked about Democrats over reaching or pursuing a too aggressive agenda, Daudt said he hoped they wouldn’t.
“That’s a double edge sword for me,” Daudt said.
“If they over reach, we’ll back in the majority. If you want my honest opinion, I think they likely will,” he said.
Still, the idea of overreaching is subjective, said Daudt.
And a message from voters is that they want lawmakers to be productive, he explained.
To this end, if House Republicans come off as bomb throwers, foot draggers — mere obstructionists — they won’t leave the impression they’re ready to step in and govern, said Daudt.
“The DFL is going to do what they’re going to do,” he said.
His job is to hold them accountable.
On other issues, Daudt, while not absolutely rejecting the idea of supporting tax increases, suggests such a threshold is far away.
For instance, in transportation, House Republicans would first explore ways of keeping the costs down before considering raising taxes.
Ultimately, if they found it best for Minnesota, House Republicans would put tax increases on the table.
“But I think it’s a long, arduous process to get us to believing (they’re needed), because we know there’s a lot others things that can be done,” Daudt said.
In general, Republicans are more open to additional revenue for improving roads and bridges then for other areas of government, Daudt indicated.
Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, believes Daudt will do a good job as minority leader.
“He just has really good political instincts,” Scott said.
Like another high-profile state politician from Crown, former Republican U.S. Sen. Rod Grams, Daudt is a tractor collector — mostly John Deeres, including a rare John Deere “H” tractor with its distinctive single wheel on the front.
Daudt recently appointed Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, Deputy House minority leader.
The House Republican Caucus consists of 61 members.
In order to pass a bonding bill, House Democrats need to coax eight Republican votes.