Recapping the Minnesota Political Scene


Governor's Veto Upheld by the Minnesota Supreme Court

The 2017 Minnesota legislature remains in limbo after the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld Governor Dayton's line-item veto of the legislature's budget in retaliation for Republican's effort to defund the Minnesota Department of Revenue. Both the House and Senate Republican caucuses filed a lawsuit over the governor's action this past June. The action was precipitated by a provision contained in this year's omnibus tax bill that contained a "poison pill" provision that Dayton claimed left him no alternative but to sign the tax bill. The tax bill contained numerous tax cuts supported by the legislature's Republican majorities which were vehemently opposed by Dayton. In retaliation, Dayton vetoed the legislature's budget.

The high court upheld Dayton's action but ordered the two sides to agree to the appointment of a mediator to resolve their differences. Although the opinion supported Dayton's line-item action, the high court clearly was not happy with the practical effect of one branch of government creating such an imbalance of power by taking away another branch's funding.

Dayton and Republican leaders each immediately issued statements declaring victory and agreeing to go to mediation to resolve their issues. Agreeing to a mediator will be the first test as to whether the two sides can even reach the negotiating table. It is unlikely House and Senate Republicans are going to agree to what Dayton wants: a rollback of the tax cuts already signed into law. The more likely outcome may be another intervention by the State Supreme Court later this fall when the legislature begins to run out of funding.

View the Minnesota Supreme Court Decision.  

A Nonstop Election Season

With the passage of the Labor Day holiday, numerous local, state and federal campaigns are kicking into high gear. Political prognosticators will be watching this November's elections-mostly local affairs-to see what, if anything, has changed since last November's historic election that swept President Donald Trump and Republican majorities into power at both the federal and state levels.

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have hotly contested mayoral races where multiple candidates are running. Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges faces 15 opponents that include a city council member, a sitting member of the Minnesota House of Representatives and a prominent downtown business executive. Even Captain Jack Sparrow has thrown his hat into the ring.

But the Minneapolis City Council may be where the real balance of power is determined. DFL City Council President Barbara Johnson faces a serious challenge from the left-wing of her party as well as others who have worked closely with her as a voting bloc. Twelve out of the 13 city council seats are being challenged, some with multiple candidates taking on incumbents.

Moving over to the east side of the Mississippi River, the city of St. Paul has a hotly contested mayoral race where four candidates are vying for the seat. After three terms in office, current Mayor Chris Coleman is not running for reelection. The campaign is a battle between a strong progressive movement and downtown interests and has focused on core issues including rising crime, proposed increases in property taxes, an eroding property tax base and the proposed redevelopment of a former Ford Motor Company automobile manufacturing facility.

Wide Open Governor's Race Underway

While local candidates race to the 2017 November general election, multiple DFL and Republican candidates have formally declared their intent to be Minnesota's next governor. Governor Mark Dayton is not running for reelection in 2018, when his second term expires. Thus far, there are a total of seven DFLer's and seven Republicans who have officially announced they are running, have active campaigns and filed candidate committees with the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board.

Republican Gubernatorial Race

The Republican race for governor is wide open. Seven candidates have filed the necessary paperwork and have started to assemble campaign teams. The candidates participated in a Republican Party of Minnesota gubernatorial panel at the State Fair and all pledged to abide by the party's endorsement. Candidates include:

  • Christopher Chamberlin: Christopher Chamberlin has not held political office before. According to Chamberlin's website, his political strategy is to play off the "drain the swamp" call to action that reverberated throughout the 2016 presidential campaign.
  • Matt Dean: First elected in 2004 to the Minnesota House of Representatives, Matt Dean is serving his seventh term. During his time at the House, Dean has served as Majority Leader and is currently serving his second term as chair of the Health and Human Services Finance Committee. Using his extensive knowledge of the health care system, Dean has made MnSURE and ObamaCare a focus of his campaign.
  • Keith Downey: Elected in 2008, Keith Downey served two terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives. He was elected state GOP chairman on April 6, 2013, and completed his term earlier this spring. Shortly after departing his party I read the original text as he left the party entirely role, Downey announced his bid for governor.
  • Blake Huffman: Blake Huffman is currently a Ramsey County Commissioner having been elected in 2012. Prior to that, he served on the Shoreview city council. Huffman is a former Wells Fargo executive and currently runs a nonprofit focused on providing housing to veterans and victims of domestic violence.
  • Jeff Johnson: Elected in 2000, Jeff Johnson served three terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives. He left office in 2006 to run for attorney general against Lori Swanson. In 2014, Johnson received the GOP endorsement and won a three way primary for governor, but was unsuccessful in beating sitting governor Mark Dayton.
  • David Osmek: Elected to the Minnesota State Senate in 2012, David Osmek is serving his first year as the current chair of the Energy and Utilities Finance and Policy Committee. Prior to joining the Senate, Osmek served on the Mound City Council for more than a decade.
  • Phillip Parrish: Phillip Parrish has not held public office before. Parrish has a background in education and is a member of the US Navy Reserve as an Intelligence Specialist. Parrish has also served as Principal at Gerard Academy and Treatment Center in Austin.

With no clear frontrunner, candidates will be working on grassroots turnout and engagement with potential convention delegates leading up to the February 6, 2018 precinct caucuses. In late spring the RPM will hold their endorsing convention. If necessary, Republican gubernatorial candidates will face off in a primary on August 14, 2018.

DFL Gubernatorial Race

As Governor Dayton prepares for his final legislative session, a number of DFL candidates are jockeying for the opportunity to fill his seat. While Hillary Clinton won Minnesota in 2016, Republicans enjoyed a number of resounding legislative victories across the state, particularly in rural areas. This scenario sets up a potentially challenging dynamic for Democratic gubernatorial candidates in 2018: crafting a message that can successfully resonate as the Twin Cities metro area becomes more progressive, advocating for policies that other parts of the state may not entirely embrace.

The state DFL party will hold their endorsing convention beginning June 1, 2018 in Rochester. If one is needed, a primary election would be held in mid-August. A list of the announced (and one rumored) candidates follows:

  • Rebecca Otto: Rebecca Otto currently serves as Minnesota's State Auditor, having first been elected to that statewide position in 2006. Her ability to win three statewide elections has been a key talking point in her gubernatorial run to date, along with her staunch views on environmental issues.
  • Tim Walz: Originally elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006 from Minnesota's First Congressional District, Congressman Tim Walz is one of the few candidates based in Greater Minnesota. A 24-year veteran of the Army National Guard, Walz also taught high school social studies before running for office. Veteran and agricultural issues have been his highest priorities during his service in Congress.
  • Chris Coleman: St. Paul's mayor since 2005, Chris Coleman also served six years on the St. Paul City Council. A U of M law grad, he worked as both a Hennepin County prosecutor and a public defender earlier his career. Mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis have had difficulty running for governor in the past; Coleman is emphasizing his work with the National League of Cities as evidence that his experience extends beyond the Twin Cities Metro area.
  • Paul Thissen: A former Speaker of the House, Rep. Paul Thissen is undertaking his second attempt running for governor. An attorney who has served eight terms in the state legislature, he is passionate about increasing transparency in state government and addressing economic inequalities.
  • Erin Murphy: Rep. Erin Murphy is in her sixth term representing District 64A in St. Paul. Trained as a surgical nurse, she is a former executive director of the MN Nurses Association and also served as House Majority Leader when the DFL last controlled that body. Health care delivery and reform are key issues in her campaign.
  • Tina Liebling: An attorney with a black belt in karate, Tina Liebling has represented Rochester in the State House of Representatives since 2004. A mainstay in health care committees, Rep. Liebling is well known for her tenacious work ethic and attention to detail.
  • Lori Swanson (undeclared): Minnesota's Attorney General represents perhaps the biggest wild card in the upcoming election cycle. Rumors about her running have swirled for months, but as of this writing that is still all they are. A well-known entity to state DFL delegates, Lori Swanson officially declaring her candidacy could realign the map heading into the June convention.

Minnesota Congressional Races 2018

Candidates are already lining up to run in several competitive U.S. House races in Minnesota in 2018. Despite its reputation as a Democratic stronghold, Minnesota could field a number of close congressional races in next year’s midterm elections.

Here's a look at some of the races that will likely be competitive:

1st Congressional District

Popular, though nearly defeated in 2016, incumbent Tim Walz (D) is leaving his seat to run for governor. His vacancy leaves the door wide open for a spirited race that will likely see more of the urban/rural divide theme that permeated the 2016 race. Current candidates in the mix:

  • Vicki Jenson (D): Former DFL senator known for her ability to find middle ground and produce results.
  • Dan Feehan (D): Iraq war veteran and pentagon official.
  • John Wayne Austinson (D): High school teacher with a memorable name.
  • Colin Minehart (D): Restaurant owner and business man.
  • Johnny Akzam (D): Noted Bernie Sanders supporter.
  • Regina Mustafa (D): Community activist and Philadelphia import, Mustafa is seeking to become the first Muslim woman elected to Congress.
  • Jim Hagedorn (R): After narrowly losing this race in 2016, Hagedorn quickly announced his intentions to run again in 2018.

With 14 months to go, other candidates will certainly enter the fray. Some speculate that sitting Rochester Minnesota Senator Carla Nelson (R) will throw her hat into the ring.

3rd Congressional District

The race for Minnesota’s wealthiest congressional district is likely to be a strategic rematch, with a new Democrat vying to unseat perennially popular Rep. Erik Paulsen (R).

National Democrats recruited Dean Phillips to try unseating Paulsen from the west suburban seat. Phillips is a prominent businessman with hands in a Minneapolis coffee shop and Talenti Gelato. Phillips previously ran his family’s alcohol company, Phillips Distilling Co.

Democrats will likely make attempts to tie Paulsen to President Trump, but that strategy could be shaky. Although the 3rd went with Hillary Clinton by a wide margin in 2016, Paulsen cruised to an easier than expected victory. DFL strategists are betting that it will play out differently in the district and across the nation after two years of Trump in office. (Recall that the GOP used a version of this strategy in 8th Congressional District when Stuart Mills (R), whose family owns Mills Fleet Farm, ran and lost twice in 2014 and 2016.)

A handful of other Democrats are also vying to take on Paulsen. While Phillips has national party support, the power of local politics could make the Minnesota DFL endorsement process interesting.

  • Alicia Donahue (D): Clinical social worker, community leader & co-founder of Women's March Minnesota.
  • Adam Jennings (D): Sitting Tonka Bay Councilmember, veteran and businessman.
  • Brian Santa Maria (D): An unapologetic millennial who is running on an anti-establishment platform.

8th Congressional District

After back-to-back multimillion dollar races, there could be a change of faces in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District. Once considered a Democratic stronghold, the Iron Range district has become a pure swing seat and among the most expensive races in the country.

St. Louis County Commissioner Pete Stauber (R) is looking to unseat Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan. A longtime police officer in Duluth with a well-known name in the area, Stauber could pick up critical votes in the region’s urban core, an unusual voting bloc for Republicans.

Nolan hung onto his seat in 2014 and 2016, narrowly defeating GOP candidate Stewart Mills as more than $30 million combined in attack ads from outside political groups poured in. Nolan, who first won the seat in 2012 to start a second stint in Congress, is in for another race after recently deciding not to run for governor.

Mills said he’s waiting to see how 2017 shakes out before deciding on a third attempt next year. Several other Democratic candidates are still mulling bids.

Minnesota State Fair Poll Results

More than 7,100 fairgoers cast their ballots during the fair's 12 days at the Minnesota House’s booth. This year’s poll included a wide range of issues including proposed penalties for protesters who block highways, legalizing recreational marijuana, questions of local government control over labor regulations, and state's handgun permit to carry law. Historically, many of these state fair poll issues turn into controversial legislation once the legislature convenes.

For complete results, please go to:


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