October 2010

Pre-election Landscape

November 2, 2010, will afford Minnesotans the opportunity to elect all 201 legislators (67 Senators and 134 State Representatives), all constitutional officers including Governor/Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, and State Auditor as well as all 8 representatives of the U.S. Congress.  Numerous other local government seats will also be up for grabs.  As of this writing, there are a full three weeks until the 2010 election.  The following is a brief history of the Minnesota political scene and a few guesses as to what may happen in November.

The Governor’s office in Minnesota is currently held by Tim Pawlenty who announced earlier this year he would not run for reelection after serving two terms.  Minnesota has not had a Democratic Governor since 1990. The House and Senate Chambers are currently held by Democrat Majorities.  The Minnesota Senate has not been led by Republicans since partisan designation in 1972.  The Minnesota House has gone back and forth numerous times in its leadership, swinging back to the Democrats in 2006.  All constitutional offices are currently held by Democrats as well.

Minnesota elected an independent candidate, Jesse Ventura, to be Governor in 1998.  Ventura chose not to run for reelection in 2002.  Subsequent elections saw the Independence party candidate prove only the spoiler.  Governor Pawlenty won both the 2002 and 2006 elections without a majority but rather a slim plurality.  In both elections, the Independence party nominated a candidate with Democratic ties.  Once again in 2010, Minnesota faces a three way race.  The difference in 2010 is that the Independence candidate has Republican ties.  There is a raging debate in Minnesota whether the Independence Party candidate will take from the Republican candidate or the Democrat.  Based solely on the rhetoric from the Republican Party, it appears they are more concerned about moderate Republicans moving toward the Independence Party.

In 2006, when all seats were up as they are in 2010, the political winds were blowing in a definitive Democratic direction.  The Democrats picked up or retained all constitutional offices.  The House Democrats captured the majority and the Senate Democrats added a significant number of seats to their caucus.  With the political winds reportedly blowing in a different direction in 2010, it is assumed that the Democratic majorities will be much slimmer.  Most pundits continue to believe the Democrats will continue to control the Legislature but the Republicans will be much more competitive and relevant.  Other than the Attorney General’s office, which appears to be locked up for the Democrats, the other constitutional offices appear to be very competitive.

The dominant issues in Minnesota, as in many states, are job creation, unemployment and a massive projected budget shortfall.  Minnesota’s unemployment rate is significantly below the national average but is still stubbornly high.  Minnesota’s budget is projected to be $5-6 billion in the red for the upcoming biennium.   Minnesota has experienced almost annual budget shortfalls over the past decade.  Governor Pawlenty was adamant in his opposition to any new tax increases.  Prior budgets were generally balanced by spending cuts and accounting shifts.  Most of the shifts and low hanging fruit have been cut or utilized.

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