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New Legislature today means major Capitol power shift

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota legislators today complete the most drastic change in state leadership in decades as Republicans take control of the House and Senate for the first time in 40 years.

That comes a day after Mark Dayton became the first Minnesota Democrat to move into the governor's office in 20 years.

As 201 legislators prepared for a noon launch of their 2011 session, they welcomed 36 new House members and 24 freshmen senators. And perhaps more importantly, all legislative leaders are new to their positions, something that has not happened in most politicos' memory.

Many predict a slow start to the session, since Dayton and legislative leaders are just getting into office. In Dayton's case, things were slowed because of a recount that stretched more than a month beyond the Nov. 2 election.

Dayton's budget proposal is due Feb. 15, expected to be followed by a Republican counterproposal. Until then, the main work of the session may be not be seen by the public.

That main work is figuring out how to fill a $6.2 billion state budget deficit as Democrats and Republicans bring opposing ideas to the table. Dayton wants a combination of state spending cuts and increasing taxes on Minnesota's top earners. Republicans concentrate on cuts.

In his inaugural speech Monday, Dayton listed two state tax cuts in the same category as wars and recessions. "We stager from one huge deficit to the next," he said.

Dayton's general plan does more than raise taxes and cut spending. He also wants to make government more efficient.

The latter fits with GOP ideas, too.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said in an interview that the fact that Dayton and Republicans agree that they need to make business regulations and the permitting process easier for businesses is a good place to begin to improve government.

"We will start with things we agree on," Zellers said.

With 60 of the 201 legislators new to the job, many committees will begin with learning their jobs. Many committee chairmen say their initial meetings this year will center on bringing in people from agencies they oversee to get a better idea about what goes on in state government.

Most eyes today are on the Senate, where there is little experience leading a legislative body. Most Republicans, now in a 37-30 majority, have said in the past that it was up to Democrats to lead. Now it is up to them.

In Minnesota, the party holding the majority in the House or Senate controls bills that are heard and committees that hear them. In most cases, minority party members have little power.

While the Senate has been a Democratic-Farmer-Laborite body for 40 years, the House has switched from DFL to GOP over the years. Democrats held control the past four years, after eight years in Republican hands.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.