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Democrats Recapture Control Of Minn. Legislature

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Democrats took back control of the Minnesota Legislature on Tuesday, regaining power two years after they lost it and giving Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton an opening to fulfill a long-held promise to raise income taxes on those who take home the most pay.

Their wins — made possible by DFL candidates who beat Republicans in suburbs like Eagan and Edina and regional centers including Willmar, Owatonna and Moorhead — overturned GOP majorities just two years after they swept in, only to pound heads with Dayton over taxes and spending. The political impasse led to a government shutdown last year and made it harder for Republican candidates in tough races to portray themselves as bipartisan problem-solvers.

Republican losses included freshman Sens. John Howe of Red Wing, Ted Daley of Eagan, Ted Lillie of Woodbury, Benjamin Kruse of Brooklyn Park and Pam Wolf of Spring Lake Park. GOP Sen. Joe Gimse of Willmar lost to Democratic Sen. Lyle Koenen after new political boundaries put them in the same district.

In Edina, Democratic attorney Melissa Franzen beat GOP Rep. Keith Downey to win an open seat that had been in Republican hands. In the same district, former Republican maverick Ron Erhardt won Downey’s seat — running as a Democrat. Democrats won open House seats that had been held by Republicans in Moorhead and Cottage Grove. They won open Senate seats in Owatonna and Apple Valley.

The top Senate Democrat, Tom Bakk of Cook, said Republicans’ unwillingness to bend with Dayton and their decision to push forward constitutional amendments banning gay marriage and requiring voters to have photo ID helped his side. Voters rejected both amendments Tuesday.

“Their priorities didn’t reflect Minnesota — the historic borrowing from schools, the unwillingness to compromise, the government shutdown, the social issues, lawmaking through the constitution,” Bakk said.

Bakk predicted his caucus would end up with 39 seats, comfortably above the threshold for control of the 67-member Senate. A spokesman for Bakk said GOP Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem of Rochester called early Wednesday to concede the loss of the majority.

Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers said his candidates lost in close races because more Democratic voters turned out in a year when Minnesota extended its streak of voting Democratic for president to 10 consecutive elections. He predicted that all-Democratic control of the Capitol would cost taxpayers.

“A lot of taxpayers in this state should brace for one or several tax increases,” Zellers said.

The Democratic sweep fulfills Dayton’s wish for a more receptive Legislature after stubborn clashes with Republicans in the first two years of his term. Democrats will control the Senate for four years, since senators don’t face voters again until 2016.

Bakk said he didn’t know yet whether the new, bigger DFL caucus would have the votes to pass Dayton’s income tax proposal, but he said overhauling Minnesota’s tax system would be a priority. Bakk said he and Dayton will meet on Wednesday. Bakk said he aims to involve business leaders in the debate over changes to the state’s tax system.

“The last thing I want to do is put some kind of tax bill on the governor’s desk that somehow impedes a very fragile economic recovery that we’re having,” Bakk said.

Another deficit is forecast for the upcoming budget period, while the state remains behind on school payments.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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