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Minnesota Government Update

November 5, 2008

As expected, voter turnout in yesterday's Minnesota general election was huge, reaching 77.5% of all registered voters. The voter turnout is probably the largest percentage turnout in the history of the State. The big turnout led to a lopsided 54% to 44% victory for Barack Obama and Joe Biden over John McCain and Sarah Palin.

United States Senate
Incumbent Republican Senator Norm Coleman and former Saturday Night Live star Al Franken squared off in what, particularly in the last weeks of the election, was an expensive, nasty, and negative campaign. By the time all the votes were counted this morning, Coleman clung to a slim 721 vote victory over Franken. Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley captured 15% of the vote, apparently siphoning more votes from Franken than Coleman.

Because the Coleman margin of victory is less than one-half of one percent, a recount will be ordered by the State Canvassing Board when it meets in ten days. The recount could take several weeks after that to be completed.

United States Congress
What had been two relatively safe Republican Congressional seats, the Third District seat vacated by retiring Congressman Jim Ramstad and the Sixth District seat held by first termer Michele Bachmann, proved to be competitive.

In the Third District, Republican State Representative Erik Paulsen defeated DFLer Ashwin Madia by 48% to 41%. In the Sixth District race, Congresswoman Bachmann defeated DFLer El Tinklenberg by 46% to 43% with Independence candidate Bob Anderson attracting 10% of the vote. In Minnesota's other six Congressional seats, all incumbents easily won re-election, leaving the Minnesota House delegation with 5 Democrats and 3 Republicans.

Minnesota Legislature
All of Minnesota's 134 House seats were up for election this year. House DFLers hoped to expand their 85 to 49 majority to reach the 90 votes necessary to override vetoes of Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty. In the end, it appears that they will be short of that mark, likely picking up two new seats to maintain an 87 to 47 majority.

In the State Senate, two seats were contested in special elections with DFLers winning both. The Senate DFLers already maintained sufficient votes to override a veto from the Governor.

Among the House seats changing hands, four incumbents went down to defeat. Representative Lynn Wardlow in the House seat formerly held by Governor Tim Pawlenty, was defeated by DFLer Mike Obermueller. Incumbent DFL House members Sandy Wollschlager, Ken Tschumper and Shelley Madore were also defeated.

In total, there will be 25 new members of the Minnesota Legislature when it convenes for the 2009 session on January 6.

Ballot Question
A Constitutional Amendment to increase the state's sales tax by three-eighths of one percent and dedicate the proceeds of that tax increase to clean water, the outdoors and the arts, passed by a somewhat surprisingly large margin. The tax increase will raise about $275 million a year for these programs over the next 25 years. It had been long sought by hunting and conservation groups. In an effort to broaden the appeal of the proposal, the Legislature expanded the type of program's eligible to receive funding to include arts organizations as well.

A number of school levy referendums were on the ballot with most of the proposals failing expect for initiatives in Inver Grove Heights, Minneapolis and St. Louis Park.

Obama Administration
Changes to the Minnesota political landscape are possible as President-Elect Obama begins to staff his administration. Two Minnesota Congressman have been prominently mentioned for Cabinet positions. Representative Jim Oberstar and Representative Collin Peterson have been mentioned as candidates for Secretary of Transportation and Secretary of Agriculture, respectively. Both now chair policy committees in the House of Representatives in those areas.

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak was an early supporter of Obama and he has been mentioned for a potential appointment to either the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or the Environmental Protection Agency.

For up-to-date information about the Minnesota Legislature, tune into Almanac: At the Capitol. This lively and informative program is aired Wednesdays during the legislative session on Twin Cities Public Television at 7:00 PM on Channel 17 and at 10:00 PM on Channel 2.

Almanac: At the Capitol is seen on all public television stations throughout Minnesota and in Fargo. Winthrop & Weinstine is the exclusive law-firm partner and a sponsor of the program.

For more information and to see previous broadcasts, check out the Almanac: At the Capitol Web site at

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