New Republicans Enter First Session-ending Negotiations

Fifty-four Republicans serving their first year in the Minnesota Legislature face their first end-of-session circus, and no one knows just how they will react.

Many of the new Republicans in the 201-person Legislature come from the Tea Party faction, a conservative and libertarian movement that wants smaller government and lower taxes. Because of their large numbers, they and some existing lawmakers who agree with that philosophy hold many of the cards as legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton try to figure out a new state budget while filling a $5 billion deficit.

Leaks from private Republican meetings throughout the session make it apparent all is not sweetness and light. Reports of strong disagreements between members who want to stick to their ideological stances are reported to conflict with more experienced members, conservatives and moderates, who feel compromises are needed.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said in a Forum Communications interview that the Tea Party set is learning the need to compromise.

He admitted that some members early this legislative session refused to compromise. But as the session wore on, they began to realize that if they wanted something in a bill they often had to give up something.

“It’s definitely a maturing process,” Zellers said.

“We have already jettisoned” some measures Democrats saw as the harshest bills, but were supported by most new Republicans, Zellers said. Those were provisions championed by two-term Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, to reduce the state workforce and take other moves unions oppose.

Zellers said that it takes a long time to get used to being a lawmaker. “This is a really confusing place when you come down here for the first time.”

On the other hand, Dayton said that Republicans have yet to find a way to turn their campaign rhetoric into legislation that works.