Political Report: New GOP Leader Knows His Place

Kurt Daudt knows he leads a group that has little say in what happens around the Minnesota Capitol.

House Republicans elected the first-term Crown lawmaker as their leader for the next two years. He knows his victories may be rare.

“The Democrats are in control of everything and they don’t need us,” he said.

“To be very frank, I don’t overestimate our relevance over the next couple of years,” he added, understanding that the party holding a majority makes most decisions. “We are not needed for anything other than the bonding bill.”

The bonding bill, which requires more votes than Democrats alone can produce, funds public works projects. A major bonding bill is expected in 2014, but probably not next year.

Democrats took control of both the House and Senate in the Nov. 6 elections after the GOP dominated two years ago. They are joined by a Democratic governor.

After that 2010 election, some Minnesota Republican lawmakers thought “compromise” was a dirty word, citing voters’ support of their economic policies as a reason not to compromise with liberal Gov. Mark Dayton on tax and spending policies.

The incoming GOP House leader avoids the word “compromise” for a different reason.

“I don’t like to use the word ‘compromise’ because I think it is misused,” Daudt said. “I like to use words like willing to work together and I am someone who is willing to take what I can get.”

Daudt added: “I have yet to see someone compromise here in St. Paul.”

Despite the lack of power, Daudt said that whenever possible Republicans plan to offer alternatives to Democratic bills.

A slow start

The Legislature will start on the latest possible date and then things could move slow.

The state Constitution sets the start date, which this year is Jan. 8. Lawmakers and employees will take off the next Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, incoming Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said.

Lawmakers also usually attend a workshop away from the Capitol for one day soon after convening.

When committees do meet, they are expected to introduce new lawmakers (about a third will be new next year) to agencies they oversee.

“We are going to need a couple weeks just to do overviews,” Bakk said.

Gov. Mark Dayton must give lawmakers his budget proposal in January, but a late-February or early-March report is likely to force changes in his plan as more becomes known about how federal budget woes will affect the state.

Looking ahead

Talk about who will challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Al Franken in two years is of interest well beyond his Minnesota home.

The Hill newspaper looked at the 2014 race and concluded: “Franken will be a tough candidate — he’s worked hard to ingratiate himself in the state, and his poll numbers look fairly solid. “

Prime early Republican possibilities that reporters Cameron Joseph and Molly K. Hooper saw are U.S. Reps. Erik Paulsen and John Kline. Neither would talk much about a Senate race.

The Hill reported that Paulsen, a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, “seemed taken aback when asked whether he’d been asked to challenge Franken.”

“We just got through an election,” Paulsen said. “I’m sure there will be a long list of candidates but it’s early … there will be a long list of candidates running for governor, too.”

Cullen Sheehan, who ran Norm Coleman’s campaign four years ago when Franken won in a recount, said Franken has done a good job “keeping his head down and not being the center of attention.”

Different GOP direction?

Much of the post-election discussion among Capitol observers has been about what Republicans learned from the vote.

Senate Republicans elected David Hann of Eden Prairie as their leader for the next four years. He was a leader of this year’s campaign, which saw the GOP lose a Senate majority it gained just two years ago.

Senate Majority leader-elect Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, wonders if picking Hann as leader means Republicans did not learn.

“The election of Hann surprised me some,” Bakk said. “If they are just going to run down the road, business as usual, same kind of message they had the last two years — I think that was pretty soundly rejected.”

Most Legislature watchers know little about the soon-to-be House minority leader. Kurt Daudt of Crown has not been seen and heard much in his two years at the Capitol.

“I probably have a little different reputation around the Capitol,” he said, compared to some of the more vocal conservative lawmakers.

Daudt said he hears people say: “That Kurt Daudt is kind of a moderate, except for his voting record.”

He claims a conservative voting record, and said he is someone who knows he cannot get everything he wants.