They fight, we vote, they offer to help

By Editorial Board
Published November 9th 2006 in St. Paul Pioneer Press
A cell phone trilled during Mike Hatch's gracious concession news conference at the Capitol Wednesday morning. "That's the canoe vote calling,'' he said, and the room burst into laughter.

It was not some watery northern precinct ringing in to save his candidacy for governor — just an anonymous chirp from the gallery. Hatch's joking good spirit was a lesson for us all on the day after a highly partisan battle — "a day of renewal,'' he called it.

"Whether it's one vote or a million votes, it doesn't matter — the people make the decision,'' Hatch said. And he began discussing ways the man who defeated him, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, can work with a Legislature firmly controlled by Hatch's Democratic-Farmer-Labor party.

This is the miracle of democracy. We attack and dispute and fight and posture for what seems like an eternity. Then we vote. And candidates like Hatch, one of the toughest fighters around, congratulate their foes and offer to help them.

Our government was renewed this week. Here is our day-after look at some of the high points of a fascinating election, in which Minnesotans voted for every statewide, congressional and legislative office except one U.S. Senate seat. It was a big day.

New geometry: While Democrats were whomping Republicans across the country, Pawlenty held off Hatch by 21,000 votes out of 2.2 million cast. In Pawlenty's first term, Republicans controlled the House, and the DFL had a narrow margin in the Senate. That gave him two-against-one leverage in legislative wrangles.

But after Tuesday's DFL tidal wave, the Dems will control both houses by large margins — within a few votes of being able to override Pawlenty's vetoes. The new math would seem to push state government toward more state funding for transportation, education, health care, the environment and to reduce local property taxes. And although no one will say so, it feels like a step toward statewide tax increases that Pawlenty has opposed.

Tuesday afternoon, new House members gathered on the Capitol steps behind their caucus leader, Rep. Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, who is in line to become Speaker. New Rep.-elect Julie Bunn, DFL-Lake Elmo, an economist, was excited to be part of a DFL sweep of Republican incumbents in her East Metro legislative district. But she admitted that residents in her area are "tax-sensitive.''

In our endorsement interview with Pawlenty, he expressed his admiration for Arizona Sen. John McCain and McCain's ability to "transcend" partisan politics. That's the kind of governor, he said, he'd aspire to be in a second term. Well, now he gets his chance and then some.

The question is whether "transcending" party lines will involve stadium deals and taxes disguised as fees, or whether Pawlenty and the Democrats will be able to provide real and cost-effective solutions on health care, transportation, education and environmental issues.

Two districts, two faiths: Only a few miles separate Minnesota's 5th and 6th congressional districts, but their new representatives in the United States Congress couldn't be further apart on the map of ideology.

Keith Ellison, a liberal DFL state representative from Minneapolis who won the 5th District seat, is the first Muslim ever elected to Congress. Michele Bachmann, a conservative Republican state senator from Stillwater who won the 6th District seat, speaks of her strong Christian faith. Faith played prominent roles in their campaigns — as red flags waved by detractors, as white lights held aloft by supporters — and their victories Tuesday presumably will embolden them to lead through their differing prisms of faith.

While Congress is dotted with conservative Christians — Bachmann promised Tuesday to fight for "life, marriage and family life" — Ellison brings a new wrinkle. "God is good, y'all," he said Tuesday, wrapping his words around "all colors, all faiths, all people."

Just as Bachmann isn't a theologian, Ellison isn't a cleric or scholar of the Koran. But at a time when many Americans think "Islamic" and "extremism" only go together, Ellison is in a unique position to show Minnesota and the rest of this country what it means to be, as he has described himself, a "moderate Muslim."

Women win: Women aren't new to Minnesota's political landscape, but they're ascendant, like never before, in number and in leadership.

Amy Klobuchar's victory in the U.S. Senate race and Lori Swanson's in the attorney general campaign are electoral firsts for Minnesota women. Before Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum of St. Paul was the only Minnesota woman serving in the United States House or Senate. Joining her in Washington will be Klobuchar and Bachmann.

In 1971-1972, only one woman sat in the Minnesota Legislature. There are now 70. House Minority Leader Margaret Anderson Kelliher, as we said, is in line to become Speaker. Assistant Majority Leader Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, is a candidate to become Senate Majority Leader, and other women senators may join her. Also on Tuesday, women won judgeships, several became mayors and one became a sheriff.

The IP's potential: The election makes us wonder if the Independence Party can again become more than a spoiler.

IP gubernatorial candidate Peter Hutchinson polled nearly 142,000 votes, 6.4 percent of the total. That is enough to be dangerous — some analysts believe Hutchinson primarily drew from moderate-to-liberal voters who might otherwise have supported Hatch.

And it is enough for the party to meet the threshold required to retain its major-party status. But since Jesse Ventura's "Shock the world'' victory in a three-way race in 1998, the party's gubernatorial fortunes have been on a downward slide — 16 percent for Tim Penny in 2002, and now Hutchinson's single-digit showing.

Of course, from our perspective, Peter Hutchinson didn't "spoil" anything. His relentlessly positive focus on substantive issues offered an alternative to rotgut partisanship.

Tammy Lee, the IP candidate in the 5th congressional district, ran a strong third with 21 percent. The IP candidate in the 6th, John Binkowski, received nearly 8 percent of the vote. And help may be on the way: a Minneapolis charter amendment to "instant runoff voting,'' which is seen as friendly to smaller parties, was passed for future municipal elections.

No Dr. Phil: Democrats rediscovered the middle class in this election, and on Tuesday they raided the suburban constituency that Republicans have more or less owned in recent elections.

So middle-class families woke up Tuesday like children of divorced and bickering parents — ready to be lavished upon by partisans competing for their electoral love.

We wonder who, if anyone, will play the tough-love card and "just say no" when the demands on the budget exceed the supply of revenue. The Legislature doesn't have Phil "Dr. No" Krinkie anymore to keep it honest and take the heat. (Krinkie, R-Lino Lakes, a stalwart fiscal conservative who chaired the House Tax committee, appeared to have been ousted by DFLer Paul Gardner by 55 votes.)

The Legislature needs a smart somebody to play "Dr. No." — "Dr. Maybe" just isn't going to cut it.

Benched: We who have been fretting about politicized judicial elections in Minnesota may have less to worry about than we think. In two high-profile judicial elections on Tuesday, candidates currently holding elective offices lost to incumbent judges who were appointed to the bench by the governor.

In St. Paul, City Council member Jay Benanev was soundly defeated by Elena Ostby. And in McLeod County, state Rep. Scott Newman, who ran with the Republican Party's endorsement, lost to incumbent Michael Savre.

Greg Wersal, a Golden Valley lawyer who won a U.S. Supreme Court challenge to Minnesota's judicial campaigning restrictions, said the results show that partisan judicial campaigning is starting slow in Minnesota. "We're in a growing process,'' he said.