DFL wins full control of Minnesota Legislature for first time in decade

For the first time in a decade, Minnesota Democrats won a trifecta at the state Capitol, gaining control of the House, Senate, and governor's office following Tuesday's election.

A potential "red wave" didn't happen nationally or in Minnesota. Democrats picked up seats in the state Senate, maintained their advantage in the House, and Gov. Tim Walz easily won re-election to a second term.

Even Democrats were surprised by the results in a midterm election that typically favors Republicans. Now, they have to decide how to use the new power that they didn't expect to have.

"We didn't think this would happen -- and it happened," Senate DFL Leader Melisa Lopez Franzen told reporters Wednesday. Lopez Franzen did not seek re-election, meaning the caucus will have a new leader in January.

During separate news conferences at the state Capitol, neither Senate Democrats nor Walz were ready to say what their first actions would be once the Legislature reconvenes Jan. 3.

The DFL will have control of a state budget surplus projected at $7 billion over the next year and $12 million over the next three years. This spring, the divided Legislature failed to agree with Walz on an $8 billion tax cut and spending package.

Senate Democrats said they would give hearings to legislation on paid family leave, abortion rights, and marijuana legalization. Republicans who held the majority for the past six years did not support such measures.

But Democrats will have only a 34-33 majority, giving them a narrow path to passing legislation. Internal disagreements -- even from a single member -- will derail plans. The Senate DFL is scheduled to meet Thursday to elect its leadership and start setting an agenda.

Democrats will hold at least a 70-64 advantage in the House, with two GOP wins headed for a publicly funded recount. 

Walz said he thought Democrats had only an "outside chance" to take full control of the Legislature for the first time since he became governor, and he said DFL lawmakers fared better than he expected.

Early in his second term, the governor said he would again propose rebate checks to Minnesotans and increases in education funding, but he didn't specify amounts Wednesday. He said he remains committed to a $400 million funding package for police and nonviolence groups.

"There is a new dynamic here in terms of a Senate that is not trying to stall an agenda as much as one that's trying to move one," Walz said. "I think there's some urgency around public safety support, and I think there's an urgency around fighting some inflationary pressures."

Democrats credited voter concerns over abortion access and democracy for their wins. The DFL said their voters were motivated after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

As for Republicans, they plan to meet Thursday and Friday to elect their caucus leadership and decide what's next. 

Democrats swept the four statewide elections this week. Attorney General Keith Ellison on Wednesday morning claimed victory, with results showing a lead of more than 20,000 votes over Republican challenger Jim Schultz. Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat, also won re-election. And Auditor Julie Blaha won the closest race of all, by three-tenths of a percentage point, just outside the margin for an automatic recount.