Three storylines for Minnesota politics in 2022

The 2022 midterm elections will dominate the Minnesota political calendar in 2022, with all 201 legislative seats and every statewide officer up for election.

But there's plenty to settle before then.

Eyeing the election

Gov. Tim Walz will be at the top of November's ballot after two years as the face of Minnesota's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Walz will likely learn which Republican he'll face in mid-May when the GOP gathers for its convention in Rochester. All the leading Republican candidates have vowed to abide by the party's endorsement at the convention and not take the case to voters in a summertime primary.

Walz faces headwinds he did not in 2018, when he won by double digits over Republican Jeff Johnson. That year, Democrats used frustration with President Donald Trump to sweep statewide elections and retake the Minnesota House. This year, Republicans are hoping for major gains because of President Joe Biden's low approval ratings and high inflation.

"I trust the system, I respect the votes," Walz said on Minnesota Public Radio on Monday. "If voters next November choose to go in a different direction, I’ll respect that. If they choose to support me, I’m great with that."

Walz and lawmakers in both parties desperately want single-party control of the Capitol to pass more of their agendas. Minnesota has had the country's only divided state legislature for most of the past three years, requiring buy-in from both parties to get anything done. 

Democrats have a 70-64 advantage in the House, while the GOP has a slim 35-32 edge in the Senate, meaning a shakeup is possible if just a few seats exchange hands.

Redrawing the lines

The 2022 election will be the first with newly redrawn legislative and congressional district maps.

Tuesday, lawyers for four groups will make their final public arguments before a Minnesota Supreme Court-appointed special panel that is likely to have the final say over the district lines. The groups will argue why their maps are better than those produced by the others. The special panel will draw its final maps in private.

Technically, the Legislature still has a chance to agree on new districts by Feb. 15. But that's almost certain not to happen, and Minnesota courts have stepped in for decades.

(The special panel) is under just incredible deadlines," said David Schultz, a Hamline University political science professor. "And if you get any kind of litigation beyond the Minnesota Supreme Court – which I don’t rule out at this point – then you just make these deadlines even harder."

Big surplus

Before lawmakers hit the campaign trail, they'll be back in St. Paul for the legislative session that starts Jan. 31 and runs through mid-May.

They'll have decisions to make on the state's record-shattering $7.7 billion projected budget surplus -- a number that could get higher when state budget officials release their new forecast in late February.

There's no guarantee that anything gets done. Republicans are seeking a series of tax cuts for businesses and individual ratepayers, while Democrats have proposed new spending on early childhood education and paid family leave programs.

On top of the state's general fund surplus, lawmakers also have $1.1 billion in federal COVID-19 money to spend on pandemic relief. 

Senate Republicans, who have threatened for months to fire Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm through the confirmation process, will get their chance during the session.

And numerous long-stalled issues will have a new chance at success. Among them: legalized sports gambling and a relaxing of Minnesota's liquor laws to allow craft brewers and distillers to sell more of their products on-site.