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The politicking begins once the legislative session ends

Every seat in the 134-member Minnesota House is up for re-election this year, and lawmakers are already crafting their talking points to voters.

Democrats say one-party rule helped deliver key agenda items for Minnesota. But Republicans say the DFL overreached.

When political handicappers scan the election results this November looking for a bellweather race, one candidate they'll keep an eye on is Rep. Tim Faust, D-Hinckley. Faust was first elected when Democrats rode in on a political wave in 2006 and served until a Republican wave helped the GOP reclaim the majority in 2010. In 2012, Faust again won his seat when Democrats retook both chambers of the Legislature.

Faust knows he's one of the prime targets for Republicans looking to reclaim the majority.

"My district is a swing district," he said. "It's significantly better than it was in '06, '08 and '10 but it still isn't a safe district."

Even so, Faust said he's confident voters in his district will be happy with the work the Legislature did over the past two years. Faust said it balanced the state's budget, raised the minimum wage, spent more money on education and tried to reduce property taxes. He also said passing a public works construction bill that spends more than $1 billion will help put unemployed construction workers in his district back on the job.

"You're going to have to go back an awful long way to find a Legislature and a governor who got as much done as we did," he said.

Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL legislative leaders will make that same case to voters. House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said Democrats delivered on a pledge to pay for all-day kindergarten, repay the state's debt to school districts and deliver property tax relief to homeowners, businesses and farmers.

"It was focusing in again on delivering on some pretty big things for middle class Minnesota families, and I hope that they're looking at the two years that we accomplished here," Thissen said. "If you're looking at the two years, I think if people look back on the session in the future and say it was one of the most productive biennia that we've had in a long time. In a generation even."

Republicans look at the same two years and say the results were not good.

"Single party control with Democrats controlling all of state government hasn't served Minnesotans well," said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.

Daudt said Democrats raised taxes $2.1 billion last year. Even though they cut taxes by $550 million this year, Daudt said Democrats were too focused on spending. He said he would have preferred a larger tax cut, given the $1.2 billion budget surplus.

"Minnesota families haven't seen the full impact of the economic recovery," Daudt said. "The state has seen a small budget surplus because we were pretty disciplined in not increasing spending over the last couple of years, but unfortunately Minnesota families haven't seen that."

The Legislature also addressed several hot button issues over the past two years. Same-sex marriage became legal in August of last year. And the House and Senate sent Dayton a bill that will legalize some forms of medical marijuana.

Republicans didn't focus their criticism on those two issues but instead are sticking to the economy, government spending and jobs.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said Democrats could be putting the state in poor fiscal shape for the next budget cycle. He said recent tax collections are not hitting projections.

"I think we're going to be right back in the deficit potentially in the next budget because all of the spending that we've done," Hann said. "To me, the story of the session has been spend all of the money that you can."

Democrats object to Hann's characterization. Sen. Dick Cohen, D-St. Paul, said they put more money into the state's budget reserve and the state's economy is not faltering. He also said Hann and others didn't object to tax cuts this year.

"I thought they were the ones who said we should give it all back and not have any money on the bottom line," Cohen said. "You can't have it both ways."

The other person with a lot riding on the outcome of the session is Gov. Dayton. He's seeking a second four-year term in November, and voters will decide whether he and his fellow Democrats have been good for Minnesota, or if it's time for a change.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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