As many people are aware, an unusually intense political situation continues to brew in our state capital of St. Paul. With the Legislature getting back into session, and the election looming in November, one thing hangs over it all. This is the status of Lt. Gov. Fischbach, and with her, control of the Minnesota Senate.
In 2016, as President Donald Trump was elected to the nation’s highest office, massive changes also occurred in our state Legislature. The Republican Party increased its majority in the state House to 77 members against the DFL’s 57. Even more importantly, the GOP gained six seats in the state Senate, giving them a narrow majority of 34 seats to 33.
It seemed like this would be a tenuous hold. As the Senate isn’t up for re-election until 2020, the Republicans would have to deal with a one-seat majority, balancing power on a thread. However, two recent events brought this situation into doubt.
First was the resignation of Dan Schoen, DFL state senator for District 54. After his departure forced by sexual misconduct allegations, Democrats were left in the unfavorable situation of defending a seat they won by only six points in 2016.
Second was the resignation of U.S. Sen. Al Franken in the wake of similar allegations. With two Senate seats in Washington up for grabs, Democratic Gov. Dayton needed to pick someone to hold the seat until November 2018. His choice, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, then resigned to take up her new job in the nation’s capital.
With Smith’s position vacant, Republican state Senate President Michelle Fischbach was elevated to the role by the State Constitution. Fischbach and Republicans have argued that she can hold both positions at once. Democrats disagree, and have fought to force her to give up her state Senate seat. If successful, this would then bring the State Senate to a 33-33 tie, pending a special election for Fischbach’s seat.
These events came to a head last week Feb. 12 when an initial lawsuit against Fischbach was dismissed by a Ramsey County judge. Although the case was dismissed, the judge left open the possibility for another suit to come up with stronger backing. Later that night, the DFL managed to hold Senate District 54, with successful candidate Karla Bigham bringing the Democrats back to 33 seats in the Senate.
Thus, back to the lieutenant governor we go. Efforts to unseat Fischbach or help her keep both roles will now be of paramount importance. If we end up going to a special election for Fischbach’s seat, though, Democrats shouldn’t get their hopes up. Senate District 13, in which many readers of the Newsleaders live, is solidly Republican. Fischbach was backed by almost 69 percent of voters back in 2016, and she has said that she would run to regain her seat. Barring a huge Hail Mary for the Democrats, flipping the Senate is a forlorn hope.
So why all the drama? What’s the point of trying to force voters back to the polls? The answer, blatant politicking on the part of the DFL. Back in December, state Republican legislative leaders offered to hold a special session to elect a Democratic state Senate President. This person would then succeed to lieutenant governor once Smith was gone, preserving the will of the voters in 2014 when the DFL governor and lieutenant governor ticket was elected.
But, as the governor is the only individual able to formally call the legislature up, Dayton declined. DFL legislators such as their Senate leader Tom Bakk said, with Fischbach out, the Senate would be “up for grabs.”
Not only is this entire situation completely unnecessary, it’s a barely-disguised power grab by Minnesota Democrats. And, now we are being forced to play their game, rather than dealing with the actual business of governing this state. If Fischbach is forced to resign, we should turn out to vote in the special election and show them that we won’t stand for this. And, in November, let’s do the same.
Connor Kockler is a Sauk Rapids-Rice High School student. He enjoys writing, politics and news, among other interests.