Friday, January 04, 2008

Obscure election, outsized result

While the nation's attention was focused on Iowa, here in Minnesota we had our own touch of drama: a special election for the State Senate.

This normally wouldn't be a big deal. But it's got irony and surprisingly large political consequences.

Last fall, Gov. Tim Pawlenty (a Republican) appointed State Sen. Tom Neuville (also a Republican) to be a county judge. Neuville had been in the Senate since 1991, and his seat, in Northfield (a college town just south of the Twin Cities), was thought to be pretty safely Republican.

Until last night. That's when DFLer (Democrat to everybody else) Kevin Dahle defeated Republican Ray Cox, 55 percent to 42 percent, to win the seat.

So what, you might ask? Well, in the irony section, that one seat happens to be what the Senate DFL needed to secure a two-thirds majority -- giving them the power to override a Pawlenty veto.

So to recap: Gov. Tim Pawlenty, by appointing a Republican judge, ended up drastically weakening his political clout.

He's not totally irrelevant: the DFL only has 85 seats in the state House, five short of a veto-proof majority. But there often are enough Republican collaborators in that body to get an override on important issues. And if past trends continue, the DFL may secure a two-thirds majority in both houses this November -- the prospect of which makes it easier to find Republicans willing to support an override in the meantime.

November looks like it will be interesting on both a state and national level.

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