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A Historic Change Comes to the Minnesota State Senate

By Mary Lahammer

Story published: November 17, 2020

It’s the 6th special session since the state of emergency started in Minnesota during the COVID pandemic - and this one has perhaps the most intrigue as the Senate replaced its Republican president with a Democrat in case there’s a repeat of a Governor appointing the Lt. Governor to fill a U.S. Senate seat - that is, if Sen. Amy Klobuchar is appointed to the Biden Administration.

So, DFL Sen. David Tomassoni is the new president of the Republican-controlled Senate in case he ascends to Lt. Governor as the constitution requires. “This is the first time since the advent of partisan politics in the legislature that there’s a president of the minority party,”  said Tomassoni, the new DFL Senate President.

In response, DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman reacted, “Oh that wacky Minnesota Senate." DFL Majority Leader Ryan Winker responded differently in light of record deaths and hospitalizations: "People are dying, and they’re playing parlor games. It’s irresponsible.”

GOP House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said the move “potentially opens up a seat Republicans think they could win, but it’s speculation." House Republicans tried to get a measure passed to get the governor to work with the legislature more during the state of emergency as cases and deaths skyrocket, prompting Governor Walz to add new pandemic restrictions. Rep. Barb Haley (R-Red Wing) explained, “We believe this is a responsible approach that gets the legislature back to the table and frankly allows us to do our job to represent restaurant owners, teachers, parents - and we’re being shut out of the process right now.”

Gov. Tim Walz instituted a 10 p.m. curfew for bars and restaurants, and limited social gatherings to 10 people to try to tamp down the deadly surge. "I feel like the guy from Footloose, no dancing, no fun, no whatever," Walz said, adding that, "we should have broken the back of this months ago in this country. We have not."

The Minnesota Medical Association and Mayo Clinic applauded the governor for new restrictions. Dr. Amy Williams from Mayo Clinic said, “I think it’s a huge step, but even if you go to one of those events, if you go to a small gathering, you have to be masked. You have to have social distancing. It is incredibly important [to have] good hand hygiene. That will save us.”

“We’re not going into people’s homes and arresting them at Thanksgiving," Gov. Walz concluded. Ultimately, public officials know a long winter is ahead while we wait for a vaccine.

With a lot of shuffling among political positions in the wake of the November election, Minnesota remains the only state in the nation with a divided House and Senate. Almanac Political Reporter Mary Lahammer offers this look at what that means for the political road ahead.

When former child actor Brock Pierce – who also ran for President as an Independent candidate – traveled to Minnesota, he got some pointers from former third-party governor Jesse Ventura and former U.S. Senator Dean Barkley, who earned major party status for the Reform Party, which later became the Independence Party. Almanac Political Reporter Mary Lahammer takes a look at the influence of third parties in Minnesota politics.

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