The Democratic leaders of the new Legislature are in place.
Last week House and Senate Democrats, meeting in caucus, elected House Minority Leader Paul Thissen of Minneapolis as Speaker of the House-elect and Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook as Senate Majority Leader-elect.
The Democrats will replace Republican Senate Majority Leader David Senjem of Rochester and House Speaker Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove, whose positions and majorities were swept away by voters in an election Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton deemed an “extraordinary evening.”
The Legislature will convene in early January.
Senate Democrats also elected Sen. Katie Sieben of Cottage Grove as Assistant Senate Majority Leader-elect and House Democrats elected Rep. Erin Murphy of St. Paul as House Majority Leader-elect.
Senate Democrats also elected Sen. Sandra Pappas of St. Paul as Senate President-elect.
The Senate president presides over Senate floor sessions.
Senate Democrats gathered at the St. Paul Hotel to organize their caucus — a committee of nine members that will make further organizational efforts, such as committee assignments, and bring their recommendations back to the full caucus after Thanksgiving.
Bakk’s election was by unanimous vote.
“I think our caucus really stands united,” Sieben said, who was elected assistant majority leader on the first ballot.
Bakk, for his part, said his caucus’ top priority was to address the state budget.
Legislators are looking at a projected $2 billion state budget deficit and additional budget cutting will be necessary, he said.
According to Bakk, Senate Democrats will refrain from using budgeting “gimmicks” in addressing the budget and will no longer pursue the perceived Republican policy of the “demonization” of local government.
Dayton, although saying he and the Democratic-controlled Legislature will not always agree, also spoke of fiscal prudence.
“No more gimmicks and no more (school funding) shifts as far as I’m concerned,” Dayton said after addressing the Senate Democratic Caucus.
For his part, Bakk discarded the idea that the $2.4 billion borrowed from the schools would be repaid anytime soon.
“This state budget is wrecked,” Bakk said.
He said he placed blame on the political ambitions of former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty in part for the ongoing budget crises.
In addition to electing Bakk and Sieben, Senate Democrats elected Sen. Richard Cohen of St. Paul as Senate Finance Committee chairman and Sen. Rod Skoe of Clearbrook as Senate Tax Committee chairman.
For his part, Thissen spoke of addressing the pressing issues of the state.
“To move forward, we must work together with Governor Dayton and legislators on both sides of the aisle so we get past the gridlock and govern effectively,” Thissen said in a statement.
“We face big challenges but we can meet them if we work together.”