Questions abound after the 2012 election

Published 9:14 am Monday, November 12, 2012

By Dave Churchill, Guest Column

Last week’s election could go down in the books as the one where the most effort went into achieving virtually no change. Or it might be a watershed in the nation’s divisive politics.

Minnesotans got themselves all knotted up over a couple of constitutional amendments that generated some costly marketing campaigns and lots of talk but, when the dust settled, ended up being nothing but wind. The only upside of all that wasted energy is that the failure of the voter identification amendment means there won’t be a big payday for lawyers wrangling over application and interpretation.

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Nothing changes in the Oval Office.

Dave Churchill

Nothing changes in the United States Congress, where Republicans retain control, or in the United States Senate where Democrats are still the majority.

Closer to home, the mayor stays the same and there’s minimal change on the city council — certainly not enough to believe anything will be different at City Hall (not that I’m suggesting there should be). There will be one new county board member come January, but there’s no reason to think that Polly Glynn’s basic beliefs about county government are much different than longtime incumbent Ray Tucker’s.

Austin residents — and most of Mower County — keep the same state representative and state senator. Just west of here, the DFL regained a seat lost to the Republicans two years ago, a one-and-done situation for soon-to-be-former Rep. Rich Murray.

The shift at the Minnesota Capitol, from Republican control to DFL, is the big story in this state, bigger by far than the failed amendments. For the first time since the 1990s, Minnesotans have broken with tradition and put a governor, Senate and House of the same party in control in St. Paul. Not since the days of Rudy Perpich has that happened, and some have speculated that Minnesotans in some mysterious group-mind may have intentionally avoided giving full control to either party.

Therein lies the potential for this to be a watershed election. Will the DFL go hog wild with power, indulging the party extremists who see no reason not to spend more and pay for it with increased taxes? Will the party back lawmakers who want to overturn the state’s current legal block to gay marriage?

That sort of reaction would be understandable and, indeed, a story on Page 1 of Thursday’s Herald noted that some DFL lawmakers are already moving in that direction. It would, however, be terrible government, more a response to the excesses of Republican lawmakers during the past two years than any reasoned attempt to govern wisely.

The real watershed moment will occur if wise heads at the Capitol decide to use their newfound power wisely, to seek agreements with political opponents and in general return Minnesota to a state of good government.

It’s the excesses, the playing to fringe elements, that probably sparked this fall’s backlash against legislative incumbents. It will be fascinating — and, of course, important to us all — to see whether the DFL can avoid the same pitfalls. If so, it may set Minnesota back on course regardless of who controls the Legislature and governor’s office in future years.

Meanwhile, there’s a similar opportunity in Washington where the balance of power remains unchanged but where there is a chance that both parties have learned something about what the voters want — which is sane, measured government, as opposed to displays of extremism that lead to gridlock.

The first test will come soon, as the old Congress (which is the same as the new Congress) takes one last run at patching together spending and taxation legislation in the face of looming deadlines.

On the surface, not much changed when the polls closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday. The question will be whether there are deeper currents that lead to better government in 2013.


Dave Churchill is the publisher of the Austin Daily Herald.