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Control of Minnesota's legislature is on the line in a special election this fall

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Minnesota's state Senate is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans after the resignation of a lawmaker earlier this month. Voters there will decide, in a special election this fall, who will control the state Senate. But as Minnesota Pubic Radio's Dana Ferguson reports, control of the entire legislature is on the line.

DANA FERGUSON, BYLINE: Democratic state Senator Kelly Morrison is stepping down to run for Congress, setting up a 33-33 split in the chamber, with no tiebreaker vote. The special election for her seat will coincide with the November general election. That'll determine whether Minnesota Democrats continue to have a trifecta. That's where a party controls both legislative chambers and the governor's office. Republican Senate minority leader Mark Johnson says Minnesotans are looking for a change.

MARK JOHNSON: This really does highlight that Minnesotans are looking for a more balanced approach, with 33-33, with one retirement.

FERGUSON: But Democrats are also dealing with another potential departure. Party leaders have called on State Senator Nicole Mitchell to resign. She was arrested for burglary in April at her stepmother's home. Mitchell said she was trying to retrieve her late father's ashes and other items, and she said she does not intend to step down.

No matter how it shakes out, there won't be an immediate impact. The state legislature adjourned in May, and lawmakers won't return until next year's session begins in January. Here's Johnson again.

JOHNSON: We have a chance to really reset the table again and make sure that it's commonsense, bipartisan proposals that are going forward.

FERGUSON: Democrats won control of the legislature in 2022, teeing them up to pass much of their wish list. Since then, Democrats passed bills cementing legal protections for abortion and gender-affirming care, legalizing recreational cannabis, funding free school meals and setting up a state paid family and medical leave program. Democratic Senate majority leader Erin Murphy says her caucus is ready to stump on the work that the trifecta got done in the last two years.

ERIN MURPHY: We're going to go out and tell the story of what we accomplished for the people of Minnesota.

FERGUSON: Eric Ostermeier founded the Minnesota Historical Election Archive and says the state has faced similar situations three times since 1973. He says enthusiasm around top-ticket races could determine who takes control of the legislature.

ERIC OSTERMEIER: So we're definitely going to see many seats flip. The question is, is it kind of, like, evenly, or is there going to be a tilt towards one party or the other?

FERGUSON: The last time a special election determined who controlled the legislature was in 2018. Back then, Republicans came out on top, maintaining a Senate majority while Democrats flipped the House.

For NPR News, I'm Dana Ferguson in St. Paul.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERIC TUCKER SONG, "FWM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Dana Ferguson
[Copyright 2024 MPR News]
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