Legislative Update – February 13, 2018

Balance of power in Minnesota Legislature will remain the same after yesterday’s special election

When lawmakers return to St. Paul next week for the 2018 legislative session, the balance of power in both the Senate and House will remain the same after yesterday’s special election. Two special elections were held yesterday to replace legislators who resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct.

In the House, Republican Tony Cornish resigned his seat in District 23B, which includes parts of Blue Earth, LeSueur, Waseca and Watonwan counties. Republican Jeremy Munson of Lake Crystal won that seat over DFLer Melissa Wagner of Lake Crystal with 59.2 percent of the vote. Munson is a small-business owner and consultant. The balance of power will remain the same in the House of Representatives with 77 Republicans and 57 DFL members.

In the Senate, a special election was held in District 54, which includes Hastings, Cottage Grove and South St. Paul, to replace DFLer Dan Schoen’s seat. DFLer Karla Bigham of Cottage Grove won that seat over Republican Denny McNamara of Hastings, 51 percent to 47 percent. Bigham served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 2007-2011, where she served as the Vice Chair of the Public Safety and Civil Justice Committee, as well as served on the Public Safety Finance, State Government Finance, and Veteran Affairs Committees.

Yesterday’s special election for the vacant seat in Senate District 54 played an important role in the balance of power in the Senate, where the margin in the Senate is much closer; the Republicans have a 34-33 majority. Adding to the complexity of the balance of power in the Senate is the lawsuit filed against Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, who is also serving as the acting lieutenant governor after former Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith was appointed to the U.S. Senate. The lawsuit stated that Fischbach cannot serve as both senator and lieutenant governor. However, a judge dismissed the lawsuit yesterday, saying it was filed too soon. Ramsey County Chief Judge John Guthmann wrote that the lawsuit “is premature and based on speculation.” Guthmann said that the court has no jurisdiction to decide if Fischbach is eligible to remain in the Senate, and stated that the state constitution does not specifically allow judges to remove a lawmaker from office, but it does allow for constituents, through a recall election, and the Legislature, with a two-thirds vote, to remove a lawmaker. Seven of nine senators in the past who have also served as lieutenant governor did not resign their Senate seat. While the lawsuit was dismissed yesterday, a new case can be filed, or the judge’s decision may be appealed.

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