Minnesota Legislature opens 2011 session
Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Minnesota's Legislature convened under full Republican control for the first time in 38 years on Tuesday, part of a historic change that gives the party control of the legislative agenda as it and a new Democratic governor face a $6.2 billion budget shortfall.
Votes without suspense confirmed the ascension of House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, who becomes the first woman to lead the state Senate. The two take over promising to focus on jobs and the economy in order to bring down a 7.1 percent unemployment rate.
"We have a daunting task ahead of us. This is going to be a difficult recovery," said Zellers, R-Maple Grove.
Gov. Mark Dayton, Minnesota's first Democratic governor in 20 years, struck a hopeful tone about how work would proceed, despite stark differences in political philosophies among the state's new leaders.
"There's a Zen saying," Dayton said on Minnesota Public Radio. "In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert's, few."
Both chambers came to order shortly after noon under the supervision of two Democrats, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie in the House and Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon in the Senate, before they handed over the leadership.
Republicans are taking over the Senate for the first time since the early 1970s and will lead the House again after four years in the minority.
"My office is new but I haven't gone far. I will be just downstairs," said Prettner Solon, a former state senator from Duluth. "I look forward to working with you as we go about doing the people's work."
The reading of the member rolls and the inauguration of all 201 state lawmakers occurred separately in the House and Senate.
A little drama sneaked into the largely ceremonial opening-day business. Senate Democrats attempted to block former Human Services Commissioner Cal Ludeman, who served in former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's cabinet, from being named Senate secretary, but failed. House Republicans also deferred a vote on a Democratic proposal to limit consideration of constitutional amendments while the state runs a deficit.
GOP leaders kept the tone upbeat. Koch, R-Buffalo, looked up at senators' friends and family members sitting in the galleries above the Senate floor as she talked about her first visits to the Capitol as a student.
"Like all those that come to the Capitol, I will always be looking up," she said.
After the floor sessions wrapped up, Dayton opened his reception room to lawmakers, greeting them one by one and appearing in photos when asked. Members of both parties waited in a line that snaked out the door, and some milled around drinking punch and eating cookies decorated with chocolates in the shape of Minnesota and loons, the state bird.
Hours before taking their oaths for real, the large crew of new senators had practiced in an ornate meeting room below the Capitol rotunda.
First-term Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, brought his wife and parents to watch him run through the oath of office with former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice A.M. "Sandy" Keith.
"I'm very excited, very excited," said Miller, who defeated a one-term Democratic senator in November. "We have a lot of challenges ahead of us. It's going to be a very difficult session."
Freshman lawmakers -- mostly Republicans -- make up more than a third of the 67-member Senate and a quarter of the 134-member House.
"I've had a chance to sit in the Senate chamber there a couple of times now. Yeah, it's really a humbling experience," said first-term Sen. John Pederson of St. Cloud, who narrowly won an open seat previously held by a Democrat.
Pederson added: "Our residents have been real clear that jobs and the economy have to be our first priority."
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(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)