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Ingebrigtsen: Time to step up and get things done

By Don Davis

State Capitol Bureau

ST. PAUL -- Republicans are used to saying they could do a better job of legislating if Democrats would just get out of the way.

When the Minnesota Legislature becomes GOP controlled in January, they need to walk the talk.

"It is time for the Republicans to step up and get some things done they said they would get done," said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, a the District 11 Republican from Alexandria who won reelection over Morris challenger Jim Thoreen in Tuesday's election.

"And I think it will happen," Ingebrigtsen said Wednesday between trips picking up campaign signs.

District 11A Rep. Torrey Westrom, the incumbent from Elbow Lake, said election results showed that people want results, and the the GOP would be responsible for shouldering a larger part of that effort now.

"I think it sent a loud message," Westrom said. "It will be interesting to see how the governor's race turns out. "(Voters) peacefully but proactively sent a message about where they want the country and this state to go."

Or, as Rep. Tim Kelley, R-Red Wing, said that he heard from voters: "We put you there, you have to get things done."

In the House, Republicans have complained about Democratic-Farmer-Laborite control for four years, after they ran things for eight years.

Republicans have not controlled the Senate since lawmakers started running on partisan ballots. Conservatives held a majority in the early 1970s, when the Legislature was divided more informally between conservatives and liberals.

Thirty-four Democratic incumbent legislators, 13 in the Senate and 21 in the House, lost their re-election bids. No Republican incumbent lost.

Some races remain so close that recounts will be needed, but it appears Republicans will hold a 72-62 edge in the House and 37-30 Senate advantage.

"I'm not sure it has sunk in with everybody," Ingebrigtsen said.

It needs to sink in soon. Senate Republicans meet Friday and their House counterparts gather Saturday to begin plans to take over. It needs to be done by the time the Legislature convenes at noon Jan. 4.

Westrom said the work of transitioning power and dealing with substantial issues such as a projected $5.8 billion budget deficit must begin quickly -- as soon as the Saturday caucus.

"We'll start putting legislative ideas on the table and we'll do it right away," Westrom said. "I think we'll need all the days we have to fix this."

Among those who voters axed were Reps. Al Juhnke of Willmar, who led the House Agriculture and Veterans Affairs Finance Committee, and Bernie Lieder of Crookston, a long-time transportation expert and chairman of the House Transportation Finance Committee.

Those in both parties say a Republican political wave that swept the country Tuesday contributed to the switch, while Republicans also said voters were tired of government spending too much.

"The national tide, we were not immune to it," current House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said.

The next House speaker, considered the second most powerful person in state government, likely will be Rep. Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove. The Devils Lake, N.D., native attended the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks and handled press duties for then-Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn.

Several people are considering running for the No. 2 spot, majority leader.

Zellers said Wednesday that Republicans heard businesses complaining that the state makes it difficult for them, so he pledged to make changes in things such as reducing regulation.

Republican Andrea Kieffer, who beat incumbent Rep. Marsha Swails of Woodbury, added that "businesses are hurting."

Zellers and other Republicans would not go deep into what the party wants to do beginning in January, given all the details that need to be dealt with first.

"It is not a time for celebrating," he said, "it is a time to get to work."

A Senate committee chairman who survived the GOP tide blamed the party's most conservative branch.

"You've got that whole right wing on the outside telling the Republicans what to do," said Sen. Keith Langseth of Glyndon, forced to give up his leadership of the committee that determines public works project funding.

Langseth was among 18 DFL senators on a Republican hit list. He was one of two survivors.

"I'll be able to do some things, but not as much as I would have hoped," Langseth said.

Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon of Duluth, Democratic governor candidate Mark Dayton's running mate, said she has plenty of friends among legislative Republicans and said she would work with if Dayton wins a recount.

Ingebrigtsen said he hopes Republicans take enough time to consider how to organize themselves, including who to pick as leaders.

"I think we need to take a deep breath and take a look at these things," he said.

The man who beat Juhnke sounded much the same. "We're still taking it all in,'' Bruce Vogel said.

The Morris Sun Tribune, the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the West Central Tribune contributed to this story. Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.