Rep. Dean Urdahl and Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, who each represent half of Hutchinson, handily won their bids for re-election Tuesday, but when they head to St. Paul for the next legislative session, they’ll be part of a changed House of Representatives.
Preliminary results show this was the largest margin of victory for Urdahl when he had a challenger. He garnered 97 percent of the vote when he had no challenger in 2016. The 18A representative, who was first elected in 2002, defeated his DFL opponent, Justin Vold, by roughly 45 points (69.19 percent to 24.85 percent) this round.
District 18B representative Gruenhagen was granted his fifth term by defeating DFL candidate Ashley Latzke by roughly 33 points (66.66 percent to 32.22 percent). But other elections around the state have changed the shape of the Minnesota Legislature.
“It really went well for me, but it’s tempered with the overall state,” Gruenhagen said Wednesday morning. “Some longstanding Republicans in the House got defeated. We’ll just have to see what comes out of it.”
Though Republicans still hold the Senate by one seat, they lost their 77-57 majority in the House, which flipped to 75-59 in favor of the DFL. Major changes occurred in the Twin Cities suburbs, where incumbent Republicans were beaten near the Interstate 494 corridor. Such was the case in Burnsville, Eden Prairie, Edina, Lakeville, Plymouth, Rosemount, Stillwater and Woodbury. Minnesota is the only state with a split Legislature.
“We did much worse in the suburbs,” Urdahl said. “I didn’t expect (Democrats) to literally roll the table on us, but they pretty much did.”
With the change in control of the House, Urdahl will no longer chair the Capital Investment Committee, and Gruenhagen will no longer serve as vice-chair of the Health and Human Services Reform Committee.
Urdahl said he hadn’t had a chance to study all the metrics yet, but he suspected the party hadn’t done well with women voters.
“Certainly, I’m pleased with my margin of victory,” he said. “But statewide wasn’t so good. All I can say is, it could have been worse. ... Winning that special election (a Senate race in the St. Cloud area) was very important to do.”
After President Donald Trump nearly won the state in 2016, Gruenhagen was optimistic but is now worried to see so many of the new DFL representatives in the metro area. He expects a fresh push for light rail funding and less attention given to the road and bridge needs of rural areas. He is also concerned about the possibility of a push for a single-payer health care system.
“I hope there will be some sanity that some of the rural Democrats will bring to their caucus,” Gruenhagen said. “We’ll see to what degree they allow the metro Democrats to implement their socialistic agenda.”
Over the past few years, the costly implementation of the MNLARS system, which was designed to make it easier to acquire vehicle plates, tabs or certificates of title, has made headlines. Numerous Minnesotans reported the system slowed down processes and created headaches. A report that tens of millions of dollars meant to fund daycare likely ended up in East Africa, including in Kenya and Somalia, drew outrage as well.
“That’s all been rewarded,” Gruenhagen said. “It concerns me greatly that we didn’t have some changes.”
The DFL also took the governor’s office, as Tim Walz defeated Republican Jeff Johnson.
“Of the three legs of the stool... we have one of them,” Urdahl said of Republicans holding the Senate while losing the House and governor’s office. “We will do the best that we can to work with Democrats for good government.”
He said that in the loss of Rep. Sara Anderson and Rep. Jen Loon, chairwoman of the Education Committee, Republicans had lost “really good leadership.”
“I think there’s a Trump effect there,” Urdahl said. “These were Clinton districts that we won for the most part. I think Trump played a role in what happened to us in the suburbs. But then, he probably also played a role in (Republicans) winning the Eighth District and possibly the First District.”
He called the election year a mixed bag overall.
“We lost the Minnesota House and the U.S. Congress, but apparently we lost fewer seats than the average for a midterm election for the party in power,” Urdahl said. “We kept the U.S. Senate, and we kept the Minnesota Senate.”
ELECTION WENT AS VOLD EXPECTED
Vold said the 18A race turned out the way he anticipated it would but that he was pleased to have met voters in the district.
“I got a lot of positive feedback, especially out door knocking,” he said, “just hearing the concerns of a lot of people whose voices don’t get heard by current representation. ... I heard from a lot of people who said they tried to reach out to (Urdahl), but he didn’t listen.”
Vold said he would consider running again, “if we don’t find anyone better.” He said it will be important to try harder to engage young voters in the next election.
“Reaching out to them is a difficult one,” he said. “I don’t think any of the younger demographic read the papers anymore these days. They might see it on Facebook. That’s tricky.”
Vold congratulated Urdahl on his victory.
“I hope he makes himself available to everyone,” he said.
LATZKE OPTIMISTIC AFTER ELECTION
While campaigning in her race against Gruenhagen, Latzke said, the No. 1 issue she heard about from voters was health care.
“Now that Democrats are in the (House) majority, I think that health care will get tackled,” she said. “I hope we have a wonderful outcome, and people can get the health care they need without going bankrupt. We also need more funding in education. The (governor-elect) is a teacher, and I feel he’s going to focus on that, and get a lot of backing.”
Latzke said the majority of her campaigning in recent months was spent knocking on doors in townships.
“I met a lot of dogs,” she said. “Just being out in public, trying to meet as many people as I could. Townships are what I wanted to focus on. They tend to vote Republican. I wanted to meet them and see what their concerns were.”
Latzke said she wished voter turnout had been higher. Preliminary results show 16,265 voters cast their ballot in 18B, which was roughly 72 percent of those registered who could vote in the race. In 2016, about 88 percent of registered voters who could vote in the 18B race were tallied.
“It was an important year,” Latzke said. “But the numbers were pretty much the same as what they always are in the district.”
As for the 18B election results, Latzke’s 32 percent of the vote was similar to Darrel Mosel’s 32 percent in 2016 and John Lipke’s 35 percent in 2014.
“I averaged, which is too bad,” Latzke said.
But she expects she will give the race another try.
“I’m going to start up in January again,” she said. “I’m going to get a team together and start campaigning right away. It’s tough, but I met so many good people that I want to do more.”