Walz starts transition to governor after big win

Gov.-elect Tim Walz, center, speaks during a news conference in the state Capitol Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in St. Paul, Minn., as Lt. Gov.-elect Peggy Flanagan, right, and his wife Gwen Walz listen.

Minnesota is now the only state in the nation with a split-power Legislature following Tuesday’s midterm elections, presenting some real opportunities for lawmakers and Gov.-elect Tim Walz.

It also presents challenges for Democrats gaining control of the House in January.

A Legislature without a majority or supermajority in power can have meaningful discussions on the tough topics. There will be plenty as the state enters session next year: gas taxes, health care, mining, bonding — the list goes on.

It’s seems too idealistic that there will be some sort of harmony in St. Paul right away. Walz will have considerable work bridging divides created by contentious sessions that accomplished little, and separated the parties in power more. There will be growing pains for the new administration.

But that doesn’t mean Walz cannot be successful. While the obvious challenge in front of him is to find middle ground that Democrats and Senate Republicans can agree on, he also faces potential sticky situations in the Dem-controlled House.

Tuesday’s election results clearly showed rural areas of Minnesota are increasingly turning toward Republicans. The 8th Congressional District turned red for the second time in 72 years. Walz’s own seat in the 1st District flipped Republican, and Democratic Congressman Collin Peterson’s 7th District seat is expected to turn when he leaves the post.

More locally, the Iron Range still elected or re-elected Democrats Dave Lislegard in 6B, Julie Sandstede in 6A and Rob Ecklund in 3A. But those lawmakers are facing increased pressure as rural Democrats in a party that many on the Range feel isn’t working in their best interests — especially on the topic of copper-nickel mining.

All of this Walz can relate to and is especially intriguing considering the rural-urban team he has formed with Lt. Gov.-elect Peggy Flanagan. They have a unique opportunity to guide the party back on the right track.

For House Democrats, particularly incoming Speaker Melissa Hortman and those selected to the Natural Resource Committee, they cannot ignore the message sent by rural Minnesota last week. A seven-seat cushion in the House is no reason to read into the results any differently. Lislegard, Sandstede and Ecklund have been and will continue to be good representatives for the Iron Range and its interests.

It would help this region, and their success as lawmakers, if party leaders worked in concert with them on the critical issues to rural Minnesota. Even if means leaving their comfort zone to do so.

Voters in rural Minnesota are continuing to show a powerful voice across the state. The Iron Range and its rural areas sent a strong message Tuesday.

It’s time to listen.

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