Things have never been better for the state DFL chair

by Howard Lestrud
ECM Political Editor

With the results of the Nov. 6 election in the history books, the Minnesota DFL is at the apex of political power and never been more powerful at a political level, says state DFL Chairman Ken Martin of Eagan.

Ken Martin, chair of the Minnesota DFL Party.

Martin, who is finishing his first term as party chair and says he plans to run for re-election next February, explains the DFL political power hold by pointing to the fact that DFLers control 7 of 10 federal offices, control all state constitutional offices including the governorship and have control of both chambers of the Minnesota Legislature.

Minnesota was the only state in the nation to flip both chambers during the last election, Martin says. The control of both bodies of the Legislature and of the governor’s chair marks the first time this has happened in 22 years.

The Minnesota DFL has rebounded from one of the worst elections in some time in 2010, losing the 38-year majority in the state Senate and losing the veto-proof House. “To come back two years later and sweep everything is pretty profound,” says Martin.

A number of things resulted in the party turn-around, Martin believes. “A good organization, money and first and foremost, we had good candidates and importantly we had issues where voters sent a message. Voters were sick and tired of partisanship, the shutdown, lack of action and gridlock. They wanted to see elected officials put voters’ interests ahead of their own.”

Using a style he learned from one of his political heroes, former college professor and U.S. senator Paul Wellstone, Martin tones: “Voters said let’s grow up, stop finger pointing, forget about placing blame and come up with solutions to problems people have.”

He says Republicans did not learn that you cannot push a narrow, rigid ideology at the state Legislature. He continued: “The focus must be on why people sent you there.” He says the Republicans did not do this and paid the price. “I hope DFLers have learned that lesson, too, and will be open to working with the other side to find compromise and to find solutions,” Martin adds.

The two constitutional amendments, marriage and voter ID, definitely had an effect on the election but were not a driving factor in whom people voted for, Martin said. The amendments “gave our base a shot in the arm and served as an issue to rally around,” he says. The amendments galvanized the DFL base “like no other candidate could have,” Martin continues.

Martin credits President Obama and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar for running strong campaigns in Minnesota and bringing helpful coattails to assist in the overall DFL victory.

Prior to the election, Martin says, he was confident the DFL would win the state Senate and thought there was an “excellent chance” to win the House. He thought the marriage amendment, which would have made same-sex marriage unconstitutional, would be defeated and thought the voter ID balloting would be close. Winning back the 8th Congressional District was also big. “We also almost won the Sixth,” he adds. Republican incumbent Michele Bachmann was challenged by DFLer Jim Graves who only lost by 4,000 votes.

Since the election of 2010, Martin says the DFL attempted to make the party processes much more inclusive and succeeded, he believes. The party looked at ways of improving representation in communities previously under represented and also worked to put more people in leadership positions. Fifty at-large positions were created in the DFL party leadership. More diversity was emphasized.

The DFL campaign was a big-tent campaign appealing to a broad  electorate, Minnesota’s DFL party chair says. He says the “real problem” for Republicans was their platform and messages that appealed to only a small segment of the population. ”That is real dangerous for a political party if you don’t have a big-tent process.” He mentions DFL support from the GLBT community, people of color, Latinos being necessary. Republicans appealed only to older, white voters, Martin says.

Martin is proud of the Minnesota DFL Party’s organization structure seeing it wipe out a $725,000 debt. “We spent $14 million on the last election cycle, the Republicans didn’t come close to doing that.”

Republicans are betting that Democrats could overreach with their power hold in the governors office and in both chambers of the Legislature.

“I’m not concerned about that,” Martin said. “We have to look for incremental change and change that makes sense. We must focus on issues people sent us to the Legislature. We cannot under perform. People did not send us to sit on our hands to do nothing. They want us to invest in our communities, our schools, our roads and to create jobs in the state.”

Emphasizing his role as party chair, Martin says he looks at fixing the structural deficit of $1.1 billion over the next two years as a DFL priority. It is more like $2 billion with inflation, he says. “We must find a way to solve the deficit, need a balanced approach in spending cuts and revenue and must figure out how we repay our schools.” Martin says Republicans took $3 million of school money over the last biennium.

Creating jobs is another major goal of the DFL, the party chair said. There are other things, too, he says. For example, there must be a focus on property tax control, Martin believes. He says the Legislature must stop passing the buck to local governments.

Asked if the DFL should aggressively pursue same-sex marriage legislation during the 2013 session, Martin says he believes the DFL should “definitely try to find a way to get marriage equality in this state.” Fixing the structural deficit should come first, however, he insists.

Looking at the new makeup of the Legislature cited some young stars of the DFL party: Rep. Steve Simon, 46B; Rep. Ryan Winkler, 46A; Rep. Melissa Franson, 8B; Rep. Carly Melin, 6A; Sen. Katie Sieben, 54; Rep. Erin Murphy, Majority Leader, 64A; Rep. Andrew Falk, 17A and Rep. Terry Morrow, 19A. “We have a lot of good, young and comers; our bench is deep,” Martin comments.

Providing an evaluation of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s first two years in office, Martin quickly says he would give him an “A-plus-plus” rating. “His popularity numbers compared to other governors in the nation are very high. He has really, in many ways, been the only adult in the room at times in trying to find a way to work with the other side. At the end of the day, he recognizes his job is to govern and not to prevent the other side from winning. His job was to put down the sword of campaigning, pick up the sword of governing and find solutions to problems in our state.”

Martin firmly believes Gov. Dayton is sincere, genuine and a fair leader in not being out to put partisan interests ahead of people in this state.

Using his two years of experience as party chair and possessing a large, diversified list of political credentials, Martin points to another two-year term.

Martin grew up in Eden Prairie and is married to Jennifer. The couple has two sons, Sam, 10 and James, 8.