You don’t just need a trifecta to do what Minnesota Democrats did in their legislature this year. You need to get that trifecta understanding what the stakes are and having an ideologically consistent party fighting Republicans. We have the trifecta all the time in Rhode Island, but that doesn’t mean we are doing good stuff like this. But really, what Minnesota Democrats did this year is quite impressive.
“This was a bonanza year without precedent,” said Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota, highlighting the fact that the recently passed two-year budget is 40 percent larger than the current one. “Minnesota is an example of a full-on progressive gallop towards greater government activism and a willingness to spend just unimaginable amounts of money.”
Narrow Democratic majorities in the state House and Senate—including a one-vote margin in the upper chamber—made that gallop possible. Democrats unexpectedly flipped the state Senate in the 2022 midterm elections, granting the party a trifecta of power for the first time since 2013.
“It was a phenomenal legislative session.” Minnesota Governor Tim Walz told reporters during a trip to Washington, D.C., in June, adding, “I think somebody will write a book on it.” He framed the legislative accomplishments not only as “the right thing to do” but as advertisements for settling down in his state. “Northern cold states are going to have to make the pitch on why people should move and stay there,” Walz said.
For the governor and his fellow state Democrats, Minnesota’s argument is embodied in strengthened abortion protections, in paid family and medical leave policy, and in a new child tax credit for low-income parents. The list of other new policies reads like a progressive priority manifesto: restoring voting rights for the formerly incarcerated, automatic voter registration and pre-registration for teenagers, driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, background checks for private gun transfers and implementation of a red-flag law, a $1 billion investment in affordable housing, legalizing recreational marijuana, universal school meals, banning so-called “conversion therapy” (the practice of trying to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity), and expanding protections for transgender citizens. The legislature also passed a bill mandating a carbon-free electric grid by 2040.
Ken Martin, the chair of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party—the formal name for the state’s Democratic Party—said that years of divided government imbued lawmakers with a sense of urgency. “There was a newfound zeal to recognize that power is fleeting, right? You never know when you’re going to have power again,” Martin told me. “So you should use it when you have it to make the biggest difference that you can, and that is the approach that our elected officials brought into this session.”
The ideas did not appear out of the ether; Minnesota Democrats had been preparing legislation during their time out of power. “The practical work of lawmaking is not simple or easy,” said Jacobs. Legislators must write the proposals, figure out revenue streams, and determine how money will be spent. But Democrats “had worked a lot of that out beforehand,” he continued: “When the window opened, they went charging out.”
Can you imagine congressional Dems or the Senate having this kind of discipline with a one-vote majority. I think Joe Manchin just had a heart attack thinking of such a horror.