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Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


For the first time in eight years, and against all odds, Democrats won control of both bodies in the Minnesota Legislature Tuesday, growing their majority in the House and gaining a one-seat majority in the Senate.

Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan were re-elected to new terms, as were Attorney General Keith Ellison, Secretary of State Steve Simon and State Auditor Julie Blaha, making a clean sweep of Democratic control.

Those victories demonstrate a few things, chief among them that candidate quality matters. Also, Republican messaging that focused on fear and obstruction didn't resonate with critical majorities in cities and suburbs and parts of rural Minnesota. And, in a triumph of competence over demagoguery, Simon was the top vote-getter in the state, soundly defeating Republican Kim Crockett, who spewed a fountain of misinformation during the election.

Control of the Legislature couldn't come at a more opportune time for Democrats. Minnesota is recovering from the pandemic, thanks partly to mass vaccinations and a robust booster program. It has record-low unemployment and is sitting atop one of the country's largest per capita budget surpluses: $9 billion in a state with a $26 billion annual operating budget.

That sets the stage for DFLers to deliver on policies they had only dreamed of in recent years. In the House, Speaker Melissa Hortman told an editorial writer that list includes improved funding for public schools; making health care both more affordable and accessible; passing a family and medical leave policy that would ensure workers can care for family members when necessary; tackling affordable housing, and addressing public safety and climate change.

The Star Tribune Editorial Board embraces many of those same goals but will reserve judgment until the legislation takes shape. Housing and public safety are good starting points.

"There is tremendous passion in my caucus for creating deeply affordable housing," Hortman said. "On public safety, we already have a strong plan on the table that invests in fighting and preventing crime that is backed by data. We need to recognize the shortage of law enforcement officers, and we will address it."

Another worthy goal regarding crime: Hortman said she wants to deliver the additional funding Ellison has sought for years to expand the number of criminal prosecutors he needs to assist local county attorneys in complex cases. "He is very effective at prosecuting crime," Hortman said. "We want to deliver the help these local county attorneys need in prosecuting violent crime."

Senate DFLers' one-seat majority will require discipline if they are to keep pace, but they can confirm Walz's cabinet members and judicial appointments. Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, who courageously stood her ground in helping guide the state through the pandemic despite Republican threats to take up a confirmation vote that could have dismissed her, should be among the first to be confirmed by a DFL Senate.

Hortman knows that while the DFL policy list is long, the degree of progress on those issues may be affected by an upcoming economic forecast showing the extent to which inflation has eroded the surplus. It also will provide the latest projections on chances for a recession. The state may need a chunk of the surplus to cover the costs of programs that tend to increase in a recession.

An ebullient Walz said in a news conference Wednesday that progress, rather than gridlock, would be the order of the day, with a focus on public safety, sustainable tax reform and investments in people. "'One Minnesota' is not just a slogan," he said.

Walz has an opportunity now to govern a state that is not in the middle of a public health catastrophe and civil unrest. He should prove, through words and actions, that he and his party can bring this still-divided state together.

That task is made easier by the many issues that unite Minnesotans. Rural areas suffer from a lack of affordable housing just as more populated areas do. Greater Minnesotans want better schools, public safety, and better and more affordable health care. They want economic development that will revitalize their towns.

Hortman said there were valuable takeaways from the pandemic. "We learned that people can work from anywhere in a whole host of jobs," she said. "We are going to use that to bring economic vitality to all parts of the state."

Hortman also wants a special session with the outgoing Legislature because gridlock prevented the passage of a capital investments bill in the last session. This time, she said, "I think it would be great for Democrats and Republicans to join together on a bonding bill that would benefit the entire state. The work is all done, and it's ready to go."

Republicans would have to agree to limit a special session agenda to just the bonding bill and forgo any attempts to, say, vote down commissioners. That said, the Legislature has an opportunity to close out a rough year on a high note, with a package that delivers jobs and economic benefits across the state.