Minnesota Democrats holding a trifecta have high hopes for 2023


Urva Jha

Shot overlooking the beautiful mural and rotunda at the Minnesota State Capitol.

Griffith Pugh, section editor

In 2022, a midterm year where Republicans were poised for a “red wave,” the Minnesota political landscape changed unexpectedly. Democrats outperformed expectations and now hold the trifecta—majorities in the House, Senate, and governorship—a helpful tool in achieving their wide legislative goals such as….

Historically, Minnesota has been a stronghold for Democrats. In the 1984 presidential election, Minnesota was the only state in the nation to vote for the Democratic candidate Walter Mondale over Republican incumbent Ronald Reagan. Over the past decade, however, partisan trends have shifted, causing geographic realignment. The Iron Range has changed, becoming more conservative while the suburbs surrounding the Twin Cities have become more liberal-leaning. Following the 2018 midterm election, Minnesota was the only state in the country with a divided legislature. 

According to exit polls, the main reason Minnesota Democrats were able to avoid a bloodbath in the 2022 elections—and gain seats—was the fight over abortion rights and backlash following the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June 2022. “Abortion remained just as salient as the day after the Dobbs decision,” St. Olaf Political Science professor Christopher Chapp said in an article published by the college’s student newspaper. Policy-issues alone aren’t typically enough to motivate voter turnout. Chapp stated that issues like abortion are an exception to that rule. “They’re capable of mobilizing people. The abortion issue did play a major role,” Chapp said. 

Quickly responding to the demands of the voters, one of the first legislative actions taken in the new year by Minnesota Democrats was passing abortion protections. The Pro-Act was signed by Governor Tim Walz on Jan. 31, 2023, and codifies the right to abortion into Minnesota state law. The 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court case Doe v. Gomez already guaranteed the right to an abortion in Minnesota, but following the U.S Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, state Democratic leaders vowed to enshrine abortion rights into law. “[We] prevented politicians from making medical decisions for women,” Minnesota Representative Heather Edelson (D-MN 50A) said. 

As seen by the speedy passage of the Pro-Act, with majorities in all three branches, Minnesota Democrats have their eyes on passing legislation that has been bottled up for years. One of the areas of focus is education. On Feb. 9, the Minnesota House voted on a bill that would provide free universal school lunch. Passing 70-58, it is expected to be discussed in the Sentate. Rep. Edelson herself is sponsoring a bill that focuses on providing funding for curriculum changes. The idea behind this is to raise the quality of early-education curriculum in all districts across the state. “[We’re] changing the foundations of literacy in elementary school to learn phonemes and phonetics, helping improve reading fluency,” Rep. Edelson said. She is also pushing to make sure that recess can’t be withheld from K-5 students. “[With] students having a hard time at school, one of the worst things you can do is withhold recess,” Rep. Edelson said.

One of the biggest and most anticipated pieces of legislation in Minnesota is the possible legalization of marijuana. According to a Minnesota State House survey poll from 2022, over 60% of Minnesotan’s support legalization. Over the past decade, dozens of states across the US have legalized marijuana as public opinion surrounding the drug has shifted. “For years I was opposed to [its] legalization as I grew up in a house with substance abuse. It took me a journey to get here, and now I’m supportive,” Rep. Edelson said. In July 2022, Edelson was a co-sponsor of the bill that legalized small-dose THC edibles in Minnesota. Rep. Edelson believes legalization of marijuana will be achieved in the 2023 legislative cycle. 

Given the narrow 34 to 33 Democratic majority in the state Senate, unity will be key to advancing the Democratic agenda. Unity on every issue, however, is not guaranteed. “I expect the biggest fight will be within the Democratic Party on the budget,” Chapp said. Decisions will have to be made on how to re-distribute the $17.6 billion budget surplus that Minnesota currently has. Governor Tim Walz proposed “Walz Checks,” which would send the money back to Minnesotans across the state. “The governor wants checks to go out to people. That’s not going to happen,” Rep. Edelson said. “The governor might want world peace, but the governor doesn’t have a vote in the Senate or in the House to do that.” Issues like this remind voters that Democrats aren’t monolithic. “It won’t be easy, but we’re gonna put the pressure on to get stuff done,” Rep. Edelson said.