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Dems pin mid-term hopes on accomplishments

DFL state chairman Ken Martin hopes DFL progress translates into mid-term support in November. SUBMITTED PHOTO

It’s not so much Republicans, but fellow Democrats that keep DFL State Chairman Ken Martin awake at night.

His biggest nightmare for the general election on Nov. 4 is that Democrats stay home and don’t vote.

That’s what happened in 2010, when Republicans romped to victory in Minnesota, taking both houses of the Legislature and even ousting 35-year veteran Congressman James Oberstar from his seat in the usually solid blue Iron Range.

Gov. Mark Dayton, a DFLer, squeaked to victory that year because the Republicans essentially split their votes between Republican Tom Emmer and Tom Horner, a former Republican who won nearly 12 percent of the vote that year as the Independence Party candidate.

Dayton won by fewer than 10,000 votes out of more than 2 million ballots cast.

Also up for re-election this year is U.S. Sen. Al Franken, who won an even closer contest in 2008.

After a recount, he was found to have defeated Republican incumbent Norm Coleman by 312 votes.

In 2012, a presidential election year, the DFL swept into power in both houses of the Minnesota Legislature, thanks in part to a big turnout for President Obama’s reelection campaign.

For the first time since 1990 — when Rudy Perpich was governor — the party controlled the governorship and the Legislature.

“The turnout for elections for Democrats is like a roller coaster — they tend to stay home during mid-term elections (and turn out in large numbers during presidential elections),” Martin said.

So what to expect from this year’s election? The traditional tea leaves don’t look very auspicious for the Democrats — not only is it a midterm election, but it is the mid-point of Obama’s second term — “the six-year itch,” as Martin puts it, and that’s rarely good news for the political party in power.

But he believes the DFL has made good use of its two years in power.

“I feel the DFL is in a really strong position right now — Sen. (Kent)  Eken and Rep. (Paul) Marquart have done a great job for this district; both are in leadership positions,” Martin said. He stopped in Detroit Lakes recently during a visit to this part of the state.

Martin was elected DFL chair in February of 2011, when the party was deeply in debt and dispirited over major losses in 2010. Known for his organizational and fundraising skills, he has put party coffers firmly in the black.

He practices what he preaches, making at least six fundraising calls a day, just like he used to require of the candidates whose campaigns he managed.

He hopes the statewide campaign infrastructure he helped build will overcome the “six year itch” and help the DFL hold control of the Legislature in the general election Nov. 4.

Martin says the DFL-controlled state government has a lot to be proud of, with a $673 million deficit turned into a $1.2 billion surplus.

Minnesota is the fifth-fastest growing economy in the nation, with 180,000 new jobs created since Gov. Dayton took office.

“There are more Minnesotans working since anytime in the state’s history,” he said.

The DFL balanced the budget by imposing an income tax hike on the wealthiest 2 percent and by raising the tobacco tax. It also imposed three business-to-business sales taxes that have since been removed, at the cost of $300 million.

“We said if the economy was strong, we would repeal those this session, and we did,” Martin said. “Now the only people paying more in the state are the wealthiest (2 percent) and those who smoke.”

With a $1.2 billion surplus, the DFL has passed a $400 million “middle class tax cut,” and spent funds to bring the state tax code into alignment with federal tax code.

It eliminated the marriage penalty and raised the estate tax exemption from $1 million to $2 million.

“A lot more people have over a $1 million estate than you’d imagine,” he said.

It liberalized the gift tax so “now you can give $14,000 away without being taxed, and you can give $14,000 to an unlimited number of people,” Martin said.

The DFL also earmarked $150 million for a rainy day reserve.

“It was completely depleted under the Republicans,” he said. “They used a lot of smoke and mirrors and took every pot of money they could to raise money without raising taxes, so there was no cushion in tough times.”

The DFL passed a K-12 anti-bullying law and the Women’s Economic Security Act, and it is committed to a sizable bonding bill this year, he said.

It also raised the state’s minimum wage, resulting in higher wages for 350,000 people, including 130,000 families with children.

“It’s an historic bill,” Martin said.

Much of that money will be pumped back into the state’s economy, creating $470 million in economic impact every year. “It actually has a huge impact,” he said.

Still, Martin expects this to be a “tough year to navigate” for DFL candidates.

“If we remind people how we’ve done and how we’ve used the power we’ve gained in improving people’s lives, I think they’ll remain with us and go with Gov. Dayton and Sen. Franken,” he said.