- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 9, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday he’s bracing for gridlock with a unified Republican front at the Legislature next year.

Democrats up-and-down the ballot struggled Tuesday amid Donald Trump’s surprisingly strong performance in a state long written off by Republicans. That helped the GOP expand its grasp on the Minnesota House and put Republicans on the cusp of retaking the Senate majority. A pair of races slated for automatic recounts that favor Republican Senate candidates would seal it.

Dayton said Wednesday he’s preparing for a Republican-controlled Legislature that mirrors 2011, when the Democratic governor and GOP lawmakers deadlocked over a budget impasse led to a 20-day government shutdown. Though Dayton conceded Minnesota voters are divided and said he was willing to compromise when he’s outnumbered for a second time, he put the blame for 2011’s discord squarely on Republicans.

“They were the extremists. They were unwilling to compromise,” he said.

The 2017 Legislature’s top task will be setting a new, two-year budget, but Republicans have made clear that addressing health care access and costs will be a high priority.

Dayton had urged voters to send him Democratic Legislature, the path of least resistance to his goal of expanding early education and metropolitan transit options for his final two years in office. Dayton said Wednesday that he knew a Democratic takeover of the House was a reach but that he expected to hold the Senate.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk had expected to hang on to a six-seat majority as well. But his caucus suffered heavy losses - seven incumbent Democrats in rural districts lost - and couldn’t make up enough ground by winning two suburban seats, including defeating Republican Senate Minority Leader David Hann in Eden Prairie.

The official majority will hinge on automatic recounts in St. Cloud and Plymouth-area districts. Absent a reversal in favor of Democrats, Bakk conceded Republicans will enter 2017 with “a razor thin” majority of just one seat.

Meanwhile, Republicans were emboldened by their expanding foothold in the Minnesota House, where a seven-seat edge grew to 11. Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt charted a drastically different election from Dayton, listing tax relief and job creation programs as goals for 2017. But he pegged health care as the top issue - both on the campaign trail and at the Capitol next year.

Republicans put rising health care costs front and center in their bid for legislative control, blasting Democrats for the 50 percent to 67 percent premium hikes on the individual market. Daudt said Republicans would likely move to dismantle MNsure, the state’s health insurance exchange, and restore an old insurance program that covered high-cost patients before the onset of the federal Affordable Care Act.

“We have a clear mandate that that’s the direction Minnesotans want to see us go,” Daudt said, adding that the GOP may wait on direction from the Trump administration. Trump has promised to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s marquee health law. “We’re going to change direction.”

That sets up a clash with Dayton, who has repeatedly defended MNsure as playing no part in the cost increases and called on Congress to make fixes.

Both Dayton and Daudt expressed confidence they could avoid another government shutdown. But each quickly pivoted to blaming the other party for a potential disruption.

“It’s going to be pretty obvious who caused it,” Daudt said.


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