ST. PAUL, Minn. — MARK DAYTON
ROLE: 2nd year as governor
Coming off a difficult freshman year, Dayton has a limited to-do list in 2012.
Above all, he wants lawmakers to adopt a public works plan to green-light more than $1 billion in construction projects. A large chunk of that — $775 million — would come from state borrowing. That, along with a proposal to grant tax credits to Minnesota firms that hire unemployed workers, form the backbone of Dayton's proposals to add jobs.
Separately, Dayton has taken an active and prodding role in assembling a stadium financing bill for the Minnesota Vikings. Dayton voices nervousness about a popular sports franchise leaving town on his watch and argues a stadium could provide construction jobs and spinoff developments. But it's no easy sell, especially the notion of diverting or raising tax dollars for pro sports when the budget for basic state functions is stretched.
Despite enduring a shutdown amid sharp partisan divisions in year one, Dayton clings to the idea that compromise can happen at the Capitol. Year two will test his theory.
ROLE: 2nd year as House speaker
Zellers, an affable suburban conservative who may harbor his own ambitions of statewide office, must hold together the largest of the four legislative caucuses in what could be difficult votes on a stadium financing package and particularly a construction-project bill. Some House Republicans may have to balance concerns about greater state debt with the possibility that such a package could create construction jobs in their districts.
Republicans, led by Zellers, have been reluctant to sign on with Dayton's plan to use public works projects and tax credits to boost employment. Republicans have instead called for tax cuts and reduced regulations as the better way to goose the economy.
Zellers has also been the most skeptical of all legislative leaders to the stadium financing package, pushing back against any thought it should be the top priority of state lawmakers. Zellers' reluctance to see it go forward this year may end up in conflict with a push from the Vikings' strongest supporters at the Capitol.
Zellers and Dayton have called themselves friends, with Dayton having invited the Republican and his family to the governor's mansion and Zellers having accompanied Dayton on several hunting and fishing trips. But after last year's fight over tax and spending levels that led to a government shutdown, Zellers and Dayton will be testing the limits of their friendship this year.
ROLE: 2nd year as House minority leader
House Democrats have settled back into the minority after a four-year stint leading the chamber from 2007 to 2011. Thissen, a cerebral attorney from Minneapolis who unsuccessfully chased the DFL endorsement for governor in 2010, will be looking for opportunities to undermine Republican solidarity in hopes of creating issues that DFL candidates can take to voters in November.
One issue House Democrats have seized on was the agreement last summer between Dayton and Republicans to eliminate a popular property tax credit, the homestead market value credit, as a way to reduce the size of the state's deficit. The credit was deeply popular with home and business owners, and its elimination is likely to be noticed by many of them in the size of this year's property tax bill.
House Democrats want to restore it, but with the state general fund carrying only a small surplus, it's likely to be an uphill fight.
There are 62 House Democrats compared to 72 Republicans, and like all lawmakers this year they will be eagerly waiting for a special court panel to release its new legislative district maps in late February. The new boundaries, as much as any one issue, could determine who controls both the House and Senate in 2013.
ROLE: 1st year as Senate majority leader
Senjem is the newest member of the Capitol leadership circle, and he likely has the toughest job: holding together a Senate Republican caucus still bruised from the resignation of former Majority Leader Amy Koch over her affair with a subordinate.
Senjem, a retired Mayo Clinic executive from Rochester, has been seen as a moderate. It's why his choice by the conservative Senate Republicans was a surprise to some, but his jovial nature and seeming lack of political ambition beyond the Legislature could help explain it. While new to the majority leader job, Senjem did serve a previous stint as Senate minority leader from 2007 to 2011.
With Speaker Zellers more skeptical of a Vikings financing plan, it's likely that team lobbyists and their allies will lean harder on Senjem to keep the bill moving this session. Even as he continues in the leadership post, he is retaining his chairmanship of the Senate Capital Investment Committee, which will give him a leading role in one of the other major session issues, the bonding bill. Senjem has said Dayton's $775 million package is too large, suggesting Republicans will counter with a smaller offer.
Senjem and Zellers both will also be dealing with rank-and-file Republicans interested in putting a number of constitutional amendments on the November 2012 ballot. With a statewide vote already set on the definition of marriage in the state Constitution, Republicans are also toying with constitutional amendments related to the right to vote, the ability to raise taxes and labor union membership. Senjem and Zellers will have to weigh the wishes of their members with the possibility of stirring up Democratic interest groups.
ROLE: 2nd year as Senate minority leader
Burly as a Northwoods lumberjack, this 17-year lawmaker strives to be a calming force in the Senate even though his role requires him to be something of a GOP antagonist.
Even when Bakk is hot, his tone seldom shifts. The Iron Ranger, a trained carpenter, leads a caucus of 31 members that found itself shunted into the minority for the first time in decades after an unexpected Republican rout last election night. Like House Democrats, Bakk and his members will be looking for opportunities to exploit Republican dissension on issues related to jobs and the economy.
Of the four caucus leaders, Bakk has been the most vocal supporter of state funding for a Vikings stadium — a position that could make him point man for rounding up Democratic votes if a stadium plan ever gets out of committee.
Like Thissen, Bakk ran for governor in 2010 but ended his campaign early. If his party gains at least three seats in November, he would have the inside track to become majority leader in 2013.