The Top 2 Lessons from the 2014 Election in Minnesota

Written by Owen Truesdell, consultant, @OFW_Truesdell

The 2014 election in Minnesota is in the books. Republicans took clear victories across the country, racking up wins in almost every close race.

Minnesota’s results on election night were more muddled.

Republicans convincingly retook the Minnesota Legislature while Democrats swept every statewide race and held two hotly contested congressional races in greater Minnesota.

While Minnesota bucked the national trend in many ways, there are two important lessons for companies, campaigns and coalitions looking to navigate the much more complex legislative landscape in 2015 and beyond.

Lesson 1: Return to divided government

DFLers at the top of the ticket got the results they were hoping for this election, but they did not have any coattails for down-ballot Democrats to ride. The GOP now firmly controls the House of Representatives. The last time Minnesota saw a split control of the government, the result was a budget showdown that shuttered state government for almost two months.

It is unlikely that the House GOP would force another shutdown after the last one led to severe political blowback in the 2012 elections. Instead, the more likely scenario is that the governor and legislature will find a few issues where they can find some common ground and pass compromise legislation.

For groups advocating for legislation at the Capitol, the watchwords of the 2015 session must be “bipartisan” and “compromise.”

Issue campaigns need to drive toward policy proposals that appeal both to the head and the heart. Creating a persuasive narrative is important, but every initiative must be supported by a stalwart business case that demonstrates programs will have a strong return-on-investment for taxpayers and can avoid implementation pitfalls that plagued MNsure and other policies implemented in the last few years.

Key to creating that business case is conducting in-depth research that can be used to support new legislation. In a divided government, legislators will be looking for unimpeachable proposals that can’t to be used against them in 2016. Campaigns must be able to counter any concerns beyond even an unreasonable doubt.

Compelling research is a must for success in 2015.

Lesson 2: Split between greater Minnesota and Twin Cities persists

Despite attempts by Gov. Mark Dayton and the DFL majority in the House of Representatives to position themselves as champions of greater Minnesota, rural voters weren’t buying it. House Democrats lost 10 seats in greater Minnesota, most by substantial margins.

Any organization looking for legislative success in 2015 must be able to craft a campaign that motivates voters from urban centers and across Minnesota.

Bridging that divide is impossible without thoroughly polling and engaging your audience in focus groups to test your message. Knowing which messages work with which audiences will allow campaigns to be nimble throughout the legislative session and respond to changing political realities at the Capitol by deploying unique messaging.

One-size-fits all messaging won’t work in this new legislative scenario.

Battle lines for the 2015 legislative session are already being drawn.

In his post-election press conference, Gov. Dayton made it clear that he would not kowtow to every demand made by the GOP controlled House of Representatives. Moving legislation through this divided body means crafting policy proposals supported by strong research, appeal to political desires of leadership and can motivate key demographics from across the state.

One thing is certain following this election: Minnesota, like the rest of the country, remains deeply divided. Advocates must be better prepared and more strategic than ever before to thrive in the legislative process moving forward.