Women forge historic path as legislature falls to DFL

Democrats will have a narrow majority, allowing them to control the agenda if the legislature backs off in Tuesday’s new session. It will be up to two women to make sure things are on track.

Never before have two women held the two top jobs in the legislature.

Ten-term Rep. Melissa Hortman is back as Speaker of the House.five senators

Will be the DFL’s new majority leader in the House.

It’s at the heart of both negotiations over a two-year budget that could approach $60 billion, as well as debates over health care, education and the possible legalization of marijuana.

It’s part of a new political alignment in the Capitol, where recently split party control has made major deals difficult to achieve.

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“From my experience in the public and private sectors, I think a lot of times women do have different leadership styles,” Dziedzic said. “So I do think it changes the culture. If it changes the culture, makes it more inclusive, allows individuals to shine and brings people together, then I think that’s a good thing”

two people talking in an interview

On December 12, Minnesota Senate Majority Leader-elect Kari Dziedzic spoke with political reporter Brian Bakst of MPR News St Paul. 20.

Kerem Ussel | MPR News

Lobbyist Amy Koch, a Republican who was the only woman to previously lead the Senate majority, expects the tandem to change the tone and introduce a mission-driven tone. A third woman, a Republican congressman. Lisa Demuth is the House Minority Leader.

“We’ve finally reached some critical mass here,” Koch said, adding, “I think the discourse will be different. I think the media will behave differently. I think it’s a whole new ballgame.”

Dziedzic, 60, has been in the legislature for a decade. She is not one to like to show off. She represents the Minneapolis area, and she spends more time focusing on the nature of politics than attracting headlines. She has not chaired the committee, which is how other leaders have ascended to the top.

That made Dziedzic a surprise choice when he emerged as caucus leader with a 34-33 majority – the first time the party has held power since 2016.

“I’m honored that they picked me. You know, it’s a big job, a big responsibility. It’s a big responsibility,” she said in an interview with MPR News this month. “I promise them I’m going to put my head down and get the job done and work with all of them. We’re going to do good for Minnesota.”

Dziedzic has an engineering degree but couldn’t resist being pulled by his family into public service. Her father, Walt, was an accomplished Minneapolis City Council member who later served on the park board. She remembers making rounds with him.

“I know the long hours. I know the home phone. I know what I’m walking into,” she said. “But I also know that you have the opportunity to help other people. It’s about helping people and making your community better.”

Getting into the legislature is her main focus. She is single, childless, and currently has no second job competing for her time.

“I found sanity for my mental health. That’s enough. It’s a full-time job,” she says, admitting with a laugh that it’s about getting fuller.

Kari Dziedzic poses for a photo

“From my experience in the public and private sectors, I think a lot of times women do have different leadership styles,” Kari Dziedzic said.

Kerem Ussel | MPR News

Her own journey to public service began as a campaign volunteer. She later became a scheduling assistant for the U.S. Senator. Paul Wellstone. She often uses one of his signature catchphrases.

“‘We’re all going to be better when we’re all better.’ He said that, and I really believe it.”

After a stint as a commissioner in Hennepin County, she was pushed to run for a state Senate seat when longtime lawmaker Larry Pogemiller stepped down to take another government job .

Pogemiller, who has retired, was impressed when senators picked Dziedzic as majority leader — a position he once held — even if he didn’t see the election coming.

“I always knew she was more interested in service and politics than politics. She was really thoughtful and a good listener,” Pogemiller said. “So it’s good for her, I think.”

New Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks) said he knew Dziedzic through overlapping committee assignments and admired her style.

“She was very down-to-earth and I enjoyed the relationship we developed during that time,” Johnson said. “So I hope that through this process, she will ask our members what are the obvious problems in our district and how we can move policy forward.”

Pogemiller expects Dziedzic to freely delegate to an experienced committee chair, which he sees as a good move.

“I think she has the opportunity to be a really good, strong leader with the speaker for years to come,” Pogemiller said.

The speaker is Melissa Holtman.

A lawyer by training and mother of two, Holtman is entering her third term as chief House official. Hotman, 52, was the minority leader before that.

House Speaker Melissa Holtman greets State Senator Susan Kent

House Speaker Melissa Holtman is entering her third term. She is the longest-serving person at the negotiating table in the Capitol.

Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

That makes the Brooklyn Park lawmaker the longest-serving person at the Capitol negotiating table, surpassing even the DFL governor. Tim Walz will start another four-year term on Monday.

Holtman has been in crisis for three of his four years as a speaker, as the aftermath of COVID-19 and the murder of George Floyd sparked public debate at the time.

“With all the time and energy we’ve had to spend on COVID, we don’t have as much time and energy to do other things,” Holtman said, reflecting on how an early program to address educational achievement gaps in Minnesota is routinely failing. Updates on what’s on hold and what health officials are asking about the pandemic.

House Speaker Melissa Holtman

“We’re going to accomplish what the people of Minnesota expect us to accomplish,” Holtman said.

Glenn Stubb | Associated Press Star Tribune

With the new class looming, Holtman said she can’t wait to go.

“For the past four years, as Speaker of the House, I’ve had to manage internal caucus dynamics and negotiate with other entities. That’s going to be the same,” she said. “It’s going to be a lot easier because we share the vision of Minnesota with the Senate DFL and the governor. And what we can do for the people of Minnesota.”

She has a new deputy. Rep. Jamie Long of Minneapolis is about to become the House majority leader. Diversity within the caucus has also increased.

Full control of the DFL doesn’t mean roughing the Republicans, Holtman said. But she said she won’t tolerate delays when she sees an urgent need to be addressed.

“We’re going to accomplish what the people of Minnesota want us to accomplish. We’re going to dramatically increase education funding, we’re going to make health care more affordable, and we’re making sure this economy works better for more people. If we can get the Republican Party to People are working hand-in-hand with us on these things, and we’d love to do that.”

It was a similar tone to Walz’s on the eve of his second term. He told MSNBC on Tuesday that he would try to work with Republicans but not let them stand in the way of progress.

“We need to use this as an opportunity,” Walz said of Fine Gael’s control. “If the Republicans have taught me anything: We have a slim majority in the Senate. But Republicans always tell me that a majority is a majority.”

MPR News reporter Dana Ferguson contributed to this story.

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