Sen. Ron Latz first won election to the Minnesota Legislature two decades ago, but he admits the outcome of this year’s elections in Minnesota still came as a surprise.
While his own re-election startled no one, as he faced no opposition on the ballot for his Senate District 46 seat, the DFLer representing St. Louis Park, Hopkins and a section of Edina did not anticipate that his party would move into the majority in the Minnesota Senate on Election Day. The DFL will control the Senate and the governor’s office for the next four years and the Minnesota House for at least the next two years.
“The polling trends for the nation for the last two weeks had been moving in the direction of Republicans, and so that had a lot of us kind of doing pre-mortems,” he said with a chuckle, playing on the term postmortem often used to describe a losing political party’s analysis of its policy positions after an election. “We were already thinking what did we do wrong and what else should we have done, could we have done, but it turns out – and this has happened plenty of times before – that the polls don’t always capture the mood of the electorate when they go to the polls and when they actually vote.”
With early voting beginning Sept. 23 in Minnesota, Latz noted that about 600,000 voters in the state had already voted ahead of Election Day, potentially locking in their votes when DFLers had been faring better in the polls.
“I think the Democrats benefited from some of the early momentum on that, but I also think we had a superior ground game and ultimately we had a superior message because we represented solutions, not just scare tactics about problems,” Latz said.
Referencing the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down Roe v. Wade, Latz added, “I think there’s also a sense that abortion was more on the ballot than maybe the polls were picking up.”
Regarding state finances, he suggested that Senate Republicans made a miscalculation when they walked away from a signed deal to handle the state’s large budget surplus with the DFL at the end of this year’s session, anticipating that they would have a stronger hand after this fall’s elections.
“They gambled, and they lost,” Latz said. “I think part of the reason they lost is that Minnesotans want a government that works.”
Turning to DFLers plans in Minnesota, Latz pointed out that DFLers will have just a one-vote majority in the Minnesota Senate, with members of the party coming representing many suburbs as well as the urban core and some population centers in Greater Minnesota.
“When we fashion legislation, it’s going to have to be legislation that all of our members are comfortable voting for, but what I think this really does is it puts our core agenda back on track,” he said.
That agenda includes passing legislation for paid family leave, increased funding for education, a bonding bill to address infrastructure across the state and gun legislation.
Regarding higher education, Latz said he supports more funding for four-year colleges to address tuition increases as well as technical colleges and community colleges, which he called “the places where they teach the skills that make our economy work,” educating plumbers, electricians, IT professionals and others.
“That’s a very business friendly as well as labor friendly approach to things because the businesses are screaming for a qualified workforce,” he said. “A job is the best welfare program.”
Latz also plans to again pursue bills for universal background checks for firearms sales and a “red flag” law that would allow judges to order firearms to be removed from the possession of individuals they deem to be at risk for committing violence against others or themselves.
“I think they both will have a much better chance now of becoming law,” Latz said of the bills.
He anticipated DFLers will “move more affirmatively” on their agenda than they did the last time they had full control of the Legislature in 2013 and 2014.
He anticipated DFLers likely will approve more legalization of marijuana with “a robust regulatory structure” and taxes that would be used to address drug addiction issues.
The Legislature this year approved more limited legalization of edible cannabis products. The legislation received little discussion, and some senators expressed surprise at the impact after it became law.
“I understand why that was done, but it was done in a way that I thought ... could have been improved, and it certainly needed a little more regulation around it,” Latz said. “It addressed a real problem, but I think we’ll go back and we’ll clean that up along the way.”
With little enforcement or restrictions on who can sell edible cannabis products outlined in the new state law, numerous cities have been pursuing their own rules, including St. Louis Park, Edina and Hopkins.
Although Latz supports increased state spending in areas like infrastructure, mental health treatment, crime prevention and education, he said he still believes the state should return some of its large surplus to taxpayers.
“Inflation is an issue and budgets are pressed,” Latz said of taxpayers. “It’s an issue especially for the people in the lower- to middle-income range, and they deserve some financial relief to address that.”
He said he preferred to save some of the surplus to prevent potential cuts in the future if the state’s financial fortunes falter.
“The economy is a little bit shaky, and we ought to make sure that we set aside a substantial portion of that in the rainy day fund,” he said.
Despite the success of the DFL Party in this year’s elections, Latz indicated disagreements may still arise between the House and Senate.
With a laugh, he said, “Some of my toughest negotiations have been with Democrats on the other side of the Capitol.”
Latz won his race with 31,027 votes, or about 97% of the total, compared to 874 write-in votes, according to unofficial results from the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office. He won the election for the Minnesota House in 2002 followed by the Minnesota Senate in 2006.
He did not face a primary this year after Sen. Melisa López Franzen, a DFLer who served as Senate Minority Leader, opted not to run for re-election when redistricting placed López Franzen and Latz in the same district. Although López Franzen will be stepping aside in January, she celebrated her party’s win in the chamber enthusiastically, calling it a “Minnesota Senate miracle.”