Gov. Mark Dayton and the men who lead the four legislative caucuses occupy the most important offices at the Capitol as the new legislative session gets under way and are likely to be together in a room come April or May, hammering out final budget deals.
Dayton has Democratic allies in House Speaker Paul Thissen and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, both veteran leaders of their caucuses now stepping into the Capitol's two top legislative posts. The Republican minority leaders, Kurt Daudt in the House and David Hann in the Senate, are new to their leadership roles.
A brief summary of each of the men:
— MARK DAYTON, GOVERNOR: Entering the second half of his first term, Dayton has two luxuries that he lacked in the first half: prep time and ample allies.
The Democratic governor had barely been declared the official winner of a recount in 2010 when lawmakers began flooding back to St. Paul to dissect his rushed budget plan. It hit with a thud in a Legislature controlled by Republicans for the first time in a generation. A standoff over Dayton's bid to raise income taxes on top earners, versus the Republican call for deeper spending cuts, sent Minnesota government into a three-week shutdown.
Fast forward two years. Dayton has had months to assemble a budget. It must rectify a $1.1 billion deficit — considerably smaller than the shortfall he faced in his rookie year. And Democrats now control the Legislature, meaning much of what Dayton pitches is likely to prevail.
The 65-year-old governor, an heir to the Minnesota family that founded Dayton's department stores and later Target, is a longtime participant in Minnesota politics who has never run for re-election to an office he has held. But Dayton says that he's gearing up to try for a second term in 2014.
— TOM BAKK, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: A canny dealmaker and expert on tax policy, Iron Range lawmaker Bakk has served at the Capitol the longest of the five leaders.
First elected to the state House in 1994, the lifelong resident of the Lake Vermilion area shifted to the Senate in 2002 where he quickly rose to chairmanship of the powerful Taxes Committee. After an unsuccessful bid for governor in 2010, Bakk's colleagues elected him Senate DFL leader after they unexpectedly lost their decades-long majority to Republicans.
Bakk used that perch to issue a constant stream of criticism against Republican budgeting practices and has vowed that Democrats will use their new majorities to balance the state budget without shifting money from other accounts or delaying state spending obligations.
A former carpenter and trade union official, Bakk is likely the most moderate of the three top Democrats. He has clashed with environmentalists throughout his career and is taking the hardest line so far against letting lawmakers push social issues such as legalizing gay marriage that could alienate swing voters.
Page 2 of 3 - — DAVID HANN, SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Beneath a mild exterior, Hann has been one of the GOP's most biting critics of the Dayton administration. He'll have a greater platform to do so as the top Senate Republican, even as he eyes a possible challenge to Dayton next year.
The 60-year-old conservative from Eden Prairie was elected to the Senate in 2002, where he established himself as an expert on health care policy. By 2011, he chaired the Senate's Health and Human Services Committee, where he repeatedly tangled with the Dayton administration over implementation of the federal health care overhaul. He was also among the Republican senators who most vocally battled Dayton over his ultimately unsuccessful effort to call a unionization vote for in-home child care providers.
Briefly a Republican candidate for governor in 2010, Hann could make another run for the job in 2014. A "draft" Hann campaign was under way at a recent gathering of Minnesota Republican activists.
— PAUL THISSEN, HOUSE SPEAKER: As House speaker, Thissen will lead the largest caucus at the Capitol — 71 House Democrats from a mix of urban, suburban and rural areas, with interests that frequently clash. Whether the 10-year legislative veteran from Minneapolis can manage that group will be a main factor in Democrats' success this session.
Like Bakk, Thissen also fell short to Dayton in a 2010 bid to be the DFL candidate for governor. He started leading House Democrats in 2011.
The 46-year-old Harvard- and University of Chicago-trained attorney showed skills as a strategist at several key points in the last legislative session. Most notable was when he unexpectedly lined up dozens of House Democratic votes for the Minnesota Vikings stadium proposal, which gave new life to the project when it appeared to be stalled.
Thissen is cool-tempered and careful in contrast to the more gregarious and occasionally hotheaded Bakk. The two men, who describe each other as friends, will be trying to avoid the House-Senate clashes that often occur even when both chambers are led by the same party.
But it's Thissen, and House Democrats, who would suffer more if the session is not a success. Every House seat is on the ballot in 2014, while state senators aren't up for re-election until 2016. In the last six years, control of the House has flipped three times between Republicans and Democrats.
— KURT DAUDT, HOUSE MINORITY LEADER
Last year "freshman" preceded Daudt's title. Now, it's "leader."
Daudt's climb to caucus leader is one of the fastest in state history. But he's not politically naive.
The 39-year-old from Crown, in Isanti County north of the Twin Cities, has years of experience in local government and in the upper reaches of state Republican politics. In 2010, he managed the gubernatorial campaign of GOP candidate Marty Seifert, a former House Republican leader.
Page 3 of 3 - Daudt, the former business manager of an auto dealership, isn't regarded as a partisan bomb thrower. Yet that's a role minority leaders often embrace, and Daudt displayed flashes of it at a recent gathering of Republican activists.
"With a Democratic Senate and Democrats controlling the House and Senate, it is going to be ugly," he warned. "The governor and the DFL house can take this as a warning: We'll be back in two years."