A lineup of elected officials that cost many months and millions of campaign dollars to assemble makes its debut Tuesday when the Minnesota Legislature convenes amid a major power shake-up.
The 2013 session opens with the oath of office for 199 lawmakers — two short of normal due to a pair of sudden resignations by House members — and any signs of partisan friction will likely be overshadowed by the ceremony and optimism over the fresh legislative start.
"It's like the first day of school," Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, said Monday as she milled about the Capitol ahead of her 17th year of office.
For the first time in more than two decades, Democrats have full control of state government. Joining Gov. Mark Dayton in the second half of his first term are new DFL majorities in both the House and Senate that promise a shift to the left, with likely debates over tax increases, spending and maybe even a push to legalize same-sex marriage.
The first legislation will be introduced Thursday, and the majority party's first bills will signal its main priorities.
This year's freshman class of lawmakers is unusually large, in part because last year's legislative redistricting pushed out more incumbents than usual. In all, 57 new members are scheduled to be sworn in — more than a quarter of the total Legislature, though a handful has previously served.
That means a slow start as new members get up to speed.
"There's the normal orientation process that has to happen," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.
The grind of the jobs, which pay $31,140 a year, will come later.
Peter Fischer is a new House Democrat representing several suburbs north of St. Paul. The manager of a homeless shelter for youth said he hopes Democrats use their new majority to restore funding to some services cut in recent lean years — despite a looming $1.1 billion budget shortfall they must first eliminate.
"You can judge how good a society is by how well it takes care of its most vulnerable, and that's something I think we've lost ground on," Fischer said. He's hoping for changes to the state tax code that put more of the burden on wealthy taxpayers.
Mark Anderson, of eastern Cass County, a new member of the GOP minority in the House, has low expectations for his role starting out.
"My job is sit back and push 'yes' or 'no,'" said Anderson, a pilot whose father served in the state Senate from 1983 to 1990. "I'm a freshman in the minority. I'm in the back of the bus, lowest rung on the ladder."
Still, he said, he'll be working in support of constituents worried about higher taxes and more state regulation.
Page 2 of 2 - Dayton will be on the sidelines in the opening days of the session, as he continues to recover from back surgery right after Christmas. He is slated to deliver his two-year budget proposal by Jan. 22.
The rest of this week is not likely to see much legislative action. On Wednesday, legislators gather for a policy conference at the University of Minnesota, which for the last six years has been used to try to foster bipartisanship. On Thursday, the YMCA's annual Youth in Government mock Legislature settles in for a few days.
Some legislation is likely to start moving in the session's opening weeks. The Legislature wants to move quickly on a bill authorizing state creation of a health insurance exchange. State employee contracts that were negotiated by Dayton's administration need ratification.
And there's talk of a sped-up tax bill to enact noncontroversial portions of a much-bigger tax bill that Dayton vetoed last year, such as tax increment financing proposals. But even that could be a magnet for controversial measures, making it a risky play.
Early in the 2013 session, Senate committees are to take up confirmation of Dayton cabinet members. Sixteen appointees have been left in limbo, though they are allowed to serve unless the Senate votes to remove them, an unlikely prospect with Democrats now in control. Among them are Education Commissioner Brenda Casselius, Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans, Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, and Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter.