Cooperative tone struck by power players at Minnesota Capitol will be put to test next session

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Republican Rep. Kurt Daudt, center, address a news conference as he is backed up by members of the newly elected Minnesota House Republican majority, Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014 in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton gets wide-eyed to a question during a press conference Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, with running mate Tina Smith in St. Paul, Minn., after winning re-election Tuesday in his race against Republican Jeff Johnson. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Republican Rep. Kurt Daudt, center left, leaves a news conference all smiles and with applause by fellow members of the newly elected Minnesota House Republican majority, Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014 in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton receives applause as he addresses supporters after winning his gubernatorial race against Republican Jeff Johnson, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014, in Minneapolis. At left is his running mate, Tina Smith. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

MINNEAPOLIS — Withholding their policy agendas for now, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and newly emboldened Minnesota House Republicans struck an early tone of cooperation Wednesday that will be put to the test when the Legislature convenes in January.

The mixed result from Tuesday's election — Dayton handily secured another four years while Republicans grabbed a 72-62 House majority — returned divided government to a state where Democrats had free rein the past two years.

"It's a prescription for gridlock unless we all rise above that," was Dayton's assessment the morning after his win. He also placed a call to Republican Rep. Kurt Daudt, the favorite to be House speaker, and later told reporters he's willing to meet the GOP in the middle as long as they enter with a similar commitment to collaboration.

"It takes two to tango," Dayton said. "You can't dance alone."

Daudt, surrounded by veteran members and incoming freshmen at a jubilant news conference, said his caucus is realistic about a two-on-one Capitol dynamic with Dayton and majority Senate Democrats opposite them. The focus, he said, needs to be on the practical.

"The era of divide-and-conquer politics needs to be over in Minnesota," Daudt said. "This group wants to roll up our sleeves and get to work for every Minnesotan, and that's what we intend to do."

None of the power players offered much Wednesday about specific policies they'll pursue. Generally, they stressed a need to work out a long-term transportation funding plan to deal with a multibillion-dollar backlog in road and bridge projects. But the source of the money could be a source of friction.

Dayton also said there is probably common ground on further streamlining of business permitting and environmental reviews.

But clashes are expected over MNSure, the year-old health insurance exchange launched amid GOP objections. Daudt stopped short of saying his members would dismantle the system, but said Republicans would seek changes and more aggressive oversight.

The GOP may also attempt revisions on a law that allowed for unionization of some day care providers and health care workers, as well as revisiting a 2016 ballot measure that could result in lawmaker pay raises.

The GOP plowed its way to a House majority through greater Minnesota, where most competitive races went their way. Veteran Democratic Reps. John Ward of Baxter, Patti Fritz of Faribault and Andrew Falk of Murdock were defeated, as were several freshman members who came in during 2012's wave.

Daudt said his caucus would place extra emphasis on rural concerns such as farm policy, starting by bringing back a standalone agriculture committee that Democrats merged with an environmental panel.

It remains to be seen how cohesive the GOP caucus is.

In St. Cloud, ex-Republican Rep. Jim Knoblach will return to the Capitol after an eight-year hiatus, having beat Democratic Rep. Zachary Dorholt by 69 votes in a swing district. Knoblach said he won't bashful about breaking with his party to put local concerns first.

"If I think they're wrong about something or think that I should be voting a different way because of my community, I'm not going to be afraid to vote that way," Knoblach said.

Dayton has an advantage that his legislative adversaries don't: He won't face voters again, while the House and Senate are up again in two years.

"I told my staff I'll be Dayton unbound," he joked.

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