Q&A with senators Kari Dziedzic, Mark Johnson

The new Senate Majority Leader Dziedzic and the Senate Minority Leader Johnson were both elected to lead their parties on Nov. 10. The 2023 legislative session will start in January. 

The+rotunda+of+the+Minnesota+State+Capitol+Building+on+Saturday%2C+March+13.

Alice Bennett

The rotunda of the Minnesota State Capitol Building on Saturday, March 13.

by Devlin Epding

With 10 years of experience representing Minneapolis in the state Senate, Kari Dziedzic now leads the Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) Party in the chamber after the 2022 midterms gave Democrats control of all three branches of Minnesota’s government for the first time in nearly a decade.

Since being elected to Minnesota’s Senate in 2016, Mark Johnson has served as deputy majority leader and interim majority leader. Now, Johnson leads a Republican Party moving forward after losing Senate control in the 2022 midterms.

The new Minnesota Senate majority and minority leaders sat down with the Minnesota Daily for a Q&A about their upcoming terms in their new leadership positions.

What were your general reactions to this year’s midterm results and Democrats gaining a trifecta at least for the next two years?
Dziedzic: “We were super excited. We said all along on the campaign trail that [Democrats] had a narrow path, but we had multiple pathways. … We had great candidates, they were out talking to people in their neighborhoods, running local races.”

Johnson: “It’s not like it was an overwhelming mandate. If you look at the electoral results, it’s pretty interesting to see that we lost one seat on the Senate side here, which could have been decided by I think, was like 170 voters. If they would have swung a different way in a district like Senate District 41, we would have been in majority … It’s not the place that we were looking for. But at the same time, if we have to be in the minority, this is the strongest minority position that we can possibly be in right now.”

With the new trifecta, how do you see your party using these next two years to bring policy forward, get legislation through and see changes for Minnesotans in the next two years?
D: “Some of the issues that we heard a lot about were kids’ mental health and education. Choice was obviously a big issue. Climate action was a big issue, doing something to help save the planet was a big issue. Economic security is a big issue. Those are some of the issues that I think we’ll be working on as we go forward in this legislature.
The Senate Republicans last year passed that K-12 education bill, which was about $30 million, while we had a $9 billion surplus at that time. We didn’t think that fit the moment. [Democrats] heard from a lot of parents, even prior to the campaign trail, that kids’ mental health was a key issue, and kids needed more support services in school … We’re gonna listen to parents and listen to the kids and do what we think is best for kids and parents to help everybody across Minnesota.”

J: “I think a lot of it is giving Minnesotans a contrast, here’s what the Democrats are proposing and want to hear, and here’s what we have … I know there’s a number of controversial issues that are out there and some ideas, but we want to make sure that people say, ‘Republicans came to the table, willing to work, they have ideas that are worthwhile to hear and actually, probably more effective in many ways than what we’re seeing now coming out of the Democratic caucus.”

What would you say to voters or politicians concerned with a decrease in bipartisanship with this trifecta? How will you work to build relationships with your colleagues across the aisle to ensure both parties have a voice at the legislative table?
D: “I’ve been in the legislature for about 10 years now. I came in after a special election and started in January 2012. A lot of the bills that have been passed in those 10 years have been bipartisan … Lots of times, they’re 67-0, 66-0 votes. They’re not the sexy ones that make the TV. We do work together.”

J: “We’ve had a fairly good working relationship with [Democrats]. There’s some changes that we can do probably internally to better follow those relationships efforts. [With the COVID-19 pandemic] when everybody’s in their computers sitting on their keyboard, and they’re in their living room, it’s easy to get that hostility … you don’t have to worry about anybody confronting you in person … the temperature has really risen in politics, so how do we lower that temperature, and work closely with our counterparts in the Minnesota Senate, and also the House? … For those who were elected in 2020, [they have] hardly spent any time at the Capitol. We don’t know them. We haven’t built relationships with them. It’s time that we get together, following the tensions that are going on.

There are principles that individual Republicans and Republicans as a caucus … believe in very strongly that we will not compromise [on] … we are able [to compromise on things] that maybe are less controversial, maybe things that just benefit Minnesotans in general.”

What is your outlook on the future going into the next two years?
D: “I think getting our work done and improving and showing people that we are going to listen to them … We want to be collaborative with Minnesotans across the state, including the students across the state … So I think that is one [thing] that we’re going to do is continuing to reach out to people or candidates. We’re out there door knocking and talking to people, and they’re going to continue to have those conversations so that they know where people stand and people know where they’re coming from, and they can share with different people in their communities what the issues are … I think having that collaborative working relationship with our communities will help us succeed and help Minnesota succeed.”

J: “The reality is, this is a great opportunity to make adjustments from a party standpoint, for Republicans in general. It’s just what are we going to change in our structure within our rhetoric with our message going out. I think, for me, personally, [the election] was a big disappointment but at the same time, it’s a huge opportunity. I know there’s a handful of people that see it the way that I do, but I am super encouraged by the things that are going on right now for Republicans in the state of Minnesota.

This is not a blue state. Maybe some people are thinking [that] after the last election. So there is hope for Republicans in the state. I think Democrats may have got the messaging better. So I think we just have to adapt, figure out what we’re doing wrong on the process side, so that we can … be able to compete when it comes to election time to get our message out to give our sales pitch to Minnesotans.”

 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.