What the 2020 election results mean for the Mississippi River

by Trevor Russell
A new slate of legislators will return to the capitol building (remotely or in-person) in January, with plenty of implications for the Mississippi River. 

How will our recent elections impact the Mississippi River? Here's our preliminary take.

Results in Minnesota

Here in Minnesota, election results closely mirrored the national outcome. While some counts continue, we’re likely looking at split House and Senate governance as DFL Gov. Tim Walz begins the second half of his term.

  • Senate: 34-33 — The MN GOP secured a one-vote majority in the Senate.

  • House: 70-64 — The MN DFL retained a thin majority in the House. Rep. Hortman will retain her speakership and continue her strong leadership on environmental issues. Several environmental champions were unseated, including stalwarts Anne Claflin, Jeff Brand and John Persell.

All terms (House and Senate) will be up for re-election in two years, following state redistricting.

What state results mean for the river

Recent history suggests a divided Legislature may struggle to advance meaningful legislation on time — and conflicts are not unexpected.

However, there is one mandatory task for the Legislature in 2021: passing a new two-year budget. That will mean tackling a potentially large state budget deficit. While federal action (see below) might help cut into that deficit, some new revenues and/or budget cuts are a virtual certainty, and substantial new investments are unlikely.

With regard to river policy: progress on some river-related issues is possible, though we're unlikely to make headways on others. Several policy and funding items with implications for the Mississippi River will remain on the front burner for us this session, including:

However, a number of generally popular policy and funding proposals are less likely to advance given opposition from some in the Senate, including:

  • Reinstating the MPCA Citizens' Board
  • Increased funding for Forever Green Initiative and Partnership  
  • Prohibitions on lead shot and tackle
  • Full funding for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program
  • Lead service line replacement
  • Dedicated funding reauthorization
  • Pollinator protection regulations
  • Pineland Sands protections
  • Water infrastructure bonding
  • 100% clean water by 2050 goal
  • 100% Continuous Living Cover by 2050 goal

We’ll circle back to these items and more in our upcoming 2021 legislative session preview article in December on this blog. But for now, the conclusion is that big ambitions are on the shelf, and the session will be one of balancing river defense with modest policy gains.

National results

We now know President-elect Biden will take office on January 20. (Well, most of us know. There's one notable exception.) While several states have yet to finalize their results and at least one statewide recount awaits, the electoral college is certain to confirm the President-elect Biden when it meets on December 14. Legal challenges are unlikely to alter the outcome in any significant way.

But what about Congress?

  • House: As of this writing, the House Democrats' majority has narrowed (215-196) with two dozen races yet to be called. Speaker Pelosi has indicated her intention to extend her speakership, which she is highly unlikely to lose.
  • Senate: The two caucuses are currently tied 50-48 (including two Independents that caucus with the Democrats) — but races remain undecided. Both Georgia Senate seats will go to an automatic runoff in early January.

In addition, several current federal legislators may be tapped for positions in the Biden administration, triggering special elections in the House or gubernatorial appointments in the Senate to replace them.

Federal results' impacts on the river

While there are numerous federal policy and funding decisions that affect the Mississippi River each year, the three main items we'll be watching are as follows:

  • A new federal river inititative?: FMR is engaged with a nascent national effort to create a 10-state initiative to restore the Mississippi River. While still in the very early planning and visioning stage, we anticipate that legislation to create such a program (a Mississippi River Restoration and Resilience Initiative) is likely to come forward in the next Congress. Given its bipartisan, multi-state nature, we're optimistic such a bill could advance in both chambers with potentially significant, longlasting impacts on river health.
  • State and local government aid: In addition to being a tragic health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic put state and local governments into the red. Federal action on a second COVID stimulus bill, if focused on providing much-needed state and local government assistance, could ease budget crunches and avoid steep cuts to environmental programs statewide.
  • Administrative policy reversals: Even casual observers are aware that the Trump administration has been prolific in its efforts to undermine existing environmental protections, including rollbacks to the Clean Water Act. We’ll be watching closely to assess how the Biden administration uses executive authorities to reverse the most damaging rollbacks while attempting to advance progressive reforms through an unfriendly Senate.

Join the River Guardians

As both state and federal lawmakers convene lame-duck sessions this fall and new sessions in January, we’ll continue to count on over 2,000 River Guardians to help us shape legislation to protect the Mississippi River. We hope you'll take a moment to join us.

We'll let you know when important river issues arise so you can quickly and easily let your legislators know your thoughts.

River Guardians are also invited to special events (including happy hours) to learn more about important legislative and metro river corridor issues and to toast our accomplishments.


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