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GOP looks to take control in Minnesota Senate
By Tom Scheck
Minnesota Public Radio
October 24, 2002


Republicans and DFLers are battling for control of the state Legislature. Redistricting has created nine open seats in the Minnesota Senate, and has pitted two incumbents against each other. DFLers have controlled the Minnesota Senate since 1972. But despite being 10 seats down, Republicans say they have the best chance in years of making major gains in the Senate.

District 4 (Brainerd/Bemidji area)
DFL - Stan Nagorski
GOP - Carrie Ruud

District 11 (Alexandria area)
DFL - Dallas Sams (i)
GOP - Rep. George Cassell

District 12 (Brainerd area)
DFL - Don Samuelson (i)
GOP - Paul Koering

District 16 (Princeton/Big Lake area)
DFL - Dave Reines
GOP - Betsy Wergin

District 24 (Fairmont area)
DFL - Chuck Fowler (i)
GOP - Julie Rosen
IP - Tim Hage

District 25 (Northfield area)
DFL - Jim Mladek
GOP - Tom Neuville (i)

District 27 (Albert Lea area)
DFL - Dan Sparks
GOP - Grace Schwab (i)
IP - Terry Kelley

District 28 (Red Wing area)
DFL - Steve Murphy (i)
GOP - Gary Iocco

District 30 (Rochester area)
DFL - Rich Wright
GOP - Lynn Zaffke
IP - Sheila Kiscaden (i)

District 38 (Eagan area)
DFL - Deanna Wiener (i)
GOP - Mike McGinn

District 47 (Coon Rapids area)
DFL - Leo Foley (i)
GOP - Ray Egan
IP - Mark Temke

District 52 (Stillwater area)
DFL - Jane Krentz (i)
GOP - Michele Bachmann (i)

District 53 (White Bear Lake area)
DFL - Paul Auger
GOP - Mady Reiter (i)

District 56 (Woodbury area)
DFL - Len Price (i)
GOP - Brian LeClair

District 57 (Southern Washington County)
DFL - Rep. Sharon Marko
GOP - Kip Knippel
Green - Dave Engstrom

Among the competitive races for control of the Minnesota Senate is the Senate District 52 contest between Republican Sen. Michelle Bachman and DFL Sen. Jane Krentz.

Redistricting has placed the two incumbents against each other in a district that encompasses Washington County and parts of Anoka County. It's the only Senate race where two incumbent senators are facing each other.

DFLer Krentz is going door to door in May Township. The district leans Republican, yet she believes her stance on the issues will help her beat Bachman, a freshman.

Krentz says she works for a number of environmental causes and supports abortion rights. She wants more equal funding for schools statewide and says it may be necessary to raise taxes to fix the state's budget problems. Krentz says it's somewhat easier running against an incumbent than facing a challenger with no voting record.

"We're running on actual performance rather than empty promises," Krentz said. "If people actually pay attention to her performance then I'm comfortable. If they just listen to what she says she cares about and don't really find out if she really cares about it or not then it's probably nothing different than running against anybody else."

Krentz is running for her fourth term. She chairs the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee and was a co-author of a bill that would dedicate 3/16 of one cent of the state's sales tax to the outdoors and the environment.

As she drives into another neighborhood, Krentz complains that Bachman has become more environmentally friendly ever since the two were placed in the same district.

"It's confusing to voters, because they don't really know, unless they do their homework or pay attention, they're not really sure who's fighting for education or the environment at the Legislature."

Republican Michelle Bachman is going door to door in a new housing development in Hugo. She's handing out campaign literature called Senator Bachman's Outdoor Report. She says she has a passion about the environment because there are a number of sportsmen in her family. She has the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.

Bachman's a polished campaigner. She mixes in personal stories with her legislative accomplishments. When she meets voters, she talks to them about gun issues, taxes and the environment. She's also leading the charge to repeal the profile of learning and says plenty of teachers are complaining to her about the state's graduation standards.

"I won't even bring it up, I'll just say I'm a state senator and they'll say 'What do you think of the Profile? I want it gone," Bachman said. "And that's amazed me because a few years ago you couldn't find teachers to talk about the profile and now they're very free about it. And parents are pretty free about it too."

Bachman also says many voters are talking to her about the state's budget problems. She's signed a no tax pledge from the Minnesota Taxpayer's League because she says homeowners can't handle higher property taxes.

Still, she's vague about her solution for fixing the state's projected 3 billion dollar budget shortfall. She says lawmakers can balance the budget without raising taxes or cutting spending.

Like many candidates in the upcoming election, both Bachman and Krentz are trying to appear middle of the road to the voters in their new district. Bachman says her race with Krentz could be critical for control of the Senate.

"That's the great thing about politics is it's driven by surprise," Bachman said. "We're going to have some that people would never expect, you know, different races. I know this race in particular is a pivotal race because they feel this one could be the one that determines which way the majority goes."

The DFL currently controls the Senate with 38 members compared to the Republicans' 28. There's also one Independence Party senator -- Bob Lessard, who's retiring this year.

Senate Minority Leader Dick Day, a Republican, says taking control of the Senate won't be easy, but he says redistricting has put many seats in play. He says the suburbs and rural areas will make the difference. He says that means Republican candidates will have to defeat conservative DFLers. Day says he believes the state's voters are becoming more conservative.

"I think in '98 when Ventura came in and the House got elected," Day said. "And I think each year we're getting a little more conservative and I can see that maybe the wave has hit and we're just hoping we can catch it. But it's moving our way."

Day says he's telling Republican candidates to campaign on more funding for roads and bridge construction. He also says candidates are talking about inequities in education funding. Day says Republican candidates are telling voters that the DFL Senate has shortchanged them by focusing too much on the metro area.

While Day is optimistic that this is the year Republicans can take control of the Senate, the Senate's assistant DFL leader says he thinks Democrats will still be in charge in January. St. Peter DFLer John Hottinger says they'll fare well because they have 30 incumbents running for re-election.

Independence Party Chair Nancy Jorgenson says her party hopes to pick up three seats.
(MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)

"I don't see it's a good year for our opponents in the elections in the Senate," Hottinger said. "Primarily because the Democrats have done a good job in the Senate bringing moderation and balance to the discussions. In addition, the issues from most of the people that we hear from education finance, prescription drugs, health care costs are issues where the public has more confidence that Democrats have the best answers."

One wild card in this year's election is the prominence of the other major parties. Both the Independence Party and Green Party are fielding candidates for Senate.

Independence Party Chair Nancy Jorgenson says her party hopes to pick up three seats. She says IP candidates are running strong in Richfield, Rochester and Eden Prairie. A few of the IP candidates have previous legislative experience and Jorgenson believes they might be able to knock off incumbents from both parties.

"I believe with the folks that we're bringing forward now that we're running we have an opportunity to work with both sides of the aisle, both the Democrats and the Republicans, to try to get some real reform done," she says.

Green Party chair Cam Gordon says there are seven Green candidates running for Minnesota Senate seats, mostly in the metro area. He says the party's strongest candidates are in Washington County, St. Louis Park and Minneapolis. He says he'd be pleased if the Green Party picked up one seat in the Senate.

"I think it's a long shot for us," Gordon said. "We're a smaller party, a younger party. Of course we do have some good candidates running for us. I'm not that good at making odds, but I think there's a chance in some areas maybe more of a chance than others. But we'd be doing very, very well if we got one person elected and two would be fantastic."

The DFL caucus says it will spend about $1 million on behalf of its Senate candidates. The Republicans say they'll spend $500,000 to get their Senate candidates elected. The Independence Party expects to spend about $25,000 on behalf of both their Senate and House candidates.

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