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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published October 20 2012

Minnesota Political Notebook: Calmer seas will not sweep one party this year

ST. PAUL - No wave appears in Minnesota’s political forecast.

A wave, in political terms, is when events influence voters so much that one party does well nationwide.

“This is not a wave year,” House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said.

The parties may disagree about who will win Nov. 6, but Dean and House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, agreed that this is not the 2010 campaign, where Republicans across the country did well and gave the GOP control of both the Minnesota House and Senate for the first time in 38 years.

“It feels very different,” Thissen said.

Republicans hoping to keep control of the Legislature generally rely on a message of improving the economy. Many Democrats, on the other hand, emphasize recent big increases in property taxes, and blame that on Republicans.

Dean said that even during the GOP wave two years ago some Twin Cities suburban neighborhoods, in particular, did not welcome Republicans. If a GOP candidate went to the door, the door often shut quickly.

“They are open to a different message this year,” Dean said, and want to hear about Republican plans to improve the economy.

“Economically, they are more stressed,” he said about communities such as Maplewood.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said the message candidates hear from voters varies according to geography.

In Edina, for instance, “people are very upset over the gay marriage amendment,” Bakk said about the Republican-pushed effort. “They are wondering why we are putting something like that in the Constitution.”

“But then you go into rural Minnesota and the issue becomes the homestead credit,” he added, which was eliminated and Democrats say forced local governments to raise property taxes.

Interviews with legislative campaign leaders pointed to an agreement that this year’s legislative power struggle will be decided race by race, not determined by outside influences like a wave.

Football star candidate

Throw a sports hero into the mix, and politics can become more interesting.

That is what is happening in Minnesota Senate District 4, which includes Moorhead and Detroit Lakes, since Phil Hanson got into the race to replace veteran Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, who is not seeking re-election.

Hanson faces state Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, who brings a legacy of legislative service to the race, with many in northwestern Minnesota remembering when his father was a House leader.

Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, said she expects a tight District 4 race but likes Hanson’s chances.

“Hanson is a rock star candidate,” said Fischbach, co-leader of the Senate GOP campaign effort. “He is a great candidate and working hard.”

She said the Oakes, N.D., native, who has lived in Detroit Lakes since his Buffalo Bills football career ended in 2001, has been in as many parades as possible and knocking on doors throughout the district.

The senator guiding the Democratic campaign said the former North Dakota State University star has a downside.

“He has a big personality, but he is from North Dakota,” Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook said. “I think at the end of the day, people are going to realize they are talking about someone from North Dakota. All his money came from North Dakota to fund his campaign. I think they are going to wonder where his loyalties really are.”

No burning rivers

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency sings the praises of the federal Clean Water Act, passed in 1972.

The MPCA reminded Minnesotans that an Ohio river fouled with contaminants and inadequately treated wastes caught fire in 1969, inspiring politicians to pass the legislation. And, MPCA officials said, no American river has burned since.

Still, they said, work remains.

“Existing water-borne pollutants are no less dramatic, and potentially more harmful, to our environment,” MPCA toxicologist Laura Solem said. “The need to protect our water resources is even more important today than in 1969.”

Most of the 50 million chemicals known today were created during the past 40 years, she said, and 500 new chemicals appear every year.

“Citizens recognized in 1969 that the Cuyahoga River, and by extension all of America’s waters, could not handle the volume of pollution our pipes were dumping into them,” Solem said. “Now, it’s often the pollution we can’t see that we have to be concerned about.”

Taking the 5th

There probably is no area with more interesting legislative races than Senate District 5.

The Senate district east and south of Bemidji and the two House districts it encompasses all feature incumbents facing off.

“That may end up being in 10 years a trivia question,” Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, said.

“Both have records,” she added about each race. “That probably is the biggest thing.”

In the Senate, Republican John Carlson faces Democrat Tom Saxhaug, while in the House Democrat John Persell and Republican Larry Howes face off, as do Republican Carolyn McElfatrick and Democrat Tom Anzelc.

The unusual pairings came thanks to a court-drawn legislative district map required every 10 years.


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Don Davis reports for Forum Communications