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Kohout: Young, enthusiastic and committed

OLIVIA -- Clad in a red polo shirt and black pants, Brian Kohout said he could see the disappointment when he told the boy answering the door that he wasn't there to deliver pizza.

He was door-knocking as the Republican-endorsed candidate for the House District 20B seat.

Political rivals will do well to recognize that there is much more behind the 21-year-old candidate than a youthful appearance and enthusiasm.

While he didn't decide to run until persuaded on the last day to file, he hit the ground running.

He quickly assembled an enthusiastic team of volunteers who joined him as he walked 13 summer parades routes. They're helping with literature drops and his door-to-door visits throughout a district that includes Chippewa and Renville counties and a portion of Yellow Medicine County.

And, Kohout has succeeded in raising the funds needed to run an aggressive and visible campaign.

All this while, Kohout is also completing a bachelor's degree in political science, with an emphasis on constitutional law, at St. John's University.

Kohout is a lifelong Olivia native whose family traces its history in Renville County to 1905, when his grandparents started farming near Bechyn. He said family members have been among his most enthusiastic supporters, even though the family's farming roots mean that some have leaned toward the DFL Party. "I might be the first Republican they ever voted for,'' he said, laughing.

The candidate credits a seventh-grade instructor in the BOLD Schools with igniting his passion for civic involvement. It led to his involvement with student council and Boys State activities, the former beginning in junior high. The 2007 BOLD High School graduate became active in the Republican Party, serving most recently as vice chair in the district.

His enthusiasm for public service comes from home, too. His father, Terry, has spent 25 years on the Olivia City Council.

Brian Kohout describes himself as a social and fiscal conservative first of all. He wants less government and promotes using the invisible hand of the free market rather than the visible hand of government.

He maintains that his rural roots matter most of all. "I am not afraid to say no to my party or the other party if it is going to hurt this area,'' he said.

Kohout said he knows that the next Legislature will be making choices between "bad and worse'' when it comes to dealing with the budget deficit, but he has ground that he will not yield. He said rural areas have been short-changed. He wants to protect education dollars for rural districts and Local Government Aid for small towns.

He said he's seen firsthand how school funding cuts have hurt rural districts.

He wants to reform health and human services programs. He argues for a residency requirement before assistance is available.

Yet he also wants to see health and human services support maintained for rural nursing homes so that the elderly in rural communities aren't forced into large, urban facilities.

Most of all, Kohout said he is concerned about creating jobs and opportunities that will allow young people to stay in rural areas.

He said the state's budget deficit makes this a difficult time to bring up the idea of reducing the corporate tax rate in Minnesota, but he believes it needs to be done.

Minnesota's corporate tax rate ranks it as among the highest in the country, he said. A lower rate would allow for more investment to create jobs and halt the exodus of firms, according to Kohout.

He said he believes that solving the state's fiscal challenges will require compromise. "Both sides need to sit down no matter who is the majority ... and make decisions together. And it needs to be open to the public.''

The candidate believes he is making big strides in letting the public get to know him and what he stands for, and in putting the age factor behind him. When he started his campaign, he was often referred to as "Terry's son.'' Now, his father is hearing from more than a few people who tell him: "You must be Brian's dad.''

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335
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