WILLMAR -- As he knocks on doors and hosts meetings across District 13, Larry Rice hears the same refrain: The voters have had it with partisan politics.
"They're sick and tired of people fighting. They just want someone to get the job done," he said.
Rice, the DFL candidate for state Senate in District 13, is challenging the current senator, Joe Gimse, who is seeking his second term.
A lifelong Willmar resident, Rice is new to politics. What he hopes to bring to St. Paul is a thoughtful, measured voice that's focused on facts and on having an ongoing dialogue.
"I've always tried to work really hard," he said. "I read a lot in trying to learn about things. I ask a lot of questions. I try to listen."
One of six children, Rice attended what is now Ridgewater College and graduated from Metropolitan State University before returning to his hometown to go into the nursery and landscaping business. Thirty-five years later, the business has morphed into specialty home design, construction and stonework. In his late 40s Rice returned to school and, by attending classes on weekends, earned a master's in business administration from the University of St. Thomas and a law degree from Hamline University.
His campaign, his mailings and his website all emphasize the same message: jobs, education, health care, environmental stewardship and strong communities.
Rice says he would seek solutions to Minnesota's state budget deficit that are balanced and sustainable.
Cutting back on spending alone won't be enough, he said. "We need a broad-based, stable and reliable source of funding. I think it has to happen if we want to live the quality of life we've always had in this state... We sometimes get confused with spending money and not looking at things as an investment."
Rice has made education one of the core issues of his campaign. He supports reliable and stable funding for a quality education system from kindergarten to college, a stance that earned him the endorsement of Education Minnesota, the state's largest teachers' union.
Developing the state's human capital is critical for the future, he said. "Our human capital has always been our ace in the hole. It's the thing that has made us great."
He wants to see accessible, affordable health care for all Minnesotans.
Where he especially sees potential for the future of jobs and the Minnesota economy is in agriculture and the "green" arena. Initiatives that harness biofuel and value-added production must be nurtured, he said. "I just see tremendous opportunities."
Rice said he favors lowering and broadening the sales tax, a measure that several studies have recommended. He'd also be open to a tax credit so lower-income Minnesotans don't face undue hardship from an increased sales tax.
Investment tax credits and research and development tax credits could help spur growth in key areas such as the technology industry and renewable energy, he said.
Rice said he'd also consider lowering the corporate income tax, giving businesses an incentive to stay in Minnesota.
Ultimately, Minnesota will benefit the most with a solid infrastructure and support for its human capital, he said. "I think if we take care of those things, business will come and follow and grow."
Since announcing his candidacy this past spring, Rice has been busy on the campaign trail. He has knocked on doors in almost every city in District 13, which encompasses Kandiyohi County, southern Pope County and southwestern Stearns County.
Early in his campaign, he also met with officials from hospitals, nursing homes, schools, fire departments and law enforcement to listen and learn.
A mild brain hemorrhage, which happened in the middle of a campaign appearance in August with the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, caused a temporary slowdown. Rice was briefly hospitalized and told to cut back on his activity for a couple of weeks.
He still has some fatigue but is mostly recovered. "I'm actually feeling great. Every day I'm feeling a little better," he said.
If he's elected, he would be visible, committed to listening, and ready to take a stand when necessary, Rice said.
"To me it's really important to think strategically and long term when making decisions," he said. "I think I bring a lot of common sense to the job, along with a demonstrated ability to use that."