WILLMAR -- With only limited support from the state party in 2010, Bruce Vogel of rural Willmar upset a heavily favored incumbent to become the first Republican to represent Kandiyohi County in the state House of Representatives in 14 years.
Two years later, Vogel, 53, faces two upset-minded challengers for the House District 17B seat, which includes most of Kandiyohi County with the exception of the southwest corner.
Vogel said the Republican-controlled Legislature has the state "heading in the right direction.''
"Why change direction when we're seeing success with the things we're doing right now,'' he said.
The incumbent is a Realtor with Edina Realty in Willmar. He said he ran for office to bring a business-minded approach to erase the state's large budget deficit. "As a business we can't spend more money than we take in,'' he said.
Vogel grew up on a small farm near Currie in southwestern Minnesota. He attended Alexandria Vocational School for law enforcement. He lived for a year in California before returning to study theology at Bethel College in St. Paul.
He served as a youth pastor for a small church in Avoca, near Slayton, before beginning his career in construction and real estate.
He's been active in party politics in Kandiyohi County and assisted in the legislative campaigns of Bonnie Wilhelm.
He said he agreed to run as the Republican candidate against Al Juhnke without any expectations of victory, only faith.
"I'm a believer and Christian,'' said Vogel. "I was willing to go if that is where He wanted me. So I do give the credit to God because I do believe that helped.''
Vogel said the state is taking the right direction by reducing taxes and regulations that get in the way of economic growth. He credits the Republican Legislature's policies with reducing unemployment and adding 35,000 new jobs.
"We've created a more business friendly environment in the state,'' he said.
He defends the decision to eliminate the market value homestead credit, charging that it was not working and is now replaced by a system -- the homestead market value exclusion -- that puts more responsibility on local governments.
He supports Local Government Aid to the extent that it allows smaller cities and counties to meet basic service and infrastructure needs.
He serves on the Transportation Committee. He finds Sen. Joe Gimse's proposal to allow local governments to raise funds to leverage state monies for road projects intriguing and worth a hard look but is not ready to endorse it.
He's not calling for a gas tax increase either. He believes that there is more crude oil to be extracted and that bringing it to market could lower prices at the pump and increase sales tax and gas tax revenues.
He said the Legislature increased funding for education by $100 per pupil over the biennium, and made important reforms including alternative teacher licensure. He also supports changes to teacher evaluations and downgrading the importance of seniority.
Vogel said the solution to improving education is not throwing more money at it, but he wants better results. "From a business standpoint you want to be certain you're a producing a product that works,'' he said.
He also believes that improvement in education will only come if more parents take active roles in their children's education. "A lot of parents just want to send their kids off and let the schools take care of it.''
Despite the charges of partisanship, Vogel said legislators have worked across party lines and compromised more than many realize. He wants to return to St. Paul to continue work to "rein in government spending'' and work on eliminating mandates he considers outdated and over-burdensome.