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Wilhelm running for third time on GOP slate in District 13B

WILLMAR -- Four years ago, when Bonnie Wilhelm first ran for the state Legislature, one of her challenges as a new candidate was building name recognition.

This time around it's different.

"When I go to the door, people know who I am," she said.

Next week Wilhelm, a Republican, gets her third shot at unseating DFLer Al Juhnke for the District 13B seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

She says she's "ready to get in there."

"The first time you run, you learn so much. You learn the dynamics. You learn the players. You learn how things work," she said. "It's a different perspective this time around. You know the people. You know a lot more about the issues."

One of the issues at the top of her list: the economy.

As she campaigns around the district, which covers all but the northern one-fourth of Kandiyohi County, this is what people bring up most often, Wilhelm said. "People are scared."

It's an atmosphere she believes is ripe for her main message -- holding down tax increases and curbing state spending.

Even though Minnesota's economy is faring better than in other parts of the U.S., taxes have added to the economic burden of rising costs for everything from food and fuel to health care, Wilhelm said.

"When people talk about the economy, they go right to taxes. They go to fuel costs," she said.

She sees a need for state government to operate as efficiently as possible, without sacrificing essential services.

This message is resonating with the voters she's talked to, she said. "People want a change. People are tired of taxes."

Wilhelm grew up on a dairy farm, a background that she says instilled a strong work ethic in her.

Before coming to Willmar 15 years ago, she managed three physician departments at the Marshfield Clinic in Marshfield, Wis. She later worked as production manager of the Barn Theatre in Willmar. At one time she was a single parent of two young children and now is part of a blended family with her husband, Dr. Rob Kruger, a surgeon.

Critics have called Wilhelm a right-winger. But although many of her views place her to the right of the center, Wilhelm herself says she believes in working from the center.

"You have to work with other people to come to a consensus that works for everyone," she said.

She said her life experiences have taught her to be independent, hard-working and fair-minded.

"You have to be fair. You have to research. You can't research just one side," she said. "You've got to look at what's the long term."

This is the approach she would take if elected to the Legislature, she said. "There are many ways of getting things done. There are many ideas out there."

Wilhelm had a strong showing as a first-time candidate against Juhnke, earning 47 percent of the vote in 2004. Her margin shrank only slightly in the 2006 election, a year that saw several DFL gains in the Minnesota Legislature.

One of only two women in outstate Minnesota running this year for the House, she said she's seeking office for a third time because she wants to make a positive difference for her district.

"America is a great country. Minnesota is a great state," she said. "There are certain things we need to do in order to keep being a great nation and a great state. There is a desire to leave your country a better place. This is the means where I want to do that."