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Liebl sees an opening


WILLMAR -- The Independence Party once occupied the governor's office, but now has its sights on building grassroots support by winning seats in the Legislature.

It believes it has the right combination to re-emerge as a force in Minnesota politics in District 17B, where Zack Liebl, 23, of Atwater, is challenging Republican incumbent Bruce Vogel and his DFL-endorsed opponent Mary Sawatzky.

Liebl insists he is not looking to play the role of spoiler. The Independence Party believes this district is "very winnable.

"So they are putting a lot of effort into it,'' Liebl said.

The district proved it is independent-minded when Jesse Ventura carried it after only one campaign visit, he said.

The district has also swung from DFL to Republican in recent years, further evidence it does not belong to either party, according to Liebl.

His credentials as an independent are at the center of his campaign message.

"I'm a big advocate of 'never vote for the party, vote for the person' because I do see there is good in all of the parties. There are things they all bring to the table.''

Liebl was born in Willmar, and lived in Paynesville before his family returned to Willmar. He was home-schooled but active in all facets of the Kandiyohi County 4-H program.

He earned an associate degree in liberal arts from Ridgewater College and a bachelor's degree in political science from St. John's University in Collegeville.

He is currently serving with the Minnesota Army National Guard unit based in Collegeville. He was recently selected to serve as the officer-in-charge at the armory when his unit is deployed to Afghanistan. He had previously served in the admissions department at the Minnesota School of Business in St. Cloud.

He is a fiscal conservative, and charges that the mix of measures taken by the Legislature has not balanced the budget.

"It helped but it didn't fix our budget problem, it pushed it down the road which is not right in my mind,'' said Liebl.

He wants to see overall tax-code reform. He favors a flat tax.

He doesn't believe that simply offering tax cuts to business will stimulate the economy, either. There has to be consumer demand for what the business offers, he said.

Liebl would hold the line on K-12 education funding, but would support a small increase to higher education. He said he is focused on raising standards in education, and is concerned that we are no longer number one in education.

He supports teacher evaluations modeled after the "360 degree'' evaluations used by the military. Input from the teacher, students and parents as well as school board members and administration would be made part of the process. It may sound like a laborious process to put into place, but Liebl said: "Our students deserve the best and we should have a process for them.''

The candidate would maintain Local Government Aid provided the state aid funds are designed to help small, rural communities maintain necessary services.

The state is falling behind in funding the transportation system, and he said he would look at a 5-cent gas tax. He is cautious about Sen. Joe Gimse's proposal that would allow local governments to raise their own funds to leverage state funds for transportation project.

All three candidates in this race hold very similar, conservative stances on social issues. Liebl differentiates himself on the two amendment issues. He supports the idea of voter identification, but opposes the amendment. "How we vote is a legislative issue,'' he said. The constitutional amendment is not the right approach, he explained.

His libertarian side shows through on the marriage amendment, he said. Marriage is a matter for religion, and the government should not be taking sides.

Liebl points out he has not received any contributions from outside political groups, and is keenly aware that he is up against two well-funded campaigns in a hotly contested district. He is optimistic, pointing to the responses he hears while door knocking.

If elected, he would caucus with the majority party.

He is committed to building up the Independence Party. "If I were to lose, I will run again. I definitely would,'' he said.

Tom Cherveny

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

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