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House 18B: Anderson takes first try at running for elected office

LITCHFIELD -- Darrin Anderson was 3 years old when he was accidentally mauled by a bear on his family's game farm in rural Starbuck.

Although he lost part of his right arm, he was in sports all through high school. As an adult, he coaches, golfs and plays the guitar.

"I never let it stop me from doing anything," says Anderson, 32, of Litchfield.

It's a story he often shares to illustrate the persistence and resilience he says he'll bring to the Minnesota Legislature if he wins next week's election in District 18B. Anderson, a Democrat, is challenging Rep. Dean Urdahl, who has represented the district since 2002 and who is seeking a fifth term. District 18B covers most of Meeker County and a western portion of Wright County.

This is Anderson's first try at running for an elected office. He says he was inspired to run after seeing the impact of the state budget deficit firsthand, and hearing from people who are increasingly disenchanted with state leadership.

"We took hits in education... it just isn't right," he said. "One of the things that pushed me to run for office is a lot of people don't trust government. People who are working hard to get ahead are not getting those opportunities."

Anderson is a social studies teacher with the Willmar School District's program at the Prairie Lakes Detention Center. At one time he also taught special education, but those hours were cut this past year for lack of funding. This past year he lost a position at St. Cloud State University as an adjunct professor preparing future special education teachers -- again, because of funding.

He also was seeing youths in the Prairie Lakes programs whose stay was cut short for lack of county funding or who weren't getting the help they needed. "It was a revolving door. They'd reoffend and they'd be back within a week or two," he said.

Anderson said Minnesota's current approach to budgeting and spending isn't working.

"We need to get jobs back in rural Minnesota. We need to fully fund education," he said. "We're not funding our responsibilities or even fulfilling our obligations."

Although education has been one of the top priorities in his campaign, Anderson says it's "not because I'm a teacher."

"I look at education as an investment in our future," he said. "These kids are the future to come up with new jobs and new ideas."

Anderson says he supports eliminating duplication and wasteful spending in government. He'd shore up the business sector -- including the state's farm industry -- to encourage growth and expansion.

He especially wants to nurture sustainable food production. "I'd like to see those farmers rewarded and I'd like to see the state support farmers who do that," he said.

Anderson said he also supports a tax structure that's more fair and doesn't unduly burden those in the middle and lower tax brackets.

Compared to his opponent, Dean Urdahl, Anderson is young and inexperienced at holding public office but Anderson doesn't view this as a disadvantage.

"It's nothing to do with age," he said. "It's a person's determination and willingness."

In recent weeks, he's had help from two of Minnesota's one-time DFL gubernatorial hopefuls, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and former Rep. Paul Thissen, who have traveled out to Meeker and Wright counties to knock on doors on Anderson's behalf. Anderson said it underscores his own commitment to serving Minnesota as a whole.

"I personally feel I've bridged the gap between the rural and the metro -- that we're working together for the common good," he said. "We're all Minnesotans."

If elected, he'll refrain from politicking and will ask his constituents to hold him accountable for putting them first, Anderson said.

"I will stand up against my political party if it's in the best interest of the people in my district," he said. "I'm going to vote my conscience... What you see is what you get with me."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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