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Gimse emphasizes his legislative record, touts work on Transportation Committee

WILLMAR -- As he campaigns in the new Senate District 17 this fall, Joe Gimse is emphasizing one constant: his record.

The Republican from Willmar, first elected to the Senate in 2006, is seeking another term. This time around, though, redistricting has shifted the landscape.

Gimse is now running in the newly formed District 17, which includes his home ground of Kandiyohi County but also now covers Chippewa and Swift counties.

In what has been one of Minnesota's more closely watched legislative races, redistricting pits Gimse against another incumbent, longtime DFL legislator Lyle Koenen of Clara City. Koenen served in the House for 10 years before being elected this spring to the Senate after the death of Sen. Gary Kubly.

"It'll be an interesting election," acknowledged Gimse, 55, who is a land developer for a construction company he owns with his brother.

A main push of his campaign this summer and fall has been going out door-knocking, talking to business owners and visiting county fairs to meet voters and acquaint them with his legislative record, one he says he would "set against anybody's record."

"I have a proven track record," he said. "In six years we've accomplished quite a bit."

Gimse and Koenen, his opponent, share common ground in their ability to be bipartisan. Gimse describes himself as open-minded, approachable and respectful. "I've got friends on both sides of the aisle," he said.

Both candidates list a strong workforce and rural job creation as among their top priorities. Both support greater stability for the state budget.

Where the two part company is in how they would address key issues such as the state budget, spending and taxes.

Gimse favors a budgeting approach that would allow state government programs to grow no faster than the rate of the overall economy. To do otherwise "is not sustainable, and we all need to recognize that and budget wisely with the dollars we have coming in," he said.

State agencies should be required to justify every budget increase they request, he said. "We're all going to be better off" if government doesn't spend more than it takes in, he said.

He also wants to see the economy stimulated by allowing development to occur, rather than increasing revenue through higher taxes on high-wage earners.

Gimse said he advocates "new and innovative approaches" to state budgeting and state services. "You need to be creative and always thinking to find solutions to problems," he said.

If re-elected, one of Gimse's priorities is to continue his work on the Senate Transportation Committee, where he has been a leader since being appointed committee chairman two years ago.

He lists one of his major accomplishments as getting a $4.6 billion transportation bill through the Legislature this past session. "It's been quite a learning experience, quite a learning curve for me, but I think things have gone well," he said.

Gimse also is on a bipartisan Transportation Finance Advisory Committee that began meeting earlier this year to explore ways of addressing unmet needs in the state's road system. One solution identified by the group: letting cities and counties set priorities in their region and leverage local resources to fund them.

Gimse said he hopes to continue working with the advisory committee. "We're moving forward with that. There are a lot of good ideas on the table, I think," he said.

As he travels around the district on the campaign trail, he said he's encountering optimism among voters. "People are very positive and kind," he said. "The responses I've gotten are very good."

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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