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Renville woman ran as Dayton's running mate in 1998

Julie Jansen said she was stunned when Mark Dayton asked her to be his running mate in 1998. She campaigned as Dayton's lieutenant governor candidate until the primary election. Hubert Humphrey III emerged as the party's candidate against Republican Norm Coleman and Independent party candidate Jesse Ventura, the eventual winner. Submitted photo

OLIVIA -- Few are watching the gubernatorial campaign of Mark Dayton and running mate Yvonne Prettner Solon with the perspective of Julie Jansen of rural Olivia.

She's been there.

Jansen ran as Dayton's lieutenant governor candidate in his 1998 bid for the DFL Party endorsement. Hubert Humphrey III emerged as the winner in the crowded field. Humphrey and Republican Norm Coleman were surprised by Independence party candidate Jesse Ventura's win in November.

There were lots of surprises waiting for Jansen on the campaign trail in 1998, but none was bigger than the phone call from Dayton inviting her to be his running mate.

"I dropped the phone,'' said Jansen. "I was stunned. I didn't know what to do or say.''

She had lots of reasons to say no. She and her husband, Jeff, were parents to six children, ages 6 to 18 at the time. Julie was a stay-at-home mom and day care provider who had come to the public's attention as an activist in an unlikely campaign. Her family lived near a large, open lagoon holding millions of gallons of hog waste from confinement barns.

Jansen said her family was being sickened by the hydrogen sulfide gas and odors emitted by the lagoon. She wanted the emissions monitored and regulated and a moratorium placed on the construction of open manure lagoons until the health and environmental risks were known.

She had never been political. Until she took on the feedlot lagoons, Jansen said she identified herself more as a Republican than Democrat due to right-to-life and social issues.

Nor did she like the limelight. Jansen was so shy by nature that she remembers being flunked out of her church play, and how her eighth-grade teacher Sharon Severson had to prod her just to stand before the class. "I could not get in front of the classroom,'' she said.

She didn't give Dayton an answer when he first called. "My first thought was the kids,'' Jansen said.

She also worried about all of the people she had come to know while fighting feedlot lagoons, and whether she would let them down by running.

Jansen had first met Dayton one year earlier. He asked Jansen and others to meet with him to discuss the feedlot lagoon issue. They met at the Chatterbox Café in Olivia, and she drove him to an open lagoon.

He stayed until he got a nasty headache, tears in his eyes and didn't feel so good, Jansen said. "I don't know any other politician today doing that,'' she said.

Dayton followed up by inviting her to the state Capitol. He led her to the offices of legislators to lobby on behalf of the legislation she wanted.

Jansen said she and Dayton continued to remain in touch on the issue. He began asking her for suggestions on whom to select as a running mate.

The one name she never offered was her own.

Friends persuaded her to say yes as the best means of fighting the waste lagoons. "I finally decided to do it for the cause,'' she said.

Jansen said she and Dayton knew that she went into the campaign with a big learning curve to master. "I wasn't as groomed as the other people.''

She found herself in an endless line of summer parades, and being interviewed by the boards of directors of all types of organizations, along with news reporters. Her memories of the campaign include appearances at a Farmfest forum and before the cameras of Twin Cities Public Television with the other lieutenant governor candidates. Asked on the air what she would do if she disagreed with her running mate on an issue, she stood out by responding: "I'll lobby him until I know he's right.''

Yet being a public persona was no easy matter for Jansen, even weeks into the campaign. "If I had a penny for every time my knees knocked, I'd be a millionaire,'' she said.

The only negative reception she ever received was at home while riding in the Corn Capital Days parade in Olivia. A line of people -- many of whom she believes were the employees of the large feedlots she fought -- spit and shouted epithets at her, she said.

These were difficult times for Dayton too, according to Jansen. His wife would sue for divorce and the tension in his personal life was known to those on the campaign.

Jansen said they believed there was a spy from a rival camp on the staff. She also became convinced that some of the people surrounding Dayton wanted to take advantage of his wealth.

On the campaign trail she heard from many who wanted her to pass on their thanks to Dayton. He had answered their pleas for help when large medical expenses or other misfortunes struck their lives.

Jansen said she remains convinced that Dayton genuinely enjoys helping people and seeks elected office for that reason. "He believes he can help more people in office than one at a time on the street,'' said Jansen.

She had no trouble arguing his campaign platform. "I literally agreed with everything he was working on.''

She called campaigning "nerve-wracking,'' but said there is a euphoria that comes with it too. People rushed from the crowd while in a parade in Minneapolis and hugged her. Her phone calls and messages to people who had previously shunned her were always answered.

And always, there is the hope. "You're on cloud 99. You're thinking you could change the world for a while.''

The primary night election numbers told her otherwise. "You see your dreams shattered and you wonder what's next?''

In the next few years, a daughter's health struggles worsened; an infant granddaughter died; she became very ill; and she and her family left their home while involved in litigation with the owner of the open waste lagoon.

In hindsight, she believes her candidacy harmed her ability to fight for her cause. "People started to question who I am and what I was about after the campaign,'' she said. Many saw her as more interested in politics than the cause, she said.

Her second chance came when she found a role with the environmental organization Clean Water Action. She devotes herself full time today as a rural community organizer for the organization.

Her job responsibilities require her to stay clear of politics, but she admits that she was happy when the organization recently endorsed Dayton over Republican Tom Emmer in the gubernatorial race.

Despite the primary loss, the hardship of the campaign and what followed in her own life, Jansen is not second-guessing her decision. "I don't regret it,'' she said. "I don't regret it at all.''

Tom Cherveny

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

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