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For Koenen, experience prepares him for challenges of new district

WILLMAR -- Sen. Lyle Koenen of Clara City believes his years of experience in the Minnesota Legislature make him the best choice to represent the new District 17.

Koenen was elected to the Minnesota House in 2002 and served there until this spring, when he won a special election to serve the remainder of the late Sen. Gary Kubly's term.

In the Aug. 14 DFL primary, voters will choose between Koenen and Willmar businessman Larry Rice. The winner of the DFL primary will face off against Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, in the Nov. 6 general election.

"If I'm chosen to go back, I will bring some seniority with me," he said in a recent interview.

He also has experience chairing a Veterans Affairs committee in the House.

As a moderate Democrat, he should be able to attract voters from both parties, Koenen said. "I've won elections, even in strong Republican years."

Koenen said he is quite proud of the work he has done for veterans during his service in the Legislature.

Minnesota has been a leader in developing programs for returning troops in the past decade, he said, and the state kept funding programs after federal funding ran out.

"(Former) Gov. (Tim) Pawlenty isn't of my party, but on the issue of veterans we worked together really well," he said. "Gov. (Mark) Dayton is also really good on veterans' issues."

Koenen said he looks forward to working on health care reform issues in the Legislature, too. Minnesota has been a national leader in health care, he said, and he believes that will continue as federal health care reforms are implemented.

Another concern he would like to address in the Legislature is falling state funding levels for public schools and colleges, he said. Student loans are a burden for many young people and "keep them from participating in the economy," he added.

Property taxes recently overtook the income tax as the largest revenue source for state government, he said. "I would like to see that trend reversed," he said, because property taxes are not based on a homeowner's ability to pay.

On the two constitutional amendments on the ballot this fall, Koenen opposed one and supported the other when they were in the Legislature.

He opposed the amendment that would require a photo ID to vote. "I don't believe it should be in the constitution," he said, and he doesn't think the details of a new voting system have been worked out yet.

On the amendment to ban gay marriage, Koenen said, "I decided to represent the district," and vote in favor of it. Still, he said, public opinion is almost evenly split, and he wouldn't be surprised if the marriage amendment fails.

"Minnesotans are independent thinkers," he said.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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