Redistricting in 2012 brought some incumbents together and new challengers in legislative races across west central Minnesota. Here are our endorsements in a number of those races.
Senate 17: This race pairs two incumbents: Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, and Sen. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City. Gimse, 55, has served six years in the Senate. Koenen was elected in a special election following Sen. Gary Kubly's death and had previously served 10 years in the House.
Koenen is a life-long resident of Chippewa County and has represented his House district well. He believes infrastructure and economic development are closely tied and it is critical for rural Minnesota. His legislative focus has been on rural nursing homes, tax policy and agricultural issues. He believes that legislating through constitutional amendments is a poor practice. His weakness is he remains a quiet legislator who is not very visible at times.
Gimse is a current resident of Kandiyohi County and has previously represented District 13. He believes a stable state budget is the key to Minnesota's economy. With his small business background, he has a strong focus on controlling state spending, living within a viable budget and transportation infrastructure. He has chaired the Senate transportation committee since 2011. His weakness is his lack of consistent follow-up at times with constituents and we do not believe his local-option transportation function is a credible option.
Both are good men with a legislative record for voters to consider.
The West Central Tribune believes Gimse's transportation experience and support can best serve west central Minnesota and recommend his re-election in District 17.
House 17A: DFL incumbent Andrew Falk of Murdock is being challenged by Republican Tim Miller. Falk is a farmer and businessman from Murdock and Miller is a business development consultant from Prinsburg.
Falk has served two terms representing former District 20A and previously had worked as a legislative aid in the district. Part of a five-generation family farm, he focuses on agricultural and rural issues, including ethanol industry development. He believes the state needs to address the structural budget deficit, which began during the Ventura administration. He believes government and public policy have a role in improving people's lives. His weakness at times is his youthful exuberance at times become too focused on political themes.
Miller believes that state government should serve a greater good, but it has become too large and costly. He follows a conservative approach focusing more on reducing spending in the state budget and not raising revenues. He recommends targeting government inefficiencies to save budget funding. He believes he has the ability to be a good communicator and be a "translator" to facilitate compromise. His weakness would be the lack of legislative experience.
The West Central Tribune believes Falk has represented his previous district well, especially on agricultural and rural issues, and recommend his re-election in District 17A.
House 17B: Republican incumbent Bruce Vogel is being challenged by Mary Sawatzky, DFL, and Zack Liebl, Independence. Vogel is a realtor from Willmar, Sawatzky is a special education instructor from Willmar, and Liebl lives in Atwater and is an admissions counselor representative and an officer in the Minnesota National Guard.
Liebl has done well in this campaign, especially during some of this race's debates. He has been critical of the partisanship of the Legislature and said his independence would be an advantage. A Kandiyohi County native, he is a fiscal conservative, but believe demand has to increase to fix the structural deficit. He believes in a libertarian stance and doesn't think government has a role in religious issues, such as marriage. As a young politician, he does have potential in the future.
Sawatzky has mounted a strong campaign and has been critical of the legislative partisanship. She believes that all sides -- Democrats, Republicans and others -- must learn to work together in the Legislature. She supports the state's constitutional priority of provide adequate resources for infrastructure and education. She has a long record of civic experience and leadership -- from baseball organization to Relay to Life -- demonstrating an ability to work with all people. A native of Granite Falls, she has been an educator throughout her life. She says that completion of state Highway 23's four-lane connection is critical to Kandiyohi County and region. She is a spirited individual and is comfortable is discussions with critics one-on-one, but needs improve on her public speaking at times.
Incumbent Vogel is facing a tough challenge from his challengers. He said the Republican-controlled Legislature now has Minnesota headed in the right direction. He credits the GOP's effort for reducing taxes, cutting regulations and reducing unemployment in the state. He was successful in passage of Jacob's Law, which helps keep both parents informed when children are abuse. Running in 2010 without expectations of winning, his weakness can be political naiveté at times and a tendency not to be comfortable with criticism.
We believe Sawatzky has ran a strong campaign, is better prepared to represent all of her constituents and has long demonstrated her excellent leadership abilities. The West Central Tribune recommends Sawatzky's election in District 17A.
House 18A: Republican incumbent Dean Urdahl is being challenged by DFLer Nancy Larson. A five-term incumbent, Urdahl is a retired teacher from Grove City, while Larson is a retired journalist and lobbyist from Dassel.
Larson spent 24 years as a lobbyist for rural Minnesota cities and has a good understanding of the legislative process. She is especially concerned about the legislative gridlock in recent years. She is concern about legislative changes, such as elimination of the market value homestead credit, impacting rural Minnesota. Metro legislators hold the majority and she believe rural legislator -- DFL and Republican -- must learn to stand together.
Urdahl has demonstrated an ability to work the big items -- budget, taxes and jobs -- while also working on smaller critical issues, like chairing the Legacy Funding committee, co-chairing the 150 Minnesota Civil War Committee or working for restoration of the state Capitol building. His tenure has developed his ability to work in a bi-partisan manner and gets things done for his district and the state.
The West Central Tribune believes Urdahl has represented his previous district quite well and deserves re-election in District 18A.
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