In 2014, state representative Duane Quam ran unopposed in Minnesota House District 25A, but the Rochester Post Bulletin reports in Retired teacher to run against Quam that a DFL opponent has already declared her candidacy.
While the Ag Mafia and its allies have sought to frame the elimination of the Citizens Board of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency as a victory for "Greater Minnesota," Quam's opponent is having none of that.
Indeed, it's one of three policy areas prompting her bid. PB political correspondent Heather Carlson reports:
A retired Mantorville teacher is launching a bid to unseat Byron Republican Rep. Duane Quam in 2016.
Democrat Linda Walbruch said after having spent 40 years in the classroom, she wanted to focus her energies on advocating for children in St. Paul. . . .
he said she was disappointed lawmakers opted not to make bigger investments in education and support DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's proposal to fund universal preschool for four-year-olds.
"The last session there was a $2 billion surplus, and I think we could have put it to better use," she said.
Walbruch also opposed the elimination of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's Citizens Board.
"We need citizens to have a chance, to have a voice and appreciate their input and see what we can do to make it a better place," she said.
She is also disappointed that lawmakers failed to pass a comprehensive transportation bill with funding to upgrade railroad infrastructure in the state.
"With trains going through our community, we need to step up and make sure that our crossings are safe and our EMTs have access to those crossings," she said.
Minnesota House District 25A is the more rural and conservative side of a senate district served by state senator Dave Senjem. In 2014, all of the Republican constitutional officer candidates prevailed in HD25A, while Republican-endorsed state supreme candidate Michelle MacDonald beat David Lillehaug by just over three percent points. Statewide, Minnesotans disagreed, electing the Democrats. In the federal offices on the ballet in 2014, Congressman Tim Walz won in the state house district along with the First, while Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden won against Al Franken, who won statewide.
Will citizen power and environmental concerns be a Dodge County issue?
Despite the conservative leanings in the district, Walbruch may not be an isolated voice in her concern about the need for citizen voices in environmental reviews. Dodge County has been the site of contentious debates and packed houses for county board meetings about hog confinement barns, although the unit that is the subject to a lawsuit is in Westfield Township, which is represented by Peggy Bennett (R-Albert Lea).
Will the chance to vote for a pro-citizen power candidate make a difference? The conflict may not be enough to pull enough voters to Walbruch for a win, since a majority of voters in the district live in Olmsted County.
Indeed, Dodge County citizens likely have a complicated puzzle in having their voices heard in the legislature, as the county is split into a number of state districts--and Dodge County residents are a minority of voters in each district. The nearby presence of Rochester and regional cities like Owatonna, Faribault and Red Wing have caused the county to be carved up in order to create legislative districts of equal populations. In the Dodge County is represented not only by Quam (from Olmsted County) and Bennett, but Brian Daniels (R-Faribault), Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) and Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin).
With the exception of Senjem's SD25, the state senate districts (21,24,27) in Dodge County are held by Democrats. Aside from Matt Schmit, these are DFLers who have not demonstrated much other than thinly veiled contempt for citizens' environmental concerns.
Vicki Jensen (DFL-Owatonna) was part of the Senate Rural Task Force in which Senator Julie Rosen (R-Mendota) ripped a 320-acre operation in which one spouse farms full time as not being "real ag"; Jensen was far more sympathetic to Rosen's position on the Citizens Board than to citizens who contacted her with concerns for Rosen's position. We will see whether or not Rosen comes out to campaign for the Owatonna Democrat next year.
Dan Sparks, of Austin, is the senate author of the bill that would prevent neighbors from suing large farms for making a nuisance of themselves; Bluestem has been told by Republican sources that the bill was promoted by Mapleton-based Protein Sources and lobbied by Jerich & Associates. Protein Sources is moving its sow barns to areas like Todd County, since the concentration of hog barns in Southern Minnesota has led to more disease and deaths for piglets; those living with the health and odor consequences of one large sow barn in Todd Country are suing the operation.
Are these anti-environment, anti-citizen power Democrats vulnerable? Their chances vary in 2016, and their environmental records are unlikely to become significant issues, though their mileage may vary if fed-up environmental voters skip donations and their races on the ballot.
After being ushered into office by a 7-vote margin in 2002, Sparks has been re-elected by comfortable margins. Moreover, the district is known as a "presidential year Democratic" one; Barack Obama won SD27 in both the 2008 and 2012 configuration. It's unlikely the Republican Party and its ideological SuperPAC allies will invest much money there--although they did salt the earth on one side of it last year with mail about the new state senate office building in the drive to defeat Shannon Savick and elect Bennett in a classic swing district in the Albert Lea side.
Jensen is the first Democrat in many years to serve in the state senate; her district is more of a crapshoot for the DFL. Like Sparks and Lyle Koenen (DFL-Clara City), Jensen voted against raising the minimum wage, so one of the party's stronger talking points is off the table for her and the two gentlemen in 2016. As in Spark's district, half of Jensen's district was carpet-bombed by attack mail against a sitting DFL legislator, Patti Fritz, who loss a close one against Daniels. Attacks based on the new senate office building, and a large fine against the DFL Senate Caucus Campaign committee may resonate as well (Koenen's campaign may also be hobbled by this potential MNGOP & allies' attack).
While fiscally moderate, Jensen is a social liberal who voted for same-sex marriage, unlike devout Catholic Fritz. The strength of same-sex marriage as a flashpoint is likely to be measure by SuperPAC's polling and focus groups on both sides. However, Jensen was quite clear about her opposition to the marriage amendment when she won in 2012. Unlike Sparks' district, the district favors Republican presidential candidates; McCain squeaked by in 2008 within the pre-districting lines, while Romney won the new district in 2012.
We suspect that the swing races in districts that include Dodge County precincts will be targeted with Republican messaging that's about DFL self-dealing and the DFL pushback about its incumbents' records. Would a message about that stresses citizens' right to speak and be heard resonate? Bluestem suspects that we won't have a chance to learns, as neither party much sees Greater Minnesota apart from what one seasoned political reporter once called Big Rural, the lobbyists and associations with "Greater Minnesota" incorporated into their names.
Photo: Screengrab of Duane Quam. Quam ran unopposed in 2014.
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