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Before seeking office, Sen. Jerry Relph served in the Marine Corps, worked at 3M and practiced law. He also volunteered with civic and charitable organizations and helped a number of political campaigns. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)
Before seeking office, Sen. Jerry Relph served in the Marine Corps, worked at 3M and practiced law. He also volunteered with civic and charitable organizations and helped a number of political campaigns. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)

Breaking the Ice: First-term senator relies on broad experience

Name: Jerry Relph

Title: Senator, District 14

Education: B.A., philosophy, Carleton College; J.D., William Mitchell College of Law

Sen. Jerry Relph, R-St. Cloud, has found that his wide-ranging experience — from the military to legal practice and entrepreneurship — has been valuable in his first session.

Relph helped launch LakeMaster, maker of popular digital lake maps for GPS devices, before selling the business in 2012.

Relph previously had served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, worked at 3M and practiced law with firms in St. Charles and St. Cloud. Along the way he volunteered with civic and charitable organizations and helped a number of political campaigns.

“It allows me to come at a problem from multiple angles,” Relph said of his experience. “I have a saying that emotion identifies problems but logic and reason solve them. With my legal training, my business background and other experiences in the military and with 3M, all of those experiences now are being drawn upon.”

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. Ask me a question. Engage.

Q. Who was the first presidential candidate you voted for and why?

A. Barry Goldwater. He was conservative. I was at Carleton when that happened. I’m a conservative and always have been. It might have been just a reaction to the other side, too.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. I read a lot of diversionary-type things, mysteries and thrillers and occasionally I’ll read some nonfiction. I haven’t finished it and it’s a ponderous tome but it’s called “The Better Angels of Our Nature” [by Steven Pinker]. It’s an interesting story about violence through the ages and studying the progression of it from a sociological and historical standpoint.

I’m kind of a news junkie. I try and follow a lot of news websites.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. Light rail. I encounter it at least twice on my drive to work [as a senator] every day. In terms of a serious issue, the partisanship; part of my campaign was that I wanted to try to bridge that gap. It’s difficult.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. If I get time I sit in a boat and fish. My business was involved in the fishing industry. I’m an avid fisherman. Unfortunately last year I didn’t even get in my boat. I’m going to change that this summer.

Q. If someone visited you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A. The Quarry Park if the weather’s decent. Otherwise take them out to eat. Food is always a good conversation piece. Lake George is an interesting place. Some of the breweries we have now, that’s kind of an attraction.

Q. How has an event or person inspired you?

A. Ronald Reagan. I was in California in the service when he was governor, so I saw a lot of what happened there. I saw him emerge. Recently my colleagues have been a tremendous influence. We have wonderful leadership in the Senate. All the more senior senators have been helpful, just tremendous in terms of their guidance.

Q. What would be one way to end partisan polarization?

A. It’s been kind of what I expected although I have to say that one of the major pieces of legislation [concerning the delivery of human services to children] that I worked on has been very bipartisan. We’ve crossed the aisle and talked to each other. Unfortunately it’s systemic. I have some ideas that might help. I’m a member of the [bipartisan] “Purple Caucus” and try to reach out, always am willing to talk. I don’t believe anybody has a monopoly on good ideas. I may disagree with methodology but in most cases when you boil it down everybody pretty much wants the same thing. It’s just how we get there.

One thing that might help to some degree would be nonpartisan ballots. We used to do that. I thought it was a good thing. It provided a more informed electorate. When they did have to form their conclusions they actually had to find out about the candidates.

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