Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Recent News
Home / News / Minnesota Legislature gains four new faces this session
Special elections last year sent three DFLers and one Republican to the Capitol.

Minnesota Legislature gains four new faces this session

A flurry of special elections late in 2005 brought four new members to the Minnesota Legislature.

Two Senate elections in November for seats in the western suburbs and Wright County were followed by a pair of December contests in St. Cloud.

Terri Bonoff’s victory over Plymouth Mayor Judy Johnson moved District 43’s Senate seat into DFL control. The seat became available when Gov. Tim Pawlenty named David Gaither as his chief of staff.

Bonoff will on the K-12 Education Budget Division and the Transportation Committee. She has advocated for the Hopkins school district at the Capitol in previous years as a member of the district’s legislative action coalition. She was also a Minnetonka Planning Commission member.

She said she will work on legislation that accounts for how school districts spend money. Pawlenty recently proposed school districts spend 70 percent of their revenue on classroom instruction. Bonoff said she wants to consider areas that Pawlenty left out, including media specialists and counselors.

Her proposal is similar to a business model of budgeting, holding schools accountable for how they spend money, she said.

She said she has tried to bridge the partisan gap by meeting over breakfast with Republican Rep. Jeff Johnson from her neighboring legislative district in Plymouth. She has participated in town hall forums with Republican Sen. Gen Olson from Minnetrista and Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope.

“I can’t change the culture. But I can begin demonstrating that I’m not going to be partisan,” Bonoff said.

With the victory of Amy Koch in Wright County’s District 19 Senate race, Republicans held on to a reliably Republican area following the departure of Mark Ourada for a job in the private sector in the Washington, D.C., area.

Koch has served as a Russian linguist in the U.S. Air Force and works for her family’s utility service firm in Buffalo. She received the Republican endorsement and beat DFL and Independence Party challengers in the special election.

The need to improve transportation has been re-emphasized upon Koch during her travels to St. Paul. She has announced legislation that closes a loophole in the state’s drug paraphernalia law that she will work to get passed this session. She’s also boning up on issues such as eminent domain and immigration.

“I really think this will be a good, friendly, productive session. I’m fortunate to come in on what I think is going to be a good year. So far my interaction with both sides has been very positive,” Koch said.

St. Cloud’s special elections were victories for both DFL-endorsed candidates.

District 15 became available after GOP Sen. Dave Kleis was elected mayor of St. Cloud. Tarryl Clark, who had narrowly lost to Kleis in 2002, won in December’s special election against radio talk-show host Dan Ochsner.

Clark is an attorney and former associate chairwoman of the DFL Party. She will serve on the Education Policy Committee; Jobs, Energy and Community Development Committee; and the Higher Education Budget Division.”One of the nice luxuries we have right now is that the session is starting so late, you can actually do the preparation up front,” Clark said.

She said she wants to be a “strong advocate” for her central Minnesota area that is a blend of rural and developed communities. She also sees the importance of acting as a liaison between the metropolitan area and Greater Minnesota.

“What’s going to help strengthen us and make things better? Let’s not be focusing on divisive issues. Let’s focus on getting stronger, and that’s what I want to do,” Clark said.

The last new legislator to be sworn in was Rep. Larry Haws, DFL-St. Cloud.

Haws was originally scheduled to be sworn in Jan. 9. He pushed the date ahead to Jan. 19 so that the election for the Stearns County Board seat he vacated to join the House could coincide with a school referendum and local elections. The move saved the expense of multiple special elections.

Haws replaces Joe Opatz, a seven-term DFLer who left the House to become interim president of Central Lakes College in Brainerd.

Haws will serve on the Governmental Operations and Veterans Affairs Committee and the Higher Education Finance Committee.

The St. Cloud area includes three counties, and Haws wants “borderless government” in which government services are coordinated. He plans to continue that theme in the House. As a former county commissioner, Haws said he understands the effect that mandates passed by the Legislature have on counties.

“The traditional priorities for us, individual and collectively, should be health care, education and transportation. Those are the cornerstone issues, and we must stay focused on those issues. If we can get a commitment to those issues, we can change the quality of life in Minnesota,” Haws said.

Leave a Reply