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District 15 voters going back to the polls

Charley Shaw//September 11, 2006//

District 15 voters going back to the polls

Charley Shaw//September 11, 2006//

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The campaign trail is a familiar place for state Sen. Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud.

Clark won a special Senate election in District 15 last December after Republican incumbent Dave Kleis was elected St. Cloud mayor.

Clark, who had challenged Kleis in previous elections in 2000 and 2002, defeated St. Cloud radio host Dan “Ox” Ochsner.

A half-year and one legislative session later, Clark finds herself door knocking once again in Benton, Sherburne and Stearns counties asking voters to send her back to St. Paul.

“My children … would tell you that all we are doing is campaigning right now,” Clark said. But, she noted, “people just got done thinking about me and what they would like as a state senator.”

In the November election, her opponent is Jeff Johnson, a Republican and pilot. Johnson serves on the local Board of Adjustment and is an aviation professor at St. Cloud State University (SCSU).

“I’m campaigning on the issues and reaching out to people,” Johnson said.

Political observers have put the St. Cloud Senate race on their list of races to watch in the November general election. The Politics in Minnesota weekly e-mail newsletter last month included the race in the top six Senate races. The DFL has a 38-29 majority in the Senate.

Clark could have her hands full as a supporter of abortion rights in a district known for its anti-abortion sentiment.

In an interview, Clark steered her emphasis on the abortion issue toward reducing the number of abortions in Minnesota. She noted former President Bill Clinton’s goal to make abortion safe, legal and rare.

“I want to work on the ‘rare’ part,” Clark said.

Her opponent, Johnson, is an anti-abortion candidate who is seeking the endorsement of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. He expects the abortion issue will be a significant topic of debate in Minnesota legislative campaigns. He’s hoping the rhetoric won’t become angry as the general election draws closer.

“Yes, I’m pro-life. … When we have a dialogue about it, I want to be civil,” Johnson said.

Based on pre-primary candidate fundraising reports that were released earlier this month, it appears Clark has amassed the funds to get her message out. She raised $31,900 for the reporting period from Jan. 1 to Aug. 21. Her campaign reported $19,456 in cash on hand.

Johnson raised $10,900, including $5,750 in loans. His campaign reported $6,600 in cash on hand.

Johnson said he has been fundraising actively, including holding an event last week.

Both candidates have agreed to abide by the state’s campaign spending limits and receive public subsidy.

Clark, who is married and has two college-aged sons, is an attorney and a former DFL associate chairwoman. She serves on the Education Committee, Higher Education Budget Division and the Jobs, Energy and Community Development Committee.

Last session was a bonding session, and many of her accomplishments are projects that were included in it. The projects include renovation of a science building at St. Cloud State University, funds for the St. Cloud airport and a regional trail along the Mississippi River.

She also worked to obtain a gang strike force in her district.

In the upcoming budget session, Clark said she would like to fix the formula for special education funding. The affordability of health care is another issue that needs to be addressed.

“I take a long term view. … We are going to have a lot of seniors that are going to be retiring. How are we going to prepare for that?” Clark said.

While the Legislature has its share of lawyers, Johnson would probably be the only legislator with commercial airline flying experience.

His father was a pilot for Northwest Airlines. According to Johnson’s Web site, he teaches instrument, commercial, turboprop systems and advanced aerodynamic courses at SCSU. Johnson has flown corporate jets and has also flown for regional and cargo airlines.

He attributes his start in politics to a trip to Kennebunkport, Maine, where he had a chance encounter with former President George H.W. Bush. Apparently Johnson and his wife happened across Bush after the father of the current president came ashore from a boating excursion.

“A one-minute conversation changed my direction,” Johnson said.

While living in Nebraska, Johnson became active in local government. He is now a member of the St. Cloud Board of Adjustment and sees the state Senate as a logical progression.

Johnson said he is concerned about neighborhood issues such as rowdiness in areas that have a mixture of residential and college student housing. He would also like to find cost savings in state government by improving on the efficiency of state government operations.

He would like to see greater transparency in the health care system. He said it’s “ridiculous” that open heart surgery costs a different amount in St. Cloud than it does in the Twin Cities.

“That’s just not logical,” Johnson said.

Johnson and his wife, who is a doctor, have a daughter.

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