Writers that contributed to this story were PAUL DEMKO, BRIANA BIERSCHBACH, CHARLEY SHAW, JAKE GROVUM and PETER BARTZ-GALLAGHER
Many Republican frosh have records of local civic service
HD 15B: King Banaian
King Banaian was surrounded by politics growing up in New Hampshire. The state is inundated with presidential hopefuls every four years, and Banaian was recruited at 15 to put flyers on doors for the George McGovern campaign.
But Banaian, now 51, took a break from politics for most of his adult life to pursue his passion for teaching and economics and is only now joining the political fray again as the state representative for district 15B after winning one of the closest House races in the state’s history by 10 votes.
Banaian was born in Manchester, New Hampshire and attended Memorial High School there. He stayed in the area for college, too, receiving a bachelor’s degree in economics from Anselm College in 1979. “At that point, I just needed to get away,” he said. He moved to California, where he got his master’s degree and PhD in economics from the Claremont Graduate School. In 1984, at the age of 26, Banaian got a job as an economics professor at St. Cloud State University, where he has taught for the last 25 years. Since the early 2000s, Banaian has also run a popular blog, SCSUscholars.com, and hosts a radio show on KYCR 1570 where he discusses politics and economics.
While devoting much of his life to teaching students at the university, Banaian took a year of leave in 1995 to work for the National Bank of Ukraine. While there, Banaian worked extensively with Victor Yuschenko, the man who eventually became the Ukrainian president. He has also doled out economic advice to other countries, including Egypt, Indonesia, Armenia, Macedonia and Slovakia.
Banaian was approached before this year about running for the Legislature, but opted to stick with classrooms and students. But he said the developing state and national economic situation brought him to the point of saying “enough is enough” this year. “I kept complaining about what was going on down there, but hadn’t done anything about it,” he said. “It seemed like the perfect time to change that.”
Growing up in New Hampshire and helping out with campaigns from an early age, Banaian knew what it meant to go door-knocking. The hard part was campaigning in a DFL-leaning district in the fall when classes were starting up again at the university. “I always knew I was going to be swimming upstream, but I underestimated how much work it was really going to be,” he said. His efforts paid off: Banaian is the apparent-victor over DFLer Carol Lewis in a race that has triggered an automatic recount to take place at the end of this month.
At the Legislature, Banaian is ready to roll up his sleeves and put his years of higher education and economics experience to work. He would like to serve on the Higher Education Committee and any budgetary committees. “I have advised hundreds of students and I want to go on to help those in the Legislature to understand it from a standpoint of someone who has been there for many years.”
When Banaian is not spending time with his wife Barbara and two children, he enjoys reading and writing. He may even write a book about his experience campaigning and working in the Legislature. “Now I’m shifting from a theory perspective to actually doing it, and I think a lot of people, especially my colleagues, would be interested in that.”
HD 17B: Bob Barrett
As a high school student in Sioux Falls, S.D., Bob Barrett played center, linebacker and defensive tackle on a football team that beat the odds to capture the 1984 state title.
Barrett, 43, who now officiates in school sports events year-round, said he’s drawn to sports and politics in no small part because of his competitive nature.
“From that aspect,” he said, “I always had an interest both in terms of what elected officials do for people and also the things that are related to competition.”
Barrett grew up with three older sisters. His mother was an emergency room nurse who later worked at a nursing home. He graduated from Minnesota State University-Mankato and entered a recession-colored job market in 1992.
He landed an accounting job at the world renowned chemical dependence treatment center Hazelden Foundation. Barrett was happy to move into the foundation’s financial analysis area. He is currently the executive director of market research and marketing analysis.
In 2000, Barrett ran for the District 17B seat as a DFLer. The district had different boundaries before the 2002 redistricting that were more favorable for Democrats. Barrett said his campaign to defeat DFL incumbent Leslie Schumacher back then doesn’t conflict with his current life as a Republican. He said he campaigned on limited government and assailed “out of control” state spending.
“The things I ran on 10 years ago are the things I’m running on now,” Barrett said.
DFLer Jeremy Kalin picked up District 17B in 2006 and won re-election in 2008. With the political winds favoring Republicans in 2010, the Republican-leaning exurban seat was expected to flip back into the GOP column.
Before Barrett’s victory on Election Day, however, he fought an intense intra-party battle. He defeated three area mayors to win the Republican endorsement in April 2010. Wyoming Mayor Sheldon Anderson, who had pledged support for Barrett at the convention, changed his mind and ran in the primary. Barrett ultimately prevailed.
Barrett is upset that Minnesota businesses have jumped the border to his home state of South Dakota. Like many in the Republican-laden freshman class, he thinks business taxes in the state are too high and regulations are overly burdensome.
“I know firsthand by growing up in South Dakota what sound, conservative tax and regulation policies have done for the state,” Barrett said.
Barrett is concerned about inequities in the K-12 education funding system. The issue is particularly acute in the North Branch school district, where voters have rejected levy increases and the district shifted to a four-day school week. Barrett said state education funding policies give preferential treatment to certain school districts.
“There is more than one formula,” he said, “and that’s the problem. It’s so complex that nobody understands it.”
He also wants to roll back controversial changes to the Green Acres agricultural land preservation program. The changes have restricted the property tax benefits that many farmers in his district had enjoyed in the past.
HD 37B: Kurt Bills
Kurt Bills frames much of what he does, personally and professionally, as lessons in economics. He has taught the subject at the high school level, and admits, “All I do is read books about economics. My wife is after me because I don’t read fiction.”
Bills was elected to the Rosemount City Council in 2009. In the race for the 37B House seat, he cruised to victory over first-term DFLer Phil Sterner by a 58-42 percent margin. The district includes Rosemount and the eastern part of Apple Valley. From 1985 to 2008, the seat had been held by Republican Dennis Ozment. Bills said his run was “not an anti-Phil thing for me. I taught his kids and I’ve sat in on parent-teacher conferences with him.”
In addition to teaching, Bills and his wife, Cindy, operate a small business. They are licensed in-home daycare providers, where Bills admits that his role is as a ‘human jungle gym’ for the kids. They have three girls and a boy, ranging in age from three to 13.
Bills grew up in a rural setting near Sauk City/Prairie Du Sac, Wisconsin. He was on the football and track teams in high school, but wrestling was the local passion, and in addition to being on the team, Bills later went on to coach the sport. The 40-year-old earned undergraduate degrees in Secondary Social Studies Education and U.S. History and an M.A. in Education from Winona State University.
Bills and his family have a lake place near Hayward, Wisconsin, that Bills and his father built. He also enjoys ice fishing and hunting.
When the party encouraged Bills to run, he was excited about taking his knowledge of economics to a statewide office. Economics is at the root of every issue, he believes. “There are things we will pay for as a collective,” he said, but feels there are both efficient and inefficient ways of doing that, and savings have to be part of the equation. He is pleased with the example that the city of Rosemount has set. “By paying down debt, the city has more money to reduce taxes or add amenities, and we’ve done both. ”
Bills thinks a teacher can contribute to the discussion on a number of House committees, including Taxes and K-12 Education panels. He also has an interest in the Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee, Capital Investment, Jobs and Economic Development Finance, Ways and Means or Health and Human Services.
Bills said he hopes there will be a paradigm shift at the Legislature to make decisions based on logical economical analysis with long-term goals in mind. He frames the issue as political virtue versus economic virtue. Too often, he said, politicians make decisions based on gaining 51 percent of the vote, even if it ultimately leads to higher deficits.
“I think we have to have an honest discussion about what we’re passing down to other generations,” he said. “That’s not a Republican or Democrat thing. That’s a moral issue.”
HD 8B: Roger Crawford
Roger Crawford thinks his unorthodox background stands to be one of his chief assets in his new role as a House representative at the Minnesota Legislature.
Crawford went to Centennial High School in Circle Pines, graduating in 1970. He received a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from St. Cloud State University in 1979, after which he joined the Navy as a journalist. Crawford served from 1973 until 1977 on the U.S.S. Oriskany, an aircraft carrier that deployed approximately 3,500 people. As a journalist, Crawford was responsible for putting out a daily newspaper, running the radio and television stations and anchoring the nightly news.
After the Navy, Crawford moved back to Mora with his wife, Barbara, to start a family. Barbara was a teacher in the area, and it wasn’t long before Crawford was back in school to get his teaching degree. He went to work as an elementary school teacher in Milaca and a Catholic grade school in Pine City, where he was also the school’s principal. He has also spent more than 20 years working as a real estate appraiser.
Crawford, 58, somehow also found the time to get involved in local politics. After his three children were in school, Crawford decided to run for the Mora City Council, where he served two terms between 1996 and 2001. After his time on the council, Crawford opted to run for mayor, winning the race and serving in the city of more than 3,000 between 2002 and 2006. Over the last year, he has been a Kanabec County commissioner.
His experience with city politics is what made him want to run for the Legislature. Crawford said he and other council members made tough decisions on the local level, and he couldn’t understand why the state didn’t do the same. “As a local official, I’ve watched the Legislature in action for a while now, and in the last few sessions the expression that comes to mind is, ‘kick the can down the road,'” Crawford said. “They don’t solve the problems and just wait until next time.”
In the Legislature, Crawford is interested in serving on the health and human services committee and any area that deals with rural development. Agriculture is a major employer in the district, and Crawford said he wants to “provide a good voice for them.”
He is also interested in serving on an education committee, owing partly to his own background in teaching. “I come from a family of educators,” he said. “My mother was a teacher, my wife is a retired teacher, and a few of my daughters are teachers. I want Minnesota to have the best education system.” Crawford said he thinks the state should be open to alternative teacher licensure, a contentious issues at the Capitol last session.
In his spare time, Crawford enjoys golfing, entertaining people in his Mora home, and playing with his four grandchildren.
HD 17A: Kurt Daudt
Kurt Daudt’s election to succeed Rep. Rob Eastlund in state House District 17A is the most recent development in a steadily rising political career.
Daudt, 37, has been elected to town and county boards. He’s also served on the Minnesota Republican Party’s executive council and managed Marty Seifert’s gubernatorial campaign.
Daudt lives on a farm in Crown that his grandparents originally purchased in 1978. He moved there after he finished his studies at the University of North Dakota, where he had studied aviation management. The youngest of three siblings, his older brother also lives on the farm.
Daudt was elected to the local township board before getting elected to the Isanti County Board. During the six years he served on the town board he became active in local Republican party politics. He worked on Eastlund’s first campaign in 2000.
Daudt attends the same church as former GOP U.S. Sen. Rod Grams, and worked on Grams’ 2006 Congressional campaign against CD8 U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar. The contacts he made during that campaign led to his being appointed to the 8th District GOP’s executive committee. He was then recommended to serve on the Minnesota Republican Party’s executive committee, to which he was elected. He is now vice chairman of the party.
Daudt first met Rep. Marty Seifert at a fundraiser for Rep. Sondra Erickson. (Erickson had been one of Daudt’s teachers years earlier, and they plan to be seatmates on the House floor in 2011.) Daudt and Seifert became close. They both served on the Minnesota steering committee for GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson, which Seifert chaired.
When Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced in June 2009 he wouldn’t seek a third term, Daudt quickly started putting together Seifert’s campaign for the Republican endorsement. In the immediate aftermath of Seifert’s loss to Tom Emmer at the GOP State Convention, Daudt was initially disinclined to run for the state House seat left open by the retirement of Rep. Rob Eastlund.
“I took about a week,” he said. “I had decided I wasn’t going to do it. With some encouragement and some arm twisting from Rep. Eastlund, I changed my mind.”
Among Daudt’s legislative concerns is the ongoing controversy surrounding the Green Acres agricultural land preservation program. Green Acres is a tax program that’s designed to protect farmers’ property values, and tax levies, from spiking due to neighboring commercial development. State lawmakers in 2008 made changes that excluded so-called non-productive land on farms from receiving the Green Acres tax benefit. In fast-growing areas with agricultural land like Isanti County, the changes that were made by legislators in 2008 have been a source of outrage.
Daudt said he’s interested in serving on the property tax division of the Taxes Committee as a way to address the Green Acres issue. Because of his experience in politics and town and county government, he’s also interested in serving on the Government Operations and Elections Committee.
In his free time, Daudt enjoys spending time at his cabin near Cambridge. Daudt also enjoys traveling, although his political and public service work has curtailed his available time to travel in the last couple years. He and a small group of friends have made trips to Japan, China and Norway.
A member of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, Daudt took a church-related trip to Kenya in 2006 that has had resulted in a lasting philanthropic mission. Daudt and four other people are on the board of Project 24, which builds orphanages in Kenya. They have raised more than a half million dollars.
HD 1B: Deb Kiel
Spending her entire life in northwestern Minnesota – and only two years outside of Crookston, in nearby Moorhead – gave Deb Kiel a number of homegrown reasons to make a run for the Legislature.
There’s regulation of small businesses; the issue of local control, or lack thereof, in schools. But ultimately, Kiel says, her run for 13-term DFL Rep. Bernie Lieder’s seat stemmed from a long voluntary involvement in Republican politics and, above all, conservative principles. “I’m kind of an action person,” she says of her personal and political temperament.
Kiel grew up on a farm and has spent her entire life in agriculture, whether it be shredding beet leaves, keeping the books for the farm or marketing their products when it’s time to sell. That experience, and getting to know others also involved in the field, is a big reason she hopes to make it easier for small farming operations to grow and expand when she comes to the Legislature in January. Doing that, she says, would require the state to cut some of the red tape and regulations to help them grow.
“Some businesses can pick up and move,” Kiel said. “With agriculture, you really can’t.”
Another key issue for Kiel is education. Outside of farming, Kiel’s involvement with local schools has been among her more time-consuming pursuits, she says. For seven years now she’s been on the Crookston school board, where she won an appointment based on her involvement and has since been re-elected twice. Before that she was active volunteering in various parents’ groups, taught music at Our Saviors’ Lutheran school and worked with the Knowledge Bowl group at Crookston Public Schools.
Legislatively, Kiel says she wants to free up local school officials to be able to make changes as they see fit, rather than sticking to a top-down approach where the state sets the agenda. “It’s very constraining for local school boards,” Kiel said. “I’d like to see control come closer to home, where our friends and neighbors can see.”
Outside of her work on the family farm and in helping out with the schools, Kiel is very active in her Lutheran church, Our Saviors. She’s in the choir, teaches Sunday school and worked as a youth group leader as well. Kiel also said she’s proud of being able to help and care for family members when they’ve been in failing health. She dismissed the notion that Republicans aren’t concerned about nursing homes and assisted living centers. “I’m concerned about the stability of those things,” Kiel said.
The 53-year-old Kiel and her husband, Lonn, have been married for 33 years. Kiel spent two years attending college at Concordia in Moorhead before returning to Crookston and continuing farming. Together, Kiel and her husband have four children – Katheryn, Christian, Stephanie and Alexander – three of whom are married with eight grandchildren, with the ninth due to arrive early next year.
HD 34A: Ernie Leidiger
Things were fairly quiet for Ernie Leidiger in his assignment at the U.S. Armed Forces Central Command in Tampa, Fla., in 1990. But that quickly changed for the Navy lieutenant commander when the first Gulf War broke out.
“All of a sudden, we got these real-time messages that there were Iraqi troops building up on the border of Kuwait,” Leidiger said.
Soon Leidiger was briefing CENTCOM Commander-in-Chief Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf on the positions of American flagged ships in the Persian Gulf.
Leidiger, 57, was born in Wausau, Wisconsin, and grew up closer to Milwaukee in Oconomowoc. His father owned an industrial lumber company and his mother was a high school teacher.
Military service runs strong in his family and he enrolled in the Naval Academy in Annapolis and graduated in 1976 with a degree in general engineering.
Before he was married and had kids, Leidiger spent the majority of his time at sea. In one year he sailed around the world with stops in San Diego, Madrid and Bahrain. Even after he got married at age 33, he spent much of the first five years away from his wife, Jan, and their young children.
He became an executive officer on a destroyer out of San Diego and then went to Rhode Island where he obtained master’s degrees from the U.S. Naval War College and Salve Regina University.
After his time at CENTCOM, Leidiger went to Navy post graduate school in Monterrey, Calif., and was director of the government reinvention lab from 1992-1994, at which time he was discharged.
Out of the military, Leidiger started a media rep business and launched a weekly publication out of San Diego called Veterans Journal. When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, Leidiger and some other veterans launched Operation Homefront to provide support for military spouses and children who remained at home during combat tours.
Leidiger had never encountered politicians until he started Operation Homefront. In his work with the organization, he came in contact with former U.S. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter and former Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
“The Republican politicians and their platform always appealed to me because its tenets were closer to the tenets of the Founding Fathers: limited government, strong defense, lower expenditures, beef up the private sector,” Leidiger said.
Leidiger, whose wife is from White Bear Lake, moved to the Twin Cities in 2005. He joined with his brother in starting Brothers Office Furniture and Brothers Liquidation and Recycling. Leidiger is now a consultant to both businesses.
He became vice-chair of the Republican BPOU in Carver County and then jumped at the chance to succeed Rep. Paul Kohls in the heavily Republican district.
As a legislator, Leidiger wants to find ways to engage the private sector and nonprofits to help solve the state’s problems. He also wants to improve the efficiency of the education system. With those aims in mind, he’s interested in serving on commerce and education committees.
HD 12B: Mike LeMieur
In 2008 Republican challenger Mike LeMieur fell 76 votes short of knocking off incumbent DFL Rep. Al Doty – the closest House contest in the state. Two years later, with LeMieur making another run at the post, it became one of the most vigorously contested races in Minnesota. Outside interest groups, including Education Minnesota and the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, poured money into the district, which includes Little Falls and Royalton.
A mailing paid for by the state DFL party attacked LeMieur for supposedly steering a sweetheart snow-plowing contract to his cousin while serving on the Little Falls City Council. GOP legislative leaders traveled to the district to condemn the advertisement. “My cousin did that for 10, 15 years before I got on the council,” LeMieur noted, “and he’s still doing it today.”
In the end the contest wasn’t close. LeMieur carried 57 percent of the vote, winning by more than 2,000 ballots. The Republican challenger believes the snow-plowing ad didn’t pass the smell test with voters. “I actually think that that ad helped me out more than it hurt me, to be honest with you,” he said.
LeMieur has lived his entire life in Little Falls. Growing up, his dad ran a plumbing and heating business and his mom stayed home to help raise Mike and his three brothers. They were expected to pitch in at the small business from a young age. “I started off sweeping the floor and stocking the shelves,” LeMieur recalled. He graduated from Little Falls High School.
About 15 years ago, the LeMieur brothers bought their dad out of the business and took over. These days, Mike handles the heating and air conditioning installation side of the business. “We all get our hands dirty,” he said.
The 42-year-old father of three has also been a volunteer with the Little Falls Fire Department for two decades, earning certification as an emergency medical technician. Currently he’s serving as president of the Little Falls Relief Association, which sets the bylaws for the fire department.
In 2004 LeMieur was elected to the Little Falls City Council. He spent four years on the body, including a stint as president. At the Capitol LeMieur hopes to serve on committees focused on agriculture and veterans, two key issues for the district, which includes the Minnesota National Guard’s Camp Ripley. “It’s a double whammy,” said LeMieur. “It’s one of my interests and it’s part of my district.”
Other priorities for LeMieur at the Capitol includes passing legislation requiring voters to provide photo identification at the polls, adoption of an alternative-licensing system for public school teachers and an overhaul of the Green Acres tax program for farmland. “I’d like to see it totally repealed,” he says of controversial changes to the program adopted in 2009, “and see it go back the way it was beforehand.”
LeMieur and his family attend Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Little Falls.
HD 19B: Joe McDonald
After serving in the Air Force as a combat aerial photographer during the Korean War, Joe McDonald’s dad, K.J., returned to Minnesota and opened photography studios in Minneapolis and then Watertown. He eventually won a state House seat and spent 14 years serving at the Capitol, including a stint as chair of the Agriculture committee. Despite approaching his 80th birthday, he is currently the Mayor of Watertown.
Joe McDonald recalls running around the State Office Building, where his dad’s legislative office was located, as a kid. In the years since, he’s clearly been following in his father’s footsteps.
After earning a degree in photography from Hennepin County Technical College, Joe opened a photography studio in Delano in 1988. “You meet so many varieties of people,” McDonald said of his chosen profession. “Photography brings the world right to your front door.”
In 2000 McDonald followed his father into politics, winning a seat on the Delano City Council. After serving for six years, he won a term as the city’s mayor.
In May, McDonald triumphed over four rivals for the GOP endorsement in House District 19B, meeting the 60 percent threshold on just the second ballot. In the heavily Republican district, that’s tantamount to winning office. McDonald took the general election by 26 percentage points. He takes over the seat being vacated by Rep. Tom Emmer after he decided to run for governor. McDonald’s proud that it’s among the most conservative districts in the state.
“I always wanted to be just like my father. I’m carrying on the family tradition,” he said. “He instilled in myself and all of my six brothers and sisters a responsibility and duty to serve your community.”
The 44-year-old father of three believes that his experience working in Delano municipal government will help him come up with creative solutions to fix the state’s systemic fiscal problems. McDonald notes that while he was serving as mayor, Delano had to trim roughly $800,000 from its budget owing to cutbacks in state aid. He believes the state likewise has to live within its means and cites health and human services as one area where savings can be found. “We all work very hard for our money,” he said. “I grew up a poor boy in Watertown.”
McDonald and his family are members of St. Peter’s Catholic Church, in Delano. He serves as a lector, reading from the scriptures during services, and has taught Bible study.
McDonald is a past president of the Twin Cities Professional Photographers Association. This year he was named a “photographer of the year” by the organization Professional Photographers of America.
McDonald is active in numerous community groups in Wright County, including the Lion’s Club, the American Legion and the Knights of Columbus. He’s a former president of the Delano Chamber of Commerce.
In the fall, McDonald enjoys deer hunting. He also likes to work out, although he admits that this is in part to allow for greater indulgence at the dinner table. “I like to eat anything I want, from French fries to chocolate malts,” McDonald said.
HD 3B: Carolyn McElfatrick
When Carolyn McElfatrick made her first run against DFL House Rep. Loren Solberg in 2008, more people asked her about how to pronounce her name than about her stance on the issues. (The last two syllables rhyme with hat trick.)
In her second campaign this year, people remembered her name, and her message on cutting back government spending rang loud and clear. McElfatrick beat Solberg, a 14-term committee chair in a strong Democratic district, by just more than 2 percentage points.
“People recognize out-of-control spending and a government that’s increasing in size, and if you look into the future, it can’t continue like that,” she said. “I have to live on a budget and things are tight right now, so why doesn’t the government?”
McElfatrick, 66, grew up on a farm in southern Minnesota and graduated from Austin high school. She went on to a now-defunct hospital nursing program in Rochester. She graduated in 1965, went to work for a year, and then went back to Rochester to the Mayo Clinic in the School of Nurse Anesthesia.
She only stayed in the program for one year before her husband, Robert, was notified that he would likely be called into service in the Vietnam War. She and Robert, who was finishing his medical residency, got married and moved from Texas and New Jersey to a station in South Korea, where the two raised their young daughter and worked for a year. “It was an amazing experience just to be transported into another culture that is so very different from ours,” she said.
When the young family came home from the war, they moved to Colorado, where Robert set up a private practice in Denver. They lived there together for 31 years, during which McElfatrick started to work for Frontier Airlines in customer service.
The couple moved back to Minnesota in 2002 after Robert retired and both their children were living out of state. In 2008, the Republican Party asked McElfatrick, a frequent volunteer, to enlist as a candidate and try and tackle Solberg. “It was a difficult decision, because it wasn’t something that I was thinking about doing on my own,” she said. “Realistically, you know that you’re facing a challenge.”
But McElfatrick pushed through the DFL stronghold and beat out Solberg for the spot in the House. Now that she’s there, jobs and the economy are going to be her main focus. Outside of that, she would like to serve on the agriculture committee. As a former military wife, she also has a strong interest in working on veterans issues. “I know a bit what it’s like to be an army wife,” she said. “This is really hard on not only them, but these multiple deployments are creating emotional challenges for the families left behind that many people don’t have to experience.”
In her free time, McElfatrick enjoys being out on the water in her kayak, weaving, and spending time with her husband, two children and six grandchildren.
HD 22A: Joe Schomacker
At 24, freshman representative Joe Schomacker is the youngest legislator at the Capitol. But despite his youth, Schomacker has been active in politics for longer than many other lawmakers entering the Capitol for the first time this year.
Schomacker was born and attended high school in Luverne, Minnesota, where he was a part of the school’s Teenage Republicans chapter. He was also a student liaison to the Luverne City Council. In that role, he advised council members on issues such as curfew changes and other student-related topics. Schomaker attended Southwest State University in Marshall, earning a bachelor’s degree in public administration, speech communications and political science in 2008. During that time, he served as student body president, an elected position in which he was a liaison between students and the university’s administration.
“I’ve been involved in politics pretty regularly since high school,” he said. “It’s just something I’ve always been interested in.”
After college, Schomacker received his master’s degree in strategic communications from George Washington University by taking online classes. During that time he also started his own consulting firm, Nexis Political Consulting, which quickly added nonprofits and small businesses to its client roster. In his spare time, Schomacker helps his parents with their businesses. His mother owns a Curves franchise in Luverne and his father runs an independent carpet-cleaning business.
Schomacker’s youth was made an issue in the campaign. He was running against former DFL House Majority Leader Ted Winter. “It came up in mailers and ads,” he said. “He was counting his 16 years of political experience against my 24 years of being alive.” But Schomacker thinks his youthful perspective is something the Capitol needs. “The future generations are the folks that are really going to have to pay for what’s going on and live with the decisions that are made now,” he said. “I figured they should have a seat at the table.”
Ironically, however, Schomacker says that a main focus of his freshman term will be the aging population in his district. Nursing homes are one of the biggest employers in the area, but the “skeleton system” in place now is “at the lowest point it can be,” he said. Nursing homes have to compete for nurses with Sioux Falls, where they can make more money. “We have a high turnover that doesn’t serve the population well,” he said.
He is also interested in serving on an agriculture committee, as farming is prevalent in the area, and sees improving the economy and creating jobs as his main priority.
In his spare time, Schomacker volunteers as a speech coach for the Luverne High School speech team. He was a member of the team while he was still in school.
HD 42A: Kirk Stensrud
For a long time, first-term state House Rep. Kirk Stensrud, admittedly, didn’t pay much attention to politics. “You just become consumed with family and kids when your family is young, and when all you do is buys groceries and buy diapers, I can understand why people don’t know who is running for office,” he said.
But after his children grew up and started high school, Stensrud began thinking about the kind of state his family would grow up in. “Spending is out of control on both a national and federal level,” he said, adding that it weighs on him that the country’s debt will one day fall on his kids and their families.
Besides attending primary-season caucuses for the last several years, Stensrud had little experience in politics. But after talking with party activists about the 2010 election, Stensrud began looking for a good Republican candidate to challenge the district’s three-term DFLer, Maria Ruud. “I told people that I would be their campaign manager and help out,” he said. “And then I thought, who can do this that thinks like me?”
Through chatting with politicians, including Sen. David Hann and Rep. Jenifer Loon, 48-year-old Stensrud decided that he could manage running his own small business and serving as a state legislator at the same time. So, in a year marked by political neophytes and a grassroots Republican insurgency, Stensrud joined the throng of political candidates and beat Ruud by a scant 134 votes. CK
Stensrud grew up the youngest of three children in Bloomington and graduated from Lincoln High School in 1980. He received his bachelor’s degree in business four years later from Bethel University in St. Paul, where he also met his wife Wendy, a nurse.
After college, Stensrud moved to Fargo, North Dakota, and started working for pharmaceutical company Wallace Laboratories, where he was a sales representative for more than two years. Stensrud went on to work in sales for several medical technology companies, including Coloplast Group, which took him to a regional manager position in Florida. After a brief stint working for WebMD and an IT consulting company, Stensrud decided to “leave corporate life” and buy his own franchise.
For nearly the last decade, Stensrud has owned and operated Fish Window Cleaning out of Edina, a franchise that is one of about 200 nationally.
At the Capitol, Stensrud wants to put a stop to state government spending and work on passing photo identification requirements for voting. He is interested in serving on any business- or finance-related committees.
In his spare time, Stensrud likes to spend time with his wife and three kids, and enjoys reading “thriller and intrigue” type novels. “I haven’t had a good book in about eight months,” he said. “I’ve got a long list I need to tackle.”
HD 21A: Chris Swedzinski
Chris Swedzinski never thought he’d run for public office, though he’d been involved in Republican politics since college. The hectic schedules of elected officials didn’t appeal to him, and he wanted to follow his dream of owning a small business. But in 2010, the state of the economy made him put his name up to fill the seat of retiring seven-termer Marty Seifert.
A son of southwest Minnesota, Swedzinski was born in Marshall in 1978, graduated from Minneota High School, and now makes his home in nearby Ghent with his wife Jessica and their two daughters. At Ridgewater College in Willmar, he learned welding, and then moved to Minnesota State-Mankato, where he majored in political science and history. It was at Mankato that he got involved with the College Republicans, which led to a job working for Congressman Gil Gutknecht’s campaign in Mankato, and then to running the field operation for Congressman Mark Kennedy.
He points to his father as a personal and political inspiration. Though he never ran for office, his father was interested in politics and fostered in Swedzinski the strong drive for hard work and self-reliance that the new representative hopes to bring to St. Paul. “Sooner or later, you’re going to have to work hard” are the words Swedzinski learned to live by. He calls personal liberty a cornerstone of his personal outlook.
His priorities in the House of Representatives will start with Minesota’s economy. The first order of business, Swedzinski said, is to achieve a balanced budget without raising taxes. He believes that zero-based budgeting should be the philosophy going forward. Though many economic issues are out of legislators’ hands at the state level, Swedzinski sees the possibility for Minnesota to “take a strong stand” on spending and serve as an example to other states. He is opposed to automatic increases in funding for state programs and wants to establish a system where funding rises only with demonstrated need.
As a representative of rural Minnesota and a farmer himself, Swedzinski said he intends to fight for the interests of outstate areas. Declining populations mean small towns are struggling to make ends meet, he noted, and their troubles highlight what he views as the areas where state government can be an effective ally: maintaining roads, sewers, and ambulances. But the main task before the Legislature, in his view, is to make small towns more economically self-sufficient by growing jobs – and that means cutting regulations and reducing tax burdens.
To these ends, Swedzinski hopes to hold a seat on the Agriculture and Rural Development committee, as well as Energy, Environment and Natural Resources, Higher Education, or Jobs & Economic Development.
When he’s not working the farm and welding, Swedzinski spends his time hunting, fishing, and being with his family – often accompanied by a soundtrack of old country music on the radio.
HD 13B: Bruce Vogel
A self-described optimist by nature, Bruce Vogel needed a sunny disposition to believe he had a shot at upsetting seven-term DFL Rep. Al Juhnke in this west-central Minnesota district. Neither Republican nor DFL election strategists had believed the seat would change hands.
Vogel was born in 1958 near Currie, Minnesota. After graduating from Tracy High School, he pursued law enforcement at a vocational school in Alexandria, but left that behind to attend Bethel College in St. Paul. After two years, he felt called to enter the ministry.
Vogel had been involved in grassroots Republican politics at the county level for years. Having been a district convention delegate and part of the Kandiyohi County GOP, he joined the 2010 candidate search committee in his House district, feeling that “change was needed.” During the search process, he was personally visited by Rep. Matt Dean and House GOP staffer Ian Marsh, who sat down with Vogel and asked if he’d consider running. After consulting with his wife, Vogel decided that making a bid for the House seat was the right thing to do.
His campaign was defined by his positive energy, Vogel said. He ran – not walked – in all of the parades, knocked doors, and worked tirelessly to get his pro-business message out. The anti-incumbent sentiment of the 2010 campaigns may have helped push him over the edge, Vogel admits: “I worked that angle…but stayed positive. We had a lot of fun.”
In St. Paul, Vogel intends to keep the core promise on which he campaigned: lowering taxes for small businesses and corporations and cutting regulations and permit requirements. When businesses are more profitable, he says, they pay more into the system, creating more revenue. Proposals to raise taxes on high income earners are a non-starter for Vogel, who says that would cause the wealthy to flee the state.
Vogel is hoping for committee assignment to commerce or taxes panels. Having grown up on the farm – and defeated the ag committee chair – Vogel hopes to lend his “heart for farm issues” to the agriculture committee as well.
Outside of work, Vogel devotes a lot of time to youth ministry through his church. He’s been a youth pastor, counselor, and mission trip leader for the Willmar Assembly of God congregation, as well as a baseball and soccer coach. He and his wife, Jeanne, raised four children, and now have six grandchildren. Vogel enjoys golf and hunting, as well as taking in Willmar Stingers baseball games in the summertime.