Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Recent News
Home / News / Meet the freshmen: House GOP, part III
Ranging in age from 24 to 65, new class presents a varied face

Meet the freshmen: House GOP, part III


Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Rep. Sondra Erickson (center), who’s returning after a term out of office, will chair the House K-12 policy committee. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Ranging in age from 24 to 65, new class presents a varied face

HD 38A: Diane Anderson

Diane Anderson’s 38A win was part of a Republican sweep in two key suburban swing districts viewed by both parties as likely 2010 bellwethers: Eagan- and Burnsville-area District 38 in the southern metro and the Woodbury-Stillwater area District 56 in the eastern metro. (All six seats in those delegations had previously been held by DFLers.) Like many of her new colleagues in the House, Anderson points to widespread anti-incumbent sentiment as part of the key to her victory. But unlike many of them, she enters the Legislature with extensive experience at the Capitol both in policy and the crafting of laws.

Anderson was born in 1960 in Minneapolis. She earned her B.S. from the University of Minnesota in Housing, with a business emphasis. She’s lived in Eagan since 1989.

Since 1997, Anderson has been a registered lobbyist for the Cooperative Parenting Coalition, where she is a citizen advocate, taking no payment from her clients. She’s also served on Supreme Court and Human Services task forces. In 2008, she felt she had the opportunity to make another positive change in St. Paul, and ran for the House against Sandra Masin. Anderson was defeated then, but 2010 presented a new opportunity.

Anderson also credits her approach to campaigning for part of her success. She made sure to keep a personal touch to the campaign, and believes she knocked on nearly every door in 38A. Her family played a big role too: “My husband drummed up a lot of votes for me,” she says. “He’s interested in politics, and was really personable, too. We did a great job door-knocking.” Looking at the numbers, she feels she pulled in swing voters who may not have voted GOP in other races on the ticket.

In her campaign, Anderson hit hard on the issue of jobs. She says her constituents have been frustrated by spending increases in St. Paul, and are seriously worried by unemployment in the district and throughout Minnesota – fears that only grew shortly after the election when Lockheed Martin announced it was closing an Eagan plant that has employed 1,000 people. Anderson promised to secure the future quality of jobs, health care, and education in the state. She hopes for assignments to the commerce, civil law, human services or judiciary committees to realize these goals.

With her experience treading the marble halls in St. Paul, Anderson has a significant head start on many of her classmates, many of whom have not been elected to any public office before this year. Her Capitol know-how is fairly comprehensive: She’s worked with the revisor’s office, where she is proud to have helped craft bills that are now law; she has testified in committee; and she has fostered relationships with legislators on both sides of the aisle. Her skills should be “a great bipartisan asset,” she says, both as a lawmaker and as a resource to her colleagues.

Anderson’s family attends an Assembly of God church in Bloomington. She likes to unwind with needlework, particularly cross-stitching and sewing. She and her family – husband Gale and sons Joshua and Jeremy – love to hit the links at their favorite miniature golf courses and to travel near and far on family vacations.

HD 16A: Sondra Erickson

Sondra Erickson returns to the state House with much the same profile as when she left it in 2008. The Republican from Princeton will be one of the major players on education policy issues.

A high-ranking legislator on education committees before she lost her seat in 2008, Erickson has been given the gavel as chair of the policy-focused Education Reform Committee.

Erickson, who represents Republican-leaning District 16A, served six terms in the House until she was upset by DFLer Gail Kulick Jackson by a razor-thin margin in the 2008 wave election that swept Barack Obama into the White House. Jackson won by 89 votes, a margin that triggered an automatic recount.

This year Erickson won her seat back by an 11-percent margin in a rematch with Jackson. The campaign was the fourth consecutive House election in which Erickson and Jackson ran against each other.

When Republicans controlled the House before 2006, she was vice-chair of K-12 Education Policy. After the GOP lost the majority, she was the lead minority member of the education policy committee. She became lead Republican on the education finance committee in 2008 after leadership stripped Rep. Bud Heidegerken of that title as punishment for voting to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty on the transportation funding bill.

Erickson considers the repeal of the state’s Profile of Learning one of her most significant achievements. The Profile was replaced with new academic standards for arts, math, science and social studies that received bipartisan support.

Erickson has been vocal in her opposition to the Bush Administration-era No Child Left Behind student achievement law. Although she has said she wouldn’t go so far as to have the state opt out of the program, she has vowed to work on a more state-specific program to improve education.

Her district includes Lake Mille Lacs, making conservation and environmental issues prominent among her legislative concerns.

As a child, Erickson lived in the small Red River Valley town of Taft, North Dakota. She started getting the political bug  in 1951 when presidential candidate Sen. Robert Taft paid a visit to the town that was named after his father, President William Howard Taft.

She taught high school English in Princeton for 35 years before retiring in 2000. She was active in politics and worked on LeRoy Koppendrayer’s campaign for the state House. When he retired to become chair of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, she ran for the seat in a special election and won.

Erickson plays the organ at her church and at weddings and funerals. She also plays flute and piano.

HD 25A: Glenn Gruenhagen

Republican Rep. Laura Brod surprised Capitol observers when she announced earlier this year that she wouldn’t be running for re-election. The four-term incumbent from New Prague was widely viewed as a rising star in GOP circles and frequently mentioned as a candidate for higher office.

But Brod’s decision to step down from the Legislature opened up a Republican endorsement battle in House District 25A, which includes Montgomery, Kilkenny and Le Center. Three candidates put themselves forward at the local party gathering in May. Ultimately Glenn Gruenhagen, a businessman and longtime local school board member, emerged with the endorsement after the second round of balloting.

But Republicans were far from assured of holding onto the legislative seat. Although the district tilts strongly in the GOP’s favor, DFLers put up a formidable challenger in Mick McGuire, who has served 10 years as mayor of Montgomery. In the end, Gruenhagen eked out a victory by just over 300 votes.

“People are voting more for the person nowadays,” Gruenhagen said of his victory. “They want action. They want people to follow through on what they said during the campaign.”

The 58-year-old conservative grew up on a dairy farm in Glencoe. After graduating from high school, he spent two years in the U.S. Marine Corps. The Vietnam War was underway, but Gruenhagen didn’t get posted to the combat zone. After leaving the military, Gruenhagen started an insurance and financial planning business in his home town. The business has now been in operation for more than three decades.

Gruenhagen has been elected to four terms on the Glencoe-Silver Lake School Board, serving for 15 years. He cites closing a $750,000 budget shortfall and creating a $4.5 million surplus as the board’s most significant accomplishment during his tenure. “The same thing needs to happen at the state government level,” said Gruenhagen. “We need to quit spending and reform the state government. There’s a lot of waste, fraud, abuse and duplication.”

Health care is another of Gruenhagen’s principal concerns. He believes that the federal health care bill passed earlier this year – and any movement towards a single-payer, government-run health care system – will prove disastrous for patients. “Both of them are going to lead to rationing of health care,” Gruenhagen said. “That’s where we’re going with this.” In addition, he wants to rein in costs by reforming the state’s medical malpractice rules.

Gruenhagen is a member of the Rotary, the American Legion and the National Rifle Association. He also spent 13 years volunteering with a prison ministry. In his free time he enjoys golfing, tennis, boating and reading history books.

HD 2B: David Hancock

Unlike many of the 60 new faces at the Capitol this session, David Hancock did not arrive in St. Paul worrying about how to balance his legislative duties with the demands of a job or a business back home. Just six weeks before he was due to assume office, Hancock retired from his management job at Northwest Tire in Bemidji.

The 65-year-old freshman representative’s career began as a teacher, but he spent most of it in the tire business. After graduating from Anderson College in Indiana with a B.A. in history in 1968, Hancock taught at a Loveland, Colorado, school from the late 1960s into the early 1970s, punctuated by a two-year stint in the Army. He trained as an operating room technician and combat medic at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, but was never called to go to Vietnam.

In 1973 Hancock and his wife, Pat, moved to Bemidji. He managed a Holiday Station store for a time, and later he and a co-worker at a Montgomery Ward auto center partnered to buy a local tire store, R&D Tire and Automotive Center, which they owned together from 1985 to 2008. When his partner wanted to retire, the pair sold out to a chain, Northwest Tire of Bismarck, North Dakota, and Hancock stayed on to manage the store until he retired.

Hancock’s late-blooming political career wasn’t the subject of lengthy planning and deliberation. In 2010, District 2B Republicans still had no candidate just days before the endorsing convention. “I entered the political sphere quite late in the process,” he said. “But once I committed, I decided to give it my best shot.”

Candidates recruited under those circumstances are often drawn from the ranks of the local party apparatus, but not Hancock. Some phone-banking and door-knocking in prior elections was the extent of his political involvement. The limited time he had for civic involvement during his working years was devoted mostly to coaching a Lion’s Club team in a Babe Ruth league and in a local basketball program.

Hancock’s campaign stressed jobs and the importance of small business in resuscitating the economy. “I’m a social conservative as well,” he said, “but I talked about how jobs and economic growth are how we can generate income for the state.” At the Capitol, he is hoping for a committee appointment in the commerce and regulatory area.

He also cites conservation, energy and the environment as paramount concerns in his district. “I’m a supporter of renewable energy when it can compete in the private sector on its own merit,” he said. “Not a big subsidy proponent.” He says he views the forests and other natural resources of his area and around the state as “a three-legged stool” involving environmental protection, recreational use and economic stewardship. On the last count, he believes the state could be making better economic use of its vast timberland holdings.

In his free time, Hancock likes to play golf, though he’s seldom willing to commit the four or five hours it requires. Similarly, he says he “never had the time” to become an avid hunter, but enjoys fishing, swimming and hiking. He’s involved in activities at Cornerstone Community Church, a non-denominational evangelical church. His two sons, Nathan and Jason, are in their 30s now and have five kids of their own.

HD 56A: Kathy Lohmer

Two years after making a failed run to unseat DFL Rep. Julie Bunn in suburban House District 56A, Kathy Lohmer put herself back on the ballot for one more try, and found the political climate more to her liking. Running on a socially and fiscally conservative message – her campaign website featured the Constitution in its page header – Lohmer was part of a Republican sweep of three former DFL seats in Senate District 56, which includes Woodbury, Landfall and Lake Elmo.

“I love the Founding Fathers and what they had in mind for government,” Lohmer said. “We’ve gotten so far away from that.”

Now, as the new House District 56 representative, Lohmer is looking forward to getting to work. The first item on her agenda – partially based on what resonated with voters during the campaign, she said – will be to work at scaling back government. She pointed to the new Republican leadership’s already-trimmed committee roster as one step she’s glad to see made.

Another priority for Lohmer will be trying to help replace the Stillwater bridge connecting Minnesota and Wisconsin, a project she hopes the state will collaborate with Wisconsin and the U.S. government to push forward. In light of recent recount elections, Lohmer also says she’d like to be a part of pushing election reforms, namely photo I.D. verification, ending same-day registration and eliminating the process by which people can vouch for neighbors at the polls.

Lohmer’s been involved with local Republican politics for a number of years, she said, from general community activities to attending caucuses. It wasn’t until her son – a captain in the Army – left for his first tour in Iraq that she thought of making a run for office herself, Lohmer said.

A 56-year-old native of Hastings, Lohmer joked that her career has historically been that of professional mother.  She home-schooled her four sons (Nick, Chris, Nate and Dillion) for 12 years. Nick, the eldest, was born with Spina Bifida and has had over 60 surgeries, which is one reason Lohmer eventually decided to stay home from work when he was about 3 years old. Before that, she was a certified medical assistant after attending Winona State University.

Married for 31 years to her husband Greg, they’ve lived in Lake Elmo for more than two decades. Lohmer is also a 25-year breast cancer survivor. In her free time, Lohmer said she enjoys hosting family and friends and cooking. She also likes to read and spend time relaxing with her family, something she said she enjoyed getting back to shortly after the election.

HD 14A: Tim O’Driscoll

Tim O’Driscoll knew he had a natural opening in his path from Sartell to St. Paul. When four-term Rep. Dan Severson announced he would vacate his seat to run for secretary of state, O’Driscoll says a number of people approached him about taking up the House District 14A race, saying he had the attributes to make him a strong addition to the Republican House caucus.

So O’Driscoll made the leap, and come January the current mayor of Sartell will be the new state representative from the Benton County district that includes both his home city and Sauk Rapids.

It’s his experience as a city executive that O’Driscoll hopes most to carry with him when it comes time to get to work at the Legislature, he said. He describes himself as a political conservative, but also more of the sort who likes to build consensus rather than pick a position and stick to it. It’s something, O’Driscoll added, that is sure to come in handy as lawmakers set out to tackle the state’s $6 billion budget deficit.

“I’ve always just been one that you got to watch the money coming in and money coming out. And put trust in people,” O’Driscoll said of his governing style. “People feel very comfortable with my approach to government and decision-making – you know, you hear both sides.”

Among the top areas O’Driscoll hopes to get to work on in his first term: tackling not only the state’s budget problems but also the way state government operates with an eye toward creating greater efficiencies and savings. He called the state’s budget difficulties an opportunity to work on that front, and something that stakeholders from around Minnesota could be involved in.

“You don’t commit to things right away,” he said. “You pull things together and get a well-rounded view.”

Outside of the budget, O’Driscoll’s top priorities are jobs, education and veterans. The 46-year-old O’Driscoll graduated from St. Cloud State University with degrees in business education and real estate planning and development. He worked in real estate for a  time after finishing school. Currently, O’Driscoll is a corporate trainer for Kaplan Professional School, where he instructs students pursuing an insurance license in the state.

Outside of his work and his part-time responsibilities as mayor of Sartell, O’Driscoll says he likes to stay involved in the community and the central-Minnesota region in a number of different ways. He’s a founding member of Sartell SummerFest, a leader in the central Minnesota Warrior to Citizen and Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Community initiative and has served as President of the city of Sartell Economic Development Authority.

O’Driscoll is not married and says that in his free time he simply likes to “get out there” and work in his city. “It helps build a better community for everybody,” he said.

HD 49B: Branden Petersen

2010 has been an unusually eventful year for Branden Petersen. The 24-year-old Andover resident got married, bought a house and began preparing for the birth of his first child.

Petersen didn’t initially anticipate adding a political campaign into the busy mix. But after the candidate that he was backing for the Republican endorsement in House District 49B had to drop out just three weeks prior to the local GOP convention, Petersen decided to jump into the fray. He won the GOP endorsement over Andover City Council member Sheri Bukkula. Peterson then went on to knock off first-term DFL incumbent Rep. Jerry Newton, of Coon Rapids, by a 50-47 percent margin. (Constitution Party candidate Harley Swarm garnered three percent of the vote.)

Petersen attributes his narrow victory to hard work, noting that his campaign knocked on 27,000 doors in the suburban Anoka County district. “We wore through a lot of shoe leather, primarily,” he said.

Not surprisingly, Petersen found that jobs and the grim economy were foremost on voters’ minds during the campaign. “I come from a blue-collar, middle-class district,” he said. “People were concerned with their pocketbooks.” Politically the district tilts Republican, although President Barack Obama narrowly carried it in 2008.

Petersen was born in Hassan Township, but moved to Coon Rapids when he was just eight years old. He graduated from Coon Rapids High School, where he met his future wife. He also took courses at Anoka Ramsey Community College.

Petersen works as a sales manager at a Lowe’s home improvement store. He believes that the Capitol would benefit from having more “citizen legislators,” rather than full-time politicians. “My situation is very representative of a lot of people in my district,” he said.  “I’m coming at it from the perspective of someone who, quote unquote, punches a clock for a living and is trying to raise a family.”

Petersen’s top committee pick is education finance, a primary concern of many families in his district. He’d also like to serve on a committee that deals with local government aid, which he believes is badly in need of cost-saving reforms.

Petersen attends Eagle Brook Church, a non-denominational evangelical parish. He’s a huge baseball fan and enjoys watching Twins games at Target Field with his wife. His dream job would be working as a baseball coach.

The next year isn’t likely to get much less hectic for Petersen. Shortly after the legislative session begins in January, his wife is scheduled to give birth to their first child.

HD 29A: Duane Quam

Just before his 18th birthday, Duane Quam made his first foray into politics as the elected co-chair of the Salem Township GOP.

He has stayed involved throughout his life, volunteering at caucuses and serving as co-chair of the Olmsted County Republicans and the First Congressional District Republicans.  His run for the House District 29A seat left open after state Rep. Randy Demmer retired to challenge U.S. Rep. Tim Walz was just the second political campaign he’s mounted.

“There is a shortage of people who will step forward and take the ball and lead, and I find myself in the position continually where I need to step forward,” he said. “It’s exciting to be able to be part of the execution and development of law, but it’s also daunting in that there are a lot of people that count on my actions. When I was a party leader, I was promoting and working for people, but it didn’t have the weight of actually being in the Legislature.”

Quam grew up on farms in Dodge and Olmsted counties, and graduated from high school in Byron in 1978. He later attended the Rochester Community and Technical College and the University of Minnesota, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in physics. He got his master’s in physics and engineering from the University of Texas in Dallas.

Quam started his life after college in Arizona, where he managed a semi-conductor team for Motorola. He moved back to Minnesota in the mid-1990s, landing a job with IBM in hardware development. Quam went back and forth between IBM and several other technology companies, eventually landing back at IBM in a contract position.

Quam decided to run for the House seat after it became apparent that Demmer was going to make a run for Congress. Back in 2002, he went up against Demmer and a half dozen others to try and grab the open GOP endorsement in the district. It came down to Quam and Demmer on the last ballot, with Demmer coming out on top – albeit narrowly. Quam ultimately joined Demmer’s campaign team.

Quam, who has served on local school boards and committees, wants to be on the education committee. He also hopes to land a seat on the agricultural committee, as much of his district is rural and dotted with farms. With Mayo Clinic employing many residents in his district, Quam also has interest in serving on the health and human services committee.

In his free time, Quam likes to watch and read science fiction. He also writes – short stories, poetry and the occasional newspaper column. Quam has been married to his wife, Patricia, for 26 years and has two sons, Duane III and Jacob.

HD 53A: Linda Runbeck

Linda Runbeck is no stranger to the Capitol. The Circle Pines Republican previously spent 11 years at the Legislature, serving two terms each in the House and Senate.

But after a decade away from St. Paul, Runbeck ran in 2010 for the seat in House District 53A. She knocked off incumbent DFL Rep. Paul Gardner by a 12-point margin in a suburban swing district that includes Lino Lakes and Circle Pines.

Runbeck points to an overhaul of the state’s worker compensation system in 1995 as a signal achievement from her first tenure at the Capitol. She estimates that it saved businesses $1.3 billion and allowed them to boost wages and hire additional workers. “It was really historic, landmark, and it was very exciting,” said Runbeck. “It really consumed me for an entire legislative session.”

In 1997, she introduced a proposal to cut state income tax rates across the board. “Frankly my own caucus pooh-poohed the idea,” Runbeck recalled. The idea wasn’t adopted, but the following year a similar proposal lowered tax rates for all income levels.

Runbeck believes that similar pro-business changes will need to be adopted in the forthcoming legislative session in order to boost the state’s business climate and spur job growth. As chair of the Property and Local Tax Division, she hopes to work on reducing property taxes. “We’ve seen too many spigots opened up, and opened up wide, and released on to the property tax payers,” said Runbeck.

In addition, she believes that the state needs to scrutinize the mandates it imposes on local governments. In particular, she believes that local school districts are over-burdened by state directives. “There’s just too much dang government in this state, and it’s time to say relax,” she said. “Let’s not have the legislative season be open season on everything.”

Having served in both the House and the Senate, Runbeck is happy to be back in the lower chamber. She believes it’s more reflective of public sentiments. “I think it feels the trends and responds to the trends of voters much more quickly,” she said. “It seems like the Senate never did wake up to what’s going on in the public.”

Runbeck grew up in Minneapolis and graduated from Bethel College with a degree in sociology and social work. Her first job after college was as a social worker with Ramsey County, helping welfare recipients become financially independent. She then spent two decades in the private sector, working as director of advertising for County Seat Stores and running a Miracle-Ear hearing aid franchise. Runbeck won a seat on the Circle Pines City Council in 1988. The following year she prevailed in a special election for a House seat, ascending to the Senate in 1993.

In 2000 Runbeck was the GOP-endorsed candidate for an open seat in the 4th Congressional District, but lost to DFLer Betty McCollum. She then spent four years as a top official with the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. In 2006 Runbeck served as the campaign manager for former U.S. Sen. Rod Grams’ unsuccessful bid to unseat Rep. Jim Oberstar in the 8th Congressional District. She subsequently worked as director of development at the Minnesota Free Market Institute.

In her downtime, Runbeck enjoys fishing and boating. Her family is currently hosting an exchange student from Hungary for the 2010-11 school year. Runbeck attends Incarnation Lutheran Church in Shoreview.

Leave a Reply