Pity the mail carriers in House District 48A. They’ve already delivered a freight car’s worth of mailers to homes in this west-suburban swing district that includes Eden Prairie and Minnetonka.
Two years after Rep. Kirk Stensrud, R-Eden Prairie, beat incumbent DFLer Maria Ruud by just 107 votes, the district has become one of the main battlegrounds for control of the state House.
DFLers have recruited former Hopkins School District chairwoman Yvonne Selcer to challenge Stensrud this November.
Darin Broton, a DFLer and public relations strategist at Tunheim Partners, said the race is critical to the House DFLers’ bid to pick up the six seats they need to regain control of the chamber.
“If Republicans lose it, I don’t know if it’s a sign that they’re going to lose the majority,” Broton said. “But if the Democrats pick it up, it’s a good win for them, and a must-win.”
Ten years ago, the southwestern suburbs of Minneapolis weren’t considered very fertile ground for DFLers. But that started to change in 2004, when Ruud beat Republican Rep. Peter Adolphson and went on to hold the seat for three terms during good years for DFLers. The trend was reversed in the 2010 GOP wave. With no wave in sight for either party this year, some are looking to see whether the district will finally reveal its true color. But Ruud thinks the color will likely remain a shade of purple.
“It’s fiscally conservative but socially moderate,” Ruud said. “With the Republicans’ hard-right turn, that in my experience has not really been where people are at.”
A mixed voting profile
While conservative GOP candidate Tom Emmer beat DFLer Mark Dayton in the old House District 42A by 5 percent, Independence Party candidate Tom Horner, who has been a moderate Republican for most of his political career, received 15 percent of the vote. In the 2008 presidential race, Democrat Barack Obama beat Republican nominee John McCain in the district by 10 percentage points.
Besides serving on the school board, Selcer has had a career in business. She worked as an office manager for her family’s local telephone company in Winsted, and she was a sales manager for a computer services company. She became active in local school issues when she and others with children in the Hopkins schools became concerned about funding cuts. They formed the Legislative Advocacy Coalition, which pursued education policy changes at the Capitol. She then got elected to the school board, eventually serving as its treasurer and chairwoman before retiring last December.
This year Selcer has seen a lot of money spent against her bid for the Legislature as Republicans have placed a priority on Stensrud’s re-election. Lobbying PACs have given extensively to Stensrud’s campaign.
The race is among a select few House Republican contests in which the Coalition of Minnesota Businesses had spent $3,720 for positive lit pieces as of late September. The Republican Party of Minnesota, meanwhile, has sent out at least six mailers attacking Selcer. All of the lit that’s piled up has prompted Selcer to create a fact-check feature on her campaign blog that dissects the attack mailers sent out by the RPM. One central charge against Selcer is that Hopkins schools’ debt increased while she was in charge.
Selcer defends her tenure running the school board and said the district did a 10-year bonding project that resulted in improvements and efficiencies in school buildings that will save money in the long run.
“You bond for that and pay it back over time,” Selcer said. “This is in contrast to the last state Legislature, where my opponent voted to bond over $640 million against future tobacco payments to pay today’s bills.”
Selcer hammers budget theme
Selcer and DFLers are going after Stensrud on the 2011 budget deal between Republican legislative leaders and Dayton. The deal included the tobacco borrowing scheme and also shifted roughly three-quarters of a billion dollars from public schools to help solve a $5 billion state budget deficit.
“We are in a very challenging time,” Selcer said, “and what people are interested in is solutions. How are we going to work together to create more jobs and improve the economy? How are we going to work together to payback that $2.4 billion dollars that have been borrowed from our children’s schools?”
Stensrud fires back that he voted for a proposal offered during the 2012 legislative session that would have taken $430 million from budget reserves to pay down some of the school shift. Dayton vetoed the bill in April.
“I voted to repay the school shift,” Stensrud said. “Funny how they forget to mention that part of it.”
For the past 11 years, Stensrud has had a window-cleaning franchise in the southwestern metro area called Fish Window Cleaning. He is critical of the statewide property tax on commercial and industrial property and is concerned about Minnesota’s competitiveness with other states.
“For me, the whole issue is about jobs, getting employers back on track in Minnesota and working within our spending. Those are the issues that people care about and that’s what my campaign is about,” Stensrud said.
The district’s profile as a fiscally conservative and socially moderate place could pose pitfalls for both candidates in this election cycle. The wealthy suburbs are known for looking askance at income tax increase proposals on high income earners, as Dayton has proposed to do. In 2009 Ruud was among a group of DFLers from suburban swing district who voted in committee against a DFL tax bill. When asked about taxes, Selcer said she’s willing to listen to ideas as the next general fund budget gets crafted next year.
“Everyone I’ve talked to agrees that everyone needs to pay their fair share,” Selcer said. “And what I will do once I’m over at the state Capitol is work with folks to figure out what that is.”
The proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman has drawn opposition from prominent CEOs and the orange Vote No lawn signs are a visible part of the west suburban landscape this election season. An open question at the moment is whether Republican legislative candidates will get hurt if the western suburbs emerge as a pocket of opposition to the marriage amendment.
“It is a socially moderate district,” Selcer said. “As I go from door to door, people don’t bring [gay marriage] up. They are worried about the important issues. And I often hear expressed, ‘Why are we wasting any time or energy on these divisive issues when we have to create jobs?’”