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Meet the freshmen: Senate GOP (part 2)

Paul Demko and Charley Shaw//November 21, 2012

Meet the freshmen: Senate GOP (part 2)

Paul Demko and Charley Shaw//November 21, 2012

Sen.-elect Karin Housley trounced her lone GOP opponent in the primary. She then defeated former DFL state Rep. Julie Bunn in the general election by 600 votes — a reversal of her narrow defeat two years earlier. (Submitted photo)

House vets join first-timers in Senate GOP fold

Editor’s note: During November and December, Capitol Report is profiling all 65 of the newly elected members of the Minnesota Legislature.

Torrey Westrom, Senate District 12

When new legislative maps were released in February, Rep. Torrey Westrom initially thought that he’d been paired up with fellow GOP Rep. Paul Anderson. That’s what originally led Westrom to consider running for the open seat in Senate District 12.

It eventually became clear that Anderson would remain in a neighboring

district, but the notion of running for the Senate did not go away. Westrom eventually filed for the seat and triumphed by 23 percentage points. That margin was particularly impressive considering that one of the House seats in the district flipped to DFL control.

SD 12 is a sprawling central Minnesota district that runs from Stearns County to the North Dakota border. It includes 126 townships, 8 counties and 70 towns.

In moving to the Senate, Westrom gives up 16 years of seniority, a point he acknowledges taking into consideration. “Seniority was an issue that factored into it, but frankly every legislative vote counts the same in the end,” he said. “You still have your influence.” That loss of seniority is also less consequential now that DFLers have taken back control of the House and Senate, removing any opportunity to wield a committee gavel.

Westrom cites the fiscal stewardship of Republicans as a hallmark accomplishment of their brief tenure in control. In particular, he points out that the state now has a $1.3 billion budget surplus in the current budget cycle (although the state is once again projected to face a serious budget shortfall in the next biennium).

Westrom also laments that Republicans won’t get the opportunity to continue pursuing government reform initiatives that they initiated during the last two years. For instance, he wants to enact legislation that would allow local government bodies to opt out of state mandates if 60 percent of the relevant local elected officials opt to do so.

“It would be a way that the state could focus on, what unfunded mandates and requirements are we putting on local units of government that they really disagree with?” Westrom said. “That would be a huge, huge mandate relief, local control option, that we should pass.”

Westrom cites agriculture, commerce and judiciary as three top committee choices in the Senate. He grew up on a dairy farm and got his undergraduate degree from Bemidji State University. He then earned a law degree from William Mitchell College

of Law.

Westrom lost his sight at age 14 in an auto accident. He is believed to be the only blind person ever to serve in the Minnesota Legislature. He was first elected to the House at the age of 23.

After losing his sight, Westrom switched from playing basketball to wrestling. Earlier this year, the Minnesota chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame honored him with its State Courage Award.

Bruce Anderson, Senate District 29

State Rep. Bruce Anderson didn’t particularly want to run for the Senate. The nine-term GOP incumbent was perfectly satisfied with his post in the House.

But after former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch announced that she was not seeking re-election owing to an extra-marital affair with a Senate staffer, local GOP activists urged Anderson to run for the seat. “They basically kind of forced her to make a decision and asked me to step up and run for the Senate,” Anderson recalled.

In doing so, he gives up nearly two decades of seniority in the House. That would have tied him with Rep. Tom Hackbarth as the longest tenured Republican in that chamber. Instead Anderson tumbles to the bottom of the seniority list. “I’m a freshman,” he conceded.

Anderson cites his work as chair of the Veterans Division as an important legislative legacy in the House. While there, for instance, he carried legislation that allows disabled veterans to be appointed to state government jobs without a competitive process if they meet minimal requirements. The law went into effect in August.

Anderson quietly established a voting record in the House that made him one of its staunchest conservatives. The Taxpayers League of Minnesota gives him a lifetime rating of 96 percent — higher than any other member of the House. In addition, on a dozen occasions the conservative advocacy group has named him a “best friend of the taxpayer.”

In the Senate, Anderson would like to serve on committees dealing with agriculture, state government finance, and energy. He wants to push to remove the moratorium on building new nuclear power plants. In 2011 the House and Senate each passed such a measure, but progress on a final bill was scuttled after Japan was hit by an earthquake and tsunami that created a nuclear emergency because of damaged reactors. “That put a cloud over the issue,” Anderson conceded. “We just need to continue to promote that.”

Another issue of specific concern to residents in Anderson’s exurban district is traffic congestion. Many constituents face long commutes, and all three major highways that pass through the area — Highways 94, 55 and 12 — are prone to rush-hour backups. “You name the roadway coming in, they would like to see expansion happen,” Anderson said.

Anderson grew up on a dairy farm. He’s a veteran of the Vietnam War and spent three decades in the military, either on active duty or in the reserves. In 2006 his wife died shortly after being diagnosed with cancer. Anderson re-married three years later.

When he has free time, Anderson enjoys hanging out on the dairy farm where he grew up, which his brother still operates. He also likes to hunt and fish.

David Osmek, Senate District 33

When David Osmek attends his final Mound City Council meeting next month, it will have been exactly 11 years since he was first appointed to the body. (He was thereafter elected to two more terms.) He believes that the knowledge accrued from that public service will serve him well when he joins the Senate next year.

“It gives me a good base of experience of working with staff members, working with other cities, working with people that you agree and don’t agree with,” Osmek noted.

Osmek will replace retiring Sen. Gen Olson in a district that abuts Lake Minnetonka and tilts heavily Republican. He came through a bitter GOP primary contest against state Rep. Connie Doepke, winning by just over 100 votes. Doepke was attacked in repeated mailings paid for primarily by the Freedom Club State PAC. Osmek then cruised through the general election, winning 36 of 38 precincts.

Osmek would like to serve on committees focusing on transportation, local government and agriculture issues. He’s particularly wary of DFL efforts to reduce property taxes, fearing that they will have negative tax implications elsewhere. On transportation, Osmek would like to see the emphasis shift away from funding expensive light rail projects. Instead, he’d like the focus to be on adequately funding roads, bridges and bus service.

Osmek grew up on a farm in Glencoe that’s been in his family for 150 years. While his district is typically thought of as suburban, the northern half of it is actually very rural, elevating the important of agriculture issues. “It’s a tale of two cities,” Osmek said. “The b side is very, very urban; the lot sizes are very dense. The A side is very rural.”

Osmek cites passage of so-called “right-to-work” legislation, which would prohibit requiring workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment, as a top priority. But he acknowledges that the DFL takeover of the House and Senate makes passage of such a proposal unlikely. “I know that’s not top on the scale of what the majority is going to want to do,” he said.

Osmek is a graduate of St. Cloud State University, where he first developed an interest in public service while acting as a student senator. Beyond his city council work, Osmek is active in the local Knights of Columbus chapter.

He works as a project manager at UnitedHealth Group and expects to continue in that job while serving in the Senate. “The Legislature sure doesn’t pay enough to actually live on,” he laughed.

Karin Housley, Senate District 39

Redistricting came as a shock to Karin Housley. She fully expected to once again take on DFL Sen. Katie Sieben after coming up 600 votes short in 2010. But when the new legislative maps were released, Housley found her residence just outside of Sieben’s district. Even worse, she shared her new district with two incumbent GOP senators, Ray Vandeveer and Ted Lillie.

Housley had resigned herself to sitting out this election cycle — until events shook up the political landscape again. Lillie opted to move into a neighboring district and seek re-election. Then, on the final day of candidate filing, Vandeveer announced that he was not seeking re-election owing to health concerns. That left no incumbent in a suburban district that tilts slightly in favor of Republicans. Housley raced down to the Secretary of State’s Office to file for the seat.

Housley trounced her lone GOP opponent in the primary. She then defeated former DFL state Rep. Julie Bunn in the general election by 600 votes — a reversal of her narrow defeat two years earlier.

Housley runs a real-estate business specializing in luxury homes in the St. Croix River area. She’s also the author of a book, “Chicks Laying Nest Eggs: How 10 Skirts Beat the Pants Off Wall Street … And How You Can Too!” that chronicles her experiences with an investment club. Housley is currently working on a sequel to the book. She and her husband, former National Hockey League star Phil Housley, are also partial owners of Lumberyard Hockey & Sports Training Facility in Stillwater.

Housley hosts a weekly talk show on Stillwater’s KLBB (AM 1220). But the show was scuttled during campaign season after Bunn insisted that she was entitled to equal time on the airwaves even if the show didn’t focus on political issues. Housley returned to hosting the Saturday morning show after Election Day.

Housley’s business background explains why commerce is her top choice for a committee assignment. She outlined several specific proposals to spur job creation during the campaign. She wants the state to create a “one-stop shop” for new businesses to take care of any permits, licenses or fees.  Housley also believes that corporate income tax rates should be reduced so that businesses won’t relocate to states with a more favorable tax climate.

Housley will also be keeping a close eye on plans to restructure Highway 36 and build a new bridge across the St. Croix River, key infrastructure projects in her district. The plan has festered for two decades, but construction is expected to get underway next year.

When Housley has free time, she likes to knit, sew or crochet. “I can’t watch TV without doing one of those things,” she said.

Eric Pratt, Senate District 55

Pratt’s election to the Legislature was a safe bet in solid Republican Senate District 55 in the exurbs southwest of Minneapolis. But his election to the Senate wasn’t initially in the cards. The Republican from Prior Lake initially sought the GOP endorsement to run for the House seat being vacated by Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan. However, when Senate Finance Chair Claire Robling, R-Jordan, announced in April that she would retire, he opted instead to run for the Senate seat with Robling’s support.

Pratt graduated from Prior Lake High School and got an economics degree from the University of Colorado. He also played cornerback on the Colorado Buffalos football team. He then got a master’s in business administration and finance from the University of St. Thomas.

Pratt brings to the Legislature a deep resume working for some of Minnesota’s largest corporations.

Starting in 1998, Pratt spent several years working for the Target Corp.’s financial services division. He oversaw a team of underwriters when the company launched the Target Visa credit card. He then shifted to run the company’s fraud prevention program. In 2008 he went to work for U.S. Bank and currently is a senior vice president in the credit administration division working in the corporate headquarters in Minneapolis.

Pratt served 12 years on the Prior Lake/Savage School Board, stepping down in July. He was the board’s chairman for three years and its treasurer for six. He said the district faced a large budget deficit when he arrived and the board was able to balance the books and lower property taxes.

Pratt said his experience on the school board made him an advocate for local control.

“There were roadblocks along the way that just didn’t seem to be necessary,” he said. “Making sure that local school boards, county boards [and] city councils have the ability to meet the needs of their local constituents [is a priority].”

Commerce and banking issues are natural areas of interest. (He noted that state banking laws don’t apply to his bank, because it has a national charter.) He also is interested in playing a part in the forthcoming tax reform discussion in way that “continues to encourage growth and investment.” During the campaign he criticized Minnesota’s sales tax for being too regressive and falling the hardest on low-income families. He would also like to see business property and income taxes reduced to encourage investment.

Pratt and his wife, Tina, have been married for 21 years. They have a son who is a senior in high school and a daughter who is a sophomore. He enjoys skiing.

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