New House DFLers bring varied priorities
Editor’s note: During November and December, Capitol Report is profiling all 65 of the newly elected members of the Minnesota Legislature.
Ben Lien, House District 4A
With his district awash in concerns about competitiveness with North Dakota and flooding on the Red River, Ben Lien plans to stay focused on the needs of the Moorhead area as he enters his first term.
In winning the House District 4A seat, Lien, DFL-Moorhead, succeeds retiring Republican Rep. Morrie Lanning in a seat that has long been held by the GOP. In the general election, Lien beat Republican Travis Reimche by 10 percentage points.
During the campaign, the region’s competitiveness with its neighbor to the west was a top issue. Now that he’s been elected, Lien, 29, wants to get funding for the state’s Border Cities Enterprise Zone Program that features incentives for job creation and retention in the region.
“My first year down there, I really want to focus on the border city development zone, getting some dollars for local businesses and for residential,” Lien said.
When lawmakers craft the next bonding bill, Lien said, his top priority will be funding for flood prevention in Moorhead.
When it comes to taxes, like an expected income tax increase proposal on the state’s wealthiest earners, Lien said he’ll weigh the state’s budget needs against the tax change’s local impact.
“For any new taxes, we need to understand how much revenue it’s going to raise but also the impact to families and households it’s going to have,” Lien said. “I think we need to balance out that cost-benefit analysis. Like I say, I do realize we can’t fix the budget deficit through cuts alone and new revenue has to be part of the conversation. But ultimately we need to look at a careful cost-benefit analysis to see what it’s going to raise, where it’s going to impact households and families, and go from there.”
Lien, who is single, grew up in Moorhead and graduated from Minnesota State University-Moorhead with a degree in political science and a minor in history. He works for the Village Family Service Center in its Financial Resource Center. Credit counseling is a large part of his work.
Prior to running for the House, Lien volunteered in the Clay County DFL Party. Lien entered the 4A race before Lanning announced his retirement and won the DFL endorsement in April. Following the endorsement, nonprofit executive Sue Wiger jumped into the race to challenge Lien in a DFL primary. Lien won the primary with nearly 75 percent of the vote. Redistricting discarded some Republican-leaning townships northeast of Moorhead to make the district almost exclusively the city of Moorhead. It also includes Oakport Township, which is set to be annexed by Moorhead in a couple of years.
Lien’s race became heavily targeted by DFLers and Republicans. A great deal of outside money flowed into the race and House legislative leaders made personal appearances in Moorhead late in the campaign. Moorhead is home to three college campuses, which turned into battlegrounds for voter turnout in the legislative race as well as the presidential race and the two constitutional amendment questions.
Away from work and politics, Lien likes to make music by sampling and mixing recorded sounds to which he adds his own music. He also likes to travel when he gets the chance.
Sandra Masin, House District 51A
In 2005, Minnesota experienced its first-ever government shutdown after Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislative leaders deadlocked on a budget deal. The following year, DFLer Sandra Masin defeated GOP incumbent Rep. Tim Wilkin in a district that included much of Eagan.
In 2011, Minnesota experienced its second government shutdown, this time lasting for nearly three weeks as Gov. Mark Dayton and the GOP-controlled Legislature tussled over budget holes. The following year Masin again defeated a GOP incumbent, Rep. Diane Anderson, avenging a loss at Anderson’s hands two years earlier.
Masin believes that in both cycles, public anger over the shutdowns helped propel her to victory. “People do not have a lot of sympathy or understanding for a state that shuts down,” Masin said. “That’s just not acceptable.”
During her first tenure at the Capitol, Masin served as vice chair of a telecommunications committee. She cites the creation of the Minnesota Ultra High Speed Broadband Task Force as an important accomplishment. That body was tasked with creating a plan to ensure that all state residents have access to high speed internet by 2015.
Masin also mentions passage of the 2008 transportation bill — which increased the gas tax by a nickel and required an override of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto — as a notable legacy from her first term. “At that point in time — and probably still at this point — we were way behind where we should be,” Masin said. “For us to not have the resources that we need is just unacceptable.”
Masin cites transportation, state government operations, the environment and job creation as areas where she’d like to focus her attention during the upcoming term. She’s also interested in working on changes to MinnesotaCare, which provides discounted health coverage to poor people. Modifications to that program are likely to be necessary ahead of full implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act in 2014.
Masin is originally from Cleveland but moved to Eagan in the 1970s, when the suburb had 20,000 residents –less than a third of its current population. Masin has a long history of public service in the area. She served on the Eagan City Council from 1981 to 1989. During the same period, she chaired the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority, where she helped create the Suburban Transit Authority to lobby the Legislature and the Metropolitan Council for increased funding.
In the 1980s Masin worked as a tour guide at the Capitol and in the gift shop at Fort Snelling. During the following decade she worked for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, serving as volunteer coordinator for the state women’s prison in Shakopee.
Masin has three grown children. She likes to visit Orchestra Hall for concerts when she has free time.
JoAnn Ward, House District 53A
JoAnn Ward decided to run when Rep. Nora Slawik, DFL-Maplewood, decided to retire. Redistricting pushed the new House District 53A farther to the east and across I-494 into Washington County. Even though partisan voter indices still pegged the new district as DFL-leaning, the race caught the attention of Republicans. The conservative Minnesota’s Future spent $10,000 in favor of Republican challenger Pam Cunningham and $18,050 attacking Ward.
Ward had worked on DFL legislative campaigns in the area for the likes of former Reps. Marcia Swails and Julie Bunn and former Sen. Kathy Saltzman. But the level of spending against her came as a surprise.
“I expected the mail literature,” Ward said “What did surprise me was learning there were internet ads against me and then in the last couple of weeks of the campaign, there were television ads against me. That level of attack ads really surprised me.”
In the end, Ward rolled over Cunningham by nearly 13 percentage points.
Ward, who is originally from Kansas, has been involved in education for much of her adult life. Ward and her husband, Joe, lived in Seattle while he was doing a Ph.D. in electrical and biomedical engineering, and she taught vocational education to at-risk high-school juniors and seniors. They moved to the Twin Cities when Joe got a job as a scientist at 3M.
Ward sold real estate from 1984 to 1997. She got back on the education track and in 1994 received a master’s degree from the University of St. Thomas in organization management with a focus on education.
Among her work in education, she managed an education quality program at the state Department of Education.
Ward was executive director of the South St. Paul Restorative Justice Council for nine years until 2010. Restorative justice is a conflict resolution process that some law enforcement agencies in Minnesota have become interested in. Restorative justice brings together people who have been involved in some sort of wrong-doing, be it criminal or civil, and work things out through discussion.
When the council’s grant funding started shriveling in the bad economy, Ward chose to devote her time to caring for her husband’s ailing mother during the last 14 months of her life. At that time her husband had retired from 3M and had started a high-tech business involved in, take a deep breath: nanoparticle dispersions of coloration for large-format ink jet printers.
Ward fits into a group of DFLers like Saltzman and Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, who have clashed with teachers unions over education reform. She has been interested for roughly 18 years in efforts to establish accountability requirements for evaluating teacher performance. That movement became an especially germane topic in the last two years when Republicans controlled the Legislature. Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders in 2011 agreed to establish a teacher evaluation system that’s due to go online in 2014.
Ward said more needs to be done on teacher policy. She’d like to see a classroom mentoring program created in which master teachers coach new teachers. She also said the state needs to continue make strides in how principals and superintendents are assessed.
On the controversial topic known as LIFO, which is the current state law for handling teacher layoff based on seniority, Ward is a proponent of ending the practice. (Gov. Mark Dayton earlier this year vetoed a bill that would have repealed LIFO.)
“That’s not serving our students. It’s not serving our communities. In the long run, it’s not serving the teachers either,” Ward said.
Ward and her husband have three children. Jennie is a freelance theater director. Dan is a software engineering manager at Medtronic CareLink Network. Christopher is an emergency room doctor in his third year of residency in Pennsylvania. They have five grandchildren.
Ward enjoys time at the family’s lake place in Wisconsin, where the family and plays music together. She also likes to garden and ride bicycles.