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The election of Steve Green marks one of the few bright spots for the Republican Party of Minnesota from the 2012 legislative elections. Facing a fundraising disparity and an uphill battle in terms of name recognition, Green managed to defeat former DFL Rep. Brita Sailer for the open seat in House District 2B.

Meet the Freshmen: House GOP (part 2)

Rep.-elect Steve Green

Tea Party currents still strong in new House GOP class

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

Steve Green, House District 2B

The election of Steve Green marks one of the few bright spots for the Republican Party of Minnesota from the 2012 legislative elections. Facing a fundraising disparity and an uphill battle in terms of name recognition, Green managed to defeat former DFL Rep. Brita Sailer for the open seat in House District 2B. Sailer, who served three terms in the House starting in 2004, out-raised Green by a nearly four to one margin, collecting nearly $35,000 through Oct. 22, compared with just under $10,000 for Green.

Overcoming these obvious disadvantages, Green won 51 percent of the vote in the north-central area district, connecting with voters using rhetoric that recalled the GOP’s Tea Party-inspired wave of 2010. Of course, many of those Republican victors were turned out of office during this year’s election, meaning Green’s message of limited government and individual liberty will now be heard by a DFL majority in the House.

“I still have a district to represent,” Green said, “and I will still bring the same issues that are affecting us out here forward. Whether they get out of committee, or out of the floor and to the governor’s desk, remains to be seen.”

Green has been drawn to politics since 2008, when he began to believe the country and the state were drifting in the wrong direction. He disapproves of larger, more centralized government, and thinks history has proven that type of government can only lead to failure.

The largest issue on Green’s agenda is job creation. As he sees it, it’s not the state government’s role to create jobs, and higher taxes or increased government regulations will only hurt the economy. He said towns in his own district have suffered in the recession.

“Take a drive down some of our main streets in small towns,” Green said. “They’ll speak for themselves.”

According to Green, Polaris Industries, the manufacturer of a popular line of all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles, had considered building a plant in a part of Becker County that lies in his district. Instead, Polaris took one part of the project to Iowa, and another to Mexico. Green thinks finding out why businesses choose to open outside Minnesota should be one of the Legislature’s top priorities.

Addressing one of the few clear opportunities for Republicans to participate in legislation, Green said he would be willing to consider a bonding bill, depending on where the money would be spent. His support would depend on whether the bill was stripped of the “pet stuff” sometimes tucked in by legislators.

“I don’t think we can afford that now,” Green said. “I really don’t.”

Green and his wife, Cindy, have six children. Since 2004, when they closed the family greenhouse, Green has filled his time working on home remodeling and light contracting work. His lone hobby is fishing, which he said he has time to do “about once a year.”

—Mike Mullen

Ron Kresha, House District 9B

Like many first-time candidates running in 2012, Ron Kresha cites the toxic, partisan atmosphere at the Capitol as part of what motivated him to seek elective office. Despite unexpectedly finding himself in the GOP minority, Kresha would like to be part of finding a long-term fix for the state’s chronic budget problems.

“I’m frustrated that we can’t have open and honest dialogue about issues,” Kresha said. “I get it: Partisanship is part of the game. But we’re still dealing with the same financial problems we were dealing with two years ago.”

The House District 9B seat was up for grabs after one-term GOP Rep. Mike LeMieur opted not to seek re-election. The central Minnesota district, which includes Morrison County, tilts in favor of Republicans by double digits. Kresha won a contested endorsement battle in May on the fourth ballot. He went on to win the general election by 6 percentage points.

Kresha lives in Little Falls with his wife and five kids. He has an undergraduate degree from St. Cloud State University and a master of business administration degree from Bellevue University, in Nebraska. Initially after college, Kresha taught English at a middle school. He then went on to oversee technology and curriculum for the school district in Pierz. In 2000 he started Atomic Learning, a venture focused on online instruction, with nine other investors.

Kresha’s current company, Golden Shovel Agency, founded in 2009, helps rural counties and cities bolster their online presence. Clients include Morrison County and the cities of Red Wing and Cambridge.

Kresha cites education, commerce and veterans as three committee interests. The latter is a natural fit for his district, which includes the Minnesota National Guard training facility at Camp Ripley. He’d also like to work on cutting regulations that stymie business growth in outstate Minnesota.
Kresha is not ruling out the possibility of supporting additional tax revenues to help settle the state’s chronic budget problems. But he’s no fan of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s rhetoric criticizing wealthy individuals for not paying their fair share of taxes. “If revenue’s going to be on the table, that’s fine, but let’s not make it a vindictive thing,” he said.

Kresha’s community involvement includes serving as president of the parish council at his church and as a board member of Mary of Lourdes School.

Kresha is an avid outdoorsman. He serves as president of the local chapter of Let’s Go Fishing and is a pheasant hunting guide.

—Paul Demko

Jim Newberger, House District 15B

Even though redistricting left Jim Newberger with a relatively easy electoral task, the Republican House candidate worked the campaign trail as if his was a much tougher district. The central Minnesota district, which runs north to south and includes Newberger’s current home of Becker, leans heavily toward the GOP according to partisan indices.

Comparing himself to a metro-area DFL candidate, Newberger said a Republican in a “safe” district like his feels a different kind of pressure: the pressure to win, and by a lot.

“I ran my race like I was 20 points behind,” Newberger said.

In fact, the opposite was more nearly accurate, and Newberger eventually prevailed with 58 percent of the vote. Having afforded himself little time to pay attention to other races, Newberger was surprised to see his fellow Republicans losing across the state. Finding his party suddenly in the minority, Newberger seems primed to play the role of conservative watchdog.

Newberger’s first priority is to rein in state spending, an issue which he circles back to often in conversation. Both Minnesota and the United States are in perilous situations financially, Newberger said, and the Legislature should be mindful of that at all times. One spending area where he could see himself casting a positive vote is transportation, particularly money earmarked for basic infrastructure updates.

“I’m very pro-roads and bridges,” he said. “I’d like to make sure Minnesota has the best roads and bridges we possibly can.”

That support for more traditional transportation needs stems partly from an opposition to light rail transit, at least in its current form. While a stop in his town of Becker is a possible addition to the Northstar Commuter Rail line, Newberger said he has been dismayed to read reports of low ridership and taxpayer subsidies. He would prefer to see the line privatized, and also plans to oppose additional public funding for the Southwest Corridor line.

Born and raised in the metro area, including time spent in St. Louis Park, Newberger later attended St. Cloud State University, where he studied political science and communications. Later Newberger turned to another longtime interest, and started a career as an emergency medical technician.
The job has given Newberger a lot of first-hand experience with hospitals and the medical industry, which could carry over into his legislative service, he said, though Newberger admits he is less than thrilled about helping to enact a key aspect of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

“I’m going to try to keep an open mind,” he said, “but I’m not very excited at all about the health care exchange. I can tell you that.”

A paramedic’s hours lead to hectic schedules, with Newberger often working 40 or more hours over the course of just a few days. On his off days, Newberger likes to spend time with his family. He and his wife Michele have been married for 22 years, and they have three children, two of whom are now off at college.

—Mike Mullen

Mark Uglem (GOP) House District 36A

Mark Uglem spent his early years living in northeast Minneapolis before his family moved to Columbia Heights, where he graduated from high school. For college, Uglem opted to focus on urban studies at the University of Minnesota in Duluth. It was there than he took a particular interest in his political science classes and formed a close bond with some of his professors, even doing some lobbying with them in St. Paul for a unicameral Legislature. “That was during the height of the Vietnam War,” Uglem said. “There was a lot of political interest on college campuses back then.”

After college Uglem found himself back in Minneapolis, where he took a job with a building supply company. He started his own paint manufacturing firm, the Sierra Company, before selling it and working with Hirschfield’s Paint in its manufacturing division. Uglem eventually went off to do his own consulting for paint and supply companies, which gave him more time to get involved with politics on the local level. Uglem served on both the Brooklyn Park and Champlin planning commissions before running and winning a race for mayor of Champlin in 2006.

With his public and private sector background, Uglem was sought out early and often by local Republicans to run for the Legislature against DFL Rep. Denise Dittrich. “I had to turn them down twice. Denise is a good friend of mine,” Uglem said. “Denise is a Democrat and I’m a Republican, but she always represented Champlin very well. We worked closely on a number of things.”

Uglem learned of Dittrich’s retirement at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new Caribou coffee in Champlin. He had heard rumors that she was thinking about stepping down, so he decided to ask her himself. She confirmed the rumors that day, weeks before she announced the plan publicly. “That’s how I decided to do it,” he said. “That’s how I got in the Legislature.”

Uglem beat DFL candidate Grace Baltich by about 3 points for the House District 36A seat. At the Legislature, Uglem would like to put his business experience to work on the House Commerce Committee. An avid outdoorsmen, he would also like to serve on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. He recently served on the Coon Rapids Regional Dam Commission alongside co-chair Jerry Newton, a former DFL House member who just won reelection to the chamber. Together they helped facilitate the construction of a $16 million dam to help keep out Asian Carp, an invasive species.

Outside of politics, Uglem is an avid motorcyclist. He has traveled all the way to Fairbanks, Alaska and Newfoundland, Canada on his motorcycle with his wife, Pam. Next summer they plan to travel to southern Utah and Arizona. They have three children.

—Briana Bierschbach

Tony Albright, House District 55B

If any Republican is looking for a challenge, Tony Albright is prepared to put his district’s conservatism up against that of any other place in the state. Albright, who ran to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of seven-term Rep. Mark Buesgens, described his area as a GOP stronghold that consistently churns out big vote totals in the re-election campaigns of Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline.

Eyeing the competition, Albright said his constituency is comparable to that of another newly elected House member, Rep.-elect David Fitzsimmons, R-Albertville.

“Between David Fitzsimmons and I,” Albright said, “we could have a good discussion about who has the more conservative district.”

Albright won his seat with more than 63 percent of the vote. A first-time candidate for the Legislature out of Prior Lake, Albright has been active in Scott County Republican politics for the last 15 years.

Having met with members of the DFL leadership, Albright found himself less than encouraged by their positions, but said he was impressed by his opposition’s professionalism. Albright’s outlook on functioning from within the minority caucus is centered on finding consensus for what’s best for the state; he resists the use of the word “compromise.”

“Politics aside,” he said, “business is business. And if we are all in agreement that something needs to be done, let’s go about the work of resolving the issues.”

With all in agreement that something must be done about the state’s structurally imbalanced budget and a looming deficit of $1 billion or more, Albright approaches the problem by asking what can be done to help encourage the state’s private sector. In his own district, cities in Scott County are working to streamline response to businesses that intend to open or expand operations in the area, with private sector inquiries fielded in a timely fashion. Albright would like to see similar attempts to enable private enterprise statewide.

“I would say, in the state of Minnesota, that’s scalable,” he said.

Albright makes his living in financial advisory services, consulting with pension programs to help them make prudent investments for their retirees. In the course of that work, he has come in contact with many aspects of the health care industry, and Albright thinks those connections could come in handy again during his time in the Capitol.

Another area of Albright’s interest is elder care. Faced with an aging demographic, and with Minnesotans living longer and longer in each generation, Albright said the issue should be of “paramount importance.” Though he’s unsure that simply increasing the number of nursing homes is the right solution, Albright wants the state to engage with private industry to find an answer to the pending issue. If handled correctly, Minnesota could be one of the country’s leaders on the topic, he said.

Albright’s concern for elder care speaks to an issue that’s close to his heart. A World War II aviation buff, he said he has always enjoyed engaging with the “Greatest Generation,” and hearing their stories of courage and survival.

“Being in their company,” he said, “reminds me of just how important the job is that we have as legislators.”

—Mike Mullen

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