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Through his experience as a member of the Cottage Grove Police Department, Dan Schoen witnessed firsthand the dangers of synthetic marijuana. Working with DFL Sen. Katie Sieben and GOP Rep. John Kriesel, Schoen helped build support for legislation outlawing such substances.

Meet the freshmen: House DFL (part 5)

Rep.-elect Dan Schoen won the open seat in House District 54A by 17 percentage points. He emphasized that finding a long-term solution to the state’s chronic budget deficits is his top priority. “We better not be about gimmicks,” said Schoen, “because that’s not what we campaigned about.” (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

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

Paul Rosenthal, House District 49B

Lately, Paul Rosenthal’s professional career has been all about dealing with volatility. As a trader on foreign currency markets, Rosenthal has had to weather a series of waves driven by the European news cycle, prepared to buy or sell based on daily pronouncements from Greece, Spain or Germany.

Rosenthal’s political fortunes have been subject to similar turbulence. He was first elected to the Legislature in 2008, collecting 52 percent of the vote in a strong year for Democratic candidates. In 2010 the tide had turned, and Rosenthal turned out of office by a similarly decisive margin, losing his seat to Republican challenger Pat Mazorol.

Mazorol’s decision not to run for re-election in 2012 opened the door for Rosenthal to make another bid in the Edina-area swing district. With the political winds yet again at his back, Rosenthal earned a second, nonconsecutive term in office, defeating Republican candidate Terry Jacobson with 53 percent of the vote. In so doing, he became one of seven House Democrats returning for non-consecutive terms at the Legislature. (The others: Reps.-elect Connie Bernardy, David Bly, Ron Erhardt, Tim Faust, Sandra Masin, Will Morgan and Jerry Newton.)

Having ended his two-year hiatus, Rosenthal is hoping to pick up where he left off on a number of issues, including measures to combat domestic violence and efforts to expand early childhood education programs. In his own district, Rosenthal said Bloomington’s early childhood programs are recognized as some of the best in the country.

“I’d like to work with them to come up with strategies that might help other school districts,” Rosenthal said. “They have an incredible amount of services, like health care and other social services, wrapped around [the program] for lower-income people.”

During his earlier stint in the Legislature, Rosenthal was a founding member of a small business caucus. Nine bills originated out of that caucus during Rosenthal’s first term, two of which he carried. He said he would be eager to rejoin or rekindle that caucus, where he would support issues like tax credits for research and development and streamlining some regulations that hamper small businesses.

Looking back on the 2012 legislative session, Rosenthal would like to see a resurrection of Gov. Mark Dayton’s original $1.4 billion bonding bill proposal. While a lesser, $496 million version was later passed by the Republican majorities in the Legislature, Rosenthal hopes to see a “big” bonding bill in 2013. Interest rates are at a historically low rate — “hopefully they never will be this low again,” Rosenthal said — which gives the state an opportunity to catch up on some of its outstanding infrastructure projects, such as light-rail funding.

“It’s the perfect time to bond,” Rosenthal said. “It’s practically free, if you factor in inflation.”

At least some level of Republican support would be required to pass a bonding bill, but Rosenthal is undeterred by the notion of finding GOP votes. Coming from such a contentious district informs Rosenthal’s thinking on legislative service. The “vast majority” of bills he entered during his first term had Republican co-authors, and he hopes to again find similar good-faith partners across partisan lines, both among his colleagues and constituents.

“That’s something I will always keep in mind,” Rosenthal said, “that I represent everyone in the district — not just Democrats, but independents and Republicans as well.”

—Mike Mullen

Dan Schoen, House District 54A

Dan Schoen has been a member of the Cottage Grove Police Department for more than a decade. That tenure included four-plus years assigned to a Washington County task force focused on narcotics and violent crime.

Through that experience, Schoen witnessed firsthand the dangers of synthetic marijuana, which many tobacco shops began selling as incense in the early 2000s. Working with DFL Sen. Katie Sieben and GOP Rep. John Kriesel, Schoen helped build support for legislation outlawing such substances. He testified before legislative committees and worked to generate media coverage of the issue.

“We highlighted the fact that these guys know very well that they’re selling poison and don’t care,” Schoen recalled. “Their goal was to make as much money as possible.”

That legislation passed in 2011, but new synthetic drugs soon popped up in the marketplace. That led to additional legislation outlawing more chemicals and increasing criminal sanctions the following year. Schoen isn’t sure whether that will serve as a permanent fix.

“Right now, it appears that things are going pretty well,” he said. “Quite frankly, we may not know today what we need to fix tomorrow.”

Schoen’s experience in seeking to eradicate synthetic marijuana is emblematic of the law enforcement perspective that he’ll bring to the Capitol. Running as a Democrat, he won the open seat in House District 54A by 17 percentage points in a district that tilts in favor of the DFL. He replaces Kriesel, a Republican who frequently bucked his own party during a single term in the House.

Schoen cites public safety, health care, veterans’ issues and capital investments as areas he’d like to work on in St. Paul. But he emphasizes that finding a long-term solution to the state’s chronic budget deficits is by far the top priority. “We better not be about gimmicks, because that’s not what we campaigned about,” Schoen said.

Schoen also has some ideas for legislation aimed at curtailing domestic violence. For instance, he’s interested in tweaking state privacy statutes so victims of domestic violence can have access to additional information about their assailants, such as what type of vehicle they’re driving and in which city they reside.

In addition, Schoen wants to make sure that “lethality assessments,” which are actuarial tools designed to quantify the likelihood that someone will commit another crime, are utilized by law enforcement agencies statewide. Such tools allow police officers to warn domestic violence victims if they are likely to be at risk of further assault and help them take precautionary action. “All it is, is a piece of paper,” Schoen said. “It doesn’t cost the agencies anything.”

Schoen grew up outside of Willmar and earned a criminal justice degree from Ridgewater College. He spent five years working as a paramedic in the area and was the founding president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 3943. Schoen has two young children.

—Paul Demko

Will Morgan, House District 56B

After serving two terms in the state House as a DFLer from Burnsville, Morgan lost his seat in the 2010 GOP wave. On the redistricting maps that a panel of judges unveiled in February, his suburban House District 56B became a fairly solid GOP district. In fact, conservative Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, was originally the incumbent in 56B before she changed her residence to run in neighboring House District 58A. Republicans had sound reason to think the district was a lock for their general election candidate, Roz Peterson, whose resume included extensive involvement in area business groups and serving on the Lakeville School Board.

In one of the most noteworthy pickups for the DFL, Morgan won by 0.8 percent of the vote. He believes education issues were pivotal in the election.

The south-of-the-river, suburban House district has portions of three major school districts. Morgan noted that the Lakeville School District recently closed an elementary school in order to save money. Burnsville is considering going to four-day school weeks. Voters, Morgan said, laid the blame for education troubles on the Republican-controlled Legislature.

“These are just things you don’t expect a lot of suburban, wealthy school districts to be facing. I think voters just said we need to focus on our schools, and we trust Will to get the job done for us,” said Morgan, a Burnsville High School physics and chemistry teacher.

Morgan is three for five in his career in running for legislative office. In 2004, Morgan lost a close election to GOP incumbent Rep. Duke Powell before winning their 2006 rematch. Morgan served two terms until he was defeated in 2010 by Republican Pam Myhra. He was redistricted away from Myhra, who won re-election in HD 56A.

When last in the House, Morgan served on finance committees for K-12 education and transportation. Those two areas remain top legislative concerns for him heading into the 2013 session. He would like to see an emphasis on early childhood education that involves all-day kindergarten. Morgan has been involved in and continues to be concerned about transportation and transit on Interstate 35 in the southern metro.

“We’ve added lanes. We’ve improved transit,” he said. “There’s still work to be done, especially with some of the feeder roads to I-35.”

Morgan would like to attend to some local economic development projects, as well. Burnsville’s hospital, which is the largest private employer in the city, is plotting a $60 million expansion. The second largest private employer, high-tech firm UTC Aerospace Systems, also has a future expansion plan. “There are some local economic development issues that we’re hoping can be addressed at the state,” Morgan said.

Morgan’s been a teacher since 1989 and has taught in Burnsville High School since 1991. He and his wife, Denise, have three boys ages 3, 5 and 7.

Morgan coached volleyball for many years at Burnsville High School. Last year, he coached at Lakeville North High School, where the team brought home second place at the state tournament. Away from the classroom and politics, he plays guitar in a band with some of his fellow teachers.

—Charley Shaw

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