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House GOP leader Kurt Daudt faces endorsement challenge

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt is facing a challenge from Oak Grove Mayor Mark Korin. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt is facing a challenge from Oak Grove Mayor Mark Korin. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt survived a brush with controversy among Republican activists in his House District 31A, and now a fellow party member has decided to run a campaign aimed at ousting Daudt from the Legislature altogether. Oak Grove Mayor Mark Korin registered his candidacy with the state campaign finance board on Monday, but first announced his intention to run in Daudt’s district at the party precinct caucus event last week.

Korin told Politics in Minnesota that he thinks Daudt’s representation of the district has been inadequate, and said he had heard the same sentiment from a number of the area’s Republican activists. Korin, owner of a design engineering company, first won election as Oak Grove mayor in 2010, and said he had been thinking about mounting a bid against Daudt for some time. Korin said his decision was made easier by recent encouragement he had received from party insiders who had also grown upset with the House Republican caucus leader.

“I believe that [House District] 31A needs a new voice, a conservative voice that will listen to the grassroots and the silent majority,” said Korin, who added that “a lot of people” in the local party unit had urged him to run for office.

In January, Daudt was faced with a scheduled vote of no confidence by the Senate District 31 Republican committee. The move followed news reports of an incident involving Daudt and Daniel Weinzetl, a friend of Daudt’s, that took place in the fall of 2013 but did not surface in media coverage until early this year. While negotiating a car purchase in Montana, Weinzetl retrieved Daudt’s handgun from Daudt’s car and pointed it at the seller and his family, according to criminal charges. Weinzetl was arrested and has been charged with three felonies. Daudt was arrested and briefly detained, but was not charged for his role in the incident.

At the time of the planned vote against Daudt, local GOP leaders told the Star Tribune their principal problem with Daudt was his lack of communication with the party chapter about his Montana arrest. Daudt averted the crisis by agreeing to come to the planned meeting and speak with local activists, who subsequently canceled the vote of no confidence.

Korin voiced a similar frustration about Daudt’s lack of communication with important constituent groups, saying he did not know Daudt to appear at any Oak Grove City Council meetings, and that other area mayors had also complained about the same topic.

Korin had previously lived in the district represented by Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, but was placed into Daudt’s House constituency during the 2012 round of redistricting. He decided he would give the area’s new representative a chance, but has been deeply disappointed by Daudt’s performance in office. Aside from the lack of communication, Korin argued that Daudt had done little during the past session aside from voting against DFL legislative proposals.

“A lot of people are missing a voice,” Korin said.

The decision to challenge a sitting party caucus leader has apparently upset some members of the local GOP leadership, according to Korin, who said some were asking him why he wanted to knock Daudt out of the Legislature.

“”I’ve swatted a hornet’s nest down in the Republican party,” said Korin. He added, sarcastically: “I didn’t know that this seat was on the ballot as Kurt Daudt’s seat. I thought every two years we have an election.”

Korin plans to seek and abide by the party endorsement at its March 15 convention. He has already started laying the groundwork for that effort, hiring a campaign manager and bringing on staff and volunteers to assist his short-term campaign. Korin has already spoken with more than 80 convention delegates, and said he thinks a “high percentage” agreed with him that the district could  have better representation.

Daudt, now in his second term in office, was elevated to the leadership role after Democrats regained the majority in the House in 2012. His district is one of the safer conservative-leaning areas in the state. Even in 2012, as the DFL picked up seats in tough districts throughout Minnesota, Daudt coasted to re-election with 60 percent of the district vote. In keeping with the area’s political profile, Daudt has a strongly conservative voting record, and currently holds a 100 percent career legislative rating from Minnesota Majority.

About Mike Mullen

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