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In Edina, a race to take on DFL’s Erhardt

Dario Anselmo

Dario Anselmo, the former owner of the Fine Line Music Café and founder of the Minneapolis Warehouse District Business Association, touts his “real world experience” as a small-business owner and a political moderate. (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Bowles, Anselmo vie for endorsement to run against 10-term vet 

One month ago, the story of who would run against DFL Rep. Ron Erhardt on the Republican side of the ticket looked like it would be a familiar one, in which the runner-up from the last cycle takes a second crack at it and the field is cleared for her.

But the House District 49A GOP endorsement contest isn’t playing out that way, or the way it played in 2012, when Polly Peterson Bowles found herself up against a more ideologically conservative endorsement opponent. Instead, Dario Anselmo entered the race last month, and suddenly the dynamic has shifted.

Bowles, 55, a lawyer by trade who has been appointed by three governors to policy positions (including vice-chair of the Metropolitan Council), is a longtime Edina resident who worked with Erhardt on a political campaign 25 years ago — when he was a Republican.

She pitches herself to fellow Edina and west Bloomington Republicans as one of their own.

“I’ve been in the trenches, so to speak,” Bowles said. “I think I have a better feel for the community as a whole, having lived here 50-plus years, through the schools as a parent, through my work with the party, and through my involvement in local nonprofit work.”

Anselmo, 52, the former owner of the Fine Line Music Café and founder of the Minneapolis Warehouse District Business Association, is making his first stab at elected public office and has fewer political connections. But in less than a month of campaigning, he has reported raising $20,000 in donations and picked up support from some Edina Republican Party stalwarts.

His pitch is “real world experience” — as a small-business owner who started his first company in Edina and as a political moderate.

“I think it’s OK to pay taxes as the price of a civil society,” Anselmo said. “But high taxes and overregulation made it difficult to run the Fine Line. When the pendulum swings too far, you have to wonder what’s going on.”

Having made their initial pitch to caucus-goers earlier this month, both candidates are now working to nail down delegates in advance of a March 15 district convention.

Anselmo said he will abide by the party’s final choice, if there is one, but his early fundraising indicates he’s prepared for the long haul. Peterson Bowles, on the other hand, said she will keep her options open until after the convention, though her end-of-year fundraising report only showed $178 in the bank.

The eventual winner will go on to challenge Erhardt, who sat with $25,000 in cash on hand at the end of 2013.

‘Rock star candidate’

Looking across the France Avenue boundary that divides Minneapolis from Edina, Cam Winton might seem an unlikely co-chair for the Anselmo campaign, since he can’t vote for his candidate. But the pro-business, socially moderate Winton bonded with the like-minded Anselmo during Winton’s recent Minneapolis mayoral campaign, he said.

“He represents where our party needs to go if it wants to be a majority again,” Winton said of Anselmo. “We need to focus on the issues that are important, not the ones that will divide and distract us. Dario is a rock star candidate for doing just that.”

Anselmo’s interest in “purple politics” goes back to his family. His dad, Arthur Anselmo, was a Democrat and the youngest elected judge in Minnesota’s history, and his mother was a Republican whose second marriage was to a national Republican Party committee chair, he said. With his wife, Jean, they have three children in the Edina public school system.

In 2000, Anselmo made $1,750 in contributions to the Democratic National Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which Anselmo said was “only because [then-President] Bill Clinton came to the Fine Line for a fundraiser and I wanted my dad to get a photograph with him.”

The Duluth native describes himself as a “Reagan Republican” who empathizes with recent immigrants to America and whose policy interests include education and mental health issues, but first and foremost, taxes and regulation.

“The class warfare tone of Gov. [Mark] Dayton’s last tax increases is really what’s pushed me over the top,” he said. “When you have the highest cost of doing business in the nation, it makes it tough to succeed.”

Though personally opposed to smoking, Anselmo opposed the statewide smoking ban passed in 2007 and criticizes Minneapolis for its “many bike lanes that make no sense.”

Anselmo impressed Laura Hemmler with his “energy, organization and fundraising,” the Edina resident said. The longtime GOP volunteer met Anselmo only a couple of weeks ago, but believes he is the district’s best chance at reclaiming the seat from Erhardt, she said.

“I know the amount of work it takes to get elected,” she said. “You need to have the hunger for it in your belly, and he does.”

Political pedigree

With a father who once represented Edina in the Legislature, Bowles comes with a political pedigree and policy experience to match it, said Doug Seaton, an Edina attorney and her campaign chair.

“They have similar positions on most issues, but Polly can hit the ground running at the Legislature,” he said. “She’s walked the walk.”

Bowles is the daughter of C. Donald Peterson, who went on from the Legislature to serve on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

“I remember sitting in the basement and licking envelopes for campaign mailers,” she said. “It gave me an insight and a respect for government. I am in no way anti-government. It’s a tool people need to use sometimes, but we need to use it with greater restraint than we are now.”

She was a Miss Minnesota USA in 1981 and worked for Faegre & Benson (now Faegre Baker Daniels) after earning her law degree. With her husband, Dan, they have four children who have gone through the Edina public school system.

Then-Gov. Arne Carlson appointed her to the Metropolitan Council in 1991, a position to which she was re-appointed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2008. She was also appointed to the state Compensation Council.

Taxes, education and health care are top policy issues for Bowles; as a breast cancer survivor for more than nine years, she said health care is also a personal one.

“I cringe thinking of women like myself going through breast cancer treatment, with children involved, approaching the deadlines and not knowing whether they’re going to be enrolled in MNsure, whether they’re going to be covered,” she said.

Paul Mooty, partner and CFO at Faribault Woolen Mill Company and her campaign treasurer, said Bowles’ temperament is her most outstanding quality in the many years they’ve known each other.

“Polly is someone who will bring principled Republican leadership but also understands the importance of finding common ground and making real progress,” he said. “I believe Polly will bring the temperament and skills necessary to work with her counterparts to make real progress and help restore trust and respect for the legislative process.”

Winning the community

Edina the community isn’t the same as Edina’s reputation as a WASPY country-club suburb, Anselmo said.

“One of my kids goes to a school that has a Montessori vibe and a lot of Franken stickers on the cars outside,” he said. “There are two Somali kids on the basketball team I coach for my kid. It’s much more diverse.”

Bowles notes that the community has voted for Democrats for president in the last three elections and as of 2012 has no Republicans representing it.

“I think we need to return to the kind of principles that this community has long held,” she said. “As a party, we’re not going to sacrifice our principles, either, but first we need to find someone electable to represent us.”

In 2012, Senate District 49 was one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the entire state election. With its swing-district reputation firmly in place, neither candidate expects that to change this year.

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