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House incumbents won’t seek Brown’s Senate seat

Rep. Sondra Erickson

Rep. Sondra Erickson

Sen. Dave Brown, R-Becker, decided to keep a secret during a meeting with Gov. Mark Dayton, though the information might have acquitted him from the governor’s accusations.

As Brown tells it, he met with Dayton earlier this year to discuss a bill Brown had introduced called the “Student Physical Privacy Act.” The proposal would have prohibited students who were born male from using a public school bathroom for female students, or from participating in girls’ sports, and vice versa. The idea was a controversial one, and Dayton didn’t support it.

According to Brown, the governor alleged that the Republican senator was only carrying the bill to “further his political career.” If only he knew.

Brown knew that he would not seek re-election to a third term in the upper chamber, but did not state his intentions then, and instead waited to inform newspapers in his east-central district during the last weekend of the session. In explaining his career move now, Brown said his reasoning is similar to that of his suburban colleague Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, saying the Legislature is simply too demanding to also advance in one’s professional career.

In Brown’s case, the decision was hastened by his experience this past spring.

“In the past, I was able to balance the two jobs better,” said Brown, who works as a health insurance agent. “If I’m going to serve in the Legislature, I want to do the best job for my constituents, and I didn’t feel I was doing that this year.”

The “Student Privacy Act” was one of several ideas Brown, a social conservative, has entered with limited hopes of getting it past a DFL Senate or Dayton. Another bill he authored would have seen that the Legislature officially “recognizes the increasing persecution of Christians worldwide”; it did not receive a hearing.

On the local front, Brown has made progress securing state funds to promote tourism for Lake Mille Lacs, the most heavily fished lake in the state, where Department of Natural Resources (DNR) management has imposed strict limits on walleye fishing.

The experience of serving in the minority the past three years has been a helpful one, Brown said, and he now wishes he had brought a different attitude to the Senate when he was first elected as part of a Republican majority in 2010.

“I probably came in with bit of arrogance, and I regret that,” Brown said. “I’ve now got to the point where I’ve developed relationships with members on both sides of the aisle, and I wish that I would’ve started out that way.”

Brown survived a tricky, five-way endorsement battle to secure the GOP nod that first time around, and one of his opponents then would look like a strong contender to succeed him: Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker, is now into his second term in the House, and Brown said the two are “good friends.” Newberger said he had thought about running for the Senate seat after hearing word of Brown’s announcement, but was choosing to stay in the lower chamber, where he felt he was making a difference on public safety and energy committees.

“I feel like I’m able to be effective where I’m at,” Newberger said. “Being effective is more important to me than trying to climb some sort of ladder.”

Newberger did predict a “very competitive endorsement battle” to emerge by next spring, and said state policy on energy — “the economic engine of this area” — would be a key issue: The district contains the Sherco coal plant, the state’s largest, and borders the Monticello Nuclear Generating Plant.

Also opting out of the Senate district contest is Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, who said she had had been encouraged by local activists, but did not want to give up her seniority in the lower chamber. As a nine-term member, Erickson was given the gavel on the House Education Innovation Policy Committee. If she ran for the Senate, Erickson said, she might wind up winning the seat but serving in a minority caucus.

Erickson does have one hope for the person who comes to replace Brown. She and Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, are the only two Republican women who represent any part of the 8th Congressional District, and Erickson thinks it would be beneficial to the area to find another.

“That shouldn’t be a secret, that I’d like to find a female,” Erickson said. “I think there should be more than one female legislator in my immediate area.”

No such luck, at least so far. While several possible entrants are weighing their options, only one potential candidate, Seth Wellnitz, has expressed interest to local operating unit leaders. Wellnitz, 28, has worked on campaigns for Brown, former state Rep. Roger Crawford and, last year, for CD 8 Republican candidate Stewart Mills. Wellnitz said he had heard from several Republican activists encouraging him to run, and is still mulling the decision, though he felt a younger candidate could help bridge the “generational gap” of representation in that area.

Politically, Wellnitz would probably align closely to Brown, whom he called a “very good friend” of his.

“I’m not Dave Brown,” Wellnitz said. “But I do think we’re pretty close, as far as conservative values and honest leadership.”

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