by Paul Rignell
Political buzz is rarely as high in any party as in those years when the White House is up for grabs, but many Minnesota Democrats in particular have had little to pique their interest early in this non-presidential year 2014, said one local Senate district chairman.
That happens, said Gabe Davis, of Otsego, when your party has incumbents in the governor’s office (Mark Dayton) and U.S. Senate (Al Franken) who appear to have no formidable challengers within the party for their re-election.
The more active Democratic supporters still have been meeting, however, as delegates from local districts prepare to send representation to their congressional and state conventions.
Democrats in Senate District 30, where Davis served as moderator for a meeting March 22 at Elk River High School, have little to lose in their part of Minnesota for another election cycle.
The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and its candidates long have held underdog status in the Elk River, Big Lake, Otsego and St. Michael areas, and their 6th District seat in Congress has been controlled by Republican favorite Michele Bachmann for the past four terms.
Bachmann has announced her retirement from the U.S. House after this year, and so the seat for 2015-2016 is being contested in her party as well as among Democrats who hope to win the seat and give their party another voice in Congress.
Senate District 30 Democrats who were present last week at ERHS, including 50 voting delegates, welcomed comments from two active 6th District candidates in the party.
Both of those candidates have enjoyed long careers as educators.
Jim Read has taught political science for the past 25 years at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. Bachmann announced her retirement in May 2013, but Read told his party members March 22 that he decided only after the federal government shutdown last October that he would challenge for the seat.
“This is an open seat, and an open seat sometimes can open minds that have been closed for too long,” Read said.
He said that he wants to make college more affordable and raise wages for more highly skilled manufacturing jobs in the United States.
Joe Perske, a party challenger for Read, also comes from the western end of the 6th District as a native of St. Cloud and the current mayor of Sartell. Touting an endorsement from Jim Graves, the party’s 6th District candidate from 2012, Perske has taught and coached in the Sartell-St. Stephen Schools for 24 years.
In an interview with the Star News, Perske expressed support for many of the same issues as Read. He said that he wants to restore livable wages for skilled labor jobs, in order to prevent a middle class from disappearing further.
Perske said he recognizes problems in the Affordable Care Act but that he wants to fix them in Congress rather than discard the legislation.
Senate District 30 delegates met their Minnesota House candidates for 2014, neither of whom had a challenger at the Elk River convention.
Sharon Shimek, of Otsego, has stepped forward again as a party candidate in House District 30B. She will race against a new Republican nominee as Rep. David FitzSimmons, her opponent from 2012, is bowing out after one term.
Shimek told the Star News that she wanted to give her district voters a choice then and now.
“It isn’t just enough to sit back, if you believe in something,” she said.
In House District 30A, area Democrats are counteracting the youth of incumbent Rep. Nick Zerwas, from Elk River, with a fresh voice in Brenden Ellingboe, who noted his graduation from ERHS six years ago.
Shimek and Ellingboe both expressed support for public education and a higher minimum wage.
Ellingboe said he had worked minimum wage jobs throughout high school and for a couple more years. He said he was fortunate to have developed skills since then for more fruitful work as a software engineer.
Shimek said her employment record included recent supplemental work as an overnight truck unloader at Walmart for the federal minimum $7.25 per hour. She said she had colleagues there in worse positions.
“It never occurred to me that people working at Walmart were getting other help (government aid),” Shimek said.
Zerwas has pledged to fight for equitable public funding for schools in his district, and Shimek and Ellingboe said they, too, believe in that cause.
They were joined on that point by Doug Birk, a delegate from St. Michael who is a member and chairman on the St. Michael-Albertville School Board.
Birk explained that not only the poorer metro school districts, such as Minneapolis, receive more state funding, but affluent districts such as Edina, too, are getting $3,000 to $4,000 more in state aid per pupil, Birk said.
He said St. Michael-Albertville ranks last out of more than 300 in the state while Big Lake, Buffalo and Elk River each are among the bottom 25, and Monticello is in the lower third.
Among other convention business March 22 in Elk River, DFL delegates elected 13 delegates and an equal number of alternates to the party’s 6th District convention May 3 at Monticello Middle School, and the state convention May 31 and June 1 in Duluth.