Today's endorsements for the Aug. 14 primary address two state House GOP races in districts in which the Republican Party is dominant.

District 33B: Steve Smith

To function well, the perennially divided Legislature needs mavericks -- independent-minded centrists willing to occupy the battle-scarred ground between the two parties and to stretch in both directions to strike deals.

For 22 years, state Rep. Steve Smith, 62, a family law attorney from Mound, has played that difficult and increasingly lonely role. He gets our nod on that basis over Southwest Metro Tea Party founder Cindy Pugh of Chanhassen, who has party endorsement.

Had Smith sought our counsel before filing for office, we might have advised him to run as an independent or switch parties. His maverick act has worn thin, not only with Republican activists, but also with his House GOP colleagues.

Unlike most Republicans, Smith is allied with organized labor -- eight unions had endorsed him as of late last week. He opposes the same-sex-marriage ban that most Republican legislators voted to put before the voters this year. He voted for the stadium bill; Pugh says she would have voted no.

Speaker Kurt Zellers broke with customary practice two weeks ago by endorsing Pugh over his caucusmate Smith. After the 2011 session, amid rumors about Smith's relationship with a female staffer (he is divorced), Zellers stripped Smith of the chairmanship of the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee. (The woman in question no longer works for the House.)

By comparison, Pugh, 55, a former general manager of Dayton's in St. Paul, is an energetic, personable apostle of free-market conservatism. The Minnesota politician she most resembles -- and she says she most admires -- is Michele Bachmann.

We were pleased that Pugh chose not to sign the rigid "no new taxes" pledge promulgated by the Taxpayers League. We were dismayed by her decision to reproduce from an anti-Muslim website a photo likening traditionally dressed Muslim women and stuffed black plastic garbage bags. Though she added a comment about women's rights, the choice showed dreadful judgment.

By her own admission, if District 33B voters send Pugh to the Capitol next January, she'll have a lot to learn. If they send Smith, he'll have a different set of challenges. We hope voters give him a chance to overcome them. Legislative mavericks are in grievously short supply.

District 55B: Tony Albright

In dress, manner, speech, occupation and political bent, it would be hard to come up with a bigger contrast than exists between GOP endorsee Tony Albright and first-time candidate Tim Jesperson in Scott County's District 55B.

Albright, 50, is a buttoned-down financial planner -- soft-spoken, party-connected and ideologically far right. Jesperson, 48, is a self-employed trucker -- rumpled, outspoken, and a centrist who considered running as an independent before filing in the Aug. 14 GOP primary.

There's a lot to like in Jesperson, particularly his uncommon depth of knowledge about state affairs. His thinking on issues more nearly matches this Editorial Board's views. But he left us unconvinced that he could be effective at the Legislature.

Albright leaves the opposite impression. Coached by his father-in-law, former state Sen. Paul Overgaard of Albert Lea, Albright evinces respect for the two-party process and the necessity for bipartisan compromise. He says he's eager to know and work with one of the DFL's liberal legends, state Rep. Phyllis Kahn. We think he should get that chance.


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