House District 54A: Keith Franke

When restaurant owner Keith Franke was elected mayor of St. Paul Park in 2010, he realized that he and his city would benefit if he had deeper understanding of how city governments can spur business growth. So he obtained additional schooling via an economic development certificate program at Hamline University.

That willingness to learn for the sake of public service ought to impress voters in South St. Paul and southern Washington County, where DFL state Rep. Dan Schoen’s bid for the state Senate has created an open seat. It won Republican Franke our nod over DFLer Jen Peterson, a member of the Cottage Grove City Council.

Franke, 45, would bring a pragmatic, problem-solving mind-set to the Legislature. For example, he shares the view of many in his party that proposed bus and light rail rapid-transit lines are too expensive. But rather than just say no, he says he wants to dig into the operational details to determine whether the plans could be modified to bring costs down. Similarly, he’s eager to delve into the cost-driving forces in the individual health-insurance market in an effort to reduce premium costs.

Though Franke seems more likely to be a budget hawk, Peterson, 50, is also a strong candidate. A City Council member since 2008, she’s making her second bid for a House seat, losing in 2010 to former state Rep. John Kriesel. A health assistant to the elderly and disabled, Peterson would bring to the Legislature personal experiences with both long-term care and the state’s income support systems, on which she and her children relied for several years after domestic violence precipitated a divorce. That perspective would be an asset in the House.

 

House District 54B: Don Slaten

DFLer Don Slaten has been running for the District 54B House seat for more than two years, and it shows. A former Denmark Township board member and Washington County planning commission member who ran unsuccessfully two years ago, Slaten, 65, is keenly attuned to local problems and schooled in state issues. A former manager of a Metropolitan Council wastewater treatment plant, he can offer the Legislature valuable expertise in water-quality protection and infrastructure improvement.

He remains our choice — but not as clearly as he was before we knew that while he was a DFL Party officer in the Second Congressional District in 2014, he used Facebook to pass along posts of someone else’s design containing crudely worded criticism of Republicans. Slaten has apologized for the posts, allowing that they were shared “in the course of my role as an officer in the DFL.” It’s regrettable that a local functionary in either major party thinks his job includes spreading such material.

We also regret that Republican Tony Jurgens had relatively little time to prepare his candidacy. Seven-term Republican Rep. Denny McNamara surprised Jurgens and his constituents in the Hastings area by deciding on May 31, the last day of the campaign-filing period, not to seek re-election. McNamara convinced his friend Jurgens to file for the seat that afternoon, then withdrew from the race himself the next day. That maneuver denied the district’s Republican Party the usual vetting it does before a candidate files for office.

Jurgens, 51, an independent insurance agent and first-time candidate, says he has been campaigning hard and intends to learn more about state issues if he’s elected. He has a solid record of community volunteerism to his credit. But he would face a steep learning curve in the Legislature.

 

House District 57A: Erin Maye Quade

Lifelong Apple Valley resident Erin Maye Quade was already running hard for the Apple Valley-Lakeville seat in the state House when Republican Rep. Tara Mack announced she would not seek re-election. Maye Quade said she became a candidate because she’d learned that the elementary school she attended as a child, Greenleaf, was rapidly diversifying and had seen its share of students living below the poverty line almost quadruple in the past decade.

“Those kids need an advocate,” she said. Maye Quade, 30, is well-equipped to play that role. Making government work for people has been her job as constituent services representative for U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison. She affirms diversity easily as the daughter of a biracial couple, the wife of a same-sex spouse and an active volunteer in her Lutheran church.

Maye Quade’s race and marriage were called out in a manner we find troubling by her Republican opponent, Ali Jimenez-Hopper, at the GOP endorsing convention in May. Jimenez-Hopper, a 27-year-old mother of two who has worked in the real estate industry, told us her remarks were intended to ask delegates to look beyond the two candidates’ identities to their positions on issues.

On the issues, we found Maye Quade the better choice. She would bring to the Legislature a stronger commitment to environmental protection and a desire to curb gun violence. Maye Quade is more open than Jimenez-Hopper to options for increasing transportation funding and building new transit lines, though both are cool to a higher gas tax. Both want to keep property taxes in check, but Maye Quade better understands that for that to happen in a sustainable way, the Legislature has to live up to its commitments to K-12 education.