Editor’s note: Today begins four days of recommendations for a dozen metro-area seats in the Minnesota Legislature. The Star Tribune Editorial Board chose to make endorsements primarily in vigorously contested open seats, though we also include a handful of lively contests involving incumbents. As always, reader letters are welcome at startribune.com/opinion.
Senate District 36: John Hoffman
Incumbency is an asset in the Minnesota Senate. That’s especially true when the incumbent is DFL Sen. John Hoffman, who was chief sponsor or cosponsor of more bills than any other senator in 2015-16. That level of lawmaking activity is a tribute not only to Hoffman’s vigor, but also to his desirability in the eyes of colleagues in both parties as an asset in steering their bills into law.
That record in only his first term wins Hoffman our nod over an appealing Republican opponent, Brooklyn Park Mayor Jeff Lunde, in a district that includes Champlin and parts of Brooklyn Park and Coon Rapids. Lunde, 49, is a Hennepin Technical College faculty member and an independent-minded local official who we hope continues in public service. We were particularly impressed with his support for the Bottineau light-rail transit line, a rarity among Republicans. But Lunde does not make a strong case for ousting Hoffman, who seems likely to be a major player at the Capitol in a second term.
Hoffman, 51, draws from a public policy well that’s both deep and wide. He was immersed in education policy during seven years on the Anoka-Hennepin School Board; he learned about the financial struggles of working families as co-founder of the nonprofit Consumer Credit of Minnesota; he’s familiar with the needs of the disabled as a current and former staffer at nonprofits that serve disabled people. In 2014, he earned a certificate in energy policy at the University of Idaho. He’s on the board of directors of the Midway Chamber of Commerce in St. Paul.
Hoffman employed that experience plus a willingness to reach across the partisan aisle to put his stamp on much of the Legislature’s output in the last four years. If District 36 voters send him back to St. Paul, they can expect him to be a leader in delivering early-childhood education to more children in a way that’s affordable for both their families and taxpayers.
Senate District 37: Jerry Newton
Jerry Newton is a vigorous 79-year-old and a moderate-minded DFLer who has spent much of his life in public service — from 23 years in the U.S. Army beginning in 1955 until, most recently, three terms in the Minnesota House. Along the way, he served well on the Coon Rapids City Council and Anoka Hennepin School Board while owning and managing a small retail business in Blaine. It’s easy to commend his state Senate candidacy to the residents of Blaine and parts of Coon Rapids and Spring Lake Park.
That’s especially so because Republican candidate Brad Sanford does not match his enthusiasm for public service with evidence of adequate preparation for legislative work. Sanford, 50, a Blaine insurance agent and former bank loan officer, endured financial reversals after a 2009 divorce that include a 2014 personal bankruptcy and a $44,000 court judgment for back child support this year. While those woes don’t disqualify him, they could prove to be a distraction.
Senate District 44: Paul Anderson
DFL state Sen. Terri Bonoff’s decision to run for Congress attracted two strong candidates to the Senate seat she’s vacating. Both DFLer Deb Calvert and Republican Paul Anderson seem well-suited to legislative service. Narrowly, our nod goes to Anderson on the strength of his capacity to bring a needed moderating influence to the Senate Republican caucus.
Anderson, 43, the son of a Minneapolis service station-owning family, began his political career as a district staffer for then-U. S. Rep. Jim Ramstad, whom Anderson calls “my biggest mentor.” Ramstad chairs Anderson’s campaign this year. He went on to serve as deputy chief of staff and a presidential campaign staffer for Gov. Tim Pawlenty, becoming well-acquainted with both issues and people at the State Capitol. All the while, Anderson lived in the Minnetonka-Plymouth district he seeks to represent and volunteered in a number of church and charitable organizations.
The Editorial Board disagrees with Anderson on several issues, notably the proposed Southwest light-rail line, which Anderson claims is “not a priority for my district.” If he’s elected, we intend to hold him to his vow to “be willing to have the conversation” about multimodal transportation improvements.
Calvert, 52, has been nearly as active in DFL politics as Anderson has been on the GOP side. A fundraiser and former presidential assistant at Mitchell-Hamline Law School, she spent four years on the Minnesota staff of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and worked for a number of federal and state Democratic candidates, including Bonoff. Like Bonoff, she positions herself as a pro-business DFLer who hopes to rein in business property taxes. She supports light-rail transit but is cool to a gas-tax increase to pay for highway improvements. If she’s elected, we hope to continue that conversation, too.