District 42B: Jenifer Loon

Two admirable candidates have emerged in Eden Prairie to succeed former House GOP majority leader Rep. Erik Paulsen, who is running for the U.S. House. Both would bring strengths to the Legislature. But at a time when the state's economy needs a boost, our nod goes to the small-business policy expertise of Republican Jenifer Loon over that of DFLer Jerry Pitzrick.

Loon, 45, most recently a stay-at-home mom, grew up on a South Dakota dairy farm. After college, she spent more than a decade in Washington in a variety of roles, including a stint as chief of staff for the U.S. House Small Business Committee and a lobbyist for a builders' association. Her husband is a regional official with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

She draws on that background to advocate for tax and regulatory policy changes that would benefit small and start-up businesses. We're troubled by her opposition to the 2008 transportation bill. But it was heartening to note that she was one of only four Republican legislative candidates endorsed this year by the Conservation Minnesota Voter Fund.

Pitzrick, 56, is a civil engineer and a member of the Eden Prairie Planning Commission. He gave up a management position with a large construction company after 24 years to form his own consulting firm in 1998, in large measure to help his disabled adult daughter achieve self-sufficiency.

Those experiences have given him a good understanding of transportation and human services issues. But those matters will likely be secondary to economic concerns in the next two years. Pitzrick does not favor a tax increase -- "Why does everyone think Democrats always want to raise taxes?" he asks -- but his only business policy experience is as a taxpayer. Loon has a deeper well of economic stimulus ideas from which to draw.

District 49B: Jerry Newton

It's regrettable that a top-notch legislator, Rep. Kathy Tingelstad of Andover, met with resistance from her Republican Party and chose not to run again. She roused the ire of conservatives for voting to override GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a sorely-needed omnibus transportation funding bill.

Luckily, voters in southern Anoka County have a solid replacement in DFLer Jerry Newton of Coon Rapids. Newton, 71, is serving his second term on the board of the sprawling Anoka-Hennepin School District, the largest in the state. He also put in two terms on the Coon Rapids City Council. He's exceptionally well prepared for legislative service.

The GOP candidate is Jake Cimenski, 35, a first-time candidate whose readiness for office is less apparent. An Air Force veteran and native of Royalton, he moved to Coon Rapids in 2002 when he went to work for a Minnetonka computer software company. He offers scant evidence that he has thought seriously about major public policy issues facing lawmakers.

Public service has been Newton's third career. He spent 23 years in the U.S. Army and attained the highest possible rank for an enlisted man, sergeant major. He was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery in Vietnam. He also owned a grocery store in Coon Rapids for more than 20 years. Those experiences lend credence to Newton's claim that he is neither liberal nor conservative. We'll call him a pragmatist, and hope to see him at the Capitol in January.

District 51A: Tim Sanders

When first-term DFL Rep. Scott Kranz surprised his Blaine constituents by choosing not to run again, all three major parties scrambled to nominate a successor. None of them found candidates well prepared for legislative service. But in Tim Sanders, we think the Republican Party has a candidate with good capacity to learn on the job. Our nod to Sanders amounts to a bet on the come.

Both the GOP and DFL candidates in this contest are young men in their 20s. Sanders is 26; DFLer Shawn Hamilton, 27. Both have worked in and around campaigns and government offices. Sanders is a commercial property insurance rater; Hamilton, a construction electrician. Both hew closely to their respective parties' talking points when discussing issues.

But Sanders exhibits better ability to think on his feet, and good judgment in avoiding a pledge not to raise taxes. His awareness of the need to shield the University of Minnesota from big budget cuts is well placed.

Another, unrelated Sanders is in the race, the Independence Party's Daniel William Sanders. At age 53 and with experience owning his own construction business and selling real estate, he's the elder in this race. He's earnest and well-motivated. But he would face a steep learning curve at the Capitol, without a large party caucus to help him.