Editorial: Seeking leaders in GOP strongholds

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 5, 2012 - 6:50 PM

Doepke, Housley, Ortman are best in state Senate primaries.

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Rep. Connie Doepke, Karin Housley, Julianne Ortman

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Today's endorsements for the Aug. 14 primary address three Republican contests for state Senate seats in metro-area districts in which Republicans are generally favored to win the general election.

District 33: Doepke

Minnesota has long been able to count on the Lake Minnetonka area to send thoughtful, pragmatic Republican leaders to the state Senate. Gen Olson, who is retiring after 30 years, and George Pillsbury before her fit that description.

So would state Rep. Connie Doepke. She's running for Olson's seat after four years in the state House, eight innovative years on the Wayzata School Board, and a career as a corporate executive for Avon Products and Fingerhut.

She has Olson's strong backing, and has already begun to fill Olson's shoes as an education reformer. She's also a friend of small businesses, and has state and regional Chamber of Commerce support.

It's a disappointing commentary on the west-metro Republican Party that Doepke, 66, was passed over for party endorsement. It went instead to David Osmek, 47, a project manager for United Health Group and a budget hawk during 10 years on the Mound City Council.

Among other things, Osmek faults Doepke for supporting the Vikings stadium bill; for willingness to require Amazon to collect state sales taxes on Minnesotans' purchases, as Minnesota-based retailers must; and for accepting the Outstanding Legislator of the Year Award from the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, which he notes gave a similar award to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.

Doepke can hold her head high for her position on all those matters. She's conservative but not doctrinaire, and she works hard to know and reflect the views of her constituents. Those qualities, plus her unfailing civility, make her an easy candidate to recommend.

District 39: Housley

State Sen. Ray Vandeveer's late decision to step aside for health reasons left the GOP with no endorsee in northeast-suburban District 39, and spurred two Republican activists to run, Karin Housley of St. Mary's Point and Eric Michael Langness of Forest Lake.

Housley, 48, outclasses Langness, 34, and gets our nod, but it's not an enthusiastic one. The Realtor and radio talk-show host, married to 21-year NHL star and Stillwater hockey coach Phil Housley, is making her second bid for the state Senate. She lost narrowly in 2010 to DFL Sen. Katie Sieben in pre-redistricting District 57.

Years of interest in legislative service should have led Housley to bone up on state issues. Her confession that she hasn't analyzed the state budget, and her claim that "there's waste across the board," might be acceptable from a first-time candidate. They're troubling the second time around.

Still, we see more potential in Housley than in Langness, director of career services for Anthem College. He's a former Forest Lake School Board member whose efforts to cut school spending led to his defeat for reelection in 2009.

District 39 isn't in the habit of sending DFLers to the Legislature. But voters who share our concerns about the GOP contenders should know that former state Rep. Julie Bunn -- a Stanford University Ph.D. economist and former Macalester College professor -- is the DFL candidate on the November ballot. She warrants their consideration.

District 47: Ortman

Julianne Ortman is a legislative powerhouse, one many of the state's Republicans would gladly call their state senator. She's a 49-year-old attorney, deputy majority leader, chair of the Taxes Committee and a respected voice on public safety, judicial policy and transportation.

The District 47 GOP's decision to deny her endorsement, leading to her primary contest with also-unendorsed Carver auto mechanic Bruce Schwichtenberg, suggests a lack of political maturity by the dominant party in the far southwestern suburbs. The district's GOP activists are evidently so devoid of DFL competition that they've turned their competitive energies on one of their own.

Schwichtenberg, 52, was the only candidate in this cycle to decline our invitation for an interview. His website says that he's not content with "limiting" state government: He wants to shrink its scope and spending. We find his critique of Ortman's record weak and distorted.

The party's refusal to endorse either candidate in this primary could produce a consequence Republican insiders won't like. An Ortman win would demonstrate anew that legislators ultimately answer to the voters, not their parties. Greater independence from party zealotry could be the result. We're rooting for it.

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