Endorsement: Abeler over McFadden in GOP Senate primary

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 1, 2014 - 7:02 PM

Legislative work as health care fixer gives him edge over McFadden.

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Republican state Rep. Jim Abeler asked Somali-Americans for their vote in the Aug. 12 primary election in his race against Mike McFadden to see who will go up against Sen. Al Franken in the general election. Here, Abeler handed out brochures in English and Somali after prayers at Somali Village Market in Minneapolis.

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Editor’s note: Over the next several days, the Star Tribune Editorial Board will offer endorsements for the Aug. 12 primary in some of the more competitive races for statewide offices, congressional seats and the Minnesota House. Newsroom editors and reporters are not involved in endorsement interviews with the candidates or in making our picks. For more on how the process works, watch the video at http://tinyurl.com/lxr2n5s.

The leading contenders in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Minnesota are Jim Abeler, a policy wonk with extensive legislative experience, and Mike McFadden, a quick-study political newcomer and successful businessman.

This page has long admired Abeler, a chiropractor and health policy expert from Anoka who served in the Minnesota House for 16 years before launching his first bid for a statewide office. McFadden, a Sunfish Lake investment banker, came on our radar before he announced his candidacy, in part because we knew his financial wherewithal would allow him to mount a serious campaign.

Still, McFadden surprised many political observers by winning the party’s endorsement in June. His personal wealth and ability to raise money clearly appealed to party insiders, and his anti-Beltway rhetoric could prove effective in a general election race against the well-funded incumbent, Democratic Sen. Al Franken.

But first McFadden will be tested in the Aug. 12 primary, and we urge voters to look beyond the money race and folksy TV commercials and consider Abeler’s admirable record of fiscally conservative and independent-minded service to Minnesota. That record, which helped Abeler gain endorsements from former GOP Gov. Al Quie and former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, also won over the Editorial Board.

Turn the political clock back to 2008, when Abeler joined five others in his party who voted to override then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of a much-needed gas tax increase to fund transportation projects — a measure backed by the state’s business community. The vote damaged Abeler’s standing among party ideologues — likely costing him serious consideration for the party’s Senate endorsement this summer — but he rightly remains unapologetic today, pointing out that the funds have fixed hundreds of roads and bridges statewide.

Abeler earned his reputation for across-the-aisle legislative collaboration not because he lacks solid conservative values, but because he preferred to put those values to work in crafting legislation. He wanted a seat at the table, meaning he had to cast votes that sometimes rankled purists so that he could help shape policy in conference committees.

McFadden speaks forcefully about cutting health care costs, but Abeler has actually done the tough policy work in a legislative body, most notably as the force behind a 2011 omnibus human services bill that cut all-funds state spending by $3.8 billion over the past four years.

Abeler did that difficult policymaking with a scalpel and a human touch. During his endorsement interview, he recalled the many sleepless nights he spent while crafting that legislation until he was finally assured that “nobody’s going to die from this budget.” His health care expertise, coupled with his real-world take on the impact of entitlement reform, would be valuable in the Senate.

Abeler also understands that government needs to pay its bills. The Editorial Board asked both candidates how they would vote when Congress faces its next test on the debt ceiling in 2015. Although both believe the federal government must rein in spending, Abeler gave a more reassuring answer. “Nobody wins in a shutdown,” he said.

The two candidates have similar philosophies on several key issues: the Affordable Care Act (bad legislation that must be fixed); immigration (secure the borders, reform laws); foreign policy (the United States must not be isolationist); Second Amendment rights (no changes needed in existing laws); energy policy (explore all options to lower costs and reduce pollution), and partisanship (we need less of it in Washington). Both candidates are conservative on social issues, although neither emphasizes those positions.

McFadden says he would rely on his business experience as a negotiator in mergers and acquisitions and take a “reasonable, pragmatic” approach to getting things done in Washington. “I’m not a politician,” he reminded the Editorial Board, although he generally follows the GOP script and has been slow to offer specific proposals during the campaign.

McFadden is no Kurt Bills, the ill-prepared GOP’s 2012 Senate candidate who lost a general election race to Sen. Amy Klobuchar by nearly 35 percentage points. He’s clearly been doing his homework and is convincing when he says, “I want to unite; I don’t want to divide.” His passion for education and work with Cristo Rey, a Jesuit school in Minneapolis that has been successful with low-income students, is admirable.

Abeler is an insider, respected by peers in both parties because he approaches complex issues in search of solutions, not political points. He’s already taken a “reasonable, pragmatic” approach to policymaking in the state Legislature, and he’s not running away from his record.

Given the complexities of health care and entitlement reform — and the need for more bipartisan collaboration in Washington — Abeler is the better choice for Republican primary voters on Aug. 12.

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