Paul's disciples seek local offices

Dozens of libertarians inspired by Ron Paul are hoping to spread the gospel of small government.

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Presidential candidate Ron Paul speaks during the Minnesota Republican State Convention Friday, May 18, 2012, in St. Cloud, Minn. (AP Photo/The St. Cloud Times, Dave Schwarz) NO SALES

Photo: Dave Schwarz, Associated Press - Ap

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Having made their mark at the Republican state convention, Ron Paul-styled libertarians are stepping forward to stand for political office -- many for the first time -- in cities and counties across the state.

Marianne Stebbins, chair of Paul's Minnesota campaign, says that so far she knows of Paul supporters running for office in 11 counties and 13 cities, including several metro-area governments. That's in addition to 26 Paul candidates for the Legislature.

Can the message of a national figure known for lambasting the Federal Reserve Bank and touting the virtues of strict constitutionalism resonate at the local level? Absolutely, she said. Government should be as local as possible.

Besides, added Stebbins, a small-business owner, "There's only one Ron Paul, but we need to see thousands of them. They need to start as acorns in the field."

But some wonder how Paul's libertarian views will play in the long run with the standard GOP take on traditional values. Fewer Republicans belong to the Paul forces than to the popular Tea Party movement, which is socially conservative on such issues as abortion, same-sex marriage, gun rights and immigration.

"A lot of the Ron Paul supporters are socially liberal and 180 degrees from the social agenda of a lot of GOP activists. This is just night and day," said Carleton College political science Prof. Steven Schier. "If you're going to grow the party that way, expect a lot of big fights."

Stebbins expects the number of local Paul candidates to grow in August, when candidate filings open for many cities. She's seriously thinking about running herself for the Excelsior City Council.

Dave Wahlstedt, a medical device engineer and innkeeper from Excelsior, is going to the Republican National Convention in August as a Paul delegate. But first he filed last week to run against Hennepin County Commissioner Jan Callison.

"On the train to liberty, we can talk about the end of the line or the next stop," Wahlstedt said. "The next stop is commissioner pay, reduced property taxes and ending the purchase of new buildings ... and how to make government work more efficiently."

Reconciling Republicans

Paul, who expects to send nearly 200 delegates and perhaps 500 supporters in all to the national convention in Tampa, talks often about efforts to "grow our movement" and bring the Republican Party back to "its limited government, liberty roots."

One way, he wrote supporters in a recent e-mail update, is to back local candidates who hold the same values. "Across the country, supporters of liberty have won local office and leadership positions in the GOP, and we need to keep working," he said.

The challenge for mainstream Republican leaders is how to absorb the energy and enthusiasm of the Paul movement without losing conservatives who can't completely buy the libertarian message.

Jeff Johnson, the Hennepin County commissioner who also serves as Republican national committeeman, bluntly addressed the potential divide posed by the Paul movement at last month's convention. He urged all delegates to get past those differences and work together for the party's best interests.

"If we have new candidates who are focused on fiscal responsibility and on lower taxes and overreach of government, that's a good thing," he said in an interview last week.

Besides, Johnson said, "on the local level, social issues are largely irrelevant and foreign policy is entirely irrelevant. So I think it's a positive development."

First time office seeker

Ramona Anderson, a self-employed cosmetics saleswoman and former nurse, says she's fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Concerned about the growth of government, she began supporting Paul last year.

Now she's running for office for the first time, seeking a seat on the Columbia Heights City Council. Gregory Sloat, another Paul backer, is running for mayor.

"I feel that local politics is something I'm more knowledgeable and comfortable with," she said.

Sonia Evans, who will be going to the national convention in Tampa as an alternate, is another first-time candidate. She's running for the Coon Rapids City Council.

"I have twin sons who are both Marines," she said. "If they're going to run off and serve their country, I can do that, too."

In Wright County, not only are three Ron Paul candidates running for the County Board, two are challenging incumbent Dick Mattson in the crowded Fifth District race -- Charlie Borrell of Waverly and Dan Vick of Delano.

Thomas Huffman of Annandale is running for the open First District seat. Huffman, a veteran and retired businessman, was a Paul supporter at the state GOP convention, won the backing of the Wright County Republicans and is seeking the Tea Party's endorsement.

"I like some of Ron Paul's ideas but I've also got my own ideas," he said.

In Hennepin County's First District, business owner and real estate developer Chris Rains of Brooklyn Park is one of two candidates hoping to unseat Board Chair Mike Opat. A Paul delegate to the state GOP convention, Rains considers himself an independent who believes in smaller government.

"I don't plan on voting to increase property taxes every single time it comes up for a vote. I just think there's opportunity for improvement in that part of county government," Rains said.

Ten candidates are running for the open Second District seat in Hennepin County, which Mark Stenglein recently vacated to become president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council. The field ranges from pure independents to hard-core DFLers and includes a Ron Paul Republican, Rolf Erickson of Plymouth. Like Rains, he has never run for office before.

"Rather than send a lobbyist to St. Paul to look for more money, we need to send a lobbyist to St. Paul to look for ways to spend less and make things more efficient," Erickson said.

Erickson, who contracts with five Hennepin County cities to provide tax assessment work (none in the Second District), said he's running because he's been working for other candidates and has a good grasp of county issues.

"Part of it was Ron Paul," he said. "But I just felt it was time to step up and do something myself."

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455

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