By Jennifer Brooks and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger
Anoka County Commissioner Rhonda Sivarajah launched her congressional campaign Wednesday, saying she is "uniquely qualified" to take the seat of retiring U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann.
"I'm Rhonda Sivarajah and I'm very proud to be running for Congress in Minnesota's Sixth District," she told a cheering crowd of supporters who gathered in the auto body shop where Sivarajah stood flanked by family, American flags and a Chevy pickup on a car lift in the background.
She is the second Republican to launch a run for the seat in the weeks since both Bachmann and her Democratic challenger Jim Graves ended their 2014 campaigns. Talk radio host and former GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer announced his candidacy last week. Environmental activist Judy Adams is the first Democrat to make a bid for the Sixth District, generally considered the most conservative congressional district in Minnesota.
"Washington is full of people who talk and talk and talk," Sivarajah said."We need to send people there who will actually deliver real results."
Sivarajah said she brings a "history of accomplishment" to the race and is unfazed by Emmer's status as the presumptive front runner in the GOP race. This isn't the first time the two have squared off in an election. Sivarajah was Republican state Rep. Marty Seifert’s pick as lieutenant governor in 2010. A few months later, Seifert dropped out of the race after then-Rep. Tom Emmer won the GOP endorsement.
Emmer, who lost the race to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, has tapped state Rep. Dave FitzSimmons, who ran the early part of Emmer’s 2010 campaign, as a volunteer. But Seifert’s 2010 campaign manager Kurt Daudt, now the House Minority Leader, said that he will not pick a side in the congressional race.
“We’re focused on getting the House back in the majority here,” Daudt, R-Crown said. “A competitive race up there for the Republican nomination is a healthy thing and they will work through that process.”
Sivarajah had the support of other lawmakers, including her hometown senator, who turned out for her announcement.
"She has an ability to connect with the people and the citizens," said state Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes. "She's well grounded. Normal, average citizen. She lives in a rambler in Lino Lakes."
"I've been able to make positive changes at Anoka County and I think I can bring the same sort of positive change to Washington as well," she told reporters after her announcement. "I look at my kids, and they're not going to have the same bright future that previous generations have had."
Those changes include ending the prevailing wage for county-funded construction projects "to encourage competition and lower costs," said Jeff Matt, owner of Victory Auto Services, who introduced the candidate on Wednesday. He also credited her with working to cut Anoka County property taxes in 2011 and 2012.
"When she was first elected to the Anoka County board, Rhonda was the only conservative of the seven members," Matt said. "She never wavered from her principles and through her hard work she helped lead a transformation on the board, which now has a conservative majority."
State DFL Chairman Ken Martin issued a statement blasting Sivarajah's tenure on the board of commissioners, saying she worked to cut services and programs during the recession, just when Anoka residents needed them most.
"This anti-government government official has served the interests of the tea party, rather than the people who elected her to office," Martin said. "Rhonda Sivarajah has long been a voice of dissent in efforts to move Anoka County forward. She would bring the same style of leadership to Washington."
Sivarajah grew up in Cambridge. She and her husband, Ran, are the parents of two teenagers.
"My husband immigrated to this country because it offered freedom, hope and opportunity," she said. "With the growing debt and the erosion of our freedoms, unfortunately, our children will not enjoy the same....Instead of giving us real solutions and new direction, Washington continues to give us more and more of the same."
Sivarajah took a swipe at the Obama administration during her first stump speech of the campaign.
"It's hard to keep track of the various scandals of the Obama administration. From the NSA tracking of American citizens to the IRS targeting of conservative groups to the State Department's mishandling of Benghazi," she said. "Washington is broken, but it's not enough to just talk about it. It's time to do something about it...and I am uniquely qualified to get the job done."
But don't look to her to provide Bachmann-quality political theater if she's elected.
"I can tell you that you probably would have a pretty dull life as media," Sivarajah said, laughing. "I think we have a lot of the same core beliefs. I think the difference is maybe in the approach."