17B: BOB BARRETT
The too-soon departure of one of the Legislature's rising stars, two-term DFL Rep. Jeremy Kalin of North Branch, puts in play a Republican-leaning district on the metro area's northern fringe. It also attracted two dedicated community activists to vie for the seat.
Narrowly, we prefer Republican Bob Barrett over DFLer Cindy Erickson. (A third candidate, the Independence Party's Curtis Lendt, did not respond to our interview invitation.)
Barrett, 43, of Shafer, gets our nod for his financial management experience. He is the director of market research and marketing analysis at the Hazelden Foundation. His financial background and his willingness to consider a variety of remedies for the state's fiscal ills, including higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol, should make him a positive contributor to the work that lies ahead in St. Paul.
Erickson, 52, a North Branch travel agency owner, has an impressive record of community involvement. Her views about a mix of tax increases and spending cuts to balance the state budget come closer to this newspaper's than Barrett's more conservative stance does. Both candidates would face a steep learning curve at the Capitol. Barrett appears to have more potential to climb.
25A: Mick McGuire
Montgomery Mayor Mick McGuire's DFL candidacy gives voters in southwest-exurban District 25A the chance to send a pragmatic problem-solver to St. Paul. It's a chance they ought to seize as they replace GOP state Rep. Laura Brod.
McGuire, 58, has spent 18 years in nonpartisan city government, 10 of them as mayor, and 23 years as owner of a landscape contracting business. Those experiences have prepared him well for legislative service. They've instilled in him a deep understanding of what makes communities thrive, including a good sense of how government contributes to private-sector success.
His Republican opponent, Glenn Gruenhagen, declined our interview invitations. Gruenhagen, 58, is a Glencoe Silver Lake school board member whose campaign website prominently features his opposition to abortion, gay marriage and illegal immigration. Those are tangential matters at a time when state revenues are projected to fall nearly 20 percent short of scheduled spending in the next biennium.
As mayor, McGuire knows first-hand how to creatively cut spending to preserve basic services. He also knows that for cities like his, core services are now unavoidably on the chopping block if state aid cuts continue. State government could use that kind of knowledge.
38B: MIKE OBERMUELLER
The big DFL victories of 2008 brought attorney Mike Obermueller of Eagan to the state House, sweeping out three-term Republican Rep. Lynn Wardlow. This year's contest in the south suburban district might be called a rematch, one generation removed. Obermuller is facing another attorney, Doug Wardlow, his former rival's son.
Like his father, the 32-year-old Wardlow is bright and personable. He also is among the most doctrinaire conservative candidates we met this year. The more moderate 37-year-old Obermueller gets our nod.
Obermueller, a farm-raised, Iowa-educated commercial litigator, isn't a show horse at the Capitol. But he works hard. He made his specialty the important but obscure House Bioscience and Workforce Development Committee, which strives to assure bioscience entrepreneurs that Minnesota can supply the educated workforce they'll need to thrive.
A fiscal moderate, Obermueller is in no hurry to raise taxes. But he will be a firm voice for a lasting fix for the state budget in 2011, rather than another round of temporary measures. That's the right resolve.
41A: KEVIN STAUNTON
Three-way politics elected GOP Rep. Keith Downey of Edina in 2008 with just shy of 37 percent of the vote. A rematch is on this year, with one key change: the second-place finisher of 2008, nine-term GOP Rep. Ron Erhardt, is not on the ballot. Instead, he's a vigorous supporter of DFLer Kevin Staunton.
Edina voters should follow Erhardt's lead. Staunton would restore Edina's long tradition of smart, centrist representation in the state House -- from which Downey represents a sharp turn to the ideological right.
Downey, 49, is a management consultant who maintains that today's state government is hostile to business, and that only radical downsizing can redeem it. He proposes a raft of big changes, most of them variations on themes of privatization, local control, voucher-based services and caps on public employee compensation.
Staunton, 51, isn't given to zealotry. A solo-practice attorney whose clients include the city of Excelsior, Staunton understands that quality government services contribute to business success. Unlike Downey, Staunton is open to a modest tax increase -- preferably a blend of sales and income taxes -- to help balance the state budget. Edina's health care jobs and good public schools will be at risk without it, he argues. He's right.