Editor’s note: The Star Tribune makes a limited number of recommendations in legislative contests in each election. This year, the Editorial Board examined the nine open Minnesota House seats in the metro area — ones in which incumbent legislators are not running again. Our endorsements start today and will continue through Friday.
District 34B: Hoden
Maple Grove has grown accustomed to strong representation in the state House since 2003, when it first elected former GOP Speaker Kurt Zellers. That tradition appears likely to continue, regardless of whether Republican Dennis Smith or DFLer David Hoden is elected.
But while Smith has the makings of a good legislator, Hoden is exceptional. Rarely does a newcomer exhibit his grasp of the issues, his depth of community involvement and his bent toward bipartisanship. A longtime residential remodeling professional, Hoden is also a skillful and empathetic communicator. He’s our enthusiastic choice.
Hoden, 64, is a vigorous recent retiree. He would bring to the Capitol a range of experiences relevant to legislative issues. He understands transit, and as a founder of Cross Winds United Methodist Church, was instrumental in establishing its park-and-ride lot for bus commuters. He understands mining as a Duluth native who began his career in a taconite plant in Hoyt Lakes. He understands education as a school volunteer, an advocate at the Legislature for Early Childhood Family Education and a leader in urging voter approval of an Osseo School District operating levy. He understands the business climate as a former entrepreneur. He understands health policy as a 10-year cancer survivor who discovered that his pre-Obamacare insurance policy would not pay for his $35,000 treatment.
A DFLer who has made his home in a GOP-leaning community for 28 years, Hoden also understands that rigid partisanship is not in Minnesota’s best interest. He exhibits independent thinking and an appetite for the fine points of public policy that would make him an asset in crafting compromise.
Smith is a solid but more conventional candidate. A 47-year-old attorney in private practice, Smith lacks Hoden’s depth on issues but evinces a desire to delve deep if he’s elected. His legal practice includes estate planning, which would give him valuable perspective in setting long-term care policy. His leadership of the Osseo Maple Grove Hockey Association commends him, as does an energetic campaign.
District 35A: Whelan
Republican Abigail Whelan is only 26, but her poise and commitment to public service belie her years. A vote for Whelan means betting on the come, but we think that’s a bet Anoka voters should make in the race to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Jim Abeler.
Whelan works as a home health care worker today, but she’s a former state Senate staffer and holds a master’s degree from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. She proves her passion for public policy as she discusses possible remedies to the transportation funding shortage confronting Minnesota. Like most Republicans, she opposes more light-rail transit and a gas tax increase. But she supports better bus transit and is open to increasing other sources of transportation funding, including toll roads.
A proud product of the Anoka-Hennepin School District, Whelan believes that the district’s best practices should be emulated as schools strive to close the chronic achievement gap between white and nonwhite students. She’s an advocate for local control, going so far as to reject the state’s requirement for all-day kindergarten as an intrusion in local decisionmaking. We’d say that goes too far. But she also believes that MNsure, the state’s health insurance purchasing exchange, is too independent and that it should become a state agency for the sake of tighter legislative control. That suggests a capacity for nuanced judgment, one we hope will grow over time.
Whelan’s rookie status stands in contrast to her more-seasoned opponent, DFLer Peter Perovich, 52, a personal banker at U.S. Bank and former mortgage broker who is making his third try for a north-suburban legislative seat. Perovich comes by his interest in education and transit naturally. He’s the son of former Anoka Mayor Elliott Perovich, who also served as chair of the Regional Transit Board in the 1980s and was a high school principal.
Perovich is eager to spend more on education. Whelan focuses on best practices to improve results. That difference should matter to frugal north-suburban voters.
District 44B: Rutzick
A scrap is on in Minnetonka between two young candidates with similar backgrounds. Both Republican Ryan Rutzick, almost 34, and DFLer Jon Applebaum, 29, hail from old St. Paul business families with strong traditions of civic involvement. Both are working hard to succeed retiring DFL state Rep. John Benson.
Our nod goes to Rutzick because he offers the return of a desirable political species that has become nearly extinct at the Capitol — the moderate Republican. Alone among the Republican candidates we screened, Rutzick supports the proposed Southwest light-rail-transit line, hewing to the position of the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce. He’s open to a gas tax to improve roads and bridges, though he’ll look for cost savings in the existing transportation budget before asking drivers to pay more for fuel. He also supports both same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
A real estate investor and part-owner of his family’s kitchen appliance and cabinet business, Rutzick is attuned to Minnesota’s business competitiveness. Applebaum, the scion of a grocery retailing family, makes the same claim. But he is an attorney by profession, and he downplays the deterrent that high tax rates can be to business investment.
To a remarkable degree, Applebaum and Rutzick agree on issues confronting the Legislature. Applebaum also qualifies as a moderate, though he’s nearer to his party’s mainstream. Rutzick seems more capable of pressing his party for pragmatic compromise.