Senators in marriage-ban spotlight post primary winsby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
Two central Minnesota state legislators defeated primary challenges in Tuesday's election. Democrat Dean Johnson, the state Senate's Majority Leader, easily defeated a political newcomer who claimed Johnson wasn't conservative enough for his west central Minnesota district. Republican state Sen. Paul Koering also defeated a challenger who criticized the openly gay lawmaker for opposing a Senate vote on a gay marriage ban in 2005.
St. Paul, Minn. — State Sen. Dean Johnson of Willmar took a little more than 60 percent of the vote in his DFL primary contest with retired state trooper Michael Cruze.
Cruze criticized Johnson for blocking votes on a gay marriage ban and a bill that would've restricted publicly funded abortions.
The anti-abortion group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life and anti-gay-marriage group Minnesotans for the Defense of Marriage both spent weeks passing out leaflets in support of Cruze. And because there was no corresponding Republican primary in the district, Johnson feared GOP-leaning voters might cross over to vote against him. But in the end, Johnson garnered 2,000 more votes than his opponent.
In the Brainerd area, Republican state Sen. Paul Koering also faced criticism from an opponent for his stand on gay marriage. Koering voted to prevent a vote on same-sex marriage on the Senate floor in 2005. Koering is gay, but says he voted against the measure because it didn't move through the proper legislative channels.
Conservative groups also campaigned against Koering leading up the primary election. Koering says in the end, that tactic didn't work.
"Our campaign has had just about everything thrown at it that could possible happen, and I still prevailed, so it shows that people in Minnesota don't like negative campaigning," he said.
Koering finished with 55 percent of the vote. His opponent was Brainerd City Council Member Kevin Goedker. Goedker campaigned heavily on "family value" issues, and said his campaign had nothing to do with Koering's sexuality.
Koering assumes that's not the case, and that his primary challenge was directly related to his personal life. Either way Koering says the fact that he's gay didn't matter much to voters.
"I think what they did is looked at my voting record and they judged me on that voting record, and they said, 'yep, we're going to give Paul a vote of confidence,' and I think that's what happened here," Koering said.
"But where they are clear is that right now let's just leave the status quo alone, let's just leave the current law in place and not deal with the constitutional amendment," he said.
Paul Koering will go up against DFLer Terry Sluss, who's a Crow Wing County Commissioner, in the fall election.
Sen. Dean Johnson goes on to face Republican candidate Joe Gimse.
- Morning Edition, 09/13/2006, 7:55 a.m.