Special election for House district 28B heats upby Sea Stachura, Minnesota Public Radio
The last time the DFL held the house seat from rural district 28B was in 1977. The next year Republican Steve Sviggum took office. Sviggum rose through the ranks and became house speaker. Recently he resigned the house seat for a position in Gov. Pawlenty's cabinet. On Tuesday voters will elect a new representative, and both candidates argue they're the embodiment of the district.
Rochester, Minn. — District 28B is a sparsely populated place. For every square mile there are just 37 residents. And it's a red district. Voters not only elected Steve Sviggum 15 times, they also voted for Republican presidential and Congressional candidates. Both candidates are playing up their rural, traditional roots.
DFLer Linda Pfeilsticker lives on her family's dairy farm. Her great-grandfather bought it in 1919.
"I have lived in this district my whole life. I was born here, raised here, and I've chosen to live here. This is my home," she says. "And I spent my whole life listening to what people say and growing up in this value system, and if I can't represent that, I don't know who can."
Linda Pfeilsticker teaches social studies at Winona High School. She served as a school district contract negotiator.
Pfeilsticker has never run for office, but she beat out four other candidates vying for the DFL nomination. In 2006 the DFL candidate garnered 40 percent of the vote, so democrats not only think they have a chance. Analysts say they also see the Republican-held seat as a potential feather in their House cap.
Both Pfeilsticker and Republican candidate Steve Drazkowski see transportation, education and health care as major concerns for the region. The difference between the two is in approach. Pfeilsticker would look at the funding formula using either a gas tax or other revenue sources. She doesn't want to pay for roads with a bonding loan.
Steve Drazkowski, who's had one unsuccessful run for state senate, says bonding money should be use to fix roads and bridges.
"The bonding proposal laid out by the governor I think is very solid," he says. "It will take $2 billion of bonded money paid for through the MVST money that we dedicated through the Constitutional amendment last year and give that to the Minnesota transportation infrastructure. That's what we need to have happen."
Drazkowski also believes any state surplus should be spent on rebuilding the collapsed I-35W bridge.
Another long-standing debate in rural communities is school funding. Many districts face shrinking populations and aging buildings. Drazkowski says the school funding formula too heavily favors the Twin Cities' schools. Linda Pfeilsticker says rural districts shouldn't lose as many dollars every time they lose a student.
"The building size stays the same, but the revenue has changed, the transportation has stayed the same, but again the revenue has changed," she says. "So there's all these static expenses that aren't going to change other than going up because of inflation."
One of the biggest differences between the candidates is their vision of government. Drazkowski says government should only pay for needs not wants.
"I live at Wabasha and the Eagle Center is a beautiful thing, and we've invested over a million dollars to the Eagle Center in state money," Drazkowski says. "We've got a Minnesota Zoo that we give 20 to 30 million dollars a year for a new exhibit, it seems. This is money being sent back to the community that are attractions and they're not fundamental needs of government."
Analysts say that tough talk may play well in a district that has favored small government and self-sufficiency. But Pfeilsticker says Drazkowski's view of government is more conservative than the district she knows.
Values and tradition may have been the motivation behind a recent DFL party flyer attacking Steve Drazkowski's commitment to family. Drazkowski went to court twice in two years for issues related to child support and domestic assault. Drazkowski acknowledges the court cases, but he says he is a committed dad and was acquitted of all charges.
Drazkowski adds that if he were elected he would author a bill that would automatically grant joint custody in divorce settlements. Currently, custody is often awarded by default, to mothers.
- Morning Edition, 08/06/2007, 7:55 a.m.