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August 14, 2011

Cornish challenger emerges early

WELLS — Nine months ago state Rep. Tony Cornish won one of the bigger election blow-outs south-central Minnesotans have seen, but the dominant victory didn’t scare away his next challenger.

Former Wells Mayor Shannon Savick, the first challenger in the region to officially begin a 2012 legislative campaign, has formed a fundraising committee and begun campaigning for the District 24B seat held by the Good Thunder Republican for a decade.

Savick is dissatisfied with the way the state has dealt with recurring state budget shortfalls — including the tobacco revenue bonds and school payment shifts that ended the latest impasse last month.

“That’s only laying the problem on our children,” said Savick of the borrowing.

Instead, the DFLer supports a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

“I think we need to get down and get serious about balancing this budget and get some new revenue,” Savick said. “... We need to do both.”

A Bricelyn native who retired to Wells with her husband following a long career in the computer industry, Savick said she needed to start her campaign this summer — partly because Cornish is a strong fundraiser.

The Lake Crystal police chief is already running local radio ads defending the Republican-controlled Legislature’s performance in the budget impasse with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

“I’m going to be doing some fundraising, and that’s why I’m getting in early,” Savick said. “... I’m very well known in Faribault County. But I’m not very well known in the other counties in District 24B.”

The current district includes most of Blue Earth County — other than Mankato — along with parts of Faribault and Waseca counties. The district will change, possibly dramatically, before the 2012 election because of redistricting requirements following the 2010 census.

All of the districts south and west of Mankato have lost population compared to other districts in the state, meaning lines will need to be redrawn so that all lawmakers represent the same size population. That process, in the hands of the courts, is expected to take months to complete.

But Savick said the idea of facing Cornish doesn’t bother her, despite his 40 percentage point walloping of Democrat Joan Muth-Milks in 2010. Blow-outs reaching that threshold are a rarity outside of heavily Democratic districts in Minneapolis and St. Paul, but Savick takes hope from the 2008 near-upset of Cornish by DFLer John Branstad (51 percent to 49).

“I think Tony can be beat,” she said.

Savick has some experience winning long-shot races. She’d only been in Wells for about a year when she found herself on the ballot for City Council.

“I joined a coffee group of ladies my age,” she said. “... And one day they were talking about how bad city government was.”

Savick noted how well-connected the women at the table were and suggested they could pick any one of them to run and get her elected.

“One of them said, ‘We select you,’” said Savick, who gave it some thought and decided to make the leap on the condition that her friends promise to work hard on her campaign. “I actually won. I was surprised.”

Two years into the four-year term, she decided to run for the top seat on the council.

“I and the current mayor at the time didn’t get along because I wasn’t one of his good old boys. That’s what got me mad, so I ran for mayor.”

She won again but didn’t seek a second term in 2010. Savick said she was happy with the improvements that she’d helped implement — including opening the doors to city meetings that had been closed to the public — and is confident younger council members will continue the progress.

Now, Savick thinks she has something to offer at the state level. She earned degrees in math and physics at Minnesota State University after growing up in Bricelyn, then a master’s of business administration from Clark University in Massachusetts.

Years of experience with Massachusetts-based Digital Equipment Corporation taught her about manufacturing, negotiations, budgeting and the need to learn what’s most important to the customer, she said. Working mainly in sales, she also knows what it takes to reach a deal — something that might appeal to voters following the 2011 legislative session.

“In sales, you had to learn how to compromise,” Savick said.

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