The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Election News

October 27, 2010

Demmer offers a contrasting philosophy

MANKATO — State Rep. Randy Demmer, the Hayfield Republican looking to unseat Congressman Tim Walz, isn’t offering a 100-point plan to balance the budget, or a detailed health care proposal, or a 20-year strategy to make America energy-independent.

Demmer said he’s offering something more basic and something the voters in the 1st District really want: a representative with a different philosophy about government than Walz and the Democratic leadership in Washington, D.C.

“That’s the choice,” Demmer said. “Congressman Walz supports larger centralized control and I do not. I trust the ability of the marketplace to meet the needs of our society.”

A state lawmaker since 2002, Demmer ran unsuccessfully for the Republican endorsement to take on Walz in 2008 but tried again this year — competing against three other GOP candidates at an April endorsing convention in Mankato.

After nearly six hours and eight rounds of balloting, Demmer won the endorsement when the last challenger — Allen Quist of rural St. Peter — withdrew. In choosing Demmer, the delegates heeded his call to “get behind a candidate who can win in November” — picking the man whose rhetoric was less inflammatory than some of his opponents but also one with a history of winning elections.

“A very close race”

At the time of Demmer’s endorsement, political analysts generally agreed Walz was likely to win a third term. Six months later, conservative outside groups are pouring money into the district to air attack ads against Walz, and one poll showed Walz’s lead down to 5 percentage points.

“We’re obviously in a very close race,” Demmer said Wednesday.

The spending by outside groups has topped $1 million, with about $5 of every $6 aimed at undermining Walz’s support. The ads have generally followed themes seen in Demmer’s own ads: Walz voted for health care reform, for an energy bill commonly known as cap-and-trade, and for a large economic stimulus bill, and those votes may have been what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wanted but they weren’t what southern Minnesotans wanted.

“I think this is a very important election in terms of where we go as a country,” Demmer said. “... Do we want to go toward a socialist, government-controlled model like we see in Europe? ... Or do we want to stay with what this country was founded on — a government focused on national defense, public safety and infrastructure.”

“Finding solutions”

Criticism of Demmer by his opponents has focused on two main issues. The first was brought up both by Walz and Independence Party nominee Steven Wilson of Rochester — that Demmer’s campaign has offered criticism but no detailed alternative proposals for addressing the nation’s most pressing problems.

Demmer freely admits his campaign is not about formulating a long list of detailed plans, but he said he’s offered voters plenty of information about his broader approach to the nation’s problems.

His idea of leadership — based on how he ran a small chain of auto parts stores, a farm operation and a computer software business — is to gather a talented team, explain what his priorities are and then explore together the best way forward.

“That’s how we come up with the best possibility of finding successful solutions,” Demmer said. “To think I, by myself, sitting at a desk, thinking I have the answers to all these things — it would be naive and it would be dishonest.”

The second criticism is from Walz and has been at the center of one his television ads: that Demmer’s professed support for a smaller, more limited government doesn’t match his actions.

One of Demmer’s businesses took nearly $470,000 in business assistance from the state, and he took per diem payments as a state lawmaker on days he didn’t work — even on days when he was in Washington meeting with Republican Party officials in preparation for his congressional run.

Demmer doesn’t dispute the allegations, instead saying they are an attempt by Walz to distract people from his own voting record.

“He knows it doesn’t match with the wants and needs and desires of the district, so he desperately wants to change the topic,” Demmer said.

“A house of cards”

The Democratically controlled federal government has driven up the national debt by trillions of dollars, said Demmer, who specifically criticizes the nearly $800 billion economic stimulus bill. Congress also failed to complete the most basic budgeting tasks this year, including failing to pass a budget resolution for the first time in decades.

The health care reform should be repealed, Demmer said. It’s much too burdensome to employers and is financed with unrealistic cuts to Medicare, tax hikes and cuts to doctor reimbursements.

“The way it’s being funded is totally a house of cards,” he said.

The energy bill, which stalled in the Senate but passed the House with Walz’s support, is based on controlling carbon emissions. The bill is too focused on combating greenhouse gas emissions, said Demmer, who doesn’t believe in human-caused-global warming, a theory he told convention delegates in April was “ludicrous.”

Beyond that, a carbon-centered energy bill discourages the use of North American fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, he said. And that is particularly harmful to the Midwest because of its reliance on fossil-fuel based electrical power. In addition, energy-intensive industries — including farming — would see the costs of production rise.

The three bills have one thing in common, Demmer said. They involve too much involvement by government in the private sector, something that will ultimately make American businesses less competitive in the global economy and more hesitant to add workers.

There is another unifying factor between the three bills, he said. They’re unpopular in southern Minnesota.

“People are very upset with Congressman Walz’s votes over the years,” Demmer said. “And a lot of people are changing from support for him in the past to supporting me.”

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