By Mark Fischenich
The Free Press
WASECA — There will be a Wasecan in the Minnesota Legislature for the first time in 15 years after Republican Mike Parry defeated Faribault Democrat Jason Engbrecht in a special election to replace long-time GOP Sen. Dick Day of Owatonna.
Engbrecht easily won his home city of Faribault. Independence Party candidate and Waseca Mayor Roy Srp dominated in Waseca and Waseca County townships. But Parry won convincingly in Owatonna and Steele County, along with many of the small towns and townships throughout District 26.
It added up to 43 percent of the vote for Parry, 37 percent for Engbrecht and 20 percent for Srp. Vote totals with all precincts reporting were 4,943 for Parry, 4,192 for Engbrecht and 2,334 for Srp.
“I think the citizens of the senate district are saying ‘Enough of the overspending,’” Parry said after the final votes were counted. “They’re also looking for somebody who will work hard up there to find jobs for Minnesota.”
The victory ended a three-contest winning streak for Democrats in senate special elections in Minnesota but continued decades of GOP dominance in the Waseca-Owatonna corridor in Senate races.
The losing candidates will have the opportunity, if they want it, of a quick rematch before a larger portion of the electorate. The seat, and all of the 200 others in the state House and Senate, will be on the ballot on Nov. 2.
The 11,500 ballots in Tuesday’s special election compare to just under 30,000 cast in the District 26 race in November of 2006.
Srp said late Tuesday he’s undecided if he will run in the general election, and Engbrecht didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
In any case, Parry will have the advantage of the name recognition and experience that will come with representing the district during the legislative session that starts next week. He believes he will also have an advantage because of a growing backlash against government at the state and national level.
“I think there’s a tailwind for fiscally conservative candidates out there, whether they’re Republican, Democrat or independent,” Parry said.
An unabashed conservative on both social and fiscal issues, Parry campaigned on a pledge to make Minnesota a better place to do business by shrinking government and solving the state’s steep budget deficit exclusively with spending cuts. Parry — who has worked in radio station management and currently is a co-owner of the Waseca Godfather’s Pizza — promised to bring “business sense” to the Capitol.
Engbrecht, a physics professor at St. Olaf College, said the state’s red ink should be dealt with using both spending cuts and tax increases on wealthier Minnesotans. Additional revenue is needed, according to Engbrecht, to prevent devastating cuts to schools, nursing homes, property tax relief programs and other crucial government services.
Srp, a railroad employee and long-serving member of the Waseca City Council, told voters he offered them a lawmaker who wouldn’t be beholden to special interests and someone who could bring together the better ideas of both Republicans and Democrats.
Srp took consolation from his belief that he made it easier for the next Independence Party candidate who runs — and from his home community’s overwhelming support. The three-term mayor won 814 votes to 514 for fellow Wasecan Parry, with Engbrecht a distant third.
“How about that?” Srp said. “That’s wonderful. A mayor can’t feel bad about that.”
He had a simple explanation for his inability to generate similar support in other parts of the district.
“Honestly, people just haven’t had enough of the Republicans and Democrats yet,” Srp said.
Tuesday’s election won’t have an immediate impact on the balance of power in St. Paul. Democrats have a dominant majority in both the House and Senate, and Parry was simply holding a seat for his party following the resignation of a fellow Republican.
Day resigned to work for a group of horse owners and others seeking state approval for casinos at Minnesota race tracks.