By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer
ST PETER — Editor’s note: On Sunday we will have a story about incumbent Tim Walz and his run for another term as 1st District congressman, as well as another summary story about key issues of the race.
For nearly two decades, Allen Quist has made a habit of surprising pundits and Republican Party insiders who underestimate him.
In his 1st District congressional runs in 2010 and again this year, Quist outperformed the son of a former Republican congressman and a state senator from Waseca who had key allies in the party and Legislature.
In 1998, Republican leaders and political experts saw the GOP endorsement race for governor as a two-candidate contest between St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman and Lt. Gov. Joanne Benson. Quist easily surpassed Benson’s support at the Republican state convention and became Coleman’s chief competitor for the endorsement.
And in 1994, Republican Gov. Arne Carlson’s campaign manager referred to Quist as “a mere annoyance” when the former state lawmaker announced he was going to run against his party’s sitting governor. A few months later, Mike Triggs was the former campaign manager for Carlson, and Carlson was on the way to having his own party reject him in favor of Quist at a Republican state convention that drew national political coverage.
“... I guess we should have seen it coming,” Triggs conceded in the spring of 1994.
Waiting for a win
Despite Quist repeatedly wrestling above his weight in Minnesota politics, he hasn’t finished a single match on top since 1986 when he won the last of three elections to the state House.
After getting trounced at the endorsing convention, Carlson beat Quist by a 2-to-1 margin in the 1994 primary election and won a second term as governor in the general election.
In subsequent elections, there was always one Republican better than Quist, even as he dispatched bigger-name opponents to become the last challenger to the eventual nominee.
This year, for the first time in 20 years, the retired St. Peter farmer has advanced beyond the semifinals to the championship round — beating Waseca state Sen. Mike Parry in the Aug. 14 primary election.
If he topples Walz on Nov. 6, the victory will be the biggest shocker of his career.
Quist hasn’t made bold predictions in recent weeks about beating the popular three-term incumbent from Mankato — saying only he expects to be competitive.
“I don’t know exactly where we are, but I think it’s a lot closer than others assume,” he said.
Federal spending is at the center of Quist’s 2012 campaign message.
“The thing that concerns me the most is the out-of-control debt — $16 trillion dollars,” he said. “And that doesn’t include all the unfunded liabilities. You start adding those things to it, and you can’t even talk about it anymore because it’s so spooky.”
If elected, Quist pledges to oppose tax increases, slash spending and reduce regulatory burdens on business in a way that will get the economy — and revenue to the federal treasury — rolling again.
Anyone who’s watched more than a few hours of KEYC-TV in recent months has seen Quist’s granddaughters scaling the massive red bar-graph of debt. Anyone who attended the MSU debate couldn’t have missed that Quist wants to “unleash the lion of free enterprise.”
“I’m known as a teacher. I’m known as a politician. But I make my living really as a businessman,” he said of his farmer/investor background. “ ... I know what a bottom line is. I know what a balance sheet is. I understand economics and I understand government.”
A varied past
Quist hasn’t always been so singularly focused on budget issues. During his legislative career, he received notoriety for statements about gays and anonymous gay sex that were still being criticized by Parry this year.
His campaigns for governor leaned heavily on education policy, his strong opposition to abortion, and a pledge to eliminate tax provisions that disproportionately hit married couples.
In 2010 he warned during his congressional campaign of the dangers to America caused by the presidency of Barack Obama and the Democratic control of Congress. Unless the Democrats were stopped, United States sovereignty could be sacrificed to a “world government” and America’s status as a capitalist nation was in question.
“... I believe this is the biggest battle America has faced since America began in 1776,” he told Republican activists. “This is No. 1.”
In the 2012 race Quist also has emphasized a marriage penalty he identified in the health care reform commonly called Obamacare. Unmarried individuals making $30,000 each would, if their incomes were combined through marriage, lose thousands of dollars in federal subsidies for medical insurance, he said.
Supporters of the bill said the numbers are typical for income-based government subsidies, but Quist contends the provision is an intentional attempt by liberals to undermine the institution of marriage.
He called it a “hidden agenda” of Obamacare in speaking to a North Mankato audience in August: “And let me be very explicit, this is designed to destroy marriage for the middle class.”
In a recent interview, Quist was asked why Democrats would be motivated to destroy marriage. He said he wouldn’t speculate about their motives but remains convinced they are seeking to sabotage marriage.
“It was deliberate, and they had to know this would damage the family,” he said. “... The people that put the bill together knew you would get substantially fewer married people because you are penalizing marriage, and I find that to be horrific.”
The bottom line
With polls showing many Americans are upset about partisan gridlock, Quist goes beyond standard Republican portrayals of Democrats as wrong-headed, inept or fiscally incompetent. Democrats, at times, are intentionally undermining America and its institutions, Quist said.
“I’ve always been very outspoken,” he said. “I try to make myself clear. I don’t say ‘maybe this.’”
Nevertheless, he said he proved during his legislative career that he can strongly disagree with Democrats on some issues and work with them on others.
But deficit reduction is not an area where he proposes grand compromises between conservatives and liberals. If elected, Quist said he will align himself with a group of about 85 deeply conservative House members who he hopes will increase in number to about 120 on Nov. 6.
“If we don’t grow that number, I might be the most frustrated elected official there,” he said.
That’s because even with 119 like-minded allies, Quist would face a real challenge in passing an expenditure-slashing budget through the 435-member House.
He wants to eliminate the budget deficit in six years, something that would require spending cuts well beyond what Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan have proposed. There’s also the distinct possibility of a second term for Obama. And none of that takes into account the hurdle known as the Senate.
If a majority in Congress doesn’t want to join him in making sometimes-unpopular spending cuts, Quist said he can always return to retirement and walleye fishing. But he said the nation’s debt problem was important enough and troublesome enough to get him back on the campaign trail one more time.
“I look at the trend and the dollar amounts on the debt, and my conclusion is that my kids and my grandkids are not going to have the same opportunity that I have had,” he said. “I have lived the American dream to the full and I would like that opportunity to remain for the next generation of Americans.”