By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer
— Tim Gieseke’s run for a vacant state House seat is challenging for a couple of reasons.
First, Gieseke is running as the Independence Party candidate, and no lawmaker making a first run for the Legislature has succeeded under the IP banner. Second, what Gieseke is offering voters — and what he wants to bring to the Capitol — is a complicated new approach to governance.
But Gieseke also presents a unique set of experiences for voters to consider in House District 19A, a seat voters will fill in Tuesday’s special election. He has a strong agricultural background, growing up on a Nicollet County dairy farm, still growing corn and soybeans and wine grapes on 125 acres.
He’s worked in government for a soil and water conservation district and been elected to a small-town city council. And he’s created his own consulting business that’s attracted clients from Chesapeake Bay to California.
“That career trajectory is kind of the motivation for me to run for this office,” Gieseke said.
Gieseke is the founder of Ag Resource Strategies LLC, a consulting company that creates new governance and business models to address changing natural resource issues. What that involves is complex — enough so that he wrote an entire book on the topic “Ecocommerce 101” — but it’s what Minnesota needs to deal with its most vexing problems, Gieseke said.
“The practitioners are often the target of policy — the farmer or the business person,” he said. “In shared governance, they become a participant.”
Businesses and farmers need to be free to use their expertise and entrepreneurial creativity to achieve the outcomes government is seeking — reduced pollution or cleaner water, for example. The existing model too often relies on top-down one-size-fits-all regulations, he said.
“The traditional model of kind of the three-ring binder from the state agency down isn’t meeting the needs.”
Gieseke is convinced his alternative approach is vital if Minnesota is going to develop successful policies to deal with such long-term issues such as health care, education and environmental protection.
“It allows the innovative energy off private enterprise to be incorporated in that policy,” he said.
Still, Gieseke said his promotion of that strategy is only a fraction of what he would do if he succeeds former Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, who resigned his seat last month. About 80 percent of the work would be representing the specific needs and interests of the district, which is dominated by Nicollet County but includes a small part of Mankato and the Kasota area of Le Sueur County.
A top priority for Gieseke would be the expansion of Highway 14 to four lanes all the way to New Ulm. He would push for funding by emphasizing the importance of the expressway to the regional and state economy and also by reminding state officials of crashes on the busy two-lane.
He would investigate whether the state can play a role in bringing broad-band connections to Nicollet County, saying it will be vital for the region’s economic future.
“In five years if we aren’t near a broad-band connection, we won’t be able to work locally and engage globally,” Gieseke said.
A third major issues is promoting state health care policies that reward healthy lifestyles and outcome-based medical care.
“It’s really looking at personal responsibility in health,” he said. “Really, the only way to reduce health care costs is to improve health.”
And Gieseke believes he would be an effective voice for agriculture in a Legislature increasingly devoid of farmers.
“What I can provide to agriculture is a sensible discussion on both the production and the natural resources side of it,” he said.
Facing reality in higher ed
Gieseke is a supporter of early childhood education spending, saying evidence is solid that it pays off for both the student and for society. On higher education, he said it’s important for the state’s university systems to come to terms with a growing and inevitable transformation.
More and more, Americans are looking to online courses to get their education. The trend can’t be ignored because it will only accelerate in coming years, Gieseke predicted.
“Higher education is going to have to redesign itself. Otherwise, we’re going to have some empty universities.”
Gieseke compares the changing nature of higher education to shifts in the way consumers buy electronics, moving to online purchases after previously being reliant on big-box retailers. He said he knows his position might make employees at the area’s colleges and universities nervous.
“Probably as worried as Best Buy employees,” he said.
But he said he recognizes the value of the on-campus college experience and he would continue to support traditional state financing for colleges and college students. In return for that continuing support, university administrators must demonstrate they are preparing for a changing world and recognize that the state’s top priority is educating the masses rather than preserving the status quo.
“I’m just pointing out that this will probably continue and that we should just assist the colleges to come up with a model for their long-term viability,” Gieseke said.
Acknowledging that his ideas and his campaign themes “may not be a sound-bite deal,” Gieseke is hopeful that special election voters are ready for a new alternative to the traditional arguments offered by most Democrats and Republicans.
“We’re in a highly educated district. We (had) 40 days to talk about it.”
On Friday The Free Press will profile DFL candidate Clark Johnson and on Saturday Republican candidate Allen Quist.