Dahle and Draheim

Kevin Dahle (left) and Rich Draheim

The Northfield educator who has served as the District 20 senator since 2012 is looking at stiff competition from a Madison Lake Republican in a politically purple district.

Sen. Kevin Dahle, DFL-Northfield, is seeking another term in the Minnesota Senate. He serves on the Senate commerce, education, education finance, and state and local government committees.

Though Dahle has made a name for himself sponsoring education-related initiatives, he won a close race in 2012 in a district that includes much of Le Sueur County, and parts of Rice and Scott County — which effectively split its vote between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney in the U.S. presidential race. 

What's more, the district is split between a Democrat serving in House District 20A and a Republican serving in House District 20B.

Rich Draheim, who owns Weichert Realtors among a number of other businesses, is looking to take advantage by stressing his credentials as a businessman, though he has never served in public office before.

The issues

When it comes to Minnesota's major issues, Dahle's and Draheim's beliefs don't stray too far from their respective parties.

Before this year's legislative session, lawmakers across the state said their three largest priorities were a 10-year, $6 billion transportation package, a biannual public works project bill and a tax bill that should have been completed in 2015.

Yet lawmakers couldn't agree on the best way to fund transportation and didn't agree on how much money should be spent on a public works bonding bill before the final legislative deadline in May. Though lawmakers passed a tax bill during the session's last weekend, Gov. Mark Dayton declined to sign it into law due to a language error that would have cost the state more than $100 million over the next three years.

Though Republican lawmakers said they were more than willing to allow fixes to the bill via a letter of intent, state officials said the bill needs to be fixed in a special session to avoid court battles from companies seeking to exploit a potential tax loophole.

On transportation, Democrats want to raise funding using a 10- to 16-cent gas tax, license registration fees and other means to pay for transportation, while Republicans hope to use part of the state's $900 million surplus, as well as general fund money from a motor parts sales tax and budget cuts to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, to fund road work.

Draheim doesn't believe a gas tax is necessary to fund transportation issues.

"The Republican plan to dedicate transportation-related taxes (such as the sales tax on car rentals and sale of auto parts and supplies, along with using a portion of the state budget surplus) to transportation would have provided as much as $6 billion in new funding," he recently wrote in a Free Press questionnaire. "No new taxes necessary."

Dahle disagrees. With low gas prices and a need for new funding, the incumbent believes in a gas tax if the state wants to solve its transportation issues.

"When we overrode Gov. Pawlenty's veto in 2008, gas was $3.09/gallon," Dahle recently wrote in a Free Press questionnaire. "We can afford an additional nickel or dime now to address our crumbling highways. Inaction means our transportation needs worsen and costs to repair them increases."

Democrats and Republicans also couldn't agree on a bonding bill this year after Democrats pushed for a $1.4 billion package, while Republicans initially proposed a $600 million bill then introduced a $800 million package five days before the final legislative deadline of 2016. Though the two sides negotiated throughout the last weekend of the session, what emerged was a GOP-led bonding package worth about $1 billion in special projects, along with an additional $300 million in one-year transportation funding.

Lawmakers couldn't pass the final bonding proposal in time, however, after Democrats and Republicans disagreed over a transit-related funding clause that would have allowed the Met Council to collect more money from metro-area counties.

Dahle believes the state should stay within its means when it comes to bonding, though he says the state could easily pass a $1 billion-plus bonding bill without going over state bonding guidelines.

Regardless of whether Draheim or Dahle get elected, they'll have to join lawmakers facing increasingly difficult partisan gridlock. To that extent, both candidates have similar views on enacting further rules to prevent the Legislature from negotiating major policy deals during the last few days of a session. 

"Republican Senator Carla Nelson has forwarded a sensible proposal to add new deadlines to the end-of-session conference committee process," Draheim wrote. "Doing so would expedite the negotiations necessary to come up with budget targets needed for the conference committees to complete their work."

Draheim also supports docking lawmakers' pay if they fail to pass necessary bills in time. 

Dahle wants to see another deadline instated to mandate conference committee reports completed a week before the final legislative deadline each year. He also advocates for fewer omnibus bills.

"Smaller individual bills allow both legislators and the public more say on more issues," he wrote. "I also believe compromise is more likely when conference committees take on less, not more."

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